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Climate change science: a simple table

February 20th, 2012 · 24 Comments

There is a strong scientific consensus supporting the scientific Theory of Global Warming and these key points:

  • There is warming
  • Humanity is contributing to that warming
  • This warming could create significant harm.

While scientific “debate” always continued and there are debates over many elements within and around climate science (How fast will the Arctic Ice melt? Is there a point of no-return where humanity will no longer be able to avert catastrophic climate chaos? Is Global Warming fostering more tornadoes? Etc …), the scientific community has a very solid understanding of and agreement about the basics.  That strength of agreement, if truly understood by the political elite and public, creates serious challenge for those seeking to forestall action to mitigate climate change. Thus, when hearing of “consensus”, we often hear from self-proclaimed “climate skeptics” that there is great uncertainty and that we should teach the “scientific debate”.  Here is a rather simple table to use to consider the extent of that “debate”.

Table 1: Professional Societies and Major Relevant Research Institutions on whether humanity is driving climate change

Humanity driving climate change Uncertain about extent of human role
American Association of Petroleum Geologists

Consider a simple truth about the incredibly complexity of issues, interconnections, and feedback patterns/cycles in these interactions of energy and climate change issues:

anyone who asserts that they know everything about energy and climate change, definitively, and knows every single answer is, well, simply not someone worth listening to about these complex domains.

Thus, a critical skill set is developing a sense as to who to trust and who is untrustworthy for consideration.

And, this “skill set’ can be used as a guide for where one might have uncertainty.

Greg Craven, youtube star extraordinaire and author of the highly recommended What’s the worst that could happen?, laid a hierarchy of authorities for considering a difficult subject area where one might not be expert but where you wish to figure out an answer via the thoughts and opinions of others.  Quite roughly, in order, you could have from high (implicit) to lower (need to be confirmed) trust as follows:

  • Professional societies
  • Government Reports
  • University Research Programs
  • Think Tanks
  • Advocacy Organizations
  • Individual Professionals
  • Individual Lay People

And, if an institution speaks in a way that contradicts its normal bias (like a tobacco company stating that smoking tobacco causes cancer or a fossil-fuel company stating that CO2 is a major threat to humanity and we need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels), then it should be given stronger weight.

Craven lays out why professional organizations are at the top of the credibility spectrum:

professional societies are organizations that exist not to advance a particular agenda but to simply serve the communication and training needs of a particular profession.  … With these groups, bias and political leanings are going to be small as can be expected in any human endeavor.

The level of expertise is fairly high because these groups are made up of people who know more about the field than anyone else; furthermore, fur such an association to come out with a statement, most of the members would need to agree with it, so what you’re getting is general agreement from a whole bunch of experts — no small thing. And, the longer an organization has been around or the mroe prestigious it is, the bigger the reputation it has to protect. You can be fairly confident that an organization has been quite thorough in making sure it doesn’t say something that later makes it look silly.

Now, “argument from authority” is a touchy subject. Just because the American Medical Association says today that X causes Y disease doesn’t mean that it won’t turn out that further research will uncover that X is unrelated to Y.  Even so, when trying to figure out how to avoid Y disease, today, would we find it more likely that the AMA or a community glee club would have more relevant information and advice?  “Authority” doesn’t mean certainty but, as Craven lays out, there are reasons to give some credence to such perspectives.

To apply this hierarchy of credibility, the first section might be laid out like this:

Table 2: Structuring a Table re authorities re humanity have a role in driving climate change

Humanity driving climate change Uncertain about extent of human role
??? Who … and what credentials … ??? Who … and what credentials …

Table 1 above is an attempt at filling in Table 2.

And, with that truly independent association of people who have zero interest in perpetuation of a fossil fuel economy standing out as a clear exception, how does the Association of American Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) introduce its recommendations about climate change?

In the last century, growth in human population has increased energy use. This has contributed additional carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases to the atmosphere. Although the AAPG membership is divided on the degree of influence that anthropogenic CO2 has on recent and potential global temperature increases, AAPG believes that expansion of scientific climate research into the basic controls on climate is important.

And, for those who still are wondering ‘but what about all those scientists who challenge that consensus,’ spend a few moments with Peter Sinclair looking at 32,000 (pseudo-)scientists challenging those institutions in the first column:

Note:  This is a modified reposting of Considering Institutional Authorities and Climate Change.

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Tags: climate change · science

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jamawani // Feb 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    The more you caterwaul the less people listen.

