Column: Climate change is not an opinion

Six independent studies concluded that 90 to 100 percent of published scientists agree that global warming is real and is caused by human activities. Consistently, a review of nearly 12,000 scientific paper abstracts show a 97 percent consensus among climate experts, with the level of agreement rising with level of climate expertise. 

However, only some of the public realizes that the consensus percentage is this high — only 49 percent of the population believes there is a general consensus among scientists. Unfortunately, a hailstorm of misinformation has convinced the public that there is still rigorous debate among experts surrounding the existence climate change. There is not.

Expert consensus is important because we trust experts, such as doctors and lawyers, to give us the facts. Climate researchers are our climate experts. In the scientific method, experts conduct experiments and take observations repeatedly to gather evidence. Every possible hypothesis is systematically supported or eliminated, with the focus of investigations gradually narrowing as evidence begins to overwhelm doubt. Theories emerge from the data, and these new theories lead into more investigation, which lead into more theories and more investigation and so on.  During this investigatory process, scientists are skeptical and sometimes question results. 

Eventually, though, the debate stops. Scientific consensus is not reached by a vote or proclamation; no overarching scientific authority that dictates when one has been reached. Scientific consensus emerges when evidence points to one theory so powerfully that it becomes nearly impossible to swim against the tide of information. When a scientist contradicts a scientific consensus, he or she is not simply disagreeing with colleagues. That scientist is denying or willfully ignoring evidence.  

But scientists already know all of this – there is no debate among climate scientists surrounding the existence of a consensus. It is the political pundits and industry, most of whom have no scientific background, who have convinced the American public that climate change is up for debate.  

When you see a debate about the existence of climate change on TV, it is usually a scientist versus a politician or two politicians opposite each other. Rarely do you ever see two scientists battling it out on TV over the climate consensus, because 97 percent of them have already accepted reality. Climate change deniers are spewing non-truths, yet we keep letting them talk. Scientists keep the debate alive by engaging with these ill-informed antagonists, by giving them a platform.  

From now on, I say we should just talk over them. Climate experts know that the fate of humanity is in the balance. Earth is sick and in trouble, and we need to let people know. Scientists should shout the facts so loudly from the rooftops that it drowns out all other noise from below. Harvey and Irma show that human lives may depend on it.



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