Building scientific consensus on climate change

Climate change
Posted by Lydia Kaprelian, September 26, 2018

It can be difficult to know where to turn for sound science, especially when it comes to hot-button scientific issues that are often infused with politics. Nowhere does this phenomenon ring more true than the science underlying climate change. The headlines on climate change seem endless, which can make it seem like a hopeless cause to identify fact from fiction. Science in the Classroom is developing a climate change collection to illustrate how consensus positions are argued, reached, and implemented. Specifically, this collection will examine how the consensus on anthropogenic climate change—that is, climate change caused by humans—has been accepted in the scientific community.

Scientific consensus means that there is general agreement among scientists who study in that particular field. Climate change is an especially interdisciplinary study in that scientists from across many disciplines and backgrounds research the causes and effects of a changing climate. As such, climate change draws on a diverse range of expertise in developing consensus positions.

Scientists agree that climate change is caused, at least to some extent, by human activities—meaning that anthropogenic climate change is settled science. Even though the general science on climate change might be settled, that doesn’t mean science has stopped; rather, it is the starting point that everyone agrees on. Current and future research into climate change aims to refine and better understand this consensus position.

Once consensus is reached, the scope of published research tends to shift away from focusing on how, for example, greenhouse gasses trap heat or human behaviors indeed raise the global temperature. Instead, research focuses on investigating how these changes will impact ecosystems, species, weather patterns, etc. In this collection the shift in publication patterns is recorded, using the example of climate change, from earliest observations in early 1800s to anthropogenic impacts on air quality published just this year. Alongside the publication of scientific research, policies in the public sphere are formed. Policies regarding climate change have been forming or dissolving as a result of this new evidence, and sometimes in spite of it.

Our collection of annotated papers, policy documents, news articles, and other resources is growing. If you would like to contribute to this fact-based and science-grounded collection, please consider volunteering with us!