There is lots of evidence that I have seen showing correlation between human activities and climate change but what evidence is there to support causation?

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    This question is ingenuous enough that I have to ask what research you actually did before asking. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 0:39
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    @David I have done no more research than what is on the TV / newspaper websites / what is taught at school.
    – david4dev
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 0:50
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    Do not be afraid, others will vote, as this is one of the hottest questions nowadays. Be prepared to lengthy, sometimes disorganized and emotional (probably on both sides) discussion.
    – Suma
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 13:02
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    @Suma What do you mean by “correlation was not proved sufficiently”? The current trend is obvious: Temperature is rising, man-made greenhouse gases (CO2) are rapidly rising. There are hard numbers for both. Historical records could show that this correlation is not causation. But the correlation is there in plain eyesight. Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 22:11
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    Correlation is itself evidentiary support for causation, but certainly not proof of causation, but it's only indirect evidence. However, there is massive, overwhelming direct evidence of AGW, which is why 975 of climate scientists and 100% of reputable science organizations accept AGW.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 13:28

7 Answers 7


Humans affect the weather in mainly the following ways:

Direct emissions of various gasses

Typically CO2 is considered, but also other greenhouse gasses. The greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide was first measured in 1859.

Greenhouse effect

In the 19th century, scientists realized that gases in the atmosphere cause a "greenhouse effect" which affects the planet's temperature. These scientists were interested chiefly in the possibility that a lower level of carbon dioxide gas might explain the ice ages of the distant past. At the turn of the century, Svante Arrhenius calculated that emissions from human industry might someday bring a global warming. Other scientists dismissed his idea as faulty. In 1938, G.S. Callendar argued that the level of carbon dioxide was climbing and raising global temperature, but most scientists found his arguments implausible. It was almost by chance that a few researchers in the 1950s discovered that global warming truly was possible. In the early 1960s, C.D. Keeling measured the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: it was rising fast. Researchers began to take an interest, struggling to understand how the level of carbon dioxide had changed in the past, and how the level was influenced by chemical and biological forces. They found that the gas plays a crucial role in climate change, so that the rising level could gravely affect our future.

The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect

List of greenhouse gases


Another man-made source is the direct emission of greenhouse gasses through farming (funny, but true!): manure (and cows) produce methane which is a pretty effective greenhouse gas.

US cattle methane emissions

Increasing atmospheric concentrations of methane have led scientists to examine its sources of origin. Ruminant livestock can produce 250 to 500 L of methane per day. This level of production results in estimates of the contribution by cattle to global warming that may occur in the next 50 to 100 yr to be a little less than 2%.

Methane emissions from cattle


Plants "fix" carbon (a phenomena called "Carbon sequestration"), the less plants, the less fixing (and the more carbon released by fires).

Forest carbon cycle

Carbon sequestration

Carbon sequestration: Forest and soil, by Jukka Muukkonen, Statistics Finland

The Oceans

Changes to the biological equilibrium of the oceans affect the climate because marine biology is known to have a large carbon-fixating effect

Carbon sequestration by the ocean

One of the most promising places to sequester carbon is in the oceans, which currently take up a third of the carbon emitted by human activity, roughly two billion metric tons each year.

Carbon Sequestration in the Ocean


All four of these effect can be shown in a laboratory and no model is required to do so, but we have very very good models to explain the lab experiments.

Differently from the lab, the whole climate system is much less understood. And, yes, the model are not as reliable as we would like.

However — due to our knowledge of chemistry — it is undeniable that we are affecting climate. Note that nobody has asserted that human intervention is the only cause of climate change, but it can be said, with a straight face, that humans are changing climate. A very simple example, the rise in temperature melts ice at the pole - which is not only responsible for reflecting some light out of the atmosphere, but also contains methane, which is then released.

The debate can only be on "how much" and "how well can we reverse the trend (even beyond our contribution)".

