Climate change ‘consensus’ just bandwagon psychology

| February 18, 2014 | 1 Comment

Some scientists think human activity has only a small impact on climate change

By Michelle Stirling-Anosh  

Four major surveys cite a 97 per cent ‘consensus’ by climate scientists on human greenhouse gas emissions as the cause of recent climate change.

climate change

Not all climate change scientists agree and there is no “consensus” on the impact of human activity.

This ‘consensus’ is frequently mentioned as justification for imposing carbon taxes or GHG reduction targets “to stop dangerous climate change.”

Where does that claim of 97 per cent consensus come from?

The survey authors widely generalize – such as ‘humans impact climate’ – to arrive at a 97 per cent figure. The average person won’t appreciate that some scientists might think human impact is only responsible for 5 per cent of global warming, with natural factors more influential. Scientists agree human activity has impact – but disagree on the ratio or cause. That’s not consensus.

Why do all the surveys arrive at the same figure?

Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, may have the answer. In his book Influence, he points out how “social proof” is a powerful psychological motivator. When ‘everyone is on board,’ the public complies with the majority so as not to be the ‘odd man out.’ The corollary of being left out, or ostracized, is what Kipling D. Williams, a social psychologist with Purdue University, has called “the kiss of social death.”

Harvard University’s Daniel Schacter, NYU’s Irving Sarnoff and Stanford’s Phillip Zimbardo, in Anxiety, Fear and Social Affiliation, found that social isolation had immediate, devastating impacts on individuals.

According to Sarnoff and Zimbardo, when people feel anxiety, they seek to isolate themselves from others. However, when fear is aroused and if unable to run away from the threat, people welcome a chance to join with others.

Could a fear of ostracism be behind the uncritical, willing public acceptance of a 97 per cent consensus on climate change? Could that explain why climate scientists, or citizens who challenge or disagree with the ‘consensus’, are labelled “contrarian,” “denier,” or “conspiracy theorist?”

Even the perceived threat of climate change instills anxiety and fear in people, which then impedes rational thought. People supporting global warming argument can join many groups to ‘fight climate change.”

Could vested interests also at play? Public acceptance, driven by belief that 97 per cent of scientists agree, supports subsidies and incentives for the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP’s reported 2013 low-carbon renewables $244 billion global market.

Deconstructing the 97 per cent studies, therefore, is revealing.

The Oreskes (2004) survey entitled “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: How do we know we’re not wrong?” claimed 75 per cent of climate scientists believe climate change is caused by human activities, with a “remarkable lack of disagreement” by the other 25 per cent.

In 2005, Benny Peiser, a senior lecturer in the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University at the time, re-ran Oreskes survey and found major discrepancies. He found that only 1.2 per cent or 13 scientists out of 1,117 agreed with the Anthropogenic (human-caused) Global Warming (AGW) declaration; 34 scientists rejected or doubted the alleged “consensus” position and 44 claimed natural factors as more influential. At least 470 papers expressed no position on AGW whatsoever.

Ironically, it has now become established scientific fact that there has been zero global warming over the last 16 years – since 1998 – confirmed by the UK Met Office in its own “newly revised” HadCRUT4 data set.

The Doran and Zimmerman (2009) survey assessed only 79 self-selected scientists out of 3,146 respondents. Many emails from dissenters protested the survey design as skewed.

The Anderegg et al (2010) survey, touted as a 97 per cent consensus, found that 34 per cent of 1,372 climate scientists disagreed with the IPCC 2007 declaration and publicly denounced it.

In the Cook et al (2013) survey, 0.54 per cent (or 64 scientists) explicitly agreed that more than 50 per cent of global warming since 1950 was caused by greenhouse gas emissions. However, some 7,983 scientists and 67 per cent of the over12,000 papers had no position whatsoever on climate change. Many scientists denounced Cook for wrongly assessing their work as supporting AGW.

It is underreported that climate scientists differ as to causes, ratios and contributions from land changes, clouds, ocean oscillations, solar interactions and GHGs. Many scientists think the warming effect since 1950 of CO2 is nominal. Richard Tol of the University of Sussex claims that warming – just 0.75C (1.35F), since 1900 – has actually improved crop production world-wide.

Bandwagon psychology should not be setting public climate change policy.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Communications Consultant to Friends of Science. The commentary was written with the assistance of Ken Gregory, P. Eng. Research Director of Friends of Science. Download Friends of Science report 97 per cent Consensus? No! Global Warming Math Myths and Social Proofs.

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Category: Environment

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