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Despite Rick Perry, consensus on climate change keeps strengthening

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DAVE THOMPSON/ALAMY Over the past few days, fact-checkers have been kept busy debunking this statement from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), on why he doesn’t believe that humans are heating the planet: “I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

It’s not a tricky argument to dismiss. In 2010, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a survey of 1,372 climate researchers, finding that 97 to 98 percent of those publishing in the field said they believe humans are causing global warming. That’s the same majority that existed in a similar 2009 survey. Dissenters do exist, the PNAS study found, but “the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced … are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.” Either way, the ranks of dissenters don’t appear to be swelling. (When contacted by the Washington Post, the Perry campaign responded with links to news stories that, reporter Glenn Kessler concluded, were “anecdotal in nature.”)

Still, it’s worth adding one overlooked point to all this fact-checking. It’s not just that Perry’s wrong. In many ways, the field of climate science is moving in precisely the opposite direction that he’s suggesting. Recall that back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change put out a report synthesizing the scientific work on global warming. While the report sounded quite certain on a number of topics—noting, for one, that it was “very likely” that most of the observed temperature increases since mid-century were due to man-made greenhouse gases—there were still plenty of vague spots in the report, especially with regards to sea-level rise.

Yet rather than poke further holes, much of the climate science that’s been published since 2007 appears to have strengthened the consensus, not weakened it. Another synthesis report published last May by Britain’s Met Office, looking at more than 100 peer-reviewed post-IPCC studies, found that the case for human influence has been bolstered: “We can say with a very high significance level that the effects we see in the climate cannot be attributed to any other forcings.”

Relatedly, at last year’s annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, UC Santa Barbara’s William Freudenberg gave a presentation in which he revealed that “new scientific findings [since the IPCC] are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is ‘worse than previously expected,’ rather than ‘not as bad as previously expected.’”(Credit for the links goes to Climate Progress’s Joe Romm.)

Granted, it’s always possible that what’s going on here is that, as Perry has charged, “there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” Though that theory’s looking weaker by the day, too: The National Science Foundation, for instance, just wrapped up its inquiry into Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, one of the central figures in the Climategate flap. Fox News had earlier trumpeted the NSF inquiry as the “final say” on Mann’s research. And what did the NSF conclude? “Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.”

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