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What is the “Consensus Gap?”

February 16, 2023
Melanie Marino

Scientists Agree: Human-caused Climate Change Exists

Melanie Marino

Despite many people experiencing the effects of climate change in our world today, the issue is constantly up for debate. However, the notion that climate change is a theory that is still up for debate is unfounded. Studies show that 97% of climate scientists are in agreement about climate change – it is real, and it is caused by humans. Surprisingly, only 1 in 5 Americans understand that such a widespread consensus exists. [1] This phenomenon has been dubbed the “Consensus Gap.” [2]  

While we’re moving away from disbelief in climate change, there’s still some belief that climate change is mainly due to natural processes and not human activity. This isn’t the case. Scientists understand natural changes in climate, and they’re certain that increasing rates of temperature and carbon release are not natural. A quote by Kate Marvel, a NASA Goddard Institute climate scientist, encompassed this certainty well: “We are more sure that greenhouse gas is causing climate change than we are that smoking causes cancer.” [3] 

Research has been done regarding the causes of the Consensus Gap, showing that climate change misinformation is primarily attributed to media coverage, political polarity, social media, personal bias, and messaging from the fossil fuel industry. [4] While scientific debate is always valuable, misinformation has real consequences. Shifting pressure away from such a serious issue diminishes urgency and delays important climate policy discussions. These discussions are crucial in working to mitigate the worst effects of climate change – effects that will be felt most acutely by vulnerable communities. For those who rely on natural resources and subsistence farming as means of livelihood, climate change misinformation poses a real threat. 

Fortunately, education is the best defense against misinformation. Studies show that communicating the 97% consensus on climate change enlightens people and encourages them to consider human-caused global warming as a serious issue. [5] So, next time you overhear some questionable information about climate change, consider sharing about the Consensus Gap and assisting in the fight against misinformation. 



  1. Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., Bergquist, P., Ballew, M., Goldberg, M., & Gustafson, A. (2019). Climate Change in the American Mind: November 2019. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.  
  2. Cook, J., van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., & Lewandowsky, S. (2018). The Consensus Handbook. 10.13021/G8MM6P  
  3. Berardelli, J. (2020). 10 Common myths about climate change — and what science really says. CBS News. 
  4. Cook, J., van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., & Lewandowsky, S. (2018). The Consensus Handbook. 10.13021/G8MM6P 
  5. Ibid. 


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