U.S. Department of State photo

U.S. Department of State photo

We generally complain that action on climate change is mired in polarized partisan politics and thus nothing can be done.  True to an extent, but let’s hold on a bit.

In terms of generating important discussion about the clarity that exists around the conclusion that the scientific debate over climate change as an anthropogenic process is over, the political bully pulpit can be incredibly powerful.

A case in point is the paper published last week in Environmental Research Letters, where I am the Editor-in-Chief: “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature” John Cook, of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, Australia, was lead author of the paper, which begins with this abstract:

 We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11,944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics “global climate change” or “global warming.” We find that 66.4 percent of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6 percent endorsed AGW, 0.7 percent rejected AGW and 0.3 percent were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1 percent endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5 percent.) Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2 percent endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors’ self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.

The paper came out, and President Barack Obama’s Twitter account weighed in:

That high-profile tweet (not directly from the president, but like all his tweets, from the campaign group formed to support his political agenda) drove a wave of attention to the research. Follow-on tweets came from Vice-President Al Gore and U. S. Congressman Henry Waxman.  Television coverage followed in: ABC Lateline, Al Jazeera (Inside Story), CNN International, Democracy Now, and NRK. At last count there were over 200 newspaper and magazine pieces, and a number of radio segments.  At last count there were several hundred blog posts on the findings of this paper and the Obama Tweet.  A link to the ever-growing set of media coverage is: http://sks.to/tcpmedia.

The article has been downloaded over 21,600 article downloads in just a few days of having the paper published online.

What this story highlights – beyond the excellent data collection, analysis and scholarship in the paper itself – is the value of thoughtful comments and recognition of these findings.

Daniel M. Kammen is the Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he founded and directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (http://rael.berkeley.edu).   Kammen is a Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.  Kammen the Lead Scholar for the Fulbright NEXUS program in energy and climate for the U. S. Department of State.



  1. Marcus Gibson
    August 8, 2013, 5:52 am

    The quality of ‘peer reviewed scientific literature’ on climate change is the lowest among all the science disciplines. We know very little about the climate, and understand even less. Most ‘literature’ is based on tiny data samples, or ‘me too’ follow-ups, or just plain ‘review of the reviews’ reviews, and everybody knows that.
    Climate scientists are the joke of the profession, full of cowboys, full of those with both eyes on PR and public speaking profiles, etc.
    The author, yet another Californian dream-boy, is too young to remember what urban skies were like in the 1950s, when you couldn’t even see the Sun, so his opinions are invalid.
    Proof: unlike all their doom predictions officials stats state ‘no rise in global average temps for 17 years’ – so the game is over..

  2. Chapster Jones
    June 1, 2013, 5:17 pm

    So, shall I expect if you must screen comments that this is not an open discussion, but that you just desire an amen corner?

  3. Chapster Jones
    June 1, 2013, 5:02 pm

    It is an absurdity not to agree that mankind has always had a deleterious effect upon the earth. From simple laziness to intentional polluting it is easy to make areas dangerous to uninhabitable. The ingrained behavior is also unlikely to abate. How many climate scientist bicycle always? You live a civilized world you jump in your gas guzzler.

    But mankind is not the only effect on this planet. Natural forces are always in constant change, since the beginning of this planet.

    Scientists have a vested financial interest in the discussion, that alone tends to lower their credibility. Its become such a hotpoint that no one can even produce proofs or argue against without being shouted down. Yet another blow against credibility.

    Enter Politics. As it exists, it is nothing more than wealth redistribution. Political players are selling out to their chums for higher places on the political landscape. Obama chief among them.

    The facts are terrible weather decimates places on this earth and ALWAYS has. Typhons in Asia, deserts and droughts in china, africa, etc are not the fault of the chevy driver in america. However, the foolishness is sold to those in lower economic countries as though it were so.

    What has also never changed is charlatans who claim they can control the weather. C’mon. That’s what this current conversation is. A thousand years ago they tossed prisoners and virgins into volcanos to control the weather now we tax develop countries with the promise to do the same.