Spencer Weart has a two part history of the subject of how popular opinion about climate change has evolved that is quite interesting now and will be of great use to posterity. There are links to other articles by himself and others.
I am especially taken by his article for the American Physics Society. Here he makes a remarkable claim.
The naysayers are constantly going on about how IPCC is as much a political as a scientific organization. They use this to suggest that it will necessarily be biased in favor of increased government power, hence inclined to exaggerate risks. In that context, consider Weart’s version of the story, which I had not heard presented this way:
Half a century ago, nearly all scientists thought greenhouse warming
was scarcely likely to be a problem. It took decades of accumulating evidence, with many hardfought debates, to convince them they were wrong. Panels of scientists convened on climate change hundreds of times in many countries. As scientists, most of the panelists were professional skeptics. Yet since the late 1970s essentially every such panel has concluded that warming could become a bad problem someday. In the present century, every respectable panel has concluded that it probably will be a severe problem, and soon.
Some people suspect such panels are just an old-boy-and-girl network looking out for its own research funds. History helps counter that suspicion, for the origins of
the present consensus are revealing. The Reagan administration believed that any self-appointed group of scientists would issue alarmist, hyper-environmentalist
statements. They forestalled that by promoting a complex international
advisory structure, led by people appointed by governments rather than by the scientific community. To further impede any statements that might push toward government regulation, the advisory group’s conclusions would have to be consensual –the unanimous findings of representatives of all the world’s governments.
The result is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Surprisingly, the process produced useful advice. Relentlessly confronted with the evidence and arguments of their colleagues, even the science representatives of oil-rich states eventually agreed that the world is very likely warming at an unprecedented rate, and that the most likely cause is the buildup of greenhouse gases due to human activities.
I’d really like to know if that’s true. It certainly sheds an interesting light on the argumentative style of the opposition if so. On the whole Weart seems an honest and diligent reporter of the facts. As old Mr. Spock might say, raising an eyebrow, “fascinating”.