25 myths and bad arguments about climate change

Global warming is arguably one of the most controversially topics among the general public. The internet is full of websites that are devoted to arguing against climate change, and politicians routinely claim that it’s a myth. Nevertheless, among the scientific community, there is no serious debate. Yes, there are a few contrarianism (as there are for virtually every topic), but there is an overwhelming agreement that we are causing the climate to change, and that agreement is based on an extraordinary mountain of evidence. Nevertheless, given the amount of junk science on the internet, this disconnect between what people think and what scientists have found is hardly surprising. Therefore, I want to clear up some of the confusion surrounding this topic, and in this post, I will debunk 25 myths, misunderstandings, and faulty arguments about climate change.

At the outset, I want to explain the basics of anthropogenic climate change because there seems to be a lot of confusion over the fundamental concepts. In a nutshell, energy from the sun enters the earth as a spectrum of wavelengths, including both visible light and some higher energy wavelengths (such as ultraviolet [UV] radiation), but some energy is lost and absorbed as the light passes through our atmosphere. The remaining energy is partially absorbed by the earth itself, but much of it is radiated back off of the earth’s surface as lower energy infrared radiation (IR), which is basically just heat energy. Not all of that energy leaves our planet, however, because we have numerous greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere (such as carbon dioxide [CO2]) that do not absorb the higher energy wavelengths (like UV), but do absorb the lower energy IR. Thus, they trap some of that heat energy and prevent it from exiting the planet. This is usually a good thing, because earth would be inhospitably cold if all of that IR escaped. However, if those gases are too dense, then too much heat gets trapped, and the earth warms. Indeed, fluctuations in greenhouse gases concentrations were largely responsible for past climate changes (see #8). This is a problem because our modern society produces a large quantity of greenhouse gasses, and we have greatly increased their concentration in the atmosphere (see #10). Now, let’s think about this rationally for a second. If CO2 traps heat, and more CO2 traps more heat, and we have nearly doubled the CO2, what do we logically expect to happen? The answer is obvious: the climate should warm on average. Indeed, that is exactly what the theory of anthropogenic climate change predicts, and, as I will demonstrate, we have repeatedly verified that prediction.

At this point, I imagine that no one is convinced, and you are probably getting ready to hurl some counterargument. Before you do that, however, please read the arguments below and actually consider the possibility that you might be wrong. I want you to critically evaluate your views and rationally examine the evidence that I have presented. I have backed up every factual claim with citations to the relevant peer-reviewed literature, so you can go to the original sources and make sure that I am not misleading you. Also, for your convenience, I have grouped the arguments into categories and included hyperlinks for them below (you can also just scroll down the page).

Because this post is quite long, I have also written an abridged version in which I deal with each argument in five sentences or less.

Climate change isn’t happening

Climate change isn’t caused by us

Scientists have been wrong before and/or they are incompetent and corrupt

 Miscellaneous

Bad Argument/Myth #1: It snowed, so global warming must not be true
Reality: Weather and climate are not the same thing

stephen-colbert-global-warmingThere are several logical fallacies and problems that are occurring here. First, this is a straw man fallacy/reductio ad absurdum fallacy, because no climate change models have predicted that it will never snow. Winters will, on average, be warmer but that doesn’t mean that it will never snow or even that we won’t have large snow storms. Second, this argument confuses weather with climate. Weather is what occurs over short period of time; whereas, climate is what occurs over long period of time. An individual blizzard is a weather event, and you cannot use that as evidence against climate change.

This brings me to the final major problem with this line of reasoning: using individual weather events to argue that the planet isn’t warming commits a Texas sharpshooter fallacy. That’s basically just a fancy way of saying that you are cherry-picking. You can’t focus on a single weather event, and ignore the overarching warming patterns and changes that are taking place all over the world (see #2, 3, and 22). On that note, it is also invalid to use individual heat waves as evidence for climate change; however, when we look at the big picture and use all of the available evidence, the warming trend is unequivocal, and heat waves are increasing (Luber and McGeehin 2008).

In short, the fact that it was cold for a brief period in the specific part of the world that you live in does not in any way, shape or form suggest that the average temperature of the entire planet is not increasing.

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Bad Argument/Myth #2: The ice in Antarctica is actually increasing
Reality: Antarctic sea ice is increasing, but most ice shelves are melting

It is true that the sea ice in the Southern Ocean (around Antarctica) is increasing, but there are several reasons why that doesn’t discredit climate change. This is another Texas sharpshooter fallacy. You can’t focus on increases in this one ice shelf while completely ignoring the fact that Arctic sea ice has declined substantially (Stroeve et al. 2015), glaciers are rapidly retreating all over the world (WGMS 2013), sea levels are rising (Yi et al. 2015;  NOAA), etc. The planet is warmer now (on average) than it was in the recent past. That is a fact that is not up for debate (for example, see NASA’s excellent visualization of climate change from 1880–2015, as well as bad argument #3). Also, it is important to note that climate change does not predict that every part of the earth will be warmer all of the time. The average temperature is increasing, but that does not mean that every single spot will be warmer.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the situation with the Antarctic Sea ice is more complicated than simple temperatures. The full explanation far too complex to be dealt with in detail in this post, but in short, the increase is from a combination of factors including ozone levels, changes in wind currents, and changes in ocean currents (some of which are caused by melting Arctic ice; Gillett and Thompson 2002; Zhang 2007).

