For many students, climate change is a daily consideration when making choices like bringing reusable bags to the store or using refillable coffee cups. Environmental awareness is as prevalent as its effects are terrifying, exemplified by the 150,000 people who walked at the Montreal March for Climate Justice on March 15. In the university context, it can be easy to forget that nearly one third of Canadians are unconvinced that climate change is caused by human activity.
The 97 per cent consensus is a widely-cited statistic which states that 97.1 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is anthropogenic, or manmade. This statistic comes from a 2013 study which quantified the academic consensus by examining the abstracts of 11,944 climate science papers and classifying each one based on its position on global warming. The study also stated that the more expertise the author had on the subject, the more likely they were to believe in anthropogenic climate change.
Cook’s study has been criticized for only examining the abstracts that take a concrete position on climate change. Nonetheless, other studies have concluded that a consensus exists among somewhere between 90 and 100 per cent of climate scientists.
In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Theo Van de Ven, a professor in McGill’s Department of Chemistry, expressed scepticism that the 97 per cent consensus is absolute, citing a petition signed by 31,000 scientists who have called on the government of the United States to reject the United Nations-sponsored Kyoto Protocol. He also alleged that most people only believe in climate change because it comes from scientists who have expert authority.
“This 97 per cent is based, in my opinion, on very sloppy statistics,” Van de Ven said. “I got this email about this [climate march], and it’s good that people are concerned about the climate, but I think that much of our youth is indoctrinated at schools. Why do most high school teachers believe in climate change? Because of the authority. That’s the 97 per cent. If you don’t believe in the 97 per cent, that falls apart. But they indoctrinate kids at primary school and secondary school with it.”
While Van de Ven believes that pollution is a problem, he remains unconvinced that human activity is causing climate change. He argues that there are many other unstudied factors that could also be attributed to global warming, and, as a result, he finds it preemptive to propose certain solutions such as a tax on carbon.
“There are many fluctuations in the climate, and they correlate very strongly with solar cycles,” Van de Ven said. “It’s very well established. There’s a plausible explanation, but people don’t seem to be seriously willing to investigate it [….] I’m just saying there’s basically no knowledge. This consensus is, in my opinion, just pushed for political reasons.”
Van de Ven remains in the minority of scientists who are suspicious of anthropogenic climate change. In Oct. 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a widely-read report which states that, if global warming is not limited to 1.5 degrees celsius, the consequences for our planet could be catastrophic. The continued refusal to acknowledge the ramifications, despite a widespread consensus among climate scientists has the potential to affect generations to come. The discrepancy between the high percentage of scientists who believe in anthropogenic climate change versus the third of Canadians who do not is alarming, but students can continue to make themselves aware of the consequences of global warming and educate their peers.