Survey: Scientists Agree Human-Induced Global Warming is Real

UIC Podcast
UIC Podcast
Survey: Scientists Agree Human-Induced Global Warming is Real

News Release


[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Today Peter Doran, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, talks about survey findings that indicate most earth scientists think global warming is real and that human activity is a significant contributing factor.

Here’s Professor Doran:

[Doran] Global warming’s been a hot topic – pardon the pun – for quite a while and I think that the public perception, some polls have shown, is that scientists still debate about global warming.  There’s been some attempts in the past to address this and try to convince people what most scientists know is, that it’s fairly common to support the reality of the science behind global warming.  And a few of these previous attempts have met with a lot of criticism, for one reason or another.  And I’d … thought for a few years that it would be a good idea to just go directly to the scientists to get a large database of scientists’ names, go into the community and just ask the questions – is the planet warming and do a follow-up question, do you think humans are responsible for that warming?

So with the help of a master’s student of mine, Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, who’s now graduated and moved on, we went out and created a large database of earth scientists – people that are going to be the ones studying the earth’s systems, including climate.

The hardest part was actually getting that database.  There’s this publication called the AGI, the American Geological Institute, and they put out a directory every year of geoscience departments.  This includes academic departments, universities, national labs like NASA, NOAA,  EPA, places like that, and this includes American and foreign – it’s mostly American but there are foreign labs in there, and universities as well.  And the vast majority of the names in there are from earth sciences departments, geology departments, climatology departments in colleges.

Once we built our list, we sent it out on a web server called questionpro.  It was a great way to do it because it kept a lot of control over the distribution of the mail and it tracked IP addresses and prevented people from ballot-stuffing, voting more than once.  You needed to have an invitation to participate in the survey.  So for a lot of these reasons, it corrected a lot of the problems that were with previous attempts at getting at what scientists thought about global warming, and gave us a high degree of confidence in our results.

So in the end, we sent out over 10-thousand e-mail invitations to participate in the survey and we got over 3,000 responses – which was better than we expected, based on what we were told.  And looking up what we we’re really supposed to be getting, that was sort of an average response for an e-mail questionnaire.  We sent out three reminders to try and get maximum response and pretty much by the third reminder, things were trickling in and we pretty much got as many responses as we thought we could get, so we cut it off after a couple of weeks and we tallied the results.  And the results showed that over that entire group of over 3,000 respondents, about 90 percent thought that the temperature of the planet was in fact warming over time, over the last couple hundred years, and in the high eighties, thought that humans had something to do with that warming.

But the real interesting thing was picking apart the demographics of the people responding, and their answers.  As it turns out, when you look at that, the more people who were expert in the field of climatology and the more they published in that field – so they’re active, research climatologists – that was the strongest group in the response.  They were up around the high nineties for both their belief that the globe was warming and their belief that humans had something to do with it.  They were the most convinced group amongst the respondents.

So the take-home message was: the more you know about climate science and the more you’re active in research in climate science, the more you’re likely to believe in global warming.  To me, that was a very interesting result.

The other thing was the low end.  The two lowest groups were meteorology and economic geology – in other words, the people that were in the oil industry and in mining minerals and so on.  I had my own ideas for why that is.  The American Association of Petroleum Geologists have a public statement about global warming.  They don’t believe it exists.  So that’s well known.  So the economic geologists as a group seem to be fairly doubtful of global warming.  And the meteorologists – I have a few guesses.  That’s one of the more interesting ones to me.  Meteorologists study short-term cycles and so it’s a different thing than climatology, and they’re used to having a hard time predicting the weather a week from now.  The idea of predicting weather over the next several decades is a tough nut to crack, so they’re maybe more doubtful because they’re used to the short- term cycles rather than the long-term cycles.

Some people have asked me since this paper came out, Barack Obama is in office now, the Democrats are in control, do we have to worry about this any more?  And the answer is yes, because the general public is still about 50 percent convinced that global warming is an issue that’s real, let alone that we have to do something about it.  So the public needs convincing.  Also, there’s still people in government who need convincing.  As recently as December, there was a senate minority report put forward that said exactly the opposite of what our paper said, and was trying to convince people in the senate that scientists don’t agree on global warming.  So there’s still a battle, if you will, to be fought here.  And I hope that our paper pushes the numbers towards more people believing that global warming is a reality.  I think if people don’t believe that scientists agree, then they can use that as an excuse for inaction.  And that’s a dangerous thing.

[Writer] Peter Doran is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

For more information about this research, go to www-dot-news-dot- uic-dot-edu… click on “news releases.” … and look for the release dated January 19, 2009.

This has been research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.


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