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Republican leaders should take their own advice and listen to climate scientists

Posted on 11 September 2015 by dana1981

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently said we should “leave science to the scientists.” That’s good advice; especially since Republican Party leaders’ response when asked about climate change is inevitably “I’m not a scientist.” When it comes to questions of science, listening to scientific experts is always a good idea.

 John Cook’s Denial101x consensus lecture.

The problem is that in this case, Republican leaders are failing to follow their own advice.

Rick Santorum denies the 97% climate consensus

Santorum was a guest on the August 28th episode of the HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, in which climate change was the primary topic of discussion. During the interview, Santorum made several false statements denying the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

 Rick Santorum on Real Time with Bill Maher.

It’s important to remember that there have been numerous studies confirming this high level of expert consensus. In his first comments on the show, Santorum badly misrepresented one of these, published by Bart Verheggen and colleagues in 2014. Santorum incorrectly claimed,

The most recent survey of climate scientists said about 57% don’t agree with the idea that 95 percent of the change in the climate is caused by CO2 … 57% said they don’t buy off on the idea that CO2 is the knob that’s turning the climate.

PolitiFact contacted Verheggen and several other experts and rated this statement “False.” Verheggen gives more detail here, and his co-author John Cook noted that Santorum was exhibiting several telltale signs of climate denial. The problem lies in the fact that Santorum got his information from an inaccurate contrarian blog rather than from the authors of the study itself, or by simply reading its abstract, which clearly states:

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.

Santorum subsequently garbled the facts related to two more consensus studies, incorrectly claiming,

The 97% figure that’s thrown around, the head of the UN IPCC said that number was pulled out of thin air. It was based on a survey of 77 scientists … it’s a bogus number.

PolitiFact likewise rated this statement “False.” The ‘thin air’ comment was made by Richard Tol, who is not the head of the IPCC. Tol was a convening lead author on an economics chapter of the latest IPCC report. Tol managed to publish an error-riddled critique of one consensus study, published in 2013 by John Cook, myself, and our colleagues. In his critique, Tol claimed the consensus would be 91% rather than 97%.

91% would still be a strong consensus, but Tol’s estimate was based on a statistical error. When we corrected the mistake, we reaffirmed that the consensus is indeed 97% ± 1%. Moreover, when we asked the scientific authors to categorize their own papers in the second phase of our study, this once again yielded a 97% consensus that Tol and other contrarians have not disputed. Tol has also admitted “The consensus is of course in the high nineties.

The 97% consensus survey referenced by Santorum that included 77 climate scientists was entirely different, published in 2009 by Peter Doran and Maggie Zimmerman. It’s understandable that Santorum would confuse the two, because so many different studies using varied approaches have arrived at that same conclusion of a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming. In fact, Peter Doran made this point in an interview with John Cook for the Denial101x course, noting,

when you see someone say 97 percent of climate scientists agree, I never know which study they’re referring to because they’re all sort of around the same ballpark.

Science denial from John Kasich and Ted Cruz

John Kasich is running as one of the less extreme Republican presidential candidates. Out on the campaign trail, he said “I don’t believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change.” Sadly, his belief rejects the consensus of 97% of scientific experts, as well as the overwhelming scientific evidence.

 John Cook Denial101x ‘consensus of evidence’ lecture.

Two students posed climate questions to Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz at one of his campaign events. In answering their questions, Cruz repeated several climate myths, and criticized the students’ science professors. Cruz incorrectly claimed,

30 to 40 years ago there were a group of political liberal and scientists who said we were facing global cooling. They said we were headed toward a global ice age and the solution to global cooling was increased was massive government control of the economy, the energy sector, and every aspect of our lives. Then the data disproved it. It was not in fact correct that we were seeing global cooling. So that was kind of a problem. Then many of these same political liberals, and many of these same scientists they then latched on to a new theory, it’s called global warming. And the new theory of global warming interestingly enough, the solution was the exact same as the solution had been for global cooling. It was massive government control of the economy, the energy sector, and every aspect of our lives. But then the problem became the data and evidence didn’t back up global warming. In particular if you look at the satellite data.

… your professors are engaging in indoctrination rather than teaching facts and evidence.

It’s Cruz who’s getting the facts and evidence wrong here. In reality, most climate scientists were predicting global warming in the 1970s. At the time, there were dueling environmental concerns resulting from two byproducts of rising fossil fuel consumption: sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2). We know CO2 causes global warming, while SO2 causes cooling by blocking sunlight. In the 1970s, scientists weren’t sure which effect would win out, and some predicted that if the amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere were to quadruple, it could cause dramatic global cooling.

However, SO2 also causes acid rain. To address that problem, governments imposed SO2 regulations through the Clean Air Acts. These regulations to which Cruz strongly objects successfully reduced atmospheric SO2, acid rain, air pollution, the economic benefits are estimated to have outweighed the costs by a factor of 30, and the government hasn’t yet taken over every aspect of our lives.

Thus, Cruz is trying to rewrite history. The potential scenario involving global cooling from SO2 didn’t happen because we took action to prevent it. As a US Senator, Cruz is actively involved in obstructing efforts to similarly address the global warming problem by reducing CO2 emissions.

Cruz’s claim that “the data and evidence [don’t] back up global warming” is entirely false. The oceans are warming, the surface is warmingice is melting, andsea levels are rising. Even Cruz’s cherry picked estimates of lower atmosphere warming through indirect satellite measurements show warming; direct measurements by thermometers on weather balloons (called radiosondes) show even faster lower atmosphere warming.

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. RSS provides an interesting discussion of satellite and radiosonde comparisons at In section 'Sub-Sampling Satellite Data to Match Radiosonde Locations' they give trends of

    'HadAT Trend            0.189 K/decade' (radiosonde)
    'Sampled RSS trend  0.181 K/decade'

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  2. mdenison, related is Tamino's showing of the trend of RATPAC radiosonde data from 850 to 300 hPa.

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  3. If they have any money they could buy  a copy of this!!

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