With election season heating up, politicians have focused on a wide variety of issues, and have targeted climate change and global warming along the way. The presidential candidates’ claims about climate change this year have included the following:
“Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money.” –Donald Trump, on Fox & Friends, January 18, 2016
“Climate change is real. It is here. It has to be dealt with.” –Hillary Clinton, in a Town Hall for digital content creators, June 28, 2016
“I am not a great believer in man-made climate change,” –Donald Trump, in a meeting with the editorial board of the Washington Post, March 21, 2016
“We Democrats agree that climate change is an urgent threat.” –Hillary Clinton in a primary victory speech, April 27, 2016
From these statements and the echoing arguments of millions of voters, it would appear to the public that there is no consensus in the scientific community on whether or not anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change exists. Because of the media’s efforts to present a “balanced” story, equal air time has frequently been given to both the belief in and the denial of anthropogenic climate change.
A March Gallup poll found that 65% of Americans believed that climate change was caused by human activity. While this is a 10 percentage point increase from last year, it is still shockingly low compared to the actual consensus on climate change that scientific experts on the subject have reached. That’s right: if you talk to the experts who study the climate, they overwhelmingly agree that anthropogenic climate change exists and is a problem.
The Consensus Project is a group that reviews scientific literature to determine the degree of consensus on climate change. In a study that examined more than 12,000 peer-reviewed climate-science abstracts published from 1991 to 2011, the Consensus Project found that, of the abstracts that expressed a position on climate change, 97.1% supported the idea of human-caused climate change. Thus, the idea that there is no clear consensus in the scientific community about climate change is wrong.
On the other hand, in 2008, a petition circulated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine claimed that there existed no convincing evidence that humans’ greenhouse-gas emissions are causing global warming. The petition was signed by 32,000 scientists, leading many members of the public to believe that climate change isn’t real.
But, even though the petition was signed by many scientists, only 39 were actual climatologists (climate scientists). This means less than a quarter of a percent (less than one of out every four hundred) of the signees are actual experts on the subject of climate science—a very low number of experts who do not see convincing evidence for human-caused global warming.
The usage of this tactic—appealing to irrelevant authority—is a logical fallacy that Ali Almossawi explains in his book An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Learn the Lost Art of Making Sense. He writes that an argument is fallacious—false and misguided—when an appeal is made to an authority who is not an expert at the issue at hand.
For more ways to dismantle misunderstandings and false beliefs about climate change step-by-step, grab a copy of How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate. By U.S. Department of Energy researchers Seth B. Darling and Douglas L. Sisterson, the book provides airtight arguments to convert the skeptics and strengthen your own knowledge.
And for ways to spot faulty arguments in and out of the political arena, take a closer look at An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments.