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Trump thinks scientists are split on climate change. So do most Americans

Posted on 22 October 2018 by dana1981

When queried about the most recent IPCC report, Republican lawmakers delivered a consistent, false message – that climate scientists are still debating whether humans are responsible. The previous IPCC report was quite clear on this, attributing 100% of the global warming since 1950 to human activities. As Nasa atmospheric scientist Kate Marvel recently put it, “We are more sure that greenhouse gas is causing climate change than we are that smoking causes cancer.”

Donald Trump articulated the incorrect Republican position in an interview on 60 Minutes:

We have scientists that disagree with [human-caused global warming] … You’d have to show me the [mainstream] scientists because they have a very big political agenda

To paraphrase, ‘I know scientists. I have the best scientists.’ And of course Trump thinks he has “a natural instinct for science” which, as astrophysicist Katie Mack noted, is not a thing:

Katie Mack?@AstroKatie

There is no "natural instinct for science." This is not a thing. There is curiosity, there is exploration, and there is the desire to learn & grow & test one's naive notions against cold hard data. Believing in a "natural instinct for science" is anathema to everything science is

Americans badly underestimate the expert climate consensus

Numerous papers have shown that over 90% of climate science experts agreethat humans are the main cause of global warming since 1950, and when considering peer-reviewed papers, the consensus exceeds 97%.

And yet as surveys by Yale and George Mason universities have found, only about 15% of Americans are aware that the expert climate consensus exceeds 90%. More recently, the Yale and George Mason team broke down American’s perceived expert consensus by their ‘Six Americas’ categorizations:

The Alarmed are fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it. The Concerned are also convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged the issue personally.

Three other Americas – the Cautious, the Disengaged, and the Doubtful – represent different stages of understanding and acceptance of the problem, and none are actively involved. The final America – the Dismissive are very sure it is not happening and are actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

6 americas

A cartoon of the ‘Six Americas.’ Illustration: Michael Sloan

As would be expected, the Alarmed and Concerned have the highest perception of the expert consensus, with the Dismissive having the lowest, and the Disengaged not having much of a clue about the level of agreement. However, the important finding in the Yale and George Mason survey is that even Americans who are Alarmed and Concerned about climate change badly underestimate the level of expert agreement on its human cause.

perceived consensus

Average perceived expert consensus on human-caused global warming in each ‘6 Americas’ group (green) and percent in each category who don’t know the answer (grey). Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

Perceived expert consensus is a climate ‘gateway belief’

Some have argued that efforts to communicate the consensus won’t work – that Americans’ opinions on climate change simply break down by political ideology (realism on the left, denial on the right) and in our age of ‘alternative facts,’ new information doesn’t change peoples’ beliefs.

However, numerous social science papers have found that the perceived consensus acts as a “gateway belief,” meaning that when people are aware of the high level of expert agreement on human-caused global warming, they’re more likely to accept that reality and support policies to address the problem.

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Comments 1 to 2:

  1. I've followed the climate issue for over 20 years, just out of general interest. I live in New Zealand, and I don't recall ever seeing an article in our two main local newspapers, or on radio or television talking about the consensus studies, or even just the IPCC process. I believe its because the general daily / weekly media would prefer to give the impression theres still a "debate" so they can keep a sense of controversy alive, because this gets people buying their  newspapers. So their motive is driven my wanting popularity and profits above all else.

    The media are letting humanity down, with the exception of websites like this.  Climate change is no joke and the media have a duty to communicate the facts, including the consenus studies. Governments need to ensure this happens and put some pressure on the media, but stopping short of dictating exact content of course. The issue is too important to leave to the discretion of the media.

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  2. I would prefer to see the title of this post be "Trump says scientists are split on climate change. So do most Americans," rather than the word "thinks". To use the word "thinks" implies that he really believes that. I would sooner accept that many politicians, including Trump, understand there is a consensus but find it to their advantage to say the opposite. Accepting the ideas of GW and CC requires accepting the science of GW and CC. Accepting that there is a consensus among scientists that GW and CC is real and that we are the problem only requires the skill of bean counting, or rather, reading the reports of other bean counters (no insults intended).

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