Note: some people erroneously argue that the Arctic sea ice isn’t decreasing either, but that argument simply cherry-picks a handful of years and ignores the overarching trend, so it is not logically or statistically valid (Swart et al. 2015).

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Bad Argument/Myth #3: Global warming has paused
Reality: No it hasn’t. This claim is based on cherry-picked data and inappropriate statistics

The accumulation of energy over time. You'll notice that most of the energy is getting trapped in the oceans. Image via Rhein et al. 2013.

The accumulation of energy over time. You’ll notice that most of the energy is getting trapped in the oceans. Image via Rhein et al. 2013.

I have explained this one in detail elsewhere, so I will be brief. First, to argue that the climate has paused, you have to cherry-pick your data set. We can measure the temperature lots of different ways and different places (satellites, ocean surface temperatures, deep ocean temperatures, etc.), and there is nothing in the science of climate change that says that all of the different parts of the earth will warm equally or at the same rates (in fact we expect them to respond differently). In contrast, if you are going to say that climate change has paused, you will need to demonstrate a pause across all of the data sets (i.e., for climate change to have paused, the total amount of energy that the earth is trapping needs to have leveled off). When we look at the data, however, only the satellite measurements show a “pause.” The other data sets (such as NASA’s global Land-Surface Air and Sea-Surface Water Temperature Anomalies data set) very clearly show that warming is continuing. The warming is especially pronounced in the oceans, which seem to have absorbed most of the excess heat (Balmaseda et al. 2013; Rhein et al. 2013; Glecker et al. 2016).

This shows the temperature data once the effects of El Ninos, solar fluctuations, and volcanoes. Image via Open Mind.

This shows the temperature data once the effects of El Ninos, solar fluctuations, and volcanoes. In other words, this is the change that is attributable to us. Image via Open Mind.

Additionally, within the cherry-picked data set, you are going to have to cherry-pick the year that you want to start looking for a trend (usually 1997 or 1998). Any year prior to 1997 shows a significant warming trend, and many of the years after 1998 (including 1999) show a significant warming trend. So if you want to say, “the climate hasn’t warmed since 1998,” I can respond with, “the climate has warmed since 1999.” Additionally, those satellite measurements are extremely sensitive to El Niños, and 1998 was an El Niño year. However, if we remove the effects of El Niños, the anthropogenic warming trend clearly emerges (Foster and Rahmstorf 2011).

So to claim that global warming has paused, you have to cherry-pick your data set, cherry-pick your years, and ignore the confounding factors, none of which is logically or scientifically valid. Indeed, the actual scientific analyses of the data show that warming has not paused at all (Easterling and Wehner 2009; Santer et al. 2011; Karl et al. 2015; Lewandowsky et al. 2015a,b).

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Bad Argument/Myth #4: Global warming wasn’t happening so they changed to name to climate change
Reality: Global warming is happening, and the name change is irrelevant

If find this argument rather bizarre, and honestly, to me, it reeks of desperation, but let’s talk about it for a minute anyway. Overtime, scientists have switched from talking about “anthropogenic global warming” to “anthropogenic climate change.” This has erroneously led some people to argue that they switched the names to cover their tracks because the planet wasn’t warming. In reality, scientists have been talking about changes to the entire climate from the outset. In fact, scientists were talking about “climate change” before they knew that the direction of the change would be towards warming. In other words, climate change has always been about far more than just warming because it involves shifts in rainfall patterns, storms, the timing of seasons, etc. So the change in name had nothing to do with a change in the predictions or observations about what was happening.

So why did they change the name? Well, the term “global warming” was leading to all manner of silly arguments (like #1 and 2). People erroneously inferred that “global warming” meant that all parts of the world would be warmer all of the time, which is incorrect. The average temperature is increasing, but that doesn’t mean that it will always be warmer everywhere. Indeed, some areas may even become cooler. Further, the actual change in temperature is only one part of what is happening. So the name change was just an attempt to be more accurate and avoid confusion, but apparently it backfired. Regardless of what you want to call though, the climate is changing, the average temperature is increasing, and we are causing it.

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Bad Argument/Myth #5: The models have all been wrong
Reality: The models have been very accurate

The models have actually done a remarkably good job of predicting climate change (Hansen et al. 2006; Marotzke and Firster 2015). I’m sure that if you dig through the literature, you can find some models somewhere that have been wrong, but the biggest models that most governments and scientists cite have been largely correct. If you want to see this illustrated, Skeptical Science did a nice job of visually comparing the IPCC predictions with the observed warming as well as the failed predictions of climate change deniers. Nevertheless, as a scientist my preference is always the peer-reviewed literature, so in addition to the two papers that I cited at the start of this section, you can also read Frame and Stone (2012) which compared the IPCC’s 1990 prediction with the current warming and found that it was very accurate. Similarly, Rahmstorf et al. (2012) looked at the predictions from the third and fourth IPCC models, and found that the observed trends matched the models. Additionally, the figures that you often see comparing the predictions with the observations often used disparate methodologies, which result in serious biases. Once you correct for that problem, the agreement between the models and the observed warming is much better than what many climate change deniers would have you believe (Cowtan et al. 2015; also, see #22 for evidence that many of the predictions other than increasing temperatures are already coming true).

