Scientific Community Agree on Climate Change, Public Still Confused

Despite the fact that the scientific community is in almost unanimous agreement on the subject of anthropogenic climate change, the public believe there is a lot of disagreement and therefore are less likely to be supportive of climate policy.

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This new albeit unsurprising news comes from researchers at George Mason University, San Diego State University, and Yale University and was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The new study was based upon a survey of climate scientists conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois which found that there was near unanimous agreement among climate scientists in the idea of anthropogenic global warming. (For those aware of the so-called controversy surrounding this finding, please scroll down to ‘Survey Issues Addressed’.)

However, using results from a national survey of the American public, the researchers found that a frighteningly large percentage of Americans believe that there is debate amongst climate scientists on the issue.

Conducted in June of 2010, the national survey found that two-thirds of respondents said they either believed there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening (45 percent), that most scientists think it is not happening (5 percent), or that they did not know enough to say (16 percent.)

This 66 percent thus were more unlikely to support climate change policies and viewed climate change as a lower priority.

On the opposite side of the scale, survey respondents who correctly understood there was widespread communion on the idea of anthropogenic global warming were much more certain that a) it was happening and b) were more willing to support climate policies.

“Misunderstanding the extent of scientific agreement about climate change is important because it undermines people’s certainty that climate change is happening, which in turn reduces their conviction that America should find ways to deal with the problem,” says Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

Maibach argues that a campaign should be mounted to correct this misperception. “It is no accident that so many Americans misunderstand the widespread scientific agreement about human-caused climate change. A well-financed disinformation campaign deliberately created a myth about there being lack of agreement. The climate science community should take all reasonable measures to put this myth to rest.”

Survey Issues Addressed

The survey study that this new research is based upon has come under a lot of flak, however, due to supposed missteps in the survey.

Outspoken global warming sceptic Lawrence Solomon wrote late 2010 on the study, pointing to what he believed were many flaws.

However, I spoke directly to Edward Maibach from GMU about the reliability of the study’s findings and its methodology.

“I appreciate that some people don’t find the Doran & Zimmerman paper to be conclusive, but as a survey researcher I find no basis to be concerned about their methods or conclusion,” Maibach said. “I think it was a good study (in fact, it is one of the best master theses I have ever seen). Moreover, the Anderegg et al paper cited in our paper used a completely different research methodology — analysis of the published literature — and reached the same conclusion.

“Seeing convergent conclusions from divergent research methods gives me confidence in the results of both papers.”

Source: George Mason University
Image Source: Paul Nine-O on Flickr

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