Sunday, November 15, 2009

Science and the people...

Seem to be diverging

First some recent survey information.
Doran and Kendall Zimmerman, 2009
A poll performed by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman at Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago received replies from 3,146 of the 10,257 polled Earth scientists. Results were analyzed globally and by specialization. 76 out of 79 climatologists who "listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change" believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and 75 out of 77 believe that human activity is a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. Among all respondents, 90% agreed that temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800 levels, and 82% agreed that humans significantly influence the global temperature. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in human involvement. A summary from the survey states that:
"It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes."[83] [More]
For a more exhaustive overview of the scientific community, I found the following helpful.

Climate change critics like Richard Lindzen try to say "There's no consensus on global warming." in the Wall Street Journal, in front of Congress, and many other places.  This argument has also been made repeatedly on Fox News.1,2  Other researchers like Dean Dr. Mark H. Thiemens say this "has nothing to do with reality".1,2,3   The following is a list of quotes from scientific organizations, academies, scientists, industry spokesmen, etc supporting the existence of man made climate change and the need to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Many of these quotes reference the IPCC or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is widely regarded by mainstream scientists as either the "most reliable" or one of the most reliable sources for accurate information on climate change.  As you will notice,  the evidence against the consensus critics like Lindzen and pundits on Fox News is overwhelming.  If you are confused as to whose opinion matters, just pay attention to the peer review science journals and the National Academy of Sciences.  For those that don't know, the National Academies are like the Supreme Court of science.  The number of climate scientists in the US can be found by examining the members of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).  As of November 10, 2006 we know that there is a minimum (no official count of foreign climatologists is available) of 20,000 working climatologists worldwide 1,2.   An important fact to remember is that many high profile critics you see in the news do not qualify as climate scientists when these standards are applied.  Keep both of these concepts in mind the next time you see a handful of self proclaiming "climate scientists" with dissenting opinions.  It is also important to note that Exxon Mobil is funding a $10,000 bounty for climate denialists and skeptics.  If only 2% of the 20,000 climatologists were bought out then we'd have 400 deniers (skeptics are convinced by science not money).  If you have suggestions for the addition of other quotes please post them at our blog. [More]

[Another recent survey]

The compelling value of these sources is both the depth and breadth of the agreement, rather than self-proclaimed authenticity.  More interesting is this recent study done with economists.
The law school’s Institute for Policy Integrity sent surveys to 289 economists who had published at least one article on climate change in a top-rated economics journal in the past 15 years. Half of those economists responded anonymously to a dozen questions that solicited their opinions on a range of issues, from the impact of climate change on particular industries to how the benefits of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions should be calculated.
The survey found that 84 percent of the economists agreed that climate change “presents a clear danger” to the United States and global economies – hitting agriculture the hardest – even though the severity of global warming remains unknown.
Only 5.6 percent disagreed with that statement, while 7.6 percent were neutral and 2.8 percent had no opinion.
Not surprisingly, the economists favored a market-based approach to limiting carbon emissions, with 80.6 percent supporting the auctioning of emissions allowances, while 9 percent believed the government should give them away.

Climate change legislation before Congress would initially distribute some free allowances to industry while increasing the number of auctioned permits over time. “Some of the answers we get were fairly consistent with what we expected, to the extent that they are consistent with general economic theory, which is likely to favor an auctioning system,” said J. Scott Holladay, an economics fellow at the institute and an author of the report.
Nearly all the economists – 94.3 percent – said the United States should agree to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through an international climate treaty. Fifty-seven percent said the country should make such a commitment even without an agreement. [More]

Given this growing near-unanimity among experts - especially in the field of climatology - why is the general public sliding the other way?


I don't find this surprising.  Given the recession and the fact that climate change legislation  is about starting to pay for the damage we have inflicted and will inflict on the environment, there is little upside into trying to grasp the mechanics and implications of theis complex problem.  Upton Sinclair put it best:
If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it

 The awkward part is when skeptics try to force reason backwards.  We don't want to pay for climate change damage, so we try to undo the physics and chemistry underlying the phenomenon.  That's not going to well, so the better tactic is political resistance.

For the most part logic and reason are not too important in political debate these days.  Which is why folks feel free to hold inconsistent positions on political issues.  What is playing well is emotion, especially outrage, and more especially displaced outrage. 

Upset about the bank bailout? Deny AGW.

That'll show'em. 

The larger problem is just like the economic issues facing us, climate change is beyond the attention span of most and secondary to the immense problems facing so many every moment.

Without patience and clear voices in an arena of civil discourse, I think the most effective course of action is to prepare for significant increases in all such issues.  This does not guarantee disastrous consequences, but it sure makes them more likely.

The funny part is if those consequences come earlier than we think, rather than after we're off the stage.


1 comment:

Jake in OH said...


My guess is the answer to the question about sliding public opinion is much more basic than any statisical explanation.

Simply put, this summer was cooler and wetter than average in many parts of the nation. So obviously to some people, global warming must not be happening. And the April 2008 survey was coming off of a milder than average winter, so obviously to some people the effects are there to be seen.

Too many people in this world have short term memories about these kind of things.

Think about this:

Ask two groups of 1000 people about global warming views. The first group ask on day 4 of 90+ degree temperatures in the middle of a hot summer. The second group ask on day 4 of below freezing temperatures with a foot of snow on the ground.

Care to wager about the differences in responses??? It is human nature. Maybe that is oversimplification of this particular survey, but it makes sense to me.