    Sigh … really … reduced to such pleasant forms of engagement?

    Do you honestly think that the people of Greece would choose to increase their costs for energy in the current economic climate – – speaking of climate?

    What if offered, as part of the harsh international financing, ‘energy efficiency’ investments that would put people to work while reducing the nation’s energy import bills and lowering the average person’s costs for energy services? This is not happening … it could.

    I happen to hold to the rather dated concept of materialist analysis. You know – that people being who they are will shoot the last dodo bird to eat if they are hungry. (And that doesn’t include the millions they will shoot for cash.) So, if one does not attend sufficiently to materialist issues, the environmental ones fall by the wayside.

    And, well, take a look at the body of my work. An example: Laying out how government investment could create (hugh numbers of) jobs, while leading to lower energy services costs, bulking up the economy, and reducing climate impacts. I am sorry but that (and the 100s of other examples from my body of work) does not show an absence of attention to “materialist issues” — you need to, however, make a far better case that I fail to “attend sufficiently” in them beyond reacting, vehemently, to a few posts within over 1000 published on this site.

    Any casual look at the importance of global warming in national and international polls over the past 5 years should convince you. And yet, many on the left continue to tilt at climate wind turbines. And so, large numbers of disenfranchised and economically desperate people turn to the far right.

    The responsibility for those polling figures are, sigh, due to “many on the left”?

    The polarity, in the United States, between political parties is due to “many on the left continu[ing] to tilt a climate wind turbines”? Come off it.

    And, well, recent work has shown (pretty conclusively) that this shift (in the U.S. at least) is heavily influenced due to a failure of elites to talk about climate change science … not due to over discussion, over emphasis (from the President on down …)

    And, want to deal with the issue that that polling really matters as to the question set. Ask ‘what is the most important issue’ (implying ‘today’) and climate/environmental aren’t in the top ranks. Ask what is the most important issue to face/deal with into the coming years and the polling response is utterly different. When ‘citing’ polling, we need to pay attention to context, word phrasing, etc in then using the material to make judgments.

    West Virginia used to be a solid Democratic lock. Now it is solid GOP on the presidential level and increasingly GOP at the state level.

    Many reasons for this … and, well, here is a ‘climate’ path toward engaging with those populations: Clean Energy Jobs Blow In (not Blow Up) Coal River Mountain

    $250 million for a program to foster greater and faster wind penetration in Appalachia. $230 million should be dedicated to paying 15% of the costs for putting wind farms in Appalachia (with the Federal government to receive a 2.5% share of electricity production, the state to receive 2.5%, and the local community 2.5%; the remaining 7.5% is to be funding for the developer (whether private or public). The remaining $20 million is to be used for research on constructing (underground) power storage to enable cost-effective large scale power storage for Appalachia Wind. Roughly one-half of these funds should be to support demonstration projects. This funding mechanism / path should lead to a total of about $1.2 billion moving into Appalachia wind projects each year.

    This $250 million funding would create roughly 25000 jobs in some of the most impoverished communities in America.

    Might not something like this be attractive to West Virginia communities and citizens?

    The entire surge of right-wing state governments majorities in the Midwest in 2010 is part of this process. We’re not talking about slight majorities – we’re talking about 2/3s across the region. It may not be in the interests of the unemployed and working poor to vote for Goppers – but when left activists preach about climate to people who are having their utilities shut off, one can understand their reticence.

    So here’s another little list – Right Governments

    New Zealand – National Party has biggest win in a generation with near majority – despite the multitiered election system.

    Australia – Labor is polling almost 20 points down and may lose 25% of its seats – despite the fact that Tony Abbott hardly inspires confidence.

    Canada – The Harper government now has a clear majority for the next five years. And the current Conservatives are far more doctrinaire than the PCs of Mulroney’s generation.

    Sweden – Yeah, the bastion of Scandinavian socialism has a center-right government supported by far-right ultranationalists.

    Greece & Italy – Eurozone appointed neoliberal caretaker governments. “Austerity” is the byword – while the left looks for a new climate treaty.

    Germany – Merkel continues to push through draconian measures throughout Europe despite her own domestic political weaknesses. Since the SDs and Greens refuse to form a coalition with the Links Partei the left remains fragmented. Merkel is likely to coast to reelection.

    Britain – the only losers in the political scene are the Lib Dems who stand to get trounced in the next general. Thus, Cameron knows that he has their support in nearly all eventualities. Scotland’s devolution issues are likely to favor the Conservatives – UK patriotism and fewer seats at risk.

