In his Nov. 4 guest column in the Missoulian, Roger Koopman continued to criticize school districts for allowing students to join the Climate Strike during class time.
Koopman, a Montana Public Service commissioner, thinks those of us who believe that climate change is a real have been infected with “herd mentality,” and only consider “one side” of the issue. Science, on the other hand, says Koopman (quoting Michael Crichton), is not about “consensus,” that consensus in science is “irrelevant,” and “the greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with consensus.”
As scientists, we would like to clarify. Koopman and Crichton are right about one thing. Many great scientists, like Galileo, had ideas that were radical in their time. Virtually no one in the early 1600s believed that the Earth revolved around the sun. But since then, like any idea in science, that idea has been rigorously tested and found to be accurate. Now, there is a consensus (or agreement) among scientists that the Earth revolves around the sun.
Similarly, thoughtful people from the time of the industrial revolution had the idea that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide might cause heat to be trapped close to the Earth’s surface and cause the Earth’s surface to warm. But it wasn’t until the 1950s, when Charles Keeling, an American scientist, began measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that we had hard evidence to back this up. Keeling measured the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for over 20 years and found it was steadily increasing.
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Since then, scientists have rigorously tested the idea that the Earth was warming because increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide were trapping the sun’s heat. Thousands of scientists in more than 30 different scientific disciplines have worked together in an unprecedented collaboration to find out if this important idea is accurate. They have come to a consensus, and this was reported in the 1990 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The authors stated that they were certain that greenhouse gases were increasing in the atmosphere and that these increases were largely due to human activities and were leading to warming of the Earth’s surface. Virtually all scientists working on climate agreed.
There will always be people who dispute new scientific ideas, no matter how well they are tested. A few scientists, mainly working for business or industry, deny that the Earth is warming. But Koopman is wrong if he thinks this mistaken idea deserves our serious consideration. Not because we have been brain washed, but because the idea has failed the rigorous analyses that science has applied to it.
In science, consensus is hard to come by, and when it happens, it means that an idea has stood up to these analyses, of years of rigorous testing, and as a result, reflects as closely as possible what is happening in nature.