These are hypothetical data that illustrate the fact that whether or not a model worked should be evaluated based on whether or not the observed data fell within the 95% confidence interval of the model.

These are hypothetical data that illustrate the fact that whether or not a model worked should be evaluated based on whether or not the observed data fell within the 95% confidence interval of the model.

Part of the problem here stems from people either misunderstanding or deliberately misrepresenting how predictive models work. Many people have the unrealistic expectation that the observed data need to be a near perfect match for the prediction line, but that’s not actually how things work. For example, take a look at the hypothetical data above. If I asked you whether or not the model’s predictions came true, you would likely say that they didn’t, but in actuality, they did. You see, when scientists use statistics, whether it is making a prediction, stating a mean, etc., we never expect the true value to exactly match our predictions/estimates. Rather, we report a central value and calculate confidence intervals around that central value. This is the case because there is always variation in the data, and there will always be lots of factors that affect it. So models predict a range of values that are denoted by the confidence intervals. As a result, when you look at a figure like the one above, you should not be seeing whether or not the observed line perfectly matches the predicted line. Rather, you should be seeing whether or not the observed line falls within the 95% confidence intervals for the predicted line. When we apply this to climate change models, we see that in some cases, the observed temperatures are below the central prediction line, but they are still within the 95% confidence intervals, which means that the models were reasonably accurate. This is a really important point. If someone is showing you a comparison between a model and an observation, but they don’t include confidence intervals, you should extremely skeptical, because those confidence intervals are absolutely essential.

Additionally, it is worth noting that many of the models made several predictions based on different levels of greenhouse gas emissions, so you always have to make sure that you are comparing the observed warming with the predicted warming given our rate of emissions. In other words, if you compare the worst case scenario lines with the observed warming, you find a very poor match, but that is because the worst case greenhouse emissions didn’t occur, so that comparison is invalid. Also, realize that these models are affected by natural factors that we can’t predict. For example, our predictions about the effects of greenhouse gasses may be spot on, but if there are more volcanic eruptions than expected, that will affect the overall trend.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, realize that the models are simply predicting future climate change. The fact that we are currently causing the climate to change is not in any way based on the models in question (see #7, 8, 9, 10, and 11). So even if all the models were wrong, that would not in any way shape or form discredit the fact that we are changing our planet’s climate. Rather, it would simply mean that we don’t have a good idea of how those changes will affect the future.

Note: You may have seen a very popular graph by Roy Spencer and John Christy that claims to show a large disagreement between the predictions and observations, but that graph has numerous problems such as cherry-picking data sets and start points, and it is not at all statistically valid (details here, here, and here).

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Bad Argument/Myth #6: Polar bear numbers are actually increasing!
Reality: No, they aren’t. They are decreasing

First, this isn’t actually an argument about climate change. Even if it was true (which it’s not), it would not mean that climate change wasn’t happening. Nevertheless, many people seem to view it that way, and polar bears certainly are the poster child of global warming activism, so let’s briefly talk about this.

This claim is actually a complete and total myth. It is perpetuated by citing dodgy an inaccurate estimates of past polar bear numbers and cherry-picking examples. Sure, if you did aground, you can find certain situations in which a particular group of polar bears is doing well (often from increased hunting restrictions), but when you look at the big picture, and the comprehensive reviews that look at the polar bear population as a whole (rather than cherry-picking populations) there is a very clear downward trend (Schliebe et al. 2006; Stirling and Derocher 2012). Additionally, the full impact of the vanishing ice shelves becomes clear when you model future polar bear declines given the current loss of ice. This, once again, predicts “drastic declines in polar bear populations” (Hunter et al. 2010; Molnar et al. 2011).

At this point someone will probably make a ridiculous comment like, “but polar bears can swim.” Yes, they can, but that is not the point. The ice shelves are where they hunt, raise their young, etc., and that habitat is disappearing. They can’t just swim to better habitat. That isn’t how this works, and the effects of this reduction in ice are extremely clear. It’s not just that the populations are declining, rather, cub mass is going down, juvenile recruitment is going down, body condition is going down, etc. (Rode et al. 2010, 2012). All of these factors are because the habitat that they need is vanishing, which means that they can’t find enough food, can’t raise proper-sized young, and will ultimately disappear from much of their current range if climate change isn’t halted.

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Bad Argument/Myth #7: The climate has changed in the past, so the current warming is natural. It’s the sun, volcanoes, Milankovitch cycles, etc.
Reality: We have tested the natural factors, and they cannot explain the warming

This is probably the single most common argument against climate change, and it is often accompanied by ridiculous questions like, “who was producing CO2 in the past? Dinosaurs?” However, despite its common use, this argument is extremely flawed. I explained this one in detail here, but in short, the fact that climate changed naturally in the past only tells us that it is possible for the climate to change naturally. It does not indicate or even suggest that the current warming is natural (i.e., this is a non-sequitur fallacy). You have to provide actual evidence that the current warming is natural.