    Hungary, Latvia, etc – Quasi-fascist ultranationalist states. A right-wing fanatic’s wet dream. The left is nearly completely absent in many east-central European political scenes.

    France – only France shows the possibility of bucking the trend. Bit Francois Hollande hardly inspires confidence. He was as neoliberal as Tony Blair until recently – – and far less telegenic. Not to mention that Hollande can lose better than almost anyone.

    So let me thank you and all of the other purists with their heads in the climate sands.


    Your righteousness is condemning an entire generation to reactionary rule. Hell – even your stated goals on climate stand zero chance of being enacted within such a political framework. But worse, women, minorities, the working class, queer people, education, housing, you name it – – all stand to be harmed.

    Your political myopia is stunning.

    This post is about the status of climate science in terms of preeminent scientific institutional statements. Why not scroll through my work to attack my “political myopia” where I am actually laying out concepts for political positioning? There are a huge number of such posts, including multiple 2012 posts.

  • 2 sailrick // Feb 22, 2012 at 1:10 am

    you are accusing others of political myopia?

  • 3 John Egan // Feb 22, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Yeah – I am.

    And I stand corrected – –
    It appears that the Labor govt in Australia is already disintegrating. It is a minority govt requiring crossbench support – and the crossbenchers are suggesting early elections now that Rudd has resigned as foreign minister and will be challenging Gillard formally for leadership.

  • 4 Response to Wall Street Journal 16 « Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah // Feb 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    […] about it.  This could not happen unless there was a VERY strong majority of experts.  [UPDATE:  Here is a nice graphic to illustrate this point. H/T Adam […]

  • 5 America’s youth issue Heartland a plea to “Cease and Desist” // Feb 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    […] Climate change science: a simple table […]

  • 6 Girma // Feb 25, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Whacking science denier Moles is tiresome


    Let’s beWhack A Mole Fever clear in agreement: ALL CAP ASSERTIONS ARE OBVIOUSLY WITH GREATER AUTHORITY.

    Sigh …

    This is the problem of whacking moles. Obviously: 1,000s of peer-reviewed studies discuss “evidence” and provide support to the Scientific Theory of Global Warming.

    There are numerous studies directly to this question — from multiple angles.

    While the preponderence of scientific evidence/work leads to the conclusion that not only is there anthropogenic global warming but that the majority of recent warming is driven by humanity, perhaps you could have at least pretended to be somewhat associated with science in trying to argue that the ‘evidence’ re AGW is being misconstrued and looking the data otherwise would … But, no, you chose to make an ALL CAP (and thus to be more trusted) ASSERTION there was zero evidence when, in fact, THERE IS A MASSIVE AMOUNT OF EVIDENCE WITH SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH EXAMINING AND MAKING SENSE OF IT THAT THERE IS ANTROPOGENIC GLOBAL WARMING! (See, doesn’t the bolding cure you of your serious case of anti-science syndrome?

    Thus, your all cap assertion immediately indicates that every single syllable that follows is either outright absurd inanity or efforts to distort ‘facts’ into misleading non-truthful truthiness.

    Here is the global mean temperature (GMT) data =>

    The most important observation in the above data is that the upper GMT boundary line passes through most of the GMT peaks, the lower GMT boundary line passes through most of the GMT valleys, and these lines are parallel. Also, the line that bisects the vertical space between the two GMT boundary lines is nearly identical to the long-term global warming trend line of 0.06 deg C per decade for the data from 1880 to 2010. This result indicates, since the GMT record begun, the GMT behaved like a stable pendulum with the two GMT boundary lines that are 0.5 deg C apart as the end points of the pendulum’s swings, and the long-term global warming trend line of 0.06 deg C per decade as the pendulum’s neutral position.

    From the above graph, the GMT has a single pattern that consists of a warming rate of 0.06 deg C per decade with an oscillation of 0.5 deg C every 30 years.

    In the above graph, a shift in climate to an accelerated global warming would have been indicated if the upper GMT boundary had been a curve with increasing positive slope with increasing years. As this has not been the case, there is no evidence of human emission of CO2 affecting the GMT.

    As a result, there is no evidence of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) so far.

    Future evidence of AGW would be if the GMT lies in the red region in the following graph.

    Actually, the globe is cooling as shown in the following graph:

    A denier is the one who says the globe is warming when the observed data says it is cooling.

