To help put a stop to the squabbling, two dozen scientists and citizen-scientists from three continents-including Sarah Green, professor and chair of chemistry at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich.- analyzed the abstracts of nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers on climate change published between 1991 and 2011.
They also surveyed the authors of those papers, to find out how well the analysis agreed with the authors' own views on how their papers presented the cause of climate change.
They found that more than 97 percent of the scientists who expressed any opinion in their papers about the primary cause of global climate change believed that human activity was the cause.
Approximately the same percentage of authors who responded to the survey said that their papers endorsed anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.
Green said she got involved because she was curious about the apparent disconnect between the general public's lack of concern about climate change and what she calls "the clear scientific evidence that humans are changing the planet's atmosphere."
That led her to SkepticalScience.com, a web site that tracks and addresses common myths about climate change. She has since contributed several articles.
John Cook, who maintains the web site, is a climate communications fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia. He found that one dominant myth about climate change is the idea that scientists disagree about the cause.
To investigate how much disagreement there really is in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, Cook set up an on-line system that enabled a group of SkepticalScience.com authors to rate nearly 12,000 abstracts from the Web of Science database (1991-2011) on whether they report human activities as the main contributors to climate change.
The abstract raters were a combination of professional and citizen-scientists from Australia, Canada, the UK, Finland, the US and Germany. The group was organized through the skeptical science web site.
Green also found a large number of papers addressing mitigation of climate change through alternative energy and other ways to limit carbon emissions.
"It is critical to raise public awareness of the scientific consensus on climate change, so the public can make policy decisions based on factual evidence," she said.
"Typically, the general public thinks that only around 50 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. This research has shown that the reality is 97 percent," she added.
Nine of the scientists who analyzed the abstracts-including Green-reported their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters, published by the Institute of Physics.