All climate scientists, thousands of them, agree the climate is changing. Several million other scientists agree with them. There is no dispute about that. Almost ALL of them believe, on the evidence thus far, that humans beings are the main cause and have published about 4500 scientific papers to that effect over the last decade or so, for scrutiny and for challenge by other scientists.
Currently sixty two scientists have seriously questioned either the speed of the change, the cause of the change or the effect of the change on the planet.
- 15 agree the climate is changing but are skeptical about the predicted speed of change
- 29 agree the climate is changing but argue the change is or could be natural.
- 10 agree the climate is changing but argue the cause is unknown.
- 3 agree the climate is changing but claim there will be few adverse effects.
- 5 others who would have been included in the list have since died. A total of 62 have or had various doubts about parts of the climate change issue
The existence of the 62 questioners is about average for scientific knowledge and the numbers generally reduce as time goes on or (rarely) scientists find a completely new and unexpected explanation.
Scientists are skeptics by nature so when an hypothesis is first presented, the unconvinced percentage is 100%. As the hypothesis is tested over time, the number of unconvinced or those disagreeing with the results / tests/ methods diminish until we reach a natural level close to, but rarely reaching, 100% consensus or fundamental agreement.
Scientific consensus does not make news, but climate change will affect humans in every aspect of their lives, so the existence of those questioning the evidence and conclusions take on an unjustified importance.
For those who do not want to accept the evidence the existence of any disagreement can be exploited to justify ignoring the evidence aka ‘cherry picking’. For those who have an interest in keeping the status quo, this is also useful to delay action that would otherwise be a cost to them.
There are also those who think that scientists “believe” theories in the same way they have belief or faith in an idea or ideology. For these people, belief is a choice but for scientists, belief is no such thing. To a scientist, there is no “belief” in the sense that many know it, scientists only have probability.
After seeing the evidence (in this case for greenhouse gas emissions, rising sea temperature etc) a scientist will calculate to what degree of certainty a claim is correct. When he or she sees evidence that has impeccable qualification and research, that evidence is what forms opinion (or “belief” as others may describe it). When a scientist “believes” something, it is his or her assessment that the evidence is beyond doubt.
A successful tactic to delay the impact of costs associated with changing or reversing the actions needed to solve the problem, is to highlight the inevitable dissenting scientific voices. This can provide justification to postpone actions that will cost the vested interest money to resolve.
Another successful tactic is to cherry pick qualifiers that come with all scientific papers. These qualifiers are there to provide certainty and integrity for the paper but can easily be quoted out of context to suggest the paper is just speculation, that is, an hypothesis.
The following is part of a presentation by Professor Ian Chubb AC , Australia’s retired Chief Scientist.
It is not too hard to take a sentence out of a long essay, or even part of a sentence, and bend it to bolster your otherwise fragile point. It is enough, some think, simply to create doubt.
After the work of very many scientists over more than 50 years, the views on climate change have converged to the point where the evidence has moved from possible to beyond reasonable doubt. But do we do nothing because of the mockers or because some scientists disagree, or because some others sit on the side and shout but don’t put their ideas into the scientific literature?
Scientists are natural skeptics and highly trained critics. They constantly evaluate and revise. But sooner or later, prevailing views will converge after scrutiny and challenge. After the work of scientists from multiple disciplinary backgrounds the lines of evidence on climate change have converged to support a high degree of confidence that climate is changing and that human activity is a primary cause.
The difference between climate and weather.
Another hold-back for change comes from the layman’s confusion between climate and weather. For many people, recalling weather events from the time of grandparents is evaluating the climate.
Discussion about the weather can be interesting but has little to do with the study of the climate which measures the changes over time ranging from a few thousand years to millions of years. What concerns the scientific community is the extraordinarily rapid and unprecedented changes that have occurred since we have been pumping large amounts of Co2 into the atmosphere and cutting down the forests that (together with the phytoplankton in the oceans) provide much of the oxygen we breathe.
There is some justification for associating climate change with current weather events, as all scientists agree the climate is undergoing change that could be affecting weather, but not too much weight should be given increased forest fires or melting ice. These also occur naturally and any perceived beneficial reduction of melting for example may lead people to think the climate is not changing and that would be a very dangerous connection indeed.
We may not want to embrace the costs and inconvenience of changes that need to be made in the interests of even our children and certainly our grandchildren, but accept this we must. To slide off the side, justifying our reluctance by emphasizing the natural existence of some dissenting scientific voices is tantamount to wilful ignorance.