Peter Doran, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wasn't all that happy that his Nature paper(1) was widely used  by detractors of early 2000s global warming theory so he set out recently to find out just how many other earth scientists believe in human-induced climate change.

His research then found that some parts of Antarctica had cooled between 1986 and 2000 so he was lumped in with those disputing global warming, something he did not say.   Doran found out, just as Bill Gray later would when he disputed Al Gore's contention that global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, when you go up against crazy people with an agenda life can get ugly.

When temperatures in Chicago are at wind chill -5o degrees Fahrenheit, it might not seem like a good time to wade back into the politics of climate change, but he has done it with a survey asking how many earth scientists believe in anthropogenic global warming.

Unfortunately, the wording of some of the questions was too vague to gain a lot of traction with skeptics.  For example:

(1) Have mean global temperatures risen compared to pre-1800s levels?

(2) Has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures?

Who would disagree with those things?   A guess is that 90% of people would agree with that wording and the other 10 percent wouldn't only because they are looking for a trap.   As science readers here would expect, he found that 90 percent of the scientists surveyed agreed with the first question and 82 percent the second.    There are 6X as many people on the planet as there were in the 1700s and they all have to be fed so  it would be more surprising if there were not an impact on the environment.

What global warming skeptics have disputed is the CO2 reduction goal of a Kyoto treaty that basically claimed American cars caused global warming but Mexican, Indian and Chinese cars did not - and a target date that seemed arbitrary, allowing a country like a unified Germany to simply have closed newly acquired USSR-era East German factories and make their target goals without economic penalty, or for France to just use more nuclear power and claim they are being environmentally responsible.

What is interesting is how the numbers  broke down.   Climatology researchers had a Middle East dictatorship-worthy 97 percent agree that humans were causing global warming but petroleum geologists only had 47 percent believers and meteoroligists  64 percent.  The entire population rests right in the middle, at around 58 percent.  You can bet it would be higher with the wording above.

Doran says the petroleum geologist response "is not too surprising" - one would presume that he means because of their jobs, their integrity is for sale, whereas climatologists rely on government grants and there's no way to know how many government grants were turned down for skeptics of global warming theory.  Generally we have to protest when it is alleged that any science group is going to disagree for reasons that are personal and not scientific but we are a science site and not an advocacy one so our noting of his qualifier will likely get us lumped in as Holocause deniers or shills for Big Oil.  

Meteorolgists are dismissed out of hand by him.   "Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomenon."   So the next time you need an accurate hundred-year climate forecast, go to a climatologist and see how well it works.

Climatologist opinions certainly carried more weight with him.   "They're the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you're likely to believe in global warming and humankind's contribution to it."

In trying to overcome criticism of earlier attempts to gauge the view of earth scientists on global warming and the human impact factor, Doran and former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman sought the opinion of the most complete list of earth scientists they could find, contacting more than 10,200 experts around the world listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute's Directory of Geoscience Departments.

3,146 responded and were e-mailed invitations to participate in the on-line poll conducted by the website Only those invited could participate and computer IP addresses of participants were recorded and used to prevent repeat voting. Questions used were reviewed by a polling expert who checked for bias in phrasing, such as suggesting an answer by the way a question was worded.

After examining the results of the nine-question survey was short,  Doran and Kendall Zimmerman conclude that "the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes." The challenge now, they write, is how to effectively communicate this to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.

The findings appear today in the publication Eos, Transactions.


(1) Nature 415, 517-520 (31 January 2002) | doi:10.1038/nature710