Consider other consensuses (consensi?). A century ago the intelligentsia thought it was a swell idea that people should have perfection forced upon them by making a Utopian omelette created by cracking a few tens of millions of skulls. The consensus among us civilians is that the intelligentsia was bat-guano crazy. The consensus among the intelligentsia now, on the other hand, hasn’t budged: government (meaning rule by themselves) knows best—about everything.
Medieval scientists agreed to a man that Ptolemy’s theory about the movement of celestial objects was true. They were rational to do so, because the thing worked. Well, mostly worked, or worked good enough for everyday purposes. Scientists now agree that a better theory has come along. This one works, too.
Modern scientists shook hands and were adamant the continents were fixed objects. Doctors laid their thumbs upon their noses when asked their opinion about hygiene (they were against it). And on and on.
The batting average for Consensus is like that of an aging player being sent down to the minors in July. We had such hopes for it early on, but it consistently failed under pressure, though we’re still willing to give it one more try.
The leftwards press delights in telling us there is a consensus among climate scientists. Why they should be so pleased that the sky is falling is a mystery, unless it’s another symptom of the bloodlust found in progressives. The Guardian—protecting British minds from the onslaught of reality since 1821—is giddy over the statistic that 97.1% (and not just 97.0%) of academic papers agree that “climate change is anthropogenic.”
Just what is this capital-C Consensus? My pal Gav Schmidt asked me to tell you (his words; “the update” is found on the page linked):
- The earth is getting warmer (0.6 +/- 0.2 oC in the past century;
0.10.17 oC/decade over the last 30 years (see update)) [ch 2]
- People are causing this [ch 12] (see update)
- If GHG emissions continue, the warming will continue and indeed accelerate [ch 9]
- (This will be a problem and we ought to do something about it)
The last one is in brackets because whilst many would agree, many others (who agree with 1-3) would not, at least without qualification. It’s probably not a part of the core consensus in the way 1-3 are. Most (all?) of us here on RealClimate are physical scientists — we can talk sensibly about past, present and future changes in climate, but potential impacts on ecosystems or human society are out of our field.
Since it hasn’t been hotting up recently at the rates quoted by Gav, “People are causing this” is ambiguous, and there is substantial uncertainty in the historical observations, the Consensus can only be of minor interest. Climate scientists have to agree on something and it is a good thing they’re trying to sort out how things work, but their forecasts haven’t been of sufficient precision to encourage the rest of us to pay too close attention. Not yet, anyway.
Gav rightly emphasizes the “we ought to do something about it” isn’t a major part of the Consensus, if it’s there at all. But the Guardian, representing the perpetually “outraged” crowd, think it is; indeed, they think the Consensus is nothing but that. One prominent fellow with a mind permanently and deeply scarred by youthful “experimentation” said the Consensus is “about activism” and “is about converting people.”
Politicians and journalists who couldn’t read a thermometer, even if you threatened to withhold their kickbacks and deny their bylines, are so eager to believe climate change is man-made because that makes it “a problem and we ought to do something about it.”
This explains the mysterious glee over every heatwave headline and the perverse delight politicians display when organizing hearings on the end of the world. They believe they are the “we.” Just as with the earlier consensus, they believe paradise is just around the corner if only, if only.
Thanks to Ye Olde Statistician and the many others who asked about this topic and provided references.