Additionally, we have carefully examined the sun, volcanoes, Milankovitch cycles, etc. and none of them can explain the current warming trend (Meehl, et al. 2004; Wild et al. 2007; Lockwood and Frohlich 2007, 2008; Lean and Rind 2008; Foster and Rahmstorf 2011; Imbers et al. 2014). Indeed, numerous studies have used statistical models to examine the possibility that the current warming is natural, and they have consistently found that natural factors alone cannot explain the current warming. When you add anthropogenic greenhouse gasses into the statistical models, however, you get a tight match between the observed and expected values (Stott et al. 2001; Meehl et al. 2004; Allen et al. 2006; Lean and Rind 2008; Imbers et al. 2014). To put it simply, we have tested the natural factors and we have tested the anthropogenic factors, and the anthropogenic factors are necessary to explain the warming trend. This is extremely clear evidence that we are the cause. Additionally, several studies have found that CO2 was actually the major driver of past climate change (Lorius et al. 1990; Tripati et al. 2009; Shakun et al. 2012), so it should hardly be surprising that we can cause the climate to change by producing CO2. Finally, as I will explain in #9, we have directly, empirically tested the notion that our CO2 is causing the planet to trap more heat, and (spoiler alert) it is (see #8, 9, 10, and 11 for more about CO2).

I short, we know that the current warming is not natural because we have tested that hypothesis and it failed. That is how science works. When a hypothesis fails, you reject it and move on.

This figure from Hansen et al. 2005 shows the effect of both the natural and anthropogenic drivers of climate change. Notice how only anthropogenic sources show a large warming trend. Also, see figure 2 of Meehl et al. 2004.

This figure from Hansen et al. 2005 shows the effect of both the natural and anthropogenic drivers of climate change. Notice how only anthropogenic sources show a large warming trend. Also, see figure 2 of Meehl et al. 2004.


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Bad Argument/Myth #8: During past climate changes, the CO2 follows the temperature increase
Reality: Temperature leads CO2 at first, but CO2 soon overtakes it and drives most of the warming

This argument claims that when we look at past climate changes, we see that the temperature changes, then the CO2 changes. This is true at first, but it is only part of the story. There are numerous feedback mechanisms involved in climate change. In other words, one event can trigger another event, which triggers another event, etc. In this case, what happened in the past was that a small amount of warming (usually regional) from factors other than CO2 (such as Milankovitch cycles) caused the oceans to warm up and release the CO2 stored in them (Martin et al. 2005; Toggweiler et al. 2006; Schmittner and Galbraith 2008; Skinner et al. 2010). Then, that increase in CO2 caused the majority of the warming (Shakun et al. 2012). So CO2 was actually the major driver of past climate changes (Lorius et al. 1990; Tripati et al. 2009; Shakun et al. 2012).

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Bad Argument/Myth #9: CO2 only makes a small portion of the atmosphere
Reality: CO2 is not abundant, but that does not make it unimportant

This argument claims that CO2 only makes up roughly 0.04% of the earth’s atmosphere, which is such a small amount that it cannot be important for climate change. The premise that CO2 is relatively uncommon is true, but that does not make it unimportant. It is extremely well established that CO2 traps heat (you can find a list of papers demonstrating this at AGW Observer), and it is a scientific fact that CO2 is extremely important for regulating the temperature of our planet. Indeed, that tiny percentage of CO2 is the difference between our nice warm world and an inhospitably cold world, and we know that past climate changes have been largely driven by CO2 levels (Lorius et al. 1990; Tripati et al. 2009; Shakun et al. 2012; see #8). Additionally, for any situation like this, you need to look at the actual amount of change, and the fact is that we are rapidly approaching a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere (see #10). So since we know that CO2 is important even though it is not abundant, it should not be surprising that doubling that important gas will have huge consequences.

Finally, the CO2 hypothesis makes a nice, testable prediction. Remember, the theory of anthropogenic climate change postulates that our CO2 is trapping outgoing IR (heat), thus warming the planet (see introduction). If that claim is true, then we should see that the amount of IR leaving the planet has decreased over time, and that decrease should match the increase in CO2. That is, of course, exactly what satellite data show (Harries et al. 2001; Griggs and Harries 2007). The IR leaving the earth since the 70s has decreased, and that decrease matches the increase in CO2. This is a direct test of anthropogenic climate change and cannot be explained by anything other than our CO2 trapping heat. If you want to argue to the contrary, then please explain to me where the IR is going?

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Bad Argument/Myth #10: We only emit a tiny portion of the earth’s CO2
Reality: Before us, the CO2 cycle was in balance, now more is produced than is removed

It is true that natural sources of CO2 produce far more of it per year than we do. Indeed, we produce around 29 gigatonnes annually, whereas nature produces around 771 (IPCC AR4). However, prior to us, the system was in balance, with roughly the same amount being removed and produced (plants, the ocean, etc. all remove some CO2). Thanks to humans, however, that balance has shifted and now more CO2 is being produced than is being removed. Think of it this way: if I give you $1,000 and at the same time, you give me $1,000, we can keep doing that forever, and neither of us will gain money. Now, suppose that we both continue doing that, but during every transaction someone else gives you $30, and you don’t give that money back. Thirty dollars is tiny compared the $1000 that was already being exchanged, but because that extra $30 isn’t removed, suddenly, you are going to be gaining money, and after a few dozen transactions, your money will have doubled. That is exactly what is happening with CO2. More is being produced than removed, therefore it is increasing. Indeed, CO2 levels have increased rapidly since the start of the industrial revolution, and they are currently at their highest point in past 14–16 million years (Tripati et al. 2009).

