I appreciate the frustration voiced in Judith Polich’s recent Journal column about the lack of engagement over climate change. I believe if we are going to make faster progress, we need to bridge the gap between climate change politics and science.
About a year ago, a close friend and I had a heated confrontation over an op-ed by Mitch Daniels in the Washington Post defending Steven Koonin against the harsh criticism of his book “Unsettled? – What climate change tells us and what it doesn’t.” My friend respects Daniels because he believes he is a decent, moderate conservative. I got very upset because I felt we were mixing politics with science and I felt Daniels was casting aspersions on the scientific community at large. I still feel that Koonin’s efforts, although maybe well-intentioned for trying to improve climate science, are biased by his conservative ties and get used by the conservative media to cast doubt on the reality and seriousness of climate change. He is also an outlier when it comes to scientific consensus about climate change.
A 2016 synthesis of consensus studies by John Cook et al., found that 90-100% of publishing climate scientists believe that humans are causing recent global warming. A more recent study in 2021, Mark Lynas et al., falls at the high end of this range, greater than 99%. We can also consider the consensus opinion of scientific bodies that are not comprised mainly of climate scientists, e.g. the American Physical Society (APS), the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). All of them have issued statements of consensus and/or reports that reflect their belief that climate change is real and caused by humans. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey of the AAAS found that 87% of their members believe that recent global warming is anthropogenic. I have not found similar surveys of the NAS but I have scoured the internet looking for NAS members that appear to be skeptics or contrarians and have identified only seven, including Dr. Koonin. This represents only 0.28% of the 2,512 members of the NAS. Even if my estimate is off by a factor of 10, we are only talking about 2.8%.
As for the political side, a 2021 Gallup Poll finds that 88% of Democrats, 65% of independents and 32% of Republicans believe that climate change is caused by human activity. This difference in opinion is reflected in a recent survey of the 117th Congress that finds that only 48% of House Republicans and 40% of Senate Republicans claim to believe that climate change is real and caused mainly by human activity. No Democrats were identified as climate change deniers.
The recent book, “Saving Us” by climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, suggests that one way for “hope and healing in a divided world” is through finding shared values. I know my friend and I both share a respect for expertise and so maybe considering and understanding the large gap that exists between climate change politics and science will help bridge the gap. I know we also value being good stewards of the resources that are given to us and that we share a love of our children and grandchildren and only want the very best for them.