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    @jozzas: that is indeed the case. this is the real dangers of threshold events: we may calculate that by certain amount of CO2 emission, we'll only raise the mean temperature by such and such, but there are milestones along the way, such as the temperature at which the tundra will melt, which will cause massive emissions on its own, by rotting the peat that has been constantly frozen. Commented May 26, 2011 at 8:05
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    I would add: Activities which change the albedo of the Earth or atmosphere. Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 12:30
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    We have been doing thing some of those thing for centuries. Nothing in that is evidence that the human contribution is more that negligible. Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 14:54
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    @guill I agree that my answer doesn't prove that, but keep in mind that there's also a lot of evidence that the contribution is not negligible. I chose to focus on the question and avoid bringing up points which may feed unconstructive discussion.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 17:21
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    You should call it ranching, or animal husbandry, not farming. If you are going to count cows as a direct effect, you need to count the plants that we grow as a direct negative effect as well.
    – user1873
    Commented May 5, 2012 at 23:50

Yes, humans cause climate change (each doubling of CO2 causes about 1C increase). It's really a meaningless question. Any input to any chaos system will cause some effect on that system. Do we know what effect we are having? Can we measure/predict it? Do we have any idea how to alter/change/control that change? And really, what the hubbub is about is not "will the climate change", but "will it change in a really bad way" (ie, catastrophic global warming)

According to Peter Stott models failed to predict current temperatures (though he echoes the recurring claim that they'll be correct in the future), which means that no existing model has predicted, correctly, any significant amount of future climate change, and new research is steadily revealing flaws in existing catastrophic prediction models, so the answer to those questions should be no.

A model which has yet to make an accurate prediction cannot be said to be an accurate model. Therefore, we don't know what effect we're having, we can't predict it, and as a result of those two, we do not know how to alter or control that affect.

Causation on a chaos system is nigh impossible to prove with our current abilities, so we rely on modeling. Unfortunately, instead of insisting that a model make a prediction and have it come true before accepting it, we accept models as true if they accurately predict past events (not kidding), which is trivially easy.

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    I understand what a chaotic system is (and I concede that tomorrow's maximum temperature is based on one) but we are debating average temperatures over years, which may be predictable even from an underlying chaotic system. I can't predict heads or tails from one coin flip, but I can from 10,000.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 6:00
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    I agree that it may be predictable. Anything is possible. But so far no one has succeeded at it. I'm waiting for the first citation to a model which has successfully predicted a future climate change. -- I provided examples of known factors of high sensitivity to small changes. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 6:03
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    Now I don’t like the current last sentence.Because it heavily implies that predictions can only be valid if applied to future events (and even ridicules this). Which is false, an shows a gross misunderstanding of science. Predicting past events is absolutely fine. Many scientific theories started out this way. Once again, look at evolution. Only quite recently have we successfully predicted future observations using it, and it was accepted as true (and justly so) long before that. Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 7:40
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    According to that we should have also seen a 1.1C increase by 2010, and a .58 increase as of 1990. His prediction was off by .2C in 1990 (almost 50% of his projected increase) and .5C in 2010, warming only about half what he predicted. I'm sorry, but making 35 years of predictions and being right one year isn't very good prediction. Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 20:20
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    It isn't true that models have never predicted climate change. The first generation of GCMs were made in the early 1970s, at a time when there had been no substantial warming since the 1940s, and so they were rather going out on a limb in predicting warming would take place (which it did). Expecting this first generation of very simple models to get the answer exactly right is unreasonable, the fact is they predicted warming at a time when there was no reason to think there would be warming other than CO2 emissions.
    – user18604
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 10:11

I can’t answer the question directly.

However, there has been at least one large-scale review on the scientific consensus. And it can safely be said that the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly that the current trend in global warming is caused by mankind. It would be weird if this consensus came to be without good evidence.

The review did a literature mining for peer-reviewed literature published between 1993 and 2003 with the words “global climate change” in their abstracts. They found 928 abstracts. Of those, 75% explicitly or implicitly endorsed AGW. 0% rejected it. 25% did not take a position.