Carbon dioxide isotope ratios CO2

These data come from Wei et al. 2009, but the legend of this figure was modified for readability by skepticalscience.com (the data themselves were in no way manipulated as you can see in Figure 4 of Wei et al.)

Finally, we know that the CO2 is from us because of the isotope ratios. I explained this in detail here, but briefly, carbon has two stable isotopes: carbon-12 and carbon-13, but the ratio of carbon-13/carbon-12 in the atmosphere was historically different than the ratio in our fossil fuels. Thus, if burning fossil fuels is putting CO2 into the atmosphere, we would expect the ratio of carbon-13/carbon-12 in the atmosphere to shift to be closer to the levels in the fossil fuels, and that is exactly what studies have found. This is extremely clear evidence that the CO2 is from us (Bohm et al. 2002; Ghosh and Brand 2003;Wei et al. 2009).

On a side note, it is also worth mentioning that volcanoes produce less than 1% of the Co2 that we do annually.

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Bad Argument/Myth #11: Water vapor is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2
Reality: Water vapor increases in response to temperature and is a feedback mechanism that increases the effects of CO2

It always amazes me that people assume that scientists missed something as blatantly obvious as the fact the water vapor traps far more heat than CO2. In reality, scientists are well aware of this fact and have incorporated it into their calculations, but there is something very important that you need to realize about water vapor. Namely, it increases or decreases in response to temperature. The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is dependent on the temperature of the environment, as a result, to increase the water vapor in the atmosphere, you must first increase the temperature. So, water vapor is a feedback mechanism, wherein CO2 from us causes some warming, that warming increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, and that water vapor causes even more warming (Held and Soden 2000; Philipona et al. 2005). So ultimately, the warming is still from us producing CO2.

If you don’t believe me, you can easily do an experiment yourself. Take several glasses with equal amounts of water and place some in a cool shaded area while you place others in the hot sun, then see which ones evaporate first (i.e., which one is converted into water vapor). Or, to put this another way, if you place a glass of water in a stable environment, it will not spontaneously start evaporating more rapidly. If you want to increase the rate of evaporation then you need to increase the temperature, decrease the humidity, etc. So, in short, the recent increase in water vapor levels is a result of the global warming that we are causing, and scientists are fully aware of this and include that information in their models (Held and Soden 2000).

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Bad Argument/Myth #12: In the 70’s scientists predicted an ice age
Reality: Very few scientists predicted global cooling

There was never a scientific consensus on global cooling. It is true that there were a handful of papers on the topic (7 to be exact), but during that exact same time, 42 papers were published on global warming (Peterson et al. 2008). That’s right, there were six times as many papers on global warming as there were on global cooling. So there was never a large consensus that we were causing cooling, and even in the 70’s many scientists were saying that we were causing global warming (to be clear though, it was not well established yet).

Inevitably, someone is going to read that and say, “You don’t know what you are talking about, I lived through the 70s, and I remember all of the ice age predictions.” However, while you may have lived through that time period, I am willing to bet that you weren’t reading the scientific literature. I’m not denying that the media went nuts with the idea of an ice age, but that is not at all the same as saying that scientists were predicting an ice age. The media (and even popular science magazines like National Geographic) love to sensationalize things, and they continuously get scientific facts wrong. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the media was making a mountain out of a mole hill.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that even if scientists had predicted global cooling in the 70’s, that wouldn’t mean that they are wrong now (science has come a long way in the past four decades). Also, the first prediction that our emissions would lead to global warming dates all the way back to 1896. Climate change is not a new hypothesis that scientists invented in the 80’s.

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Bad Argument/Myth #13: It’s just a theory, not a fact
Reality: In science, a theory is a well-established concept that explains facts, not an educated guess

For this argument, climate change deniers take a page straight from the creationist playbook, but the argument doesn’t work any better here than it does for creationism. You see, the term “theory” has a very different meaning in science than it does in the general public. Let me explain.

Many people think that a “fact” is something that has been proven and scientists are totally sure of, whereas a “theory” is something that is more speculative and has not been properly confirmed. That dichotomy is, however, completely incorrect. Nothing in science is ever “proved.” Rather, things are simply supported by the current evidence. So the difference between a theory and a fact has nothing to do with our certainty. Rather, a fact is a single observation, result, etc. whereas a theory is a broad and rigorously-tested explanatory framework that both explains the facts and allows us to make predictions about what future experiments should show.

For example, if I drop a pen, then I have just demonstrated the fact of gravity (i.e., it is a fact that gravity caused my pen to drop), but what does that really mean? That’s not really an explanation. The explanation comes from the theory of universal gravity, which states that all bodies that have mass produce gravity and are acted upon by the gravity of other bodies. That theory explains the fact and allows us to predict the outcomes of future experiments (e.g., if I drop another pen, it will fall). Evolution is the same thing. It is a scientific fact that life on earth has evolved over millions of years, and the theory of evolution by natural selection explains how and why that evolution occurred as well as allowing us to make predictions about the results of future experiments. Similarly, if you get the flu, it is a fact that a virus made you sick, but it is the germ theory of disease that provides the general explanation that diseases are caused by viruses, bacteria, etc. I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. You should notice in all of these cases that we are extremely confident that the theory is true. So they aren’t theories because they are speculative or haven’t been confirmed. Rather, they are theories because they are explanatory frameworks rather than isolated results.

