While the world’s attention is focused on the twin crises of COVID-19 and economic meltdown, an even greater pandemic is being largely ignored by the public: the climate emergency.
We are running out of time to halt this mounting crisis, which has the potential to negatively impact every person on the planet. Credit for this dismissal is largely due to decades of cleverly sown misinformation — most damaging of which is the false assertion that scientists disagree about whether climate change is real and caused by humans.
In fact, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, despite all the scientific papers and reports published in the past decade, the general public thinks only 55% of climate scientists agree on global warming, whereas in reality, very few disagree, and even fewer who have scientific backgrounds relevant to climate science. The actual level of agreement is about 97%.
Many individuals who pose as climate “experts” are not scientists at all, or have no real background in climate science. An often-referenced case in point is the Petition Project, which claims more than 31,000 “scientists” signed a petition stating, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.”
It turns out many signed the petition in response to a mailer that included a document appearing to be a scientific journal article (not written by climate, or even environmental scientists) and a cover letter signed by a former president of the National Academy of Sciences, Frederick Seitz.
In the 1980s, after his academy experience and a stint consulting for the tobacco industry, Seitz became involved with several fossil-fuel-funded think tanks for which he was a spokesperson, claiming that the science behind global warming was flawed. In 1998, he joined with the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine to send the petition package to thousands of scientists.
The cover letter implied that the National Academy of Sciences had serious questions about the science behind global warming. As a result, both the academy and the American Association for the Advancement of Science were besieged by calls from scientists concerned that fraud was taking place. The academy was obliged to publicly denounce the article, stating that its claims did not reflect the conclusions of its expert reports.
According to the Petition Project’s website, only 39 of the 31,000 “scientists” claim to be climatologists (0.1%). Many signers are MDs, dentists or veterinarians, and the largest category is people with only a bachelor’s degree in science or the equivalent. For more details about this deliberate attempt to sow doubt, visit www.skepticalscience.com, under “the 97% consensus on global warming.”
In 2015, the Los Angeles Times published an exposé showing how Exxon-Mobil’s own scientists had been well aware of the dangers of global warming for decades and planning for its effects. At the same time, the company was funding a huge public-relations campaign claiming that the science of climate change was “murky and uncertain.” They apparently thought public consensus would result in policies that wouldn’t benefit the company.
With such deep-pocket funding of climate change doubt by Exxon-Mobil and its cronies, it’s not surprising that people became confused. And now, with an American president who calls climate change a hoax and gives little credence to science in general, those who don’t investigate for themselves are likely to become even more muddled.
To bypass this targeted misinformation, how do we know scientists agree? Here’s how: Seven different research groups have looked into the consensus issue in the last decade, examining thousands of papers and/or asking hundreds of scientists directly for their position on climate change. They found that between 91 and 100% of published climate scientists agreed, based on the evidence, that human-caused global warming is occurring. NASA concludes that 97% or more agree. Furthermore, the more expertise in climate science the scientists have, the more they agree on human-caused climate change.
Our National Academy of Sciences, as stated above, and its counterparts from 79 other nations also agree, as do all major American member organizations of physicists, chemists, meteorologists and astronomers. Not a single one claims that human-influenced global warming is in doubt.
This is vital information today, because when people learn how strong the scientific agreement really is, they’re much more inclined to rise above political differences and support policy solutions for climate change. And, as Yoda would say, find policy solutions for climate change we must!
Cher Gilmore is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter if Citizens’ Climate Lobby and lives in Newhall.