New Survey Shows AMS Members’ Positions on Climate Change

March 24, 2016 · 0 comments

The vast majority of members of the American Meteorological Society agree that recent climate change stems at least in part from human causes, and the agreement has been growing significantly in the last five years.

According to a new survey of AMS members, 67% say climate change over the last 50 years is mostly to entirely caused by human activity, and more than 4 in 5 respondents attributed at least some of the climate change to human activity.

Only 5% said that climate change was “largely or entirely” due to natural events (while 6% said they “didn’t know.”)

The findings are from the initial results of a 2016 national survey of more than 4,000 AMS members just released today by George Mason University. The joint GMU/AMS study was conducted in January with support from the National Science Foundation.

Four in five respondents say their opinion on the issue has not changed over the last five years, but of the 17% who did shift, 87% said they feel “more convinced” now that human-caused climate change is happening. Two-thirds of them based this change on new scientific information in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, although in general respondents report basing these changes on multiple sources of information, such as peers and personal observation. Indeed, 74% think that their local climate has changed in the past 50 years.

AMS membership is largely constituted of professionals in the weather, water, and climate fields. One-third of the respondents hold a Ph.D. in meteorology or the atmospheric sciences, and overall just more than half have doctorates in some field.

Yet, while highly educated, the AMS membership represents a different selection of the profession than the climate-expert community commonly cited in statistics about the scientific consensus on climate change. Only 37% of AMS respondents self-identified themselves as climate change experts.

As a result, despite the growing agreement among the membership, there are differences in the results of the new survey compared to the position of climate scientists reflected in the reports of the IPCC.

On one key basic point the difference between the climate expert community and the AMS community as a whole is nearly negligible: AMS members are nearly unanimous (96%) in thinking that climate change is occurring and almost 9 in 10 of them are either “extremely” or “very” sure of this change. Only 1% say climate change is not happening.

However, the AMS Statement on Climate Change, which basically reflects the IPCC findings, not only says “warming of the climate system now is unequivocal” but also says, “It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases.” The new survey shows the AMS community as a whole is still moving toward this state of the science position. Furthermore, the new GMU/AMS survey does not probe members’ views on specific mechanisms of human-caused climate change.

Full results of the survey, including what members think of the future prospects for climate change, are posted here.