The so-called debate about the causes and effects of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a notable irony. Rather than a forum for free disputation, AGW has in recent years become the site of a consensus equating majority opinion with truth—leaving little, if any, room for debate. After all, doesn’t everyone but a misguided few agree that we are in the grip of an unparalleled, man- made climatic catastrophe?
Challenging this consensus and its advocates often leads not to reasoned argument and coolheaded policy making but to sometimes overheated recrimination and silencing of those with alternative interpretations. This we discovered firsthand when, as close observers of AGW controversies since 2015, we convened a conference about climate change and public policy.
Unanticipated events preceding the conference were an unsettling enough demonstration of the rule of consensus in contemporary life. Worse still, subsequent inquiry revealed that the AGW conference was just the tip of a bigger and—according to consensus—fast-melting iceberg. Beyond our conference and the controversies surrounding AGW, consensus thinking adversely impacts diverse other current issues, individual awareness of them, public discourse, policy making, the practice of science, and collective understanding of the nature of truth.