As Russell has noted in the comment, these also include mitigation proposals which shouldn’t be counted towards the consensus (since they merely refer to other papers) but were. Furthermore, the review only used one key phrase for their search, excluding parts of the available literature.

So the review contains one systematic error (inclusion of mitigation proposals) and one unsystematic error. Nevertheless, because of the large number of papers it is still safe to assume that these will not change the reported consensus significantly.

Note that this does not mean that there are no dissenting opinions in the scientific community – there are – merely that the overwhelming majority of experts accepts AGW and that they probably have good reasons to do so.

(Still, this “answer’ is more of an FYI than an actual answer since, I want to stress again, it does not provide any of the evidence asked for.)

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    The large scale review you link is very skewed. For instance, they include mitigation proposals as supporting papers. So if one paper demonstrates a cause, and five papers use that paper as a reference for which to show mitigation, it would be counted six times. Also the study only included 1993 to 2003. They only showed papers using the words "climate change", instead of doing a thorough analysis. It looks, all in all, like someone just googled a journals database, with a specific goal in mind, as noted by the fact that anything that didn't specifically counter AGW was counted as support Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 22:26
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    there's no "concensus", and even if there were "concensus" isn't scientific evidence. There was concensus that the sun revolved around the earth in the time of Galileo, we all know different now. There was concensus that life began about 6000 years ago in the time of Darwin. There was concensus that dinosaur bones were the bones of giants and heroes in ancient Greece.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 8:43
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    @jwenting “there is no ‘consensus’” – well, I have cited sources that show the opposite. What are your sources? As it stands, your statement is ridiculous. || “even if there were ‘concensus’ isn't scientific evidence” – exactly, that’s what I also said in the answer. The other consensuses you cite rely on ignorance rather than data and don’t pertain to the discussion. Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 8:54
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    @jwenting There is a consensus; the claim to the contrary is a lie. And consensus is the consequence of there being scientific evidence -- in this case, overwhelming scientific evidence. Against this consensus, you have ... nothing. Your analogies are irrelevant -- this consensus is among climate scientists, whereas the consensus against Galileo was among people who had never looked through a telescope.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 13:43
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    @vartec “consensus”, according to the dictionary and common usage, means “general agreement”. “unanimity” means “ absolute agreement”. They may be used synonymously, or they may denote different degrees of agreement. “Overwhelming consensus” is not newspeak – and I resent the accusation. I used it to make it clear that there is more than “just” general agreement, i.e. that the agreement is almost unanimous. There is nothing “newspeak” about this, it’s a normal juxtaposition of words to intensify a meaning. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 9:19

Trends in solar radiation don't match up with trends in temperature. One of the arguments from skeptics of climate change is that rising global temperatures are a natural phenomenon caused by the Sun. However, most measures of total solar irradiance (also known as solar radiation, the electromagnetic energy incident on Earth's surface) show that, on the whole, it is falling. (This, of course, necessitates taking a step back to see larger TSI trends, beyond the valleys and peaks caused by the solar cycle.)

ACRIM's Irradiance Data from 1978-1984

In short, it looks like the Sun is actually cooling. Not dramatically, but it's certainly not becoming hotter, and certainly not enough to account for rising global temperatures. In fact, when we juxtapose climate temperature with solar irradiance, as shown below, we find that they have little to do with one another. This is a basic, common sense approach, but if you require mathematical proof, then Skeptical Science has put together a digestible calculation and analysis. Anyhow, just a graph:

From atmospheric scientist Bart Verheggen's blog, *Our Changing Climate*

So you may not agree that global warming is anthropogenic. But as scientists look at solar irradiance as just one piece of evidence that correlates with various others that fellow commenters have left, it's becoming increasingly clear that it's not caused by the Sun. What does that leave?

