There’s currently a scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause of the recent climate warming trend (over the last century or so)
However, there are those that are still skeptical of that consensus.
In this short guide, we’ve summarised some points that a climate change skeptic might put forward.
*Note – this is an exploratory and impartial guide only.
Summary – Does Challenging The Climate Change Consensus Make Sense?
Overall, based just on the sources below, there is a subjective case to be made that it seems like the information supporting the consensus is more thorough than the information completely denying it.
The breakdown of the consensus provided by Skeptical Science and others seems to go into much more detail and answer/rebuttal (indirectly and directly – they directly rebutted the Petition Project for example) a lot of the points Fraser Institute and the Petition Project make.
You can read about the points about the consensus a climate change consensus supporter might make in this guide.
But, there’s also the possibility that some areas of the climate change issue are unclear, or at the very least have very grey/uncertain answers, or are very nuanced. After all, there are parts of climate change that researchers and scientists freely admit they are uncertain about, or that involve approximations or inconclusive interpretations
Having said that, here is our breakdown of both the points that seem both more credible and less credible from Fraser Institute in challenging the climate change consensus (this is simply our subjective analysis based on what we’ve read about climate change on both sides):
More Credible Points Made By Skeptics
– Questions & conclusions (including the consensus) about climate change should be expressed very specifically and not in a general or broad way. The exact question being asked about climate change, and the exact consensus answer needs to be spelled out word for word, instead of just saying ‘the consensus agrees climate change is caused by man made emissions’. There are literally thousands of questions and sub questions that can get very specific that you can ask about climate change, and we need to know the precise answer the consensus is agreeing to along with the precise question that is being asked. The same thing applies to any survey that is sent out, answered and interpreted about climate change. An example of the consensus expressed specifically might be ‘X greenhouse gas from mainly X human activities, is the primary cause of the global average warming trend we have measured between X year and X year’. Compare this to a consensus saying ‘Climate change is happening, and X is the main cause’. When conclusions, study findings, or the consensus are expressed too broadly, or generally, it can subtract from the credibility and specificity.
– The time period over which someone is asking a question matters – is it just since 1950? Since 1900? The last thousand years? Or the last millions of years? How far back are you asking the question about? [note that the technology and data we have available in the last 100 years is far more advanced and reliable than ice cores and rock sediment samples we have available from thousands and hundreds of thousands of years ago for example when interpreting or approximating Earth’s climate history – this might throw some question over assessments or conclusions of the Earth’s climate the further in time we go back]
– Reducing and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from humans will take significant restructuring of society and the economy in some facets, and generally carries some big tradeoffs, benefits, and potential risks to consider. The same can be said for adaptation, sequestration and other key parts of the strategy for addressing climate change [this is not an easy or cheap task, and should not just be assumed that changes at huge scales are a given]
– The general public and even politicians need a better understanding of how final numbers from surveys and studies are developed, what numbers are used, and so on [there needs to be very detailed transparency instead of generalisation and avoidance of the process that led to a conclusion from a survey or study]. For example, the 97% consensus might only make up the % of supporting and dissenting votes, and not those who are unsure. Very detailed transparency is key to all surveys and studies, and this transparency needs to be get across to the general public and all key decision makers
– The qualifications and level of expertise of survey participants should be transparent and clear – what exactly are the participants an expert in … on what core climate change issues? Or, are they just working in a connected field? Obviously vague experts in a related field are not as credible in some ways for a consensus vote as experts in a specific specialization of climate science or a climate change area
– Surveys might be an imprecise (or flawed) method of coming up with a precise scientific truth
– Climate change is a complex issue is many ways that might not produce a clear cut answer in some aspects. Most of the answers could be nuanced, and there may not be answers to some questions because of a lack of data or evidence. There’s also some impossibilities in trying to forecast certain aspects of the climate in the future due to unknowns or variables. Therefore, mass communication of simple, or black and white answers can be harmful and misleading in this instance
– Some experts and scientists or researchers may answer ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m split on a decision’, instead of a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ about agreeing with or disagreeing with a question. These uncertainties should be reflected in any consensus conclusion (instead of making a consensus seem like we are certain one way or the other)
– Overall, climate change requires a factual debate and careful consideration of all facets of the issue – scientifically and politically. A simple and limited survey may not be enough
– It can’t be ignored there may be commercial/financial and political conflicts of interest in developing certain outcomes in climate change debates (read more in this guide about the potential of bias and conflict of interests in climate change funding, research and reporting)
Points Made By Skeptics That Might Not Be As Credible
– Fraser Institute cites the IPCC, the ‘most highly cited paper’ [about the consensus], the AMS, and the NEA – to make their point about how the consensus is fabricated. This could be a case of cherry picking – whether it’s intentional or not. There are many more researchers and organisations from many more countries that have provided feedback on the consensus than this – refer to the Skeptical Science website for the most comprehensive breakdown of the consensus.
