Telling Americans that scientists don't agree is the classic climate denial strategy. It's been over a decade since consultant Frank Luntz famously furnished the GOP with strategies to kill climate action during the Bush years, recommending in a leaked memo [PDF]: "you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue." Oh, yeah, and avoid truth: "A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth." It seems to have worked: Only a minority of Americans believes global warming is caused by humans: 42 percent, according to a 2012 Pew study.
That "consensus gap", as it's known, has proven fertile ground in which to sow resistance to climate action, says John Cook, a climate communications researcher from the University of Queensland in Australia. He has led the most extensive survey of peer-reviewed literature in almost a decade (published online this week in Environmental Research Letters). And what he found, just as in other attempts to survey the field, is that scientists are near unanimous.
A group of 24 researchers signed up to the challenge via Cook's website, Skeptical Science (the go-to website for debunking climate denial myths), and collected and analyzed almost 12,000 scientific papers from the past 20 years. Of the roughly 4,000 of those abstracts that expressed some view on the evidence for global warming, more than 97 percent endorsed the consensus that climate change is happening, and it's caused by humans.
His team pulled work written by 29,083 authors in nearly 2,000 journals across two decades. "People who say there must be some conspiracy to keep climate deniers out of the peer reviewed literature, that is one hell of a conspiracy," he said via Skype from Australia (watch the video above). That would make the moon landing cover-up look "like an amateur conspiracy compared to the scale involved here."
Cook is hoping to capitalize on the simplicity of his findings: "All people need to understand is that 97 out of 100 climate scientists agree. All they need to know is that one number: 97 percent."