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The 97% consensus on global warming

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate Advanced

97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming.

Climate Myth...

There is no consensus

"[...] And I'll mention that the stat on the 97% of - of scientists is based on one discredited study." (Ted Cruz)

At a glance

What is consensus? In science, it's when the vast majority of specialists agree about a basic principle. Thus, astronomers agree that the Earth orbits around the Sun. Biologists accept that tadpoles hatch out from frog-spawn and grow into adult frogs. Almost all geologists agree that plate tectonics is real and you'd be hard-placed to find a doctor who thinks smoking is harmless.

In each above case, something has been so thoroughly looked into that those who specialise in its study have stopped arguing about its basic explanation. Nevertheless, the above examples were all once argued about, often passionately. That's how progress works.

The reaching of scientific consensus is the product of an often lengthy time-line. It starts with something being observed and ends with it being fully explained. Let's look at a classic and highly relevant example.

In the late 1700s, the Earth-Sun distance was calculated. The value obtained was 149 million kilometres. That's incredibly close to modern measurements. It got French physicist Joseph Fourier thinking. He innocently asked, in the 1820s, something along these lines:

"Why is Planet Earth such a warm place? It should be an ice-ball at this distance from the Sun."

Such fundamental questions about our home planet are as attractive to inquisitive scientists as ripened fruit is to wasps. Fourier's initial query set in motion a process of research. Within a few decades, that research had experimentally shown that carbon dioxide has heat-trapping properties.

Through the twentieth century the effort intensified, particularly during the Cold War. At that time there was great interest in the behaviour of infra-red (IR) radiation in the atmosphere. Why? Because heat-seeking missiles home in on jet exhausts which are IR hotspots. Their invention involved understanding what makes IR tick.

That research led to the publication of a landmark 1956 paper by Gilbert Plass. The paper's title was, “The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change”. It explained in detail how CO2 traps heat in our atmosphere. Note in passing that Plass used the term "Climatic Change" all the way back then. That's contrary to the deniers' frequent claim that it is used nowadays because of a recent and motivated change in terminology.

From observation to explanation, this is a classic illustration of the scientific method at work. Fourier gets people thinking, experiments are designed and performed. In time, a hypothesis emerges. That is a proposed explanation. It is made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

Once a hypothesis is proposed, it becomes subject to rigorous testing within the relevant specialist science groups. Testing ensures that incorrect hypotheses fall by the wayside, because they don't stand up to scrutiny. But some survive such interrogation. As their supporting evidence mounts up over time, they eventually graduate to become theories.

Theories are valid explanations for things that are supported by an expert consensus of specialists. Gravity, jet aviation, electronics, you name it, all are based on solid theories. They are known to work because they have stood the test of time and prolonged scientific inquiry.

In climate science today, there is overwhelming (greater than 97%) expert consensus that CO2 traps heat and adding it to the atmosphere warms the planet. Whatever claims are made to the contrary, that principle has been established for almost seventy years, since the publication of that 1955 landmark paper.

Expert consensus is a powerful thing. None of us have the time or ability to learn about everything/ That's why we frequently defer to experts, such as consulting doctors when we’re ill.

The public often underestimate the degree of expert consensus that our vast greenhouse gas emissions trap heat and warm the planet. That is because alongside information, we have misinformation. Certain sections of the mass-media are as happy to trot out the latter as the former. We saw a very similar problem during the COVID-19 pandemic and it cost many lives.

For those who want to learn more, a much longer detailed account of the history of climate science is available on this website.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!


Further details

We know full well that we don’t have the time or capacity to learn about everything, so we frequently defer to the conclusions of experts. Without experienced people using their expertise to perform many vital tasks – and without new people constantly entering such occupations – society would quickly disintegrate.

The same is true of climate change: we defer to the expert consensus of climate scientists. Indeed, public perception of the scientific consensus with regard to global warming has been found to be an important gateway into other enlightened climate-related attitudes - including policy support. 