    Playing fast and loose with data is not truthful science.

    skeptics v realists v3

  • 7 Bickmore on the WSJ response // Mar 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

    […] do something about it. This could not happen unless there was a VERY strong majority of experts. Here is a nice graphic to illustrate this point (H/T Adam […]

  • 8 ALEC lets Inhofe have it … // Mar 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    […] humanity is driving climate change (often even asserting that there isn’t Global Warming), humanity’s top scientific insitutions and scientific societies — with the partial except….  Hmmm … who to trust, Senator James Inhofe or the Royal Academy of Sciences and the […]

  • 9 Can you “Connect the Dots”? // Apr 14, 2012 at 7:01 am

    […] (and a marginal group of NASA retirees and employees make noise with a deceitful letter) while the scientific consensus about climate science strengthened with ever-stronger evidentary basis, while … Are you ‘connecting the […]

  • 10 Conspiracy Theorist + Global Warming Denialist: The Missing Link Defined? // Jul 8, 2012 at 10:04 am

    […] Conspiracists are much more likely to reject the standards-based work from scientists and to reject the global scientific consensus as to climate science. […]

  • 11 Adam DRAFT … a;sldkjfas;ldfjk // Aug 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    […] And, waiting to “prove” means inaction even in the face of massively supported scientific understanding of humanity’s impact on the climate. […]

  • 12 Obama-Biden campaign awakening to climate change as political issue? // Sep 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    […] too long, the Democratic Party “machine” has been eerily silent when it comes to the scientific consensus on climate change and the risks that catastrophic climate chaos creates for America and Americans. While much has […]

  • 13 Hot graphics — global warming in images // Sep 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    […] and other powerful photos. There are also many graphs. There are cartoons. And … even though every single relevant major scientific institution and organization in the world has stated that hum… and that climate change creates risks for humanity if we don’t act, so many people fail to […]

  • 14 PBS News Hour’s public service: demonstrating the shallowness of mainstream modern American journalism // Sep 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    […] — and I mean nowhere — in this interview is even a hint that Watts is at odds with every single serious academic institution/organization in the world that has spoken on this issue.  PBS presents Watts as a reasonable man and provides its viewers […]

  • 15 Romney’s climate stance is like telling the firemen to ignore your house fire. // Oct 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    […] scientific consensus about climate change (it’s happening, people are causing it, if we don’t fix it a lot more people are going […]

  • 16 Stunning Think Progress Climate Silence // Jan 1, 2013 at 8:27 am

    […] Or perhaps spend some time with hot graphics. Or, perhaps take a moment to acknowledge that the real consensus on climate change issues. Etc […]

  • 17 Mark Ruffalo Calls for White House to Declare War on Climate Change | "Global Possibilities" // Jan 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    […] transition to Clean Energy. We demand that our leaders act on the recommendations coming from an overwhelming majority of the scientific community to halt Climate Change and save the lives of untold […]

  • 18 Mark Ruffalo Calls for White House to Declare War on Climate Change | | Reveal, The Blog of ABC Carpet & Home // Jan 16, 2013 at 10:19 am

    […] transition to Clean Energy. We demand that our leaders act on the recommendations coming from an overwhelming majority of the scientific community to halt Climate Change and save the lives of untold […]

  • 19 Confronting a Global Warming Skeptic // Feb 16, 2014 at 7:14 am

    […] the “judgment” of 60 academics, almost none of whom are experts on climate, against the world’s leading scientific institutions?  And, by the way, many of the 60 receive funding from those with strong financial interests in […]

  • 20 Tornado Quest Gee-O-Science Links For June 25 – July 6, 2014 | Welcome To Tornado Quest // Jul 6, 2014 at 4:20 pm

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  • 21 Blunt @badler: @JimWebbUSA “sucks on #climate change” // Nov 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm

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  • 22 Greg Laden // Feb 17, 2015 at 11:37 am

    You seem to have left off (I think) the AmericanPetroleum Institute, which has stated that “Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change.” So they would go in your left column!

  • 23 California pleads with Senator @JimInhofe (R-@ExxonMobil): “Thrown some snowballs in our direction” // Mar 31, 2015 at 10:29 am

    […] same time, leading science observers like Republican Senator James Inhofe strive to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that the climate change is occurring and the planetary system is warming, that human is playing a […]

  • 24 “We’re really sorry about this huge misunderstanding.” // Apr 1, 2015 at 8:46 am

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