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    Welcome to Skeptics. This answer demolishes one alternative hypothesis to anthropogenic climate change, but that isn't enough to demonstrate it is anthropogenic.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 23:29
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    As Hume argued, it is impossible to gain certain knowledge of causation through empirical means (as we can only directly observe correlation, not causation). This means science essentially boils down to a search for the best explanation, and the way that is done is by first showing the alternative explanations are flawed, and then argue that amongst the hypotheses that remain one has better support from theory. This is not the kind of question that can be given a definitive answer based purely on observations.
    – user18604
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 10:06
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    At this stage (there already being a good answer higher up) it seems more useful to demolish the alternatives, rather than to have another go at answering the question completely, which would just end up with a great deal of repetition. Just my opinion, of course.
    – user18604
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 10:18
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    Why look at only the last 35 years or so? Your link to "Historical Total Solar Irradiance" lasp.colorado.edu/lisird/tsi/historical_tsi.html from year 1600 until now to me seems to explain a lot more of the temperature changes.
    – tomsv
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 14:27
  • What about the low cloud cover and its influence? arxiv.org/pdf/1907.00165.pdf
    – Jagger
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 14:36

The IPCC report gives the following probabilities:

The total radiative forcing of the Earth’s climate due to increases in the concentrations of the LLGHGs CO2, CH4 and N2O, and very likely the rate of increase in the total forcing due to these gases over the period since 1750

What do they mean when they say very likely? They mean 0.95 < p < 0.99. When someone says that the evidence for climate change is comparable to the evidence for evolution they are either advocating that the IPCC is wrong by orders of magnitude or they are gravely insulting academic biology.

255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences including 11 Nobel Price winners issued a letter that claims:

For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that our planet is about 4.5bn years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14bn years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today's organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into this category.

In an attempt to defend orthodox wisdom mainstream scientists seem to be willing to pretend that the evidence is for climate change is a lot better than it actually is.

Other people who see themselves in defense of climate change think that the IPCC is a bit overconfident.

There are a lot of reasons why that might be the case:

  • Humans typically suffer from confirmation bias. Even a friendly reading of the climate gate emails that Wikileaks published suggest that they don't engage in mental strategies to reduce their vulnerability to confirmation bias.
  • The computer code that they use to generate the models has low standards. It has probably a lot of bugs that throw extra inaccuracy into the models that aren't accounted for.
  • Some data isn't openly available to allow for independent verification.
  • We have seen in the financial crisis that complex computer models often include a lot of assumptions that make them overconfident.
  • Climate scientists test their models on past data and generally don't make predictions about the future to test their models. As the models have a lot of parameters that makes the models to appear better than they are.

That doesn't mean that we should assume p=0 but it might be reasonable to use a lower likelihood value than the IPCC value. If we go from 0.95 < p < 0.99 to 0.80 < p < 0.90 we have more than a 10% chance of being wrong. Even if we just go to 0.90 < p < 0.95 we have more than a 5% chance of being wrong.

Why does that matter? Isn't p=0.80 enough for starting to reduce CO2 emissions? That might be true. If we, however, start geoengineering, the confidence in our models matters a great deal. Starting geoengineering on the assumptions that our models are magnitudes better than they really are is dangerous.

Part of being a good skeptic should be to avoid being more confident in your beliefs than the data warrants. We should move past binary classification. Instead of showing tribal loyalty we should call out our friends when they overstate the evidence.

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    Some datasets are not available publicly, but there is still a lot of data that is available for independent verification.
    – Mad Scientist
    Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 13:44
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    I don’t understand your allegation in connection with evolution. (1) who is claiming that there is comparable evidence for both? (2) why would this mean the IPCC were wrong by an order of magnitude? Magnitude of what? The p-value? The confidence? Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 19:02
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    The comparison of economic models to models in any physical science is laughable. Also, if you have ever read any scientific code, you will know that it is almost uniformly of poor coding standard (computer science may be an exception here). Note that coding standards refers only to stylistic conventions, which certainly improve maintainability, but are totally independent from whether the code works as intended or not. The link you provide is mostly specious remarks, with little or no actual criticism of code functionality or quality.
    – naught101
    Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 6:05
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    Christian, that is exactly what the model inter-comparison projects have done. They analysed hindcasts as well, but they also archived projections made by all of the principal modelling groups for future analysis and analysed results from previous CMIPs - the results are presented in the IPCC reports and elsewhere. Here is the results of a model-observation comparison for the CMIP3 exercise provided by RealClimate, for example realclimate.org/images/model122.jpg .
    – user18604
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 13:44
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    Christian, sorry this is becoming tiresome. You first claimed that climatologists do not generally compare model projections with future climate. I have shown that this is clearly not the case, but rather than admit your error, you are deflecting the discussion onto whether those models show skill. This is not how genuine scientific discussion should proceed, as errors should be freely acknowledged.
    – user18604
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 14:22