Nine consensus studies

Let's take a look at summaries of the key studies, featured in the graphic above, into the degree of consensus. These have been based on analyses of large samples of peer-reviewed climate science literature or surveys of climate and Earth scientists. These studies are available online through e.g. Google Scholar. That slightly different methodologies reached very similar conclusions is a strong indicator that those conclusions are robust.

Oreskes 2004

In this pioneering paper, a survey was conducted into all peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject 'global climate change', published between 1993 and 2003. The work showed that not a single paper, out of the 928 examined, rejected the consensus position that global warming is man-made. 75% of the papers agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way.

Doran & Zimmerman 2009

A survey of 3,146 Earth scientists asked the question, "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" Overall, 82% of the scientists answered yes. However, what was most interesting was the type of response compared to the level of expertise in climate science. Of scientists who were non-climatologists and didn't publish research, 77% answered yes. In contrast, 97.5% of actively-publishing climatologists responded yes. As the level of active research and specialization in climate science increases, so does agreement that humans are significantly changing global temperatures. The paper concludes:

"It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely non-existent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes. The challenge, rather, appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists."

Anderegg et al. 2010

This study of 1,372 climate science researchers found that (i) 97–98% of the researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) as outlined by the IPCC and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers. 

Cook et al. 2013

A Skeptical Science-based analysis of over 12,000 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject 'global climate change' and 'global warming', published between 1991 and 2011, found that over 97% of the papers taking a position on the subject agreed with the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of the project, the scientist authors were emailed and rated over 2,000 of their own papers. Once again, over 97% of the papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agreed that humans are causing it.

Verheggen et al. 2014

Results were presented from a survey held among 1868 scientists studying various aspects of climate change, including physical climate, climate impacts, and mitigation. The survey was at the time unique in its size, broadness and level of detail. Consistent with other research, it was found that as the level of expertise in climate science grew, so too did the level of agreement on anthropogenic causation. 90% of respondents with more than 10 climate-related peer-reviewed publications (about half of all respondents), explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) being the dominant driver of recent global warming. The respondents’ quantitative estimate of the GHG contribution appeared to strongly depend on their judgement or knowledge of the cooling effect of aerosols.

Stenhouse et al. 2014

In a survey of all 1,854 American Meteorological Society members with known e-mail addresses, achieving a 26.3% response rate, perceived scientific consensus was the strongest predictor of views on global warming, followed by political ideology, climate science expertise, and perceived organisational conflict.

Carlton et al 2015

Commenting that the extent to which non-climate scientists are skeptical of climate science had not so far been studied via direct survey, the authors did just that. They undertook a survey of biophysical scientists across disciplines at universities in the Big 10 Conference. Most respondents (93.6%) stated that mean temperatures have risen. Of the subset that agreed temperatures had risen, the following question was then asked of them: "do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" The affirmative response to that query was 96.66%.

Cook et al. 2016

In 2015, authors of the above studies joined forces to co-author a paper, “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming”. Two key conclusions from the paper are as follows:

(i) Depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, somewhere between 90% and 100% of climate scientists agree humans are responsible for climate change, with most of our studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists. (ii) The greater the climate expertise among those surveyed, the higher the consensus on human-caused global warming.

Lynas et al. 2021

In this paper, from a dataset of 88,125 climate-related peer-reviewed papers published since 2012, these authors examined a randomly-selected subset of 3000 such publications. They also used a second sample-weighted approach that was specifically biased with keywords to help identify any sceptical papers in the whole dataset. Twenty-eight sceptical papers were identified within the original dataset using that approach, as evidenced by abstracts that were rated as implicitly or explicitly sceptical of human-caused global warming. It was concluded that the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, expressed as a proportion of the total publications, exceeds 99% in the peer reviewed scientific literature.