The exact same thing is true for climate change. It is a scientific fact that climate change is occurring, and the theory of anthropogenic climate change is the explanation for why that change is occurring. Just as with the other theories, this theory is supported by thousands of scientific studies. It is, by any reasonable standard, “settled science.” Sure, there are still aspects of it that we don’t understand (just as there are aspects of evolution that we don’t understand), and sure, there are a few dissenting voices (just as there are for the other theories), but we are incredibly certain that climate change is occurring. We have tested the predictions of the theory of anthropogenic climate change over and over again and they have consistently come true (see #5, 7, 9, and 22).

Note: Sometimes gravity is referred to as a “law” rather than a “theory.” The distinction between the two is not well agreed upon at all, and many people use them interchangeably. Other people suggest that we should use “law” to refer to the mathematical component and “theory” to refer to the explanatory component. However, regardless of the technical definition that you want to apply, they are both generally considered to have the same level of certainty.

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Bad Argument/Myth #14: But scientists have been wrong in the past, and we can’t be totally certain that climate change is true
Reality: It is always possible that the current scientific consensus is wrong, but you have to present actual evidence that it is, otherwise you are making a baseless assumption

I explained the problems with this argument in detail here, but in short, the fact that scientists have been wrong before does not mean that they are wrong now. You have to present actual evidence that they are wrong now, otherwise this is what is known as an argument from ignorance fallacy. Indeed, if this argument worked, you could use it anytime that you wanted. For example, you could say, “scientists say that gravity is true, but scientists have been wrong before so I don’t have to accept them now” or “scientists say that we are breathing oxygen, but scientists have been wrong before so I don’t have to accept them now.”

Second, realize that it is not about the scientists themselves, rather it is about the scientific evidence, and the scientific evidence for climate change is extremely robust. It is supported by literally thousands of studies. There really aren’t any topics that have been this thoroughly studied where it turned out that the scientific evidence was totally wrong. Remember, science as the formal system of study that we know today has only existed for the past 150 years or so, and there have certainly been many great advances during that time, but few (if any) ideas with this level of support have been totally overthrown. It is also worth mentioning that because science is a fairly recent discipline, you cannot compare scientists today to the “scientists” who thought the earth was flat, alchemy worked, etc. Those people were not doing “science” by today’s standards.

Finally, regarding the claim that we can’t be totally certain of climate change, that claim is true for every single avenue of science. It is always possible that there is an answer that we missed. Indeed, it is possible that we are all in the Matrix, and none of this is even happening. That is why science never “proves” anything. Rather, it shows us what is most likely true based on the current evidence. It is, for example, possible that we are wrong about gravity, but it would obviously be absurd to say, “we can’t be totally certain about gravity, therefore I reject it.” Indeed, this is another argument from ignorance fallacy. The fact that there might be something else does not make it logical to actually think that there is something else. This is especially true in this case because we have tested all of the known drivers of climate change, and none of them can explain the current warming (#7). Further, we know that CO2 is largely responsible both for our climate and for past climate changes (#8), we know that we have greatly increased the CO2 in the atmosphere (#10), we know that the earth is trapping more heat (#9), and we know that including our CO2 in the calculations explains the current warming trend (#7). So if you want to claim that something else is happening, you need to provide actual peer-reviewed evidence for the existence of this mysterious factor. That is how the burden of proof works.

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Bad Argument/Myth #15: There are thousands of scientists who disagree (e.g., the Oregon Petition)
Reality: Science is not a democracy, most climatologists agree that we are causing climate change, and the Oregon Petition is a fraud

scientific consensus on global climate change, global warming

Image via James L. Powell. More details on the scientific consensus here.

First, it is important to realize that this argument is nothing more than an appeal to authority fallacy. It is always possible to find people with advanced degrees who agree with you, but that does not make your position any more legitimate. You have to look at the evidence, not the people who support it. Further, if you want to focus on the scientists themselves, you are going to run into huge problems because an overwhelming majority (well over 90%) of climatologists agree that we are causing the planet to warm (details here), and many of the prominent climatologists who disagree are funded by oil companies (for example, Dr. Willie Soon). To be clear, that doesn’t make them automatically wrong, but it does mean that we should scrutinize them closely.

Nevertheless, many people try to assert that in actuality, thousands of scientists deny anthropogenic climate change, and they usually do this by citing the “Oregon Petition” which (depending on what source you look at) received the signatures from 16,000, 30,000, 31,000 or 32,000 US scientists affirming that they do not agree that humans are causing climate change. There are several important things to note here. First, science is not a democracy. You don’t vote on whether or not something is a fact. That’s just not how this works. Second, 32,000 people with a B.Sc. or higher (which was the criteria for this petition) is actually a tiny percentage. Skeptical Science estimates that it is around 0.3% of “scientists” (by the standards of the petition). So that is hardly compelling.

More importantly, however, most of the signatories weren’t climatologists, and many weren’t even real scientists. Having a B.Sc. does not make you a scientist. Further, even among those with advanced degrees, there were signatures from veterinarians, architects, orthopedic surgeons, etc. That is important, because it really doesn’t matter whether or not a surgeon thinks that climate change is real. That is ridiculously far outside of their field.

When it is all said and done, it appears that only 39 of the signatories were actually climatologists. Thirty-nine is hardly an impressive number. There were also many other problems with the petition that you can read about here and here.

