The science is settled

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"The science is settled" is a slogan attributed by opponents of the Kyoto Protocol and global warming theory to supporters notably in the Clinton administration. There are no known examples of its use outside the skeptic press, though some of the statements that were made have similar implications. The slogan itself has therefore become a detail in the political debate.


Use as a rhetorical tool

The phrase is vague, and people who use it may not elaborate what exactly is settled. Certain aspects of climate change are widely accepted: that human actions have increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, for example. Other aspects - the exact degree of climate change to be expected within the next century, if any - are not settled. In between are issues such as how much the earth has warmed recently and how much of this is due to human activity.

Opponents of global warming theory have said: 'There is an idea among the public that "the science is settled."' [1]; 'How many times have we heard from Al Gore and assorted European politicians that "the science is settled" on global warming?' [2]; 'We are assured that "the science is settled."' [3].

Opponents of global warming theory say the slogan is an accurate summary of an arrogant disregard for real science on the part of ideological environmentalists. Supporters say it's a deliberate obfuscation on the part of industry-funded, denialist skeptics putting words in other people's mouths.

Uses of the slogan, or things somewhat like it

Clinton and Gore

In 1997, US President Bill Clinton said:

  • "The science is clear and compelling. We humans are changing the global climate." (source: article)
  • "First, I am convinced that the science is solid, saying the that climate is warming at a more rapid rate, that this is due in large measure to a dramatic increase in the volume of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere, and that nobody knows exactly what the consequences are going to be or when they're going to be manifest, but, on balance, it won't be all that long and they won't be good."
  • US Vice President Al Gore at same event, in response to question "And the administration accepts that fact that that debate [about effect by humans] is over.": "Yes, sir. Yes, sir. On that one point, yes, sir."

Robert Watson

According to Sovereignty International, in 1997 Robert Watson:

was asked in a press briefing about the growing number of climate scientists who challenge the conclusions of the UN that man-induced global warming is real and promises cataclysmic consequences. Watson responded by denigrating all dissenting scientists as pawns of the fossil fuel industry. "The science is settled" he said, and "we're not going to reopen it here." [6]

Some GWT supporters suggest the quote is a fabrication, noting that the organization quoting Watson is involved in promoting "global warming skepticism". No other records of the press briefing have been produced.

Tim Wirth

  • On June 3, 1997, GWT opponent S. Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) debated Bert Bolin, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. During the debate, Singer projected on a screen a quote allegedly from Undersecretary of State Timothy Wirth saying that global warming science was "settled." Bolin responded by questioning whether Wirth had been correctly quoted: "I think Tim Wirth, if quoted correctly, that he doesn't mean what you implied he meant. I've spoken to him, I know he doesn't mean it." [7] SEPP subsequently publicized this statement by Bolin in a news release claiming that Bolin "took issue with the statement by Tim Wirth," prompting Bolin to complain that SEPP had misinterpreted his remark. [8]
  • On July 31, 1997, In the Senate record, in comments about Senate Resolution 98 (the Byrd-Hagel Resolution) Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) said: "While it is true that Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth said that `the science is settled,' it is clear that there is not a broad scientific consensus that human activities are causing global warming." At the same meeting, Dr. Santer said: "Even the Chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Bert Bolin, says that the science is not settled. When told that Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth had said the science was settled, Dr. Bolin replied: `I've spoken to [Tim Wirth], I know he doesn't mean it.'" (Congressional Record 1997, page S8626)
  • On June 28, 1998, global warming skeptic Patrick Michaels revived SEPP's claim, stating that during the months leading up to the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, Wirth had "repeatedly declared that 'the science is settled.'" [9] However, this column by Michaels was written more than six months following the meetings at which the Kyoto Protocol, was drafted, which suggests that Michaels was probably paraphrasing loosely rather than quoting Wirth's words verbatim.

Stu Eizenstat

  • The Global Climate Coalition, an organization created by the fossil fuel industry to oppose action on global warming, complained in November 1998, "Undersecretary Eizenstat repeated the Clinton administration's shopworn claims: the science is settled and recent weather is proof that global warming is upon us." [10] However, the GCC did not claim that this paraphrase of Eizenstat's alleged remarks was an exact quote.
  • A press release [11] from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which describes itself as "a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government" and, which strongly opposes the Kyoto treaty, claims that "US lead global warming negotiator Stu Eizenstat misled the press at a November 10 press briefing. He announced that the 'science is settled', parroting Vice President Al Gore's favorite non-truth, and went as far as to refuse to answer a reporter's question about the science."

Difficulty finding examples

Although these opponents of Kyoto allege that use of the slogan was common, a January 2004 search of the Nexis/Lexis news database for the phrases "global warming" and "science is settled", only found 45 articles that contain both phrases -- and in most of those articles, the phrase "science is settled" was uttered by a global warming skeptic as a paraphrase of the purported views of their opponents. It is difficult to find unequivocal examples of administration officials or Kyoto advocates actually using the phrase.

See also

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