Myers et al. 2021

This study revisited the 2009 consensus among geoscientists, while exploring different ways to define expertise and the level of agreement among them. The authors sent 10,929 invitations to participate in the survey, receiving 2,780 responses. In addition, the number of scientific publications by these self-identified experts in the field of climate change research was quantified and compared to their survey response on questions about climate change. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that agreement on anthropogenic global warming was high at 91% to 100% and generally increases with expertise. Out of a group of 153 independently confirmed climate experts, 98.7% of those scientists agreed that the Earth is warming mostly because of human activities such as burning fossil fuels. Among the subset with the highest level of expertise, these being independently-confirmed climate experts who each published 20+ peer-reviewed papers on climate change between 2015 and 2019, there was 100% agreement.

Public Polls and Consensus

Opinion polls are not absolute in the same way as uncontestable scientific evidence but they nevertheless usefully indicate in which way public thinking is heading. So let's look at a couple taken 13 years apart. A 15-nation World Public Opinion Poll in 2009 PDF), with 13,518 respondents, asked, among other questions, “Is it your impression that among scientists, most think the problem is urgent and enough is known to take action?” Out of all responses, just 51% agreed with that. Worse, in six countries only a minority agreed: United States (38%), Russia (23%), Indonesia (33%), Japan (43%), India (48%), and Mexico (48%). Conversely, the two highest “agree” scores were among Vietnamese (69%) and Bangladeshis (70%) - perhaps unsurprisingly.

The two other options people had to choose from were that “views are pretty evenly divided” (24% of total respondents), or “most think the problem is not urgent, and not enough is known to take action“ (15%). American and Japanese respondents scored most highly on “views are pretty evenly divided” (43 and 44% respectively).

How such a pervasive misperception arose, regarding the expert consensus on climate change, is no accident. Regular readers of this website's resources will know that instead, it was another product of deliberate misinformation campaigning by individuals and organizations in the United States and other nations around the world. These are people who campaign against action to reduce carbon emissions because it suits their paymasters if we continue to burn as much as possible. 

Step forward to 2022 and the situation has perhaps improved, but there's still some way to go. A recent poll, Public Perceptions on Climate change (PDF), was conducted by the Policy Institute, based at King's College London, UK. It quizzed samples of just over 2,000 people from each of six countries (UK, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Italy and Germany). The survey asked the question: “To the best of your knowledge, what percentage of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening?” The following averages were returned: the UK sample thought 65%, the average of the whole survey was 68% and the highest was Ireland at 71%. Clearly, although public perception of expert consensus is growing, there's still plenty of room for strategies to communicate the reality and to shield people from the constant drip-feed of misinformation.

Expert and Public Consensus

Finally, let's consider the differences between expert and public consensus. Expert consensus is reached among those who have studied complex problems and know how to collect and work with data, to identify what constitutes evidence and evaluate it. This is demanding work requiring specific skill-sets and areas of expertise, preparation for which requires years of study and training. 

Public consensus, in contrast, tends to occur only when something is blindingly obvious. For example, a serial misinformer would struggle if they tried running a campaign denying the existence of owls. Everyone already knows that of course there are owls. There is public consensus because we see and hear owls, for real or on the TV or radio. But complex issues are more prone to the antics of misinformers. We saw examples of misinformation during the COVID pandemic, in some cases with lethal outcomes when misinformed people failed to take the risks seriously. There's a strong parallel with climate change: it is imperative we accept the expert consensus and not kick the can down the road until the realisation it is real becomes universal – but utterly inescapable.


Update May 26, 2023: The "At a glance" section was updated to improve readability.

Last updated on 26 May 2023 by John Mason. View Archives

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Further reading

Richard Black at the BBC investigates whether there is a bias against skepticism in the scientific community.

More on what we're talking about when we say "scientific consensus,"  in an essay founded on Denial101x and scientific literature: Scientific Consensus isn’t a “Part” of the Scientific Method: it’s a Consequence of it. (or via archive.org)

Further viewing

The "Climate Denial Crock of the Week" video series examines the list of "32,000 leading skeptical scientists."