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that, while humans didn't like CAUSE climate change, we are indeed accelerating it. A couple of excellent links of research to explain this are here:

Is Current Warming Natural?

How do Human Activities Contribute to Climate Change and How do They Compare with Natural Influences?

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    do those references explain how climate isnt following the rise in atmospheric CO2?
    – 497362
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 15:00
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    @wandera See this answer. Temperature is following atmospheric CO2: skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/18326/5582
    – user5582
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 15:12
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    @wandera What you just asked is known as a 'loaded question'. Climate IS following CO2, as Articuno just stated.
    – Waterseas
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 15:14
  • @wandera Also, your source is well known to be a bit of a crack pot, with his business claiming to be able to make accurate forecasts a year ahead of time, and his claims on global warming going against 'widespread scientific consensus that global warming is occurring due to human activity.' en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Corbyn
    – Waterseas
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 15:28
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    @Waterseas fair enough, the good thing about the link though is that it contains links to both "supporters" and "dissections". I see this has been discussed at the physics stack exchange physics.stackexchange.com/questions/18950/…
    – user18604
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 18:39

Yes, humans contribute to climate change, but there is significant disagreement regarding to what degree humans contribute.

Climate change happens, and it has been happening for billions of years. That industrialized human existence is but an insignificant blip on the geological time scale undermines the frequentist views on significance.

To promote convenient views on anthropogenic climate change (ACC), we are often show recentist graphs such as this: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/images/global-temp-and-co2-1880-2009.gif

The premise is that correlation implies causation. However, in addition to the greenhouse effect, there are other facile natural mechanisms which help to explain this correlation. These mechanisms are not mutually exclusive but tend to support the idea that temperature causes carbon --- not the reverse.

When you take a step back from the recentist view in order to examine a longer time scale, this relationship between temperature and CO2 weakens. In fact, it indicates that the Earth was warmer even over the most recent Milankovitch cycle. This directly contravenes views that ACC is a result of the human industrial revolution.

Temperature over the last phase of the Milankovitch Cycle

But then again, we are often reminded that the correlation is significant over longer periods (if you cherry-pick the data, that is), as evidenced here:


However, this relationship only holds while Milankovitch cycles are relevant. Over even longer geological time periods, the relationship between CO2 and temperature is nil:

Phanerzoic CO2

So, I think it's important to take all facts into consideration.

Anyway, a more extended version of this argument against "the consensus" argument is found here.

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    You describe one paper as facile, but give no reason why it should be characterised as such. Can you please explain?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 0:28
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    The last graph is basically a mirror image of the ones discussed here and here, where the opposite conclusion is drawn.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 0:33
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    If the graph show evidence which you say neither supports nor conflicts with the scientific consensus, is it reasonable to conclude that it is a red herring that doesn't advance the argument in either direction and can be deleted?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 5:20
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    "Facile" means "ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial". It is fine for you to have an opinion that a particular paper is facile, but (a) you need to show with evidence that it is the case before you include that in an answer, and (b) you introduced this evidence - why?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 5:22
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    The consensus view is not "the ACC/CO2 alarmism crowd". It is the IPCC documents. I maintain that a chart that does not conflict with that view is not advancing your argument against the IPCC view, and is hence a red herring. Furthermore, you still haven't demonstrated that one arbitrary study you have chosen is facile or relevant, so it should be removed as a red herring too.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 5:45

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