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Bad Argument/Myth #16: “Climategate” showed that scientists are falsifying data
Reality: The stolen emails did not show any evidence of corruption

This myth has largely died out, but I still encounter some who use it, so let’s talk about it for a minute. Several years ago, over 1,000 private emails and documents from leading climatologists were hacked and released to the public, and many climate change deniers claimed that those emails showed evidence that scientists were falsifying data and it was all a conspiracy. Let’s think about that for a second. If that was actually the case, we would expect most of those emails to be about orchestrating a conspiracy, and very few (if any) should be about doing real analyses on real data. In contrast, what the emails showed were tons of conversations about real data, and a handful of emails that were twisted and taken out of context to try to create the illusion of unethical behaviour.

The most commonly cited email is one from Phil Jones, which states:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

Out of context, that sounds really bad, but in context, it is obvious that “trick” was being used to mean “a clever way to do something” not “a deceptive way to do something.” Indeed, we use the word “trick” that way all of the time, and it is not uncommon to hear people say things like, “the trick to doing this is…” Second, the “decline” there is not referring to temperatures. Rather, it is referring to a decline in the quality of tree ring data. So when you understand the analyses that they were working on, and look at the quote in context, it is obvious that nothing unethical was occurring.

Another common quote is from Kevin Trenberth:

“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

Again, out of context, that sounds pretty damning, but in context, he was not talking about the warming of the entire planet, but rather the flow of energy through the earth, and the fact that there are parts of that system that we do not yet understand. Here is the paper that Trenberth was discussing (Trenberth 2009) and you can find more details at Skeptical Science.

There were a handful of other emails that people pounced on, but they had the same problems (i.e., they were taken out of context). Indeed, the situation has been examined by multiple different independent investigations (including the National Science Foundation, US Environmental Protection Agency, UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Pennsylvania State University, and University of East Anglia), and all of them concluded that there was no evidence that the scientists were manipulating data, involved in a conspiracy, etc. So like the vast majority of conspiracy theories, this is a whole lot of nothing. It sounds bad at first, but when you actually look at all the details, there is nothing there.

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Bad Argument/Myth #17: Scientists are manipulating the data to make it look like warming!
Reality: Scientists are correcting for biases, not “manipulating” the data

This argument has been popularized by Paul Homewood on the blog notalotofpeopeknowthat.wordpress.com, where he argues that scientists are manipulating the data to make it show an unrealistic warming trend (specifically data in the Global History Climatology Network database (GHCN)). Other authors, like Christopher Booker, have run with this idea publishing articles with eye-catching titles like “The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest scientific scandal ever.” It is true that scientists have made adjustments to the data, but it is completely false that there is anything dishonest or deceptive about those adjustments. They are “corrections” rather than “manipulations.”

I explained this in more detail here, but in short, essentially all real data sets have biases and errors that have to be corrected. Scientists almost never collect perfect data sets that are ready to be analysed as soon as they are gathered. Rather, they almost always have to be corrected for errors and biases. That is just a fact of real data. In the case of climate data, the data have been collected over many years using different methods, and different methods have different biases. Therefore, the only way to use all of those data sets is to adjust for those biases in methodologies.

Let me illustrate. Imagine that 40 years ago, you set up a thermometer in your back yard, and used it to record the temperature every day at 9:00AM, but after several years, you switched to 10:00 AM. If you want to look at long term trends, you are going to have to adjust your data to account for that change in methodologies, otherwise you’ll get an unrealistic warming trend. The same type of thing happens with real data sets. Ocean buoys drift, methods change, the environment around weather stations changes, etc. All of those factors have to be accounted for to properly analyse the data. So rather than being a “scandal” these adjustments are the proper way to treat the data. Further, climate change deniers act as if this is some secret that scientist have been hiding, but the reality is that they have been extremely open about these adjustments, and have publically documented all of their methods from day 1. So this argument is baseless.

Note: you can find more information about how and why the GHCN data are adjusted in their technical report (Williams et al. 2012), and you can find a very detailed and useful general explanation about adjustments to temperature data sets by Scott Johnson at arstechnica, “Thorough, not thoroughly fabricated: The truth about global temperature data.”

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Bad Argument/Myth #18: It’s a liberal conspiracy/It’s all about the money!
Reality: There is no basis for this claim. It is an assumption, not a legitimate argument

First, for both of these claims, in order for them to be legitimate, you must provide actual evidence to support them. Otherwise, the claims are invalid and commit ad hoc fallacies. In other words, you cannot just assume that essentially all scientists are corrupt. You have to provide actual evidence that they are corrupt. Further, it is utterly absurd to think that the vast majority of the world’s climatologists, virtually every government agency in the world, essentially all of the worlds most respected scientific organizations, etc. are involved in a massive conspiracy. Do you really think that nearly all of the world’s governments are collaborating together?