Naomi Oreskes gives a thorough presentation of the development of our scientific understanding of anthropogenic global warming:

Lead author John Cook explains the 2016 "Consensus on consensus" paper.

Here is a video summary of the various studies quantifying the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, as well as the misinformation campaigns casting doubt on the consensus.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Joe Crouch for his efforts in tracking down scientific organizations endorsing the consensus as well as links to their public statements.

Update

On 21 Jan 2012, we revised 'the skeptic argument' with a minor quote formatting correction.

Comments

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Comments 51 to 75 out of 602:

  1. frankbi I was referring to all the peer-reviewed papers, and the blogs that link to them. Legitimate or not, there is an awful lot of dissent. The conference you mention was more like a rally from what I have read about it. I really don't consider that dissent, although a few of it's speakers did post their papers on-line. I have read many papers on-line that are skeptical but not actually in opposition to the AGW hypothesis. Do you consider these to be dissenters?
  2. Frankbi, I believe the number 19 originally came from Andy Revkin's Dotearth blog. Andy Revkin later said that he had gotten emails from other scientists saying that there were several dozen more in attendence. Granted, its not 19,000, but its not 19 either. Beyond that, the 19,000 scientists are not all in climate related field, but apparently the Scientific American did some "crude extrapolating" and found roughly 200 climate researchers in the bunch. Again, not 19,000, but still a respectable number. The Oregon Petition isn't worth much anyhow.
  3. Robert S: Well, I couldn't find any concrete mention of any figures above 19... only some mentions of climate inactivists claiming there were "hundreds" of scientists there. Given that there were ~500 people in total, I wonder why they couldn't be more specific. In the meantime, Heartland Institute included a list of climate skeptic "co-authors" which included Mann, Rahmstorf, Keeling, and other well-known global warming theory _proponents_. And many scientists are angry about this: http://tinyurl.com/6zjxy4
  4. #52, Robert S., I don't know where you got 200 climate researchers were there, but there are over 20,000 climate scientists in the U.S. alone according to the AGU, so even there were 200 in attendance, and assuming they were all skeptics, that's still only about 1%. That would qualify as an overwhelming consensus in my book.
  5. Phillippe I don't see where you get the idea that the rate of increase of CO2 is unprecedented, or even relevent. It is supposed to be atmospheric content that makes the difference and by those standards we are not at or near anything extreme. So that argument doesn't work. But I guess that is another thread.
  6. since the topic in this forum is "the consensus" I thought I'd forward this http://www.desmogblog.com/500-scientists-with-documented-doubts...
  7. Paledriver (54), You misunderstood me: Frankbi said this "Remember the claim that there were 19,000 scientists disputing global warming? During the New York denialist conference ("2008 International Conference on Climate Change"), it turned out there were only _19_ scientists. Looks like the number 19,000 is off by a factor of 1,000." I responded to that point with this "Beyond that, the 19,000 scientists are not all in climate related field, but apparently the Scientific American did some "crude extrapolating" and found roughly 200 climate researchers in the bunch. Again, not 19,000, but still a respectable number." The 200 were supposedly from the OISM petition. And the link in your post at 56 is basically the same thing as frankbi's link at 53.
  8. Robert S. I did understand you. What I'm saying is #1, you don't know that the 200 that were, supposedly, there all disagree with the consensus and #2, 200 is an insignificant number when you realize that there are over 20,000 in the U.S. alone, and that this convention drew, I believe they claim, from all over the world.
