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Most American Science Teachers Are Smarter Than Most Climate Activists

The Lukewarmer's Way

Climate activists aren’t angry because U.S. science teachers are getting it wrong. They’re angry because the teachers are getting it right.

There has been a flurry of stories in recent days about a study that showed that many science teachers in U.S. schools are not doctrinaire enough in their communications to students on the subject. Indeed, many stories point with alarm to the factoid that science teachers don’t know there is a 97% consensus on the stuff.

This U.S. News and World Report article links to the source of their ‘97% consensus.’ As you might have guessed, it’s Cook’s junk science report on their slipshod analysis of abstracts (one of their ‘citizen scientist’ analysts managed to get through 672 abstracts in 72 hours, a hallmark of thoroughness to which we all can aspire).

The story says, “In a new study published in Science magazine last week, Eric Plutzer and colleagues report a finding that should alarm the nation: Only 30 percent of middle-school and 45 percent of high-school science teachers in the U.S. are aware of the fact that nearly all climate scientists are convinced that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.

“Here’s the kicker: The authors explain that although many science teachers themselves believe that climate change is happening, because most are not aware of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change many opt to teach “both sides” of the so-called climate debate, mistakenly giving students the impression that the basic facts are still contested, rather than conveying the fact that there is a deep and well-established consensus among climate scientists. A great deal of our own research, as well as that of many other researchers, has identified the importance of communicating the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.”

That’s not the kicker–that’s an accurate portrayal of the debate as it stands today. The ‘97% consensus’ figure is bogus. Surveys of climate scientists show 66% of climate scientists believe that half or more of recent warming is caused by humans. That’s a healthy majority. It’s enough to justify action and to acknowledge in the classroom. But a 34% minority that includes Nobel Laureates in physics and other luminaries with very respectable pedigrees means that the minority report deserves attention too.

The way climate change should be communicated is this:

  • 100% of scientists agree that climate changes. Almost all (99%) agree that our planet has warmed 1C since 1880, for example.
  • Almost all (97% or even more) agree that humans can affect the climate and that our effects have contributed to the warming we have seen since 1945.
  • Two-thirds (66%) believe our contribution has been significant–half or more of the current warming.
  • There is no consensus on some of the most important issues involved in assessing human-caused climate change, including atmospheric sensitivity, the most important factor.
  • There is little agreement on what the impacts of the warming will be, how much warming we will experience due to our actions or what actions we should take to change the course of the climate trajectory.

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