Published November 09, 2007
Is there a "consensus" on global warming among the scientists participating in the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?
To find out, I conducted the first-ever survey of scientists participating in the most recent IPCC report.
By month's end, I had received responses from a surprising 95 scientists (28 percent).
Some of the responders claimed that the survey questions were flawed and declined to participate.
Some wanted to know, ironically enough, what was meant by the term "climate change" even though the term is part of the IPCC's name.
One IPCC-er declined to participate because, he said, the climate science debate was over.
Another, who acknowledged that current climate had probably just resulted from a "just a geological wiggle," declined because it was wrong to deny that humans are "adding undesirable stress to natural systems."
Another refused to answer, claiming that the IPCC report "is a much more powerful statement than any individual scientist can make."
One survey refusenik said, "Science is not a vote or survey. It is not democratic. It is not debatable."
Another said he didn't "see the point of frequently uninformed free-for-all style debates about topics that require diligent study instead."
Others accused me of having a biased agenda, being "reckless and irresponsible," and wanting to misrepresent the IPCC's work.
One National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist responded simply by dropping an f-bomb-laced insult into an e-mail.
This particular response and any institutional intolerance for climate skepticism, so I am informed, is being investigated by NOAA chief Vice Admiral (Ret.) Conrad Lautenbacher.
In the end, 54 of the IPCC-ers completed the survey, including such alarmist bigwigs as the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Kevin Trenberth and Tom Wigley. Trenberth and several other survey participants are lead authors of the IPCC report.
The survey results are quite illuminating about the much-touted "consensus."
The responses to the survey's first four questions were predictable — 83 percent to 90 percent of the respondents favored the view that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are driving global climate to unprecedentedly warmer temperatures and that limiting manmade CO2 emissions would reduce such climate change.
The responses to the last two questions, however, raise questions about the consensus's credibility.
Less than 50 percent of the respondents said that an increase in global temperature of 1 degree Celsius — twice the level of warming occurring during the 20th century — is flatly undesirable.
Half of the respondents said that such a temperature increase is desirable, desirable for some but undesirable for others, or too difficult to assess.
Only 14 percent said that the ideal climate was cooler than the present climate. Sixty-one percent said that there is no such thing as an ideal climate.
But if there's no agreement on whether a target climate even exists, what precisely is the point of taking action on global warming?
Other notable results from my survey include the 20 percent who bizarrely said that human activity is the principal driver of climate change.
So was climate a static phenomenon before the arrival of man? And if there was natural climate change before man, why not now also? And 44 percent don't think that current global climate is unprecedentedly warm.
The survey indicates that when asked routine questions about the role of man-made CO2, the IPCC-ers respond in the Pavlovian fashion seemingly demanded of them by the global-warming establishment.
But when asked questions off the usual script, the supposed consensus falls apart.
Don't forget that many scientists don't participate in the IPCC because they perceive it as biased.
The Pasteur Institute's Dr. Paul Reiter, for example, resigned from the IPCC because he and a colleague found themselves "at loggerheads with persons who insisted on making authoritative pronouncements, although they had little or no knowledge of our specialty."
There's also the Petition Project, where 19,000 scientists have endorsed a statement questioning the scientific basis of climate alarmism.
The whole idea of a consensus in science is dubious.
As economist John Kay recently wrote in an op-ed entitled "Science is the pursuit of truth, not consensus" (Financial Times, Oct. 10), "Statements about the world derive their value from the facts and arguments that support them, not from the status and qualifications of the people who assert them."
This week, Al Gore attacked IPCC-er John Christy for a Nov. 1 Wall Street Journal op-ed in which Christy questioned the global-warming orthodoxy.
Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, Gore described Christy as an "outlier" who no longer belonged to the IPCC and who is "way outside the scientific consensus."
Gore also said that it was wrong for the media to pay any attention to opinions outside the consensus.
Christy told me that, as far as he knows, he remains part of the IPCC process.
As to being an outlier, it just so happens that Christy's survey responses were within the 50 percent who didn't think that a 1-degree Celsius rise in global temperature was uniformly undesirable and the 86 percent who didn't think there was any such thing as an ideal climate.
The "climate consensus" notion functions primarily as a marketing tool for converting the public to a political viewpoint, rather than as a valid scientific approach toward understanding global warming.
But even then, the survey indicates that the claimed IPCC consensus is not nearly as monolithic as we've been led to believe. That alone is good reason for demanding that the IPCC scientists declare and defend their positions in a public forum.