  9. No, you didn't, and still do not, understand me. You said "I don't know where you got 200 climate researchers were there, but there are over 20,000 climate scientists in the U.S. alone according to the AGU, so even there were 200 in attendance" The 200 figure came from Scientific American when they looked at the OISM petition. There is nothing to attend regarding the OISM petition because it is a petition. You must be talking about the Heartland Conference. And I have been unable to find any concrete mention of 20,000 climate scientists in "the U.S. alone". The best I can find is an Eli Rabbett post in which Eli mentions 13,746 AGU members in climate related fields with a spread like this (quoting from Eli's blog): "-1956 Atomspheric -1564 Biogeochemistry -334 Cryosphere -751 Global climate change -4736 Hydrology -2326 Ocean sciences -634 Paleoclimate -2004 Volcanology (you can argue here if you want)" If you add foreign members, the number reaches 19,340. Now I understand what you are saying about the numbers, but please, don't make things up to prove your point. Though I never did think science was much of a popularity contest.
  10. what did I make up? My memory was a little muddy, my age perhaps, but the basic point is still there. There are about 20000ish members of the A.G.U. alone who are climate scientists, ergo 200 is about 1% or insignificant. And since we were talking about the conference, I naturally supposed you were too. It would have been better for you if you had, rather than that hoax of a petition.
  11. "what did I make up?" This: "there are over 20,000 climate scientists in the U.S. alone according to the AGU". Though I give you the benefit of the doubt (it is a big difference, however!) Anyhow, the comparison doesn't make sense --the OISM petition is Americans only, while the 20,000 includes foreign AGU members. And I don't know that I would call all of them "climate scientists": Some biogeochemists might be, majority probably are not, though they likely understand a part of the process, most volcanologists aren't climate scientists, etc... The actual number of *climate scientists* is probably much lower than 20,000 (or the 13,000 American AGU members). Then again, like I said above, I never thought science worked through popular opinion. "It would have been better for you if you had, rather than that hoax of a petition." I know the petition has it's problems, and it isn't exactly a major credible opposition to AGW, but I would hardly call it a hoax
  12. Apparently the number has increased for this new petition. In an article dated Monday, May 19, 2008 it says 31,000 Scientists Debunk Al Gore and Global Warming. Anyone know about this one?
  13. RobetS Re: "-2004 Volcanology (you can argue here if you want)" Probably the best of all sources listed. They have a better understanding of internal forcing than anyone else other than these groups: -4736 Hydrology -2326 Ocean sciences But where are the astronomers?
  14. If the Caribbean Academy of Sciences and the Royal Irish Academy endorse man made global warming can any person with a conscience still doubt? Mr Hansen from NASA's Goddard Institute thinks the doubters should be punished. Shouldn't they be given the opportunity to recant? Water boarding causes no lasting damage and requires no carbon use whatsoever, unlike burning at the stake, etc. Mr. Hansen let slip a prediction for the future. "All the Arctic sea ice will be gone in five to ten years." Going out on a limb, isn't he. He might be alive to reap the ricicule. I've marked my calendar: "Look for hell fire and inundation". For now, I'll keep the beach property.
  15. in response to number 62. this was when they claimes 17,000.....".. took a sample of 30 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to hold a Ph.D. in a climate-related science. Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition -- one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages. Crudely extrapolating, the petition supporters include a core of about 200 climate researchers -- a respectable number, though rather a small fraction of the climatological community.". this from when it was first released......"The Marshall Institute co-sponsored with the OISM a deceptive campaign -- known as the Petition Project -- to undermine and discredit the scientific authority of the IPCC and to oppose the Kyoto Protocol. Early in the spring of 1998, thousands of scientists around the country received a mass mailing urging them to sign a petition calling on the government to reject the Kyoto Protocol. The petition was accompanied by other pieces including an article formatted to mimic the journal of the National Academy of Sciences. Subsequent research revealed that the article had not been peer-reviewed, nor published, nor even accepted for publication in that journal and the Academy released a strong statement disclaiming any connection to this effort and reaffirming the reality of climate change. The Petition resurfaced in 2001.". and more...."Of 100 names googled, only about 2 percent turn out to be scientists with any training relevant to climatology, usually physics. A small number -- about 15 percent -- were other kinds of scientists or physicians, but with no relevant training. Several in this overall pool of scientists were quite elderly. The remainder were either people with no scientific credentials whatsoever (40 percent), or names that did not appear in the search -- highly improbable nowadays if indeed such people existed." so the petition is clearly a fabrication.
