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The New Climate Change Debate? Scientific Consensus VS American Public

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The latest polls suggest that the American public is less likely to believe in climate change than it was just five years ago. This news seems surprising considering the scientific consensus regarding climate change has grown stronger – though unsurprising given media coverage over the past five years. Has a new climate change debate emerged between the scientific community and the American public?

Before answering that question, let’s first look at the scientific consensus regarding climate change.

Climate change has been endorsed by nearly every national and international scientific academy around the world who all agree with the IPCC’s conclusion: “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures… is very likely (>90%) due to the observed increases in human greenhouse gas concentrations… and will continue for centuries.”

The science of climate change is further supported by 97% of American scientists and the National Academy of Sciences.

But this isn’t the picture the majority of American’s are getting from the media.

Instead, the media depicts climate change as a debate as it strives to give equal airtime to both sides. Yet on the other side of the debate, the so-called “climate change deniers” rely less on science and more on rhetorical flourishes that appeal to the general public.

Using terms such as “Climategate” to describe the breach of security at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was a concerted effort to try to link the breach with the “Watergate scandal.” Unlike Watergate, the investigations into the University of East Anglia revealed no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct on the part of its researchers. However, members of the American public may not critically evaluate “Climategate” and therefore accept it as a situation analogous to Watergate. In a recent Rolling Stones article, Al Gore released a scathing attack against climate change sceptics for these very tactics.

If the media were to actually present the true science behind climate change it would probably change people’s minds.

Anothy Leiserowitz from the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication reveals that “the more people understand that there is a consensus, the more they tend to believe that climate change is happening, the more they understand that humans are a major contributor, and the more worried they are about it.”

Therefore, rather than present a climate change debate that is virtually non-existent in the scientific community, the media should be more concerned with presenting the current state of scientific affairs. This would encourage the public to push on to more important things, such as constructing a renewable energy future.

Image CC licensed by Mikael Miettinen

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