Former Utah Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman made national news this week when he told Time Magazine that he was inclined to believe that public policy decisions over what to do about global warming should be left to the 90 percent of climate change scientists that he believes are concerned about serious damage resulting from global warming. Huntsman is often mentioned as a possible GOP Presidential candidate in 2012.
TIME: You also believe in climate change, right?
HUNTSMAN: This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological (study of tumors) community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community – though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.
The comments were picked up by many blogs and news sites and were shocking to some in a conservative movement still trying to sort out the possible presidential candidates.
But is the “90 percent” figure really representative of the climate science community, and who are those scientists supposedly in the 90 percent camp?
And what about the remaining 10 percent?
“It is fashionable to believe in harmful global warming due to evil mankind," said William Happer, physicist and Cyrus Fogg Brackett professor of physics at Princeton, in an e-mail. “What could be a more worthy cause than saving the planet? But many very well qualified scientists take strong exception to the extreme claims made by the alarmists, and if an honest poll of qualified scientists were taken, I would be surprised if even half believed in the message of catastrophic global warming. When Mr. Huntsman talks about 90 percent, he is talking about a very select group of scientists who are dependent on continued alarmism for their funding. “
John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center and a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said it’s hard to get a handle on how many scientists sincerely believe that climate change is having a dangerous impact on the planet.
“The problem is the degree of warming,” Christy wrote in an e-mail. “Ninety percent would agree that mankind has some impact on the climate, but a lower percentage would say it was a dangerous impact.”
Christy also finds the comparison to cancer research to be dubious.
“I suspect that was pulled out of the air. The statements are not apples to apples at all. One deals with repeatable laboratory experiments (cancer) the other with a murky science (climate) which does not have laboratory methods to settle arguments.”