Fact Check: There IS Scientific Consensus That Climate Change Is Happening And Caused Primarily By Human Activities

Fact Check

  • by: Madison Dapcevich
Fact Check: There IS Scientific Consensus That Climate Change Is Happening And Caused Primarily By Human Activities >99% Agree

Is there no scientific consensus that climate change is happening? No, that's not true: A scientific survey of more than 88,000 climate-related studies found that more than 99 percent of research agrees that climate change is real and primarily caused by human activities. Furthermore, a majority of credible scientific institutions and researchers in the U.S. and beyond unequivocally and publicly agree that climate change is real. A post making the claim in 2023 features a 9-year-old interview with climate-change skeptic John Coleman, who died in 2018. The post gives no indication that the interview is years old nor does it provide any context of how Coleman's remarks in 2014 stack up against climatological research and knowledge in 2023.

Though the claim has been in circulation in some form since at least 2014, one version surfaced on June 29, 2023, in a reel shared to Instagram with a caption that read:

It Doesn't Take A Scientist To Tell You Money Creates Biases. #Reason #GlobalWarming #AynRand

Below is how the post appeared at the time of this publication:

Screenshot 2023-07-07 at 15.41.22.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken Fri July 7 07:42:00 UTC 2023)

Although the above clip was presented with the implication that it was recent, it originated in a nine-minute 18-second interview with Coleman -- a co-founder of The Weather Channel who parted ways with the channel in 1983 -- on CNN's "Reliable Sources" in 2014 (archived here). This portion of Coleman's statement below was taken from the original interview and shared on Instagram in 2023:

Well, there is no consensus in science. Science isn't a vote. Science is about facts and if you get down to the hard, cold facts, there's no question about it. Climate change is not happening. There is no significant, man-made global warming now, there hasn't been any in the past, and there's no reason to expect any in the future ...

Claims that there is "no consensus" that climate change is happening are false. The majority of international scientists and scientific institutions, including NASA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, largely agree that scientific evidence -- not opinion -- suggests that climate change is real.

Coleman was a climate change denier who openly disagreed with the American Meteorological Society's stance on climate change and wrote in a letter posted on October 19, 2014, to UCLA that there is "no significant man-made global warming at this time."

However, scientific consensus suggests otherwise. A collective position taken by scientists, a consensus helps to interpret and better understand data. As the NASA Global Climate Change program writes:

Technically, a 'consensus' is a general agreement of opinion, but the scientific method steers us away from this to an objective framework. In science, facts or observations are explained by a hypothesis (a statement of a possible explanation for some natural phenomenon), which can then be tested and retested until it is refuted (or disproved).

As scientists gather more observations, they will build off one explanation and add details to complete the picture. Eventually, a group of hypotheses might be integrated and generalized into a scientific theory, a scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.

And scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports that climate change is real.

For example, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an entity established in 1988 to advance scientific knowledge about climate change caused by human activities, stated in its 2023 report that "Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming. ... Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred. Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. This has led to widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people."

A 2021 survey published in the peer-reviewed publication Environmental Research Letters surveyed more than 88,125 climate-related studies published between 2012 and 2020. The study authors found that more than 99.9 percent of peer-reviewed scientific papers agreed that climate change is caused by humans. (This updated a 2013 figure that found 97 percent of studies between 1991 and 2012 supported human-caused climate change.)

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based scientific nonprofit advocacy group, wrote in 2017 that scientists agree that global warming is occurring and humans are the primary cause.

In 2009, 18 U.S. scientific associations reaffirmed their position supporting climate change in a letter sent to legislatures, writing that, "Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver."

Other scientific institutions that have published statements supporting human-related climate change and the years they were published include the following:

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014): "Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening."

  • American Chemical Society (2016-19): "The Earth's climate is changing in response to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and particulate matter in the atmosphere, and human activity is the primary cause.

  • American Geophysical Union (2019): "Based on extensive scientific evidence, it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. There is no alterative explanation supported by convincing evidence."

  • American Medical Association (2022): "Our AMA ... Supports scientific consensus that the Earth is undergoing adverse global climate change and that anthropogenic contributions are significant. These climate changes have adversely affected the physical and mental health of people. "

  • American Meteorological Society (2019): "Research has found a human influence on the climate of the past several decades. Its manifestation includes the warming of the atmosphere and oceans, intensification of the heaviest precipitation over continental areas, increasing upper-ocean acidity, increasing frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes, reductions in Northern Hemisphere snow and ice, and rising global sea level."

  • American Physical Society (2021): "Earth's climate is changing. This critical issue poses the risk of significant environmental, social and economic disruptions around the globe. Multiple lines of evidence strongly support the finding that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have become the dominant driver of global climate warming observed since the mid-twentieth century."

  • The Geological Society of America (GSA) (2022): "GSA's position statement on climate change recognizes that 'human activities (mainly greenhouse-gas emissions) are the dominant cause of rapid warming since the middle 1900s' and 'addressing the challenges posed by climate change will require a combination of adaptation to the changes that are likely to occur and mitigation of future impacts through global reductions of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from anthropogenic sources.'"

  • The U.S. National Academy of Sciences: "Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. Human activities largely determine the evolution of the Earth's climate, which not only impact the next few decades, but the coming centuries and millennia."

The California Governor's Office of Planning and Research also compiled this list of international scientific organizations that "hold the position that Climate Change has been caused by human action."

Lead Stories has also reported that data does not show a "net zero" warming in Antarctica for over 70 years, that a comparison of two German news channel weather maps does not prove that climate change isn't real, and that the impact of carbon dioxide on global warming does not suggest "no definitive scientific proof through real-world observation."

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  Madison Dapcevich

Raised on an island in southeast Alaska, Madison grew up a perpetually curious tidepooler and has used that love of science and innovation in her now full-time role as a science reporter for the fact-checking publication Lead Stories.

Read more about or contact Madison Dapcevich

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