I'm terribly frustrated with the way that climate change has been debated in Europe. I live in the Netherlands and members of one of the biggest parties here, the Party for Freedom (PVV), frequently deny climate change and use terms like "climate hysteria" and "the religion of climate change". While I'm no climate scientist, geologist or meteorologist I do worry about the climate, simply for the reason that the large majority of experts does! I know that the exact percentage of consensus has been debated, consensus according to Bloomberg, consensus according to the Guardian explaining their methods, but it's pretty hard to argue that there is no consensus in general..

However, one of the arguments that climate change skeptics use is that the 97% (or whatever percentage you feel is right) consensus among climate scientists is misleading. Misleading, because most climate scientists are meteorologists, and meteorologists tend to have a different view on climate, compared to geologists. The skeptics say that the consensus among geologists is way lower. From what I understand (again I'm no geologist), is that some geologists support an alternative theory to explain climate change that involves plate tectonics.

Question: What is in fact the consensus among geologists about climate change being caused by humans?

Remark: Please excuse me for the elaborate introduction to my question. I don't want to make this a concealed political statement, but it is something that's bothering me. Why would you, as a layman, choose to believe the small minority on such an important issue? I definitely don't think we should ignore or silence climate change skeptics, obviously accepted scientific beliefs have been proven wrong in the past, but it does feel rather strange to me that so many politicians are of an opinion that is backed by only 3% of the world's leading scientists.

Thanks in advance!

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Meteorologists are scientists whose expertise is weather and climate. Geologists may study units of meteorology in university, but their expertise is in rocks and the formation of the Earth. Some geologists may branch out into climate science, but most geologists do not. When it comes to climate change more weight should be given to the opinion of meteorologists. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Nov 9 '17 at 15:27
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Fred -- Meteorologists are scientists whose expertise is weather, not climate. Climate is what you get after removing weather from the picture, meaning that climate is a secondary concern to meteorologists. There is at best a weak consensus amongst meteorologists regarding climate change. The consensus amongst physicists regarding climate change is stronger than is the consensus amongst meteorologists. The same is true for geologists. $\endgroup$ Nov 9 '17 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ It depends on what you want the answer to be. $\endgroup$ Nov 9 '17 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ Most geoscientists are employed in oil,gas and mining, not academic research. See this chart from this article. $\endgroup$ Nov 9 '17 at 20:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ you can also look at Paleoclimatologists, which are where climatology and geology meet. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 10 '17 at 17:28

First, a correction. Most climate scientists are climatologists rather than meteorologists. Climatology and meteorology, while related, are quite distinct sciences. Meteorologists and climatologists don't see eye to eye. The consensus amongst meteorologists regarding climate change is not nearly as strong as it is amongst climatologists. Many meteorologists still doubt human-driven climate change.

One key issue is that meteorologists know that predicting the weather beyond a week or two is impossible thanks to the butterfly effect. This knowledge makes them rather skeptical of claims by climatologists regarding what will happen in 50 to 100 years. Climate is not weather, of course. That weather is not predictable beyond a week or two does not mean that climate is not predictable.

The same cannot be said regarding geologists. They take a long view of things, arguably longer even than that taken by climatologists. The consensus amongst geologists is quite strong. The Geology Society (British) issued a strong statement regarding climate change in 2010 (Climate change: evidence from the geological record) and made this even stronger with an adddendum in 2013. The Geological Society of America conducted informal surveys of its members at annual meetings in 2009 and 2011 (GSA members on climate change: Where, what, and ways forward?) The consensus was quite strong. Of the 181 members who were surveyed, only two "clearly stated they do not believe anything will occur because climate change is not happening". This is in line with the 97% consensus amongst climatologists.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Also worth noting: the 97% consensus is among climate-related publications, not climate scientists. The Cook et al. study didn't impose any precondition as to the official field or affiliation of authors: any peer-reviewed on-topic study was fair game. Naturally this probably led to a preponderance of climatologists among the authors, because there’s a rather strong correlation between being a climatologist and publishing on climatology, but it’s not as any papers were excluded for being written by geologists. $\endgroup$
    – Pont
    Nov 9 '17 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ While the chaos effect is a quick principle for many meteorologist to submit for their skepticism... I'd suggest that for more involved meteorologists, it also relates to the rather limited skill scores for seasonal probabilistic forecasting for ENSO/temp/precip/TCs, adding hesitation. (Plus that the majority of warming is found in places further outside our experience [nighttime, less populated regions like polar areas, and oceans] [all of which add longterm reliability questions, with the UHI consideration]). None of that makes AGW untrue, just adds a little basis for skeptical thought $\endgroup$ Nov 10 '17 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ (While I"ll be the first to admit that meteorologists aren't climatologists, and that we don't have the quality background climatologists do... many suggesting meteorologists aren't useful/qualified to weigh in is depressing. We deal with the conditions much more closely and throughout than most geologists, physicists, etc do. There is indeed some potential for social background to be motivating within some subfields [like tv meteorology]. But it seems dangerous to mostly dismiss the input of the entire field. I'm certainly not suggesting you're doing this David... but that many do.) $\endgroup$ Nov 10 '17 at 15:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Many could use more scientific perseverance and less haste at jumping to conclusions... putting aggressiveness more into seeking out the real truth personally rather than arguing it with others, when most aren't well versed in the fields, or fully allow for heavy biases in their positions. A good question and a good answer David, thanks. $\endgroup$ Nov 10 '17 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ (For what it's worth [not a ton!!!], I do tend to lean a bit in favor of global warming [and anthropogenic caused], though continue to watch data to refine opinion. And am generally a fan of reducing pollution regardless as practical) Not that I believe my opinion to be what it is important, but because some may wish to know any personal background that may affect such statements as I gave above. $\endgroup$ Nov 10 '17 at 15:23

Unknown, namely because most scientists in "Earth science" related spectrum largely work in the public sector i.e. tax payer funded research (museums, smithsonian, various universities, USGS, etc) hense bias to human anthropological warming tends to be "Yay". You don't receieve funding for a circumstance you don't take as inherently serious.

Science, unlike religion, is not a belief system. Scientists, just like anyone else, are susceptible to error and BEING wrong about something they stringently vouch for.

The earliest attempt to document a “consensus” on climate change was a old 2004 paper cited by Al Gore in his book, An Inconvenient Truth. (Gore attended natural science class at Harvard, but got D grade). The primary paper that ups the notion of “97% consensus” was written by John Cook and company and was published in 2013. As to how many of them are scientists, the list puts down Profession of science discipline as geology. I don't know.

Consensus is a political/social concept i.e. Majority rules. Consensus is irrelevant in science as history has shown; scientific discovery and introductions did not enjoy relative endorsement by a majority of the community, in fact fought tooth and nail against it...but in the end fought against institutions and were proven right.

  • Galileo (Heliocentrism)
  • Charles Darwin (Biologically derived inheritence/species propagation)
  • Gregor Mendel (acquired characteristics)
  • Einstein (Relativity, Early quantum mechanics
  • Dan Shechtman (Nobel in physics in discovery of quasi-crystals)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.