– It’s may not be accurate to say the benefits of pursuing fossil fuels in the future outweigh the climate related costs in the future – fossil fuels are a finite resource, and they are the main cause of human related greenhouse gas emissions (fossil fuels also contribute to air pollution, and a range of other issues). The potential impact of climate related events in the future if we do not mitigate emissions and adapt to the climate could be catastrophic in worst case scenarios, compared to the benefits of using fossil fuel right now. Barring a new technology development, we will likely have to switch to renewable energy or another low carbon energy source other than fossil fuels at some point anyway [so this point doesn’t seem as much depth]. It should be noted though that petrochemicals make up a lot of common materials and chemicals we use such as plastic, synthetic fibres like polyester, and even some pesticides
Also note that there are those that have raised questions about the way climate change is funded, researched/studied and reported (which is probably a separate issue to being in the dissent). Read more about that here.
Challenging The Current Consensus On Climate Change (Arguments Of A Skeptic)
You can read the full Fraser Institute article by following the web address we have provided in the sources section below. The following is simply what we think are the important points made in the article are regarding questioning the consensus.
According to fraserinstitute.org (what is in brackets is paraphrased and not a direct quote):
- … the 97 per cent claim is a fabrication
- … it’s difficult to know exactly what the 97% are supposed to agree on
- [the climate change] crisis [would require] massive restructuring of the worldwide economy.
- An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change … conclusion [asserts] that most (more than 50 per cent) of the post-1950 global warming is due to human activity, chiefly greenhouse gas emissions and land use change … [this conclusion is] consistent with the view that the benefits of fossil fuel use greatly outweigh the climate-related costs
- The most highly cited paper supposedly found 97 per cent of published scientific studies support man-made global warming. But in addition to poor survey methodology, that tabulation is often misrepresented. Most papers (66 per cent) actually took no position. Of the remaining 34 per cent, 33 per cent supported at least a weak human contribution to global warming. So divide 33 by 34 and you get 97 per cent, but this is unremarkable since the 33 per cent includes many papers that critique key elements of the IPCC position.
- In 2012 the American Meteorological Society (AMS) surveyed its 7,000 members, receiving 1,862 responses. Of those, only 52% said they think global warming over the 20th century has happened and is mostly man-made (the IPCC position). The remaining 48% either think it happened but natural causes explain at least half of it, or it didn’t happen, or they don’t know. Furthermore, 53% agree that there is conflict among AMS members on the question … Not only do about half reject the IPCC conclusion, more than half acknowledge that their profession is split on the issue.
- The Netherlands Environmental Agency recently published a survey of international climate experts. 6550 questionnaires were sent out, and 1868 responses were received, a similar sample and response rate to the AMS survey. In this case the questions referred only to the post-1950 period. 66% agreed with the IPCC that global warming has happened and humans are mostly responsible. The rest either don’t know or think human influence was not dominant. So again, no 97% consensus behind the IPCC….But the Dutch survey is even more interesting because of the questions it raises about the level of knowledge of the respondents. Although all were described as “climate experts,” a large fraction only work in connected fields such as policy analysis, health and engineering, and may not follow the primary physical science literature.
- [Regarding a recent slowdown in warming … IPCC and Dutch survey respondents have differed in what they reported they believed has happened]
- [Surveys are not a precise way to coming to a consensus or a conclusion on a scientific truth]
- [The time period over which you are focussing on for warming is a variable, and matters … is it just since 1950/60, the whole 21st century, or much longer than that?]
- [How much of an expert are the people being surveyed? Do they just work in related fields to climate change topics, or are they specialist scientists on the core issues of the question/s being asked?]
- The underlying issues [of climate change] are so complex it is ludicrous to expect unanimity. The near 50/50 split among AMS members on the role of greenhouse gases is a much more accurate picture of the situation. The phoney claim of 97% consensus is mere political rhetoric aimed at stifling debate and intimidating people into silence.
- [The interests of current energy producers and consumers are competing interests against those who want to change systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions]
- [climate change requires a] factual debate and careful consideration of all facets of the most complex scientific and policy issue of our time