  16. paledriver I was under the impression that this was a newer petition. Are you saying that this is the same one as the 20k scientists earlier in this thread?
  17. Will Nitschke There have been several updates to the link that you posted. Below is the latest one only. U.S. Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007 Senate Report Debunks "Consensus" UPDATE: More and more scientists continue to declare their dissent of the ‘consensus.’ (LINK) Climate Skeptics Reveal ‘Horror Stories’ of Scientific Suppression (NYC Climate Conference Report - Part One of Reports) March 6, 2008 "Many prominent scientists participating and attending were very impressed by the New York City climate conference. Hurricane researcher and Meteorologist Stanley B. Goldenberg of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in Miami praised the Heartland Instituted sponsored conference. “The fact is that this conference is evidence that there are numerous respected, established and in many cases world-renowned scientists who have done careful research in various areas of ‘climate change’ that sharply differ with the [UN] IPCC results,” Goldenberg told the New York Times."
  18. Qietman, if you go to the link provided by #62 you'll find it's the same old Petition Project by OISM. If you go to my posts 4,8,12,14 and 28 (to begin with) you'll get a start on that petition and the "inhofe 400".
  19. paledriver I have been following along but I did not realize that it was the same one because of the number and date. So this petition is still circulating?
  20. paledriver I went back and read it again. It seems to be from the same organization but it also seems to be a different petition, they mention one in 2001 with 19k+ signers, and then they talk about 31k signers with 9k+ PHDs. It does not really mean anything one way or the other as I don't accept consensus as proof of anything, if I did I would be Hindu or Buddist (I'm sure one of those two have a consensus).
  21. paledriver p.s. I put that link in 62 to see if anyone could tell me if it was the same as discussed previously.
  22. Quietman, you argument about consensus doesn't relate. In science, truth wins out over time. And over time, as more and more data comes in, the consensus on this matter grows. As I've said, I'm just a layman but I know that much at least.
  23. paledriver I'm not a scientist either, but as a research engineer I made much use of the scientific process. It does not matter how many believe a particular hypothesis is true, only the one that turns out to be right, regardless of how many backers it had. Working in the private sector, I had a lot of trouble getting some of my papers past managers who did not have a clue as to what I was talking about and believed otherwise, but once in the design staff's hands they understood and acted immediately (I have a lot of experience side-stepping managers). Let me give you a very good and reletively recent example: The late Dr. Rhodes Fairbridge studied the oceans for many years and determined that the sealevel rose and fell in cycles. It was named the Fairbridge cycle in DERISION because the consensus said he was wrong. It is now recognized to be correct and the consensus wrong. The hypothesis published in a science magazine in 1966 is the one explained by Dr. Riscard Mackey in his eulogy for Dr. Fairbridge. Again he went against the consensus but I think that he was correct. It was the only climate prediction made (last summer) that turned out to be correct thus far (it predicted low sunspot activity and cooling starting in 2008) and the IPCC, it seems, is finally paying some attention.
  24. paledriver I was rereading your post #65. Would you consider the description below qualified in climatology? "He obtained a B.A. in Physics and Mathematics with highest distinction in 1963, an M.S. in Astronomy in 1965 and a Ph.D. in Physics, in 1967, all three degrees from the University of Iowa."
  25. As a Ph.D. scientist, I can attest to the fact there is no consensus among scientists on global warming. So much so, that the American Physical Society has opened debate on the matter. http://www.dailytech.com/Myth+of+Consensus+Explodes+APS+Opens+Global+Warming+Debate/article12403.htm But facts like these seldom get in the way of religious fanatics, and anthropogenic global warming is a religion.

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