redOrbit staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online
An analysis of thousands of peer-reviewed studies published over more than two decades reveals a growing consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.
The survey, published Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, contradicts the idea that scientists are deeply divided on the topic, the authors said.
“An accurate perception of the degree of scientific consensus is an essential element to public support for climate policy,” wrote the researchers from the United States, Australia and Canada.
“Communicating the scientific consensus also increases people’s acceptance that climate change is happening.”
The researchers looked at more than 4,000 scientific papers that expressed a position on whether humans were primarily to blame for recent global warming. The papers were published between 1991 and 2011, and were written by more than 10,000 scientists.
Just over 97 percent agreed that human activity is responsible for recent global warming.
“Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus… is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research,” the researchers wrote.
The results of the survey conflict with US public opinion polls conducted from 1997 to 2007, which found that just 60 percent of Americans believe a scientific consensus exists on manmade, or anthropogenic, global warming.
“Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary,” said John Cook of the University of Queensland, who led the survey.
“There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception,” Cook said in a statement.
The researchers attribute the gap to vigorous lobbying efforts by industry, which they say has caused confusion that has blocked efforts to act on climate change.
“The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW is a necessary element in public support for climate policy,” the researchers said.
The Cook survey was the most comprehensive effort to date to demonstrate the consensus on the causes of climate change, deploying volunteers from the SkepticalScience.com website to review scientific abstracts. The volunteers also asked study authors to rate their own views on the causes of climate change.
But Professor Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University who studies the forces underlying public perceptions about climate change, challenges the idea that educating the public about a broad scientific consensus will have an effect on public opinion — or on the political conditions necessary for action to combat climate change.
Rather, having influential leaders call for climate action would be far more powerful, he said.
“I don’t think people really want to come around to grips with the fact that climate change is a highly ideological issue and it is not amenable to the information deficit model,” he told The Guardian.
“The information deficit model, this idea that if you just pile on more information people will get convinced, is just completely inadequate.”
“It strengthens the people who actually read and pay attention but it is certainly not going to change or shift the opinions of others.”
The United Nations is targeting a maximum temperature rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (two degrees Celsius) from pre-industrial levels to achieve what scientists believe would be manageable climate change. Many nations are already negotiating curbs to greenhouse gas emissions released by fossil fuel burning.