The climatologist survey

An unlikely trio has just made available the results of their quasi-scientific survey of climatologists, who were asked how much they agreed with the latest report from the IPCC. It makes for fascinating reading, even if its response rate of less than 10 % is a bit disappointing. Despite attempts from some quarters at spinning the results to suggest the climate change "consensus" is weaker than often described, the survey actually finds remarkably strong support for the notion that we are headed for trouble.

Roger Pielke Sr., one of the authors, supplies a web version of the PDF linked above. There he also complains about their failure to get the thing published, concluding that "the AGU EOS and Nature Precedings Editors are using their positions to suppress evidence that there is more diversity of views on climate, and the human role in altering climate, than is represented in the narrowly focused 2007 IPCC report."

Well, I don't now about that. Read Pielke's summary of their publishing efforts, and the reasons given for rejection, and decide for yourself. But he, Fergus Brown and James Annan have produced something that is worth widespread dissemination. Some excerpts;

The claim that the human input of CO2 is not an important climate forcing is found to be false in our survey. However, there remains substantial disagreement about the magnitude of its impacts.

...

No scientists were willing to admit to the statement that global warming is a fabrication and that human activity is not having any significant effect on climate [0%]. In total, 18% responded that the IPCC AR4 WG1 [Fourth Assessment Working Group 1] Report probably overstates the role of CO2, or exaggerates the risks implied by focusing on CO2-dominated Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), to a greater or lesser degree. A further 17% expressed the opinion that the Report probably underestimates or seriously underestimates the consequences of anthropogenic CO2 -induced AGW and that the associated risks are more severe than is implied in the report.

A plurality of 45 to 50 % of the respondents said they agreed with the IPCC's Fourth Assessment, the one that was released last year. Which generates these conclusions:

2. A significant minority (15-20%), however, conclude that the IPCC understated the seriousness of the threat from human additions of CO2 .

3. A significant minority (15-20%), in contrast, conclude that the IPCC overstated the role of human additions of CO2 relative to other climate forcings.

Take a look at the difference between those two positions and what they're actually saying. Some who don't agree with the IPCC consensus suspect we're low-balling the danger of anthropogenic CO2 levels, while the others who don't agree say that CO2's role is overstated -- relative to other forcings. So even those (like Roger Pielke Sr.) who have made non-CO2 forcings their focus aren't necessarily willing to state that the IPCC overstates the threat posed by climate change, only that they got the contribution from CO2 wrong. Interesting, but as clear as could be.

Do we need another survey that asks a more general question, something like "Are things better or worse than the IPCC reports imply?" While it might seem like a good idea at first blush, Annan points out on his blog that doing these surveys isn't easy, and muses that.

.. the response rate of ~10% ... leaves open the possibility that the 90% non-responders were either all firmly supportive of the IPCC and saw the poll as a bit of irresponsible trouble-making that didn't justify a response, or all so thoroughly alienated and marginalised by the IPCC that they don't have the energy to grumble about it. Personally, I think the first of these is much closer to the truth, but it seems we will never know for sure. Of course, all surveys suffer from this problem to some extent ... Yet you don't see reports saying "Clinton 22%, Obama 24%, and the other 54% slammed the phone down".

Too true.

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Even if a responsive sample of less than 10% could even remotely be considered representative of "climatologists" worldwide (however one might define that vague title), the fact that at least 15% disagree with the IPCC's assessment validates the notion that there is no "consensus" on the issue.

Words matter. In the future, why don't we agree to simply use the term "large majority" rather than falsely trying to claim a "consensus"?

By Justin Levine (not verified) on 13 Mar 2008 #permalink