Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:08 PM GMT on June 21, 2006
I've had several people ask about the study Al Gore talked about in his movie, which found no scientific papers disputing the reality of human-caused climate change over the past ten years. Well, to be sure, there have been a few papers disputing the reality of human-caused climate change published in the past ten years, but they didn't happen to have the key words "global climate change" included in their citations. The study Gore cites was published in December 2004 in Science magazine by Naomi Oreskes, a professor at UC San Diego. The article examined peer-reviewed studies in the world's major scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 containing the phrase "global climate change" as keywords. Oreskes found that 75% of the 928 articles with those key words in their citations agreed with the consensus position stated by the UN's panel on climate change, that the observed global warming over the past 50 years has been caused in part by human activity. The other 25% of the papers took no position, and none of the papers disagreed with the consensus view. While the study is not a perfect measure of the scientific uncertainty in the published literature, the study does show that an overwhelming majority of published scientific research supports the idea that human activity is significantly modifying Earth's climate.
As Gore noted in his movie, the situation is quite different in the media, where about half of the stories in the study he cited cast doubt on the reality of human-caused climate change. The media are fond of trying to report both sides of an issue, so in the name of journalistic fairness, the public is receiving a highly skewed view of the scientific debate on climate change. In many cases, the opposing views presented by the media are from fossil fuel industry-funded "think tanks" that routinely put out distorted and misleading science intended to confuse the public.
I've collected a list of climate change position papers put out by the major governmental scientific institutes of the world that deal with the atmosphere, ocean, and climate. All of these organizations agree that significant human-caused climate change is occurring:
United Nations IPCC
American Meteorological Society
U.S. National Academy of Sciences
American Geophysical Union
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Royal Society of the United Kingdom
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Science Council of Japan, Russian Academy of Science, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Royal Society (UK)
Australian Academy of Sciences, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Royal Irish Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Royal Society (UK)
If anyone can find examples of governmental scientific organizations that deny the consensus position, I'd be happy to make a second list of links. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have long been hostile to international climate change negotiations, so their scientific organizations may well have official positions opposing the consensus. However, the Saudis are apparently changing their stance, as announced in May 2006 at a U.N. sponsored meeting in Germany. "I believe the petroleum industry should actively engage in policy debate on climate change as well as play an active role in developing and implementing carbon management technologies to meet future challenges," said the president of the Saudi state-run oil industry giant, Aramco. In 2005, both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gases. The Protocol does not call on them to reduce their emissions.
In summary, there is an overwhelming level of scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Those who defend the contrary view are fond of pointing out that we shouldn't stifle their opposing point of view, since heroes like Galileo with his sun-centered solar system view and Wegener with his continental drift theory both challenged the overwhelming scientific consensus of their day and were proved to be correct. That is true. However, Galileo and Wegener did not have the public relations staff of multi-billion dollar companies helping them promote their contrary views. I'm not too worried about the contrarian view of human-caused climate change being stifled, and contrarians are encouraged to publish in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. I would like to see the media sharply reduce their coverage of the contrary views of such think tanks as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Foundation, and scientists such as S. Fred Singer of SEPP. Getting one's climate science information from these sources it similar to getting one's news from a tabloid newspaper. Sure, some of the stories are true, but a lot of the material is of questionable quality, to say the least. The media should focus on getting their scientific information from leading scientists who regularly publish in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
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