The First “Climate Consensus” Study Turns 15

August 6, 2019

15 Years ago, Naomi Oreskes was inspired to shed new light on the “debate” over climate change by going to the researchers themselves, the foot soldiers of global science, to find out what their bottom line take was. She found unanimity.

I interviewed Dr. Oreskes, as well as several researchers who have replicated the finding of overwhelming consensus on the science of climate change. Additional clips from the 2014 interview are below.


Around 15 years ago, Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science, observed that many reporters repeatedly covered climate change in a puzzling way.
The popular media wrote about the topic as if there was still “a great debate” about whether human-caused climate change was occurring, said Oreskes, now a professor of the history of science at Harvard University. But among the atmospheric scientists, geologists, and oceanographers actively researching and publishing peer-reviewed research on the topic, there was no debate. 

“None of the scientists I knew, working in the area, thought there was any doubt that man-made climate change was underway,” Oreskes recalled.
To test her hypothesis — that no such academic debate existed — Oreskes analyzed 928 relevant abstracts published in scientific journalists between 1993 and 2003, all containing the keywords “climate change.” The results were stark: None — zero — of the studies disagreed with the climate consensus among climate researchers: that climate change was happening, and humans were the cause. 
On Monday, Oreskes’ decade and a half old study “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” surpassed 1 million downloads. Over time, interest in downloading the paper has not waned, as is the fate of many academic studies. Instead, the study has steadily accrued readers, noted John Cook, a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.
“It was the first scientific attempt to quantify the [climate] consensus,” said Cook. “It was the first study to do that and help raise the public’s awareness.” 
The conclusions are ever salient. 
“I think it’s pretty clear that scientists were not, and are not wrong,” said Oreskes. “Nearly all the predictions scientists made in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s have come true. If there is any discrepancy, it is that many of the outcomes we are now observing are worse than predicted.”

The evidence abounds, all over the planet. Greenland — with an ice sheet two and a half times the size of Texas — experienced historic melting this summer. Glaciers everywhere are retreating. Southwestern states are now contending with unprecedented, wide-scale drought. Wildfires are raging in the Arctic. This June was the hottest June in 139 years of record-keeping. All-time heat records — in countries with the oldest temperature records in the world — have been dropping like flies.
By the late ’90s, the climate consensus had been well established, explained Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. It turned out that earlier scientists, like those who contributed to the legendary 1979 Charney Report, were spot on about an increase in carbon emissions resulting in a warming planet. 
“They had all the basics right then,” noted Dessler. Even in 1896, the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius had already established the fundamental relationship between rising CO2 and a changing climate, Dessler added.

12 Responses to “The First “Climate Consensus” Study Turns 15”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Had a chat over the back fence with my neighbor while we were doing yard work this weekend. Got to talking about the “crazy” weather and climate change. Told him that there is NO good news and that every scientific study coming out reinforces that. He informed me that “it’s hard for him to know who to believe”. End of discussion (almost)—–I told him to believe ANY and ALL information that said climate change was worsening, since every scientist on the planet that isn’t a whore for fossil fuels believes that. That if he didn’t, he was simply being ignorant and stupid. (end of discussion)

    I guarantee that he has never heard of Oreskes or Cook. When asked if he had read the pretty good pieces in the WashPost about recent European heat waves, Alaskan and Siberian wild fires, and massive Greenland ices sheet melt, his reply was “sort of”. There are too many like my neighbor in the U.S. and around the world, and because of that we will not get it done in time to avoid major mayhem. Sad.

    • This is not going to work. As you said yourself: (almost) end of discussion. You have not even tried to explain climate change to your neighbor. He doesn’t seem to be a denier. He just wants to know what is going on.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        On what basis do you say that I “have not even tried to explain climate change to my neighbor”? And that “He doesn’t seem to be a denier. He just wants to know what is going on”?

        He moved in behind me about 15 years ago, and is a “believer” who only wants to hear about anything that supports his half-assed opinions on most everything. He is a down-home Virginia boy whose family left him a lot of land in southern VA, land once used to grow tobacco and worked by the family’s slaves. He goes down there to mow and whack brush regularly and pay homage to his “roots”. We have had many heated but “friendly” discussions on lots of topics, and I never stop trying to “educate” him, in spite of his resistance to facts and science.

      • redskylite Says:

        Maybe Raymond has the time to lecture his neighbors on vibrating CO2 molecules, effects of doubling and water vapor behavior in warming atmospheres, but I have plenty to do in my yard, with winter weeds to pull, grass to trim and vegetables to grow.

        So I suggest my neighbors can drive a few kilometers to our local disappearing sea-side beaches, or a few more kilometers to see the receding glaciers (custodians have placed time monitors on some). Or read about local communities desperately trying to get sea defenses built by the council, or the poor folk who fled the disappearing Sundarbans. The list in incredibly long so how an Earth can people still remain skeptical and need yet further education ?

  2. Dana Getsinger Says:

    Have you seen the film Planet of the Humans? It kind of changes everything.

    On Tue, Aug 6, 2019 at 7:46 AM Climate Denial Crock of the Week wrote:

    > greenman3610 posted: ” 15 Years ago, Naomi > Oreskes was inspired to shed new light on the “debate” over climate change > by going to the researchers themselves, the foot soldiers of global > science, to find out what their bottom line take was. Sh” >

  3. rsmurf Says:

    So I guess its still up for discussion, after all it was a pretty cool weekend!

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I like to point out that not only do those articles which reject AGW represent a tiny bit of a percent, but that among them the explanations are all over the road. Still, their supporters will join together the way disparate supporters of acupuncture qi, homeopathic similars, curing cancer with diet, etc., join together to oppose science-based medicine.

  4. redskylite Says:

    It’s sad to think that so much time still needs to be devoted to pointing out the scientific consensus view – if people don’t read the news and still are oblivious to the changes our industrial pollution has wrought, and are vulnerable to fake news from the deniers, then we are indeed deeply in trouble.

    Items like this grace our media everyday – why don’t people take notice and believe their eyes and ears ?

    The California coast is disappearing under the rising sea: Our choices are grim

  5. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Have cancelled wordpress, see if this posts.
    There is progress being made. Keep telling Joe Fckwit that he will suffer personally.
    Telling him he is an idiot only provides personal satisfaction, quite a bit actually. At this time in history, IMO calling out public deniers as liars and/or criminal idiots will be effective.

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