Editorial in the Las Cruces Sun-News entitled, "IS THERE A 98% SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON GLOBAL WARMING?"

December 5, 2013

Global warming is a hot topic (pardon the pun). Not just on an international level, but on a local level as well. This is evident from the significant number of articles and letters-to-the-editor in the Sun-News that focus on this important issue. It seems, however, one of the main arguments from proponents of man-caused global warming is the claim of consensus. Specifically, “98% of all scientists” supposedly believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). But, is this true?

Seldom do people unanimously agree on anything. Only 93% of us believe we landed on the moon, according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling. And science is not immune from this lack of unanimity for a couple reasons: First, science can be complex; and second, we all have blind spots due to our natural bias. So, the idea that we can have a near-unanimous consensus on anything makes me suspicious. So, where does the “98%” claim come from? The 98% value comes from a report in 2009 by an American Geophysical Union survey sent out to 10,257 earth scientists. The survey consisted of two questions: 1) “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?” 2) “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

The first question is clear and legitimate. After all, few would dispute the planet has been thawing-out since the end of the Little Ice Age a couple hundred years ago. But the second question is unclear and vague. For example, what constitutes “significant”? Or, how much more “significant” are other factors? Also, do “contributing factors” pertain to land-use changes such as agriculture? (By the way, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Association, the world’s rapidly growing livestock population is the greatest threat to the climate, accounting for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.)

My point is that the results of this survey are not credible because both proponents and skeptics of AGW could answer yes to the second question. But that’s not all. Of the thousands of surveys received, only 77 were considered in the final statistic. Thus, the “98% of all scientists” refers to the fact that 75 out of a miniscule 77 hand-picked participants answered yes to question #2. This is not scientific or honest.

In contrast, there are several recent studies that contradict these findings. For example, George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications found that 63% of over 500 media broadcast meteorologists believe global warming is mostly caused by natural, not human, causes. Additionally, Forbes Magazine reported a survey of over 1,000 Canadian scientists that found only 26% attributed climate change to “human activity like burning fossil fuels.” And almost 70% claimed, “The debate on the scientific causes of recent climate change is not settled.”

But concerns of credibility are not isolated to the “98% consensus” statement. In his 2006 movie, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore used a graph that claimed changing CO2 levels preceded temperature changes. However, an article in Science magazine revealed that the CO2 changes actually followed the temperature changes by several hundred years. The article concluded by stating, “A rise in carbon dioxide levels could not have caused a rise in temperature if it followed the temperature.” However, the damage was done and the graph was used to deceive many people.

In the recently released IPCC Fifth Assessment Report there is even more cause for suspicion of AGW. The report states that scientists admit climate models have improved but “they still aren’t adept at modeling short time scales, such as 10 or 15years.” But, if they can’t accurately predict climate in the short-term, how can we possibly trust them for the long-term? Additionally, IPCC lead author Hans von Storch acknowledged that these same models failed to predict the ongoing and perplexing “plateau” in global temperatures since 1998. Ironically, the plateau has occurred while 25% of all man-produced CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution occurred during the first decade of this century, according to The Economist. But if AGW theory is true, temperatures should have sky-rocketed during this period.

Lastly, the IPCC report dials back the global warming alarm by stating that the temperature rise we can expect from AGW is lower than previously thought. Yet, despite this dial-back, admission of inaccurate models, and perplexity of the plateau, the IPCC doubled-down by claiming “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Not only does this statement lack credibility, it also contradicts temperature readings since the “mid-20th century.” For instance, in the late 1970s global cooling alarmists were predicting a coming “ice age” because temperatures were decreasing from the 1940s until the 1970s.

There is ample evidence to be suspicious of man-caused global warming, and claims of a near-unanimous consensus on anything should be highly suspect. After all, only 96% of Americans agree that lizard-people don’t control our societies. So, do we have a consensus on climate change? No, and the debate is far from settled.

Neal Hooks