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Climate change

Climate Change: Why So Much Doubt and Inaction?

I have been researching and teaching climate change now for around 20 years. I’m still astonished by the amount of misinformation online, in newspapers and more worryingly by politicians who make decisions that affect us all and will affect many generations to come. 

It seems that some who read a few articles or watch a few YouTube videos think themselves an expert and seem to want to impose their “expertise” on a wider audience, often not realising they are spreading misinformation or doubt in the current state of scientific knowledge. I often wonder whether such people think that the researchers and experts hadn’t thought of the points they raise and considered and addressed their particular arguments before (they have).

Sceptics seem to shout that doing something about climate change is an attack on our way of life, our civil liberties, our hard-earned money and say people who support it are fools when India and China aren’t doing anything (they actually are - but more on that in a future blog).

Climate change right size‌People want to know what the truth is. So, what do the top climate scientists actually think? A scientific paper is where a scientist or researcher publishes a new idea or a new set of results together with an extensive explanation of what they have done, and sometimes propose a new theory. Good researchers are their own feistiest sceptics. Papers are then published if they have merit and this is how new theories on the cutting edge of science are introduced. Albert Einstein and Newton’s theories all started with a paper.

Other scientists, who genuinely want to find out what the truth is, at conferences and research communities, spend a length of time trying to discredit new papers. This often leads to heated arguments and bitter rivalries between competing theories which often goes on for many years and sometimes consensus is never meaningfully reached: this is the peer review process. However, after a time, if the case is compelling enough, the majority of the people who understand most about the subject all agree on something and a new scientific truth emerges.

The common consensus about climate change is quoted that 97% of climate scientists agree with manmade climate change. This comes from a study by Cook where he looked at many other different studies researching the number of papers for and against climate change. Of seven independent studies he found they concluded 97%, 91%, 97%, 93%, 100%, 97%, 97% agreed, and he published his finding in a paper, Consensus on Consensus. Some sceptics have even attacked this research but it is correct.

The level of research is intense in climate change, for instance in Science Direct (a credible publisher) there have been 514,418 peer reviewed papers published with “climate change” mentioned. In the time period 2018-2019 up until June there have been 81,332 published. According to the 97% consensus you would expect three in every 100 to be sceptical, that’s 2,439 sceptical papers. In actual fact ordering them in relevance I could not find any sceptical papers in the first 100 - but they will be there. If I only told you about the 2,439 papers and denied the existence of the 78,893 that agreed with the consensus, it would be very easy to fool people.

In my next blog I will be explaining how researchers are so sure about climate change.

About the author

David Sprake

David Sprake

David Sprake is senior lecturer and programme leader for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Engineering at Wrexham Glynd┼Ár University.