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New survey finds a growing climate consensus among meteorologists

Posted on 28 March 2016 by John Abraham

There have been multiple scientific studies that all concur: scientists know that climate change is happening and it is largely caused by humans. I recently wrote about this here, where I reviewed the studies. It turns out that the more scientists know about climate change, the more they are convinced that humans are warming the planet. In fact, the consensus is extraordinarily strong. But it isn’t just that the vast majority of scientists agree; it’s that the best scientist agree. We find that the contrarian scientists tend to be less accomplished, have had their research found to be incorrect time after time, and they produce less science. 

But very recently, a study from the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication was completed that adds to our knowledge on the consensus. Lead author Ed Maibach and his colleagues are very well-respected surveyors and scientists who study this topic. The study didn’t focus on what we think of as climate scientists – rather they polled meteorologists. 

There were actually two surveys that were merged. In one, the authors identified 1038 professionals currently working in broadcast meteorology from the American Meteorological Society (AMS). In a concurrent study, the authors obtained a list of members from the AMS who were not broadcast meteorologists. The two groups were asked a series of questions on whether climate change is occurring, the degree to which respondents felt humans were responsible, what could be done to minimize climate change, among others. The authors also asked about the educational background of the respondents.

Not all members of the AMS are meteorologists. Additionally, someone working in meteorology is not necessarily a climate scientist. Similarly, a climate scientist is not necessarily a meteorologist. Sometimes these populations overlap but in many cases they do not. 

One thing that tends to differentiate practicing meteorologists from climate scientists is that meteorologists tend to observe short-term weather more, while climate scientists tend to look at long-term trends. While this difference may sound trivially obvious, it’s an important distinction to keep in mind because it suggests meteorologists may be more likely to see differences in observed weather patterns. Climate scientists would be less likely to be swayed by changes in weather patterns.

So what did the survey find? First, nearly every meteorologist (96%) agrees that climate change is happening, and the vast majority are confident in their opinion. Only 1% felt that climate change isn’t happening (3% did not know). Next, a large majority feel that climate change is being caused by humans. For instance, 29% believe that the change is largely or entirely human caused; 38% think most of the change is from humans; 14% answered that humans and natural factors are about equally responsible. Only 5% felt that climate change is mainly natural.

Another important finding is that most meteorologists feel that some of the change can be averted, based on how we react. Small minorities felt that a large amount of change can be averted or that climate change cannot be averted.

These views have changed over the years. For instance, almost 20% of meteorologists say their opinion on climate has changed over the past five years. Of that group, the vast majority are more convinced that the climate is changing and they cite a variety of reasons including new research, seeing first-hand evidence, the consensus amongst climate scientists, or from interactions with climate scientists. A final important result is that only 37% of the AMS respondents consider themselves climate experts.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. John, what about the rest? 29%+38%+14%+5% = 86% < 100%

    Could you also provide a link to the results when available?

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  2. gws, a bit of googling helps.

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  3. I'd be interested to see the results broken down according to who thought/didn't think they were a climate expert.

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  4. Has anyone else noticed that everytime it snows some people claim that we are having record cold temperatures?

    Most meteoroligists are smart enough to know that snow and cold temperatures are two separate things. In fact, very cold temperatures generally bring little snow, as colder air can't carry much moisture.

    Meteoroligists can't help but notice that they get to say the words "record high temperatures" much more often than "record low temperatures". If nothing else that should give them a pretty good idea of what's going on.

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  5. @4, I don't want to ask in the wrong forum but can you tell me: does it not snow at the poles?

     I was told it doesn't snow at the poles for the reasons you gave in the previous answer but was wondering how far away from the poles(if at all true) this takes place and how it changes,... or indeed if it is a useful indicator of climate change while we're on the subject?????????

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  6. Also, @ 4, did you know you can dry your par boiled chips in the freezer before their second deep fry?

    NB: I might not be exactly right..!(??)

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  7. bozza,

    That's something I found after 5 seconds. No doubt you could find more technical stuff with little effort. Google is your friend.

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  8. BBHY, there is a list of record-breaking hot/cold days per city/state since 2002 on the web.

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  9. Misleading terminilogy doea not help in convincing what is happening. People are not causing cliamt change. It is the operation of technical systems that is producing the emissions doing the damage. people only make decisions, good and bad, about the use of technical systems.

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  10. denisaf @9, by a similar verbal contortion we can say that (in the majority of cases of violent death) people do not kill people, rather guns kill people.  However, a murderer running that argument in support of a plea of not guilty would get short shrift indeed.  That is because people understand perfectly well the concept of indirect agency, and hence you have no point.

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  11. We had what I would consider a very mild winter. Temperatures even in late December were in the 70's, and in late February/early March we had more warm spells, even touching 80 degrees in some places.

    But in January we had one big snowstorm, and somehow that was reason enough for folks on social media to claim that we had a record cold winter. It wasn't even that cold during the snowstorm. That is really some extreme spin they are putting on.

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