10 Things That Don’t Disprove Global Warming


Global Warming Isn't 'Settled Science'

From left, Jason Burnett of the EPA; Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Roy Spencer, a research scientist at the University of Alabama, testify at a 2008 senate hearing on global warming. Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images
From left, Jason Burnett of the EPA; Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Roy Spencer, a research scientist at the University of Alabama, testify at a 2008 senate hearing on global warming. Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images

"There's no such thing as settled science" is the last, best line of defense for those who don't believe in global warming, because it sounds so, well, scientific. It perhaps was most eloquently articulated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a 2011 Republican presidential debate.

"The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet to me is just nonsense," Perry explained. "Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said, here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell" [source: Saenz].

Besides the fact that this argument doesn't really refute any of the specifics of climate change theory, there's another problem: It's a debate in search of participants. Of the 4,014 scientific papers published between 1991 and 2011 that took a position on whether humans were causing global warming, for example, 97.1 percent endorsed the idea, while only 1.9 percent rejected it, and another 1 percent were uncertain [source: Cook et al.].

Additionally, just about every major scientific academy and professional organization in the world — some 200 of them — have adopted the position that the climate is changing and humans are largely responsible [source: Ca.gov]. That may not be absolute unanimity, but it's pretty close to it.

Author's Note: 10 Things That Don't Disprove Global Warning

A few years ago, while working on a magazine story, I visited the affluent southern California enclave of Balboa Island, where sea levels have risen for decades. Residents had found that their seawall, ranging from 7.5 to 9.5 feet (2 to-3 meters) tall, built back in the mid-1930s, was no longer high enough to protect their multimillion-dollar houses against flooding in during storms, and they were looking at raising $80 million to build a new 14-foot (4 meter) wall to protect their property against future storms. To them, global warming was no longer an abstract issue. Whether or not they believed humans were to blame, the trend they could see in their harbor's tidal records was discomfiting, and the risk of not doing anything was too great. I think that's a good metaphor for the situation that the rest of the world is in.

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