Climate Change: Consensus? What Consensus?

By DP

2nd July 2020

This article focuses on a single issue: the idea of a ‘consensus’ on human-caused climate change in the scientific community. I’ll be discussing the origins of this notion in some detail, because it is absolutely pivotal to the climate change narrative, and understanding how it arose is essential to debunking the myth. It also powerfully illustrates the degree of duplicity, and the lengths that are gone to, in promoting it.

The notion of a ‘consensus’ is used again and again to stifle debate on the subject of climate change. After all, why continue to argue about something there is already a consensus on – and amongst the world’s experts, at that? Why continue to ask questions? In fact, you don’t even need to think about it: most scientists – 97%, to be precise – agree that climate change is real, dangerous and caused by human beings!

Straight off, this should sound the alarm. When you think about it, there are millions of scientists in this world, so how is it possible that they’ve all been polled on their ideas on climate change? Second, conducting a poll is simply not how science is done! It certainly doesn’t prove a theory one way or the other! This smacks of marketing, not science. More on that later.

So here is the story of the ‘97% consensus’.

In 2013, John Cook, a ‘Climate Communications’ expert from the Global Change Institute in Australia, published a paper which caused a media storm. In it, Cook and colleagues claimed to have reviewed the ‘Abstracts’ (i.e., summaries, typically around half a page to one page in length) of just under 12,000 scientific papers on climate-related issues and to have found that 97% of these papers endorsed the idea that climate change is being driven by human activity. To quote Cook, they ‘found that over 97% of papers surveyed endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up, and that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause’. His ‘findings’ spread like wildfire around the world, and in no time world leaders were parroting his words. Obama declared, ‘97% of scientists agree. Climate change is real, manmade and dangerous’. Our David Cameron followed suit.

But the fact is, John Cook was telling a big fat lie. To explain how, I’ll need to present the details of the study:

Of the papers reviewed by Cook and his team, 66% expressed no opinion at all on human influence on climate change. They didn’t even mention it as a factor. Of the remaining 34%, 33% did mention that humans were having some impact, but as Cook didn’t set any benchmark for this, any degree of perceived influence, however tiny, counted as a ‘yes’. Unbelievably, this is where the ‘97%’ claim came from: 33% of the 34% who expressed an opinion on the subject thought that human release of greenhouse gases might be implicated in climate change. It’s important to remember here than scientists are very literal people: any influence, even that of ‘urban heat islands’, where cities raise the local temperature, would count. Critically, only a tiny number – just 64 papers – thought human influence was a significant driver of climate change. This equates to just 0.5% of the papers reviewed! It gets worse: when Cook’s work was reviewed some time later by a Dr Legates, he found even this number to have been wrongly presented: it was just 41 papers, not 64!

To summarise: it wasn’t 97% of scientists who expressed the idea that human beings were driving climate change, but 0.5%.

This flawed and ridiculous piece of ‘research’ has been the basis for policy change all around the world. It seems unbelievable that Cook could have got away with it.

To add insult to injury, there’s another twist to this. I did a quick Google search of John Cook, and found, to my astonishment, that he isn’t actually a climate scientist. His field is Cognitive Science – i.e., psychology, in particular how our brains process information. His work centres around how to best promote the idea of human-caused climate change – the marketing, you could say, of the idea. (It was later discovered that Cook had actually worked on the press releases announcing the results of his research project before he’d even begun it!) To this end, Cook has written books with titles like, ‘Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand’ and designed online courses in ‘Climate Science Denial’. This seems deeply manipulative – using his knowledge of psychology to promote the idea of climate scepticism being some kind of mental impairment.

You could accurately say that John Cook is no more qualified to assess and comment on climate science papers than you or I.

Not all scientists have taken this lying down.

Most notably, Dr Art Robinson organised ‘The Petition Project’: a petition, which was presented to the American government, signed by 31,487 scientists working in climate-related fields, around 9,000 of whom were PhDs. The petition stated their objection to the way climate change is presented and affirmed that there is no climate crisis: ‘There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing… catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere or disruption of Earth’s climate…’ Furthermore, the petition emphasised the many beneficial effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.

This should have been massive news, overturning, as it did, Cook’s claims. But there was barely a murmur in the press. The very fact that so many scientists are unhappy about the current narrative and refuse to give their assent to it (despite the consequences) should have made headlines around the world, but most people would never get to hear about it.

If you ever get into a disagreement about climate change, just knowing this one piece of information is enough to pull the rug from under an alarmist’s feet. There is a reliance on the fact that most of us won’t do our homework, and having just this one piece of arsenal at the ready could be a real asset in a debate. It should be mentioned here that there were other sources to the ‘consensus’ myth, such as Al Gore’s reference, in 2006, to a review of 928 articles by climate scientists, claiming all endorsed the idea that humans are causing warming and that it’s a problem (they didn’t; 75% agreed humans might be affecting the climate to some degree). But it’s Cook’s study that really drove the idea forward.

If climate alarmists are misrepresenting scientific opinion in this one, fundamental way, then it’s likely that the dishonesty in this matter is far-reaching. It’s not okay to mislead the public like this. It’s not okay to misrepresent science and to lie about your findings, or to belittle and insult scientists who have the integrity to voice their concerns. I’m a believer in the saying, ‘The truth will out’. Sometimes it takes a long time – centuries even – for the truth to surface, but it seems to be a law of nature that it does, eventually. The lies told about climate change will be no different. I really hope it’s sooner rather than later.