Anthropogenic climate change IS settled science

The editors ran an essay by Jim Mullen in this space last Sunday. It was as perfect an example of a reality impaired right-wing tirade as it would be possible to find. When Mullen read an interview by reporter Jesse Mancini he learned of “public education’s involvement in [the] despicable indoctrination of impressionable young people” being perpetrated by volunteer presenters from the local group Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.

For the record, Blennerhassett Middle School was contacted by Dr. Wayne Dunn and invited him to present to students on content that is outlined by the WV Dept. of Education as standards for students in grades 6-8. Dr. Dunn and 7 members of his team gave climate change presentations in 22 science classes on Nov. 16.

Mr. Mullen’s essay was predicated on a total denial of anthropogenic climate change. It is a tangle of false claims, incorrect science, unstated premises, mis-directions, unfair attacks, and standard right-wing logical fallacies. It is not my purpose here to refute them but to deconstruct the authoritarian belief system from which they derive. This belief system is pervasive; and it is corrupt. It is threatening our republic and degrading the planet.

Currently it has taken over the executive branch of our government: a week ago Friday the White House released the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment, a 1,700-page report produced by scientists from 13 federal agencies. It “warned that global warming could cause substantial damage to the American economy, human health and the environment” [NYT] unless the use of fossil fuels is dramatically curtailed. Trump’s response to the report was “I don’t believe it.”

The authoritarian belief system of Mr. Mullen and Donald Trump is corrupt because it is built on untruth. This claim should be apparent to an innocent mind from Trump’s stated rationale for rejecting the conclusion of the Assessment:

“I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me,”

Here we can clearly see how “truth” in generated in an authoritarian system — by the patriarch’s mouth. He publishes and the faithful subscribe.

Then what is the source of authority — the foundation of truth — in a rational belief system? What is the National Climate Assessment and the presentations of the volunteers from MOVCA built on? No mystery here: It is science.

Science has no other object other than to perceive the physical world as it is. The process by which scientific knowledge is accumulated and advanced is known as “peer review.” Scientific papers are continuously published in professional journals providing the basis for later papers that improve on their ideas. This ferment continues until a consensus emerges and “settled science” is created. This is an honest process driven by merit. It is “bottom up.” It produces good results that benefit mankind. It’s opposite, authoritarianism, is top down and produces nothing but rot. The contention that Trump’s “gut” or Mullen’s “common sense” should supersede science is preposterous.

Mr. Mullen weighs in directly about the status of the consensus on climate change. He states that there are “MASSIVE (emp. mine*) frauds uncovered in the scientific community’s data compilations and analyses of climate change” that are not reported in the conspiratorial mainstream media. Similarly, said media “will [not] give credence to the scientists who scoff at the liberal findings and doomsday scenarios of the FAR LEFT*.” We are to understand that there is no scientific consensus, or worse, it is a negative consensus.

What is the truth? There have been a number of surveys of the scientific literature to attempt to quantify the level of consensus on the subject. As might be expected, their results vary. The average clusters around 97%. Five literature reviews of all published, peer-reviewed scientific literature on global climate change between 1991-2015 (54,195 articles) conducted by Dr. James Lawrence Powell found an average consensus on the reality of human-caused global climate change of 99.94%. I take this study to be the definitive substantiation that the issue of anthropogenic climate change is unambiguously settled science. It’s also meaningful that the studies also determined that less expertise correlated with a higher likelihood of denial.

This data unambiguously establishes that Mr. Mullen is dead wrong in his understanding of the consensus about anthropogenic climate change.

Briefly, what that consensus says can be understood of two very recent reports. The most recent is the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment cited above. The second was released in early October by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That report ” … makes clear that we need a global commitment to move away from fossil fuels … to prevent irreversible effects that would have devastating consequences across the globe.”

Put succinctly, the consensus is that we are already in very serious trouble and we really need to do something about it ASAP.


William Ambrose is a retired surveyor and co-founder of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.