No, these aren’t the thought-provoking and compelling statistics about creating a more sustainable world that readers have come to expect from the Worldwatch Institute. They are, however, actual findings from studies conducted in the last four years.
Why highlight research that has seemingly obvious conclusions? Because a recent climate change study ought to fall into this category, too, but doesn’t. It doesn’t thanks to public misunderstanding of the consensus among climate scientists that human-made climate change is happening.
The study, from researchers with Stanford University, the University of Toronto, and the Hewlett Foundation, shows just how strong that consensus is. It found that 97.5 percent of the 200 most-published climate researchers agree that climate data shows the average temperature of the planet went up over the last 50 years, and “most” of this warming was caused by greenhouse gas pollution from people. Or, written like the first three studies: Climate change experts agree humans are causing climate change.
Given the scientific consensus already expressed in exhaustively reviewed publications like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, such a conclusion should seem obvious. It should, by now, even read like a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion. However, given recent attacks on the credibility of the IPCC report, Climategate, and reports of petitions by skeptical climate scientists, the new study provides a significant quantification of the state of agreement among climate scientists.
The study’s value extends further. As the graphics at right illustrate, and the blog Climate Science Watch explains (emphasis added),
the relative climate expertise [by number of publications - Fig. 2] and overall scientific prominence [by citations from peers in other papers - Fig. 3] of the researchers unconvinced of anthropogenic climate change is substantially below that of convinced researchers.
Moreover, regardless of whether a climate researcher’s work had been cited heavily by peers or only a few times, those convinced by the evidence greatly outnumbered those unconvinced.
It’s unlikely that this research alone will quiet the perception that climate scientists disagree about the strength of climate change research. It is, however, an important step in that direction. Popular reports about new research may also convince more people that climate change is happening and that humans are at fault. As an upcoming Worldwatch Vital Signs Online article reports, new and existing data on glacial melt and sea-level rise data clearly show considerable and worsening climate change.
As Meera Bhaskar noted earlier in ReVolt, most of the U. S. public gets the message. If public understanding in the United States, and globally, continues to grow, climate research like Anderegga et al.’s may soon earn that “obvious” label.