Also, it is important to ask why they would conspire to make the entire world think that climate change is happening. You could argue that scientists are in it for grant money, but that argument misunderstands how grants work, and it doesn’t really solve the problem, because you need to explain why governments would give out grant money for climate change research. I have yet to have anyone explain to me how governments would benefit from creating such a huge hoax.

global warming money

Details and sources here

With regards specifically to the claim that it is all about money, I explained the problems with that in detail here, but to be brief, first, there is once again no clear financial motive. There is no obvious reason why governments would make this conspiracy. Additionally, if we are going to go down this road, then let’s flip things upside down and ask the opposite question: who would benefit from opposing climate change research? The answer to that question is pretty obvious: oil companies. Indeed, it is well known that oil companies have been extremely active in funding denialist organizations and politicians as well as funding the handful of climatologists who don’t think that we are causing climate change. At this point, we have run into one of the biggest problems with this argument. Namely, if scientists could really be bought off so easily, then why haven’t multi-billion-dollar oil companies been able to buy off more than a handful of them? Given the vast wealth of oil companies, the millions of dollars that they have poured into denialist organizations, and the economically unstable state of most governments, surely oil companies could offer scientists more than governments could. So if scientists are really just in it for the money, why aren’t they all denying climate change?

Finally, throughout this post, I have provided actual evidence that climate change is happening and we are causing it (see #2, 3, 5, 7, 10, and 22). Also, I have debunked several specific conspiracy arguments such as Climategate (#16) and the claim that scientists are manipulating the data (#17).

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Bad Argument/Myth #19: But politicians and the media…
Reality: They are irrelevant

Let me stop you right there, because, quite frankly, I don’t give a crap what politicians and the media think or say. Both of them are repeatedly wrong about the science (on both “sides” of the topic). So I don’t care what Al Gore said or thinks, I don’t care what erroneous claims CNN has made, etc. I care about the science, and the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that climate change is happening and it is our fault. Can people spin that for personal gain? Sure, but that doesn’t make the science any less true. Using politicians and the media to attack science is a guilt by association fallacy, because what they think, say, and do is completely, 100% irrelevant to whether or not the science is correct. I care about what peer-reviewed studies have found, not what politicians and news anchors say.

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Bad Argument/Myth #20: Climate change is being caused by the ozone hole (or vice versa)
Reality: The ozone hole and climate change are two separate phenomena that sometimes interact.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the ozone hole. Many people seem to think that either the hole is causing climate change or climate change is causing the hole. I have heard other people argue that the ozone hole illustrates a great failure of science, because scientists predicted that it would be a problem, but nothing happened. In reality, the ozone hole and climate change are separate phenomena, and “nothing happened” because people actually listened to scientists and changed their behaviors.

I explained the basics of climate change in the introduction, so I’ll just focus on the ozone hole here. Ozone is simply three oxygen atoms bonded together, and it forms from a high energy source (such as UV radiation or electricity) hitting oxygen gas (the O2 we breathe). Thus, it naturally forms in the atmosphere from UV hitting oxygen, and it forms a layer commonly called the ozone layer. This is a good thing because ozone absorbs UV radiation, preventing it from reaching the earth (as opposed to CO2 which does not absorb UV radiation, but does absorb IR). Thus, the ozone layer shields the earth from a large amount of UV that would otherwise reach the surface and cause skin cancer and numerous other problems.

The concept of an ozone hole became an issue when scientists realized that certain chemicals that we were using (such as chlorofluorocarbons, halons, and other chemicals with chlorine or bromine) were entering the atmosphere, chemically interacting with the ozone layer, and actually depleting the ozone. As a result of this depletion, the ozone layer was thinning, with a particularly thin area forming seasonally over the Antarctic. This large thin spot is what is generally referred to as the “ozone hole.”

Scientists realized that this was a problem, and (for once) many governments listened to them and banned the harmful chemicals. As a result, the ozone layer stopped thinning. So the ozone hole does not illustrate a time that science failed. Rather, the science was spot on, and things never became worse because people actually listened to scientists. Indeed, the ozone layer does appear to be recovering (Lefevre et al. 2013), but there is some debate about the extent of the recovery, and the rate of recovery is certainly quite slow (partially because many of the harmful gases persist in the atmosphere, and some countries are still using them).

In short, the ozone hole was caused by our chlorofluorocarbons and similar chemicals depleting the ozone layer, and it was bad because the ozone layer prevents some UV from entering the earth. In contrast, climate change is caused by us releasing greenhouse gasses (an entirely different set of gases), which results in less IR leaving the earth. Thus, they are two separate phenomena, but they do sometimes interact. It is, however, incorrect to say that one causes the other.

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Bad Argument/Myth #21: But CO2 is actually good for plants
Reality: CO2 is good for plants, but the other effects of climate change won’t be

It is true that increased CO2 levels will generally result in more plant growth, but that relationship is complicated (Robinson et al. 2012). Indeed, there are lots of other factors to consider, such as changing precipitation patterns, which are often very harmful to plants (Allen et al. 2010; Carnicer et al. 2011). So many plants will actually be negatively impacted. Finally, this argument is really quite irrelevant, because even if plants would universally benefit from increased CO2, that wouldn’t mitigate the sea level rise, increased heat waves, etc. (see #22). In other words, the CO2 levels are increasing, so the plants clearly can’t keep up (i.e., plant growth isn’t increasing fast enough to balance out the CO2 that we are producing; see #10).

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Bad Argument/Myth #22: It’s not really a big problem because the planet will only warm by a few degrees
Reality: Even 1°C degree would be extremely damaging

There are those who argue that climate change is happening, but it won’t really be serious because the predictions show that it will “only” warm by 1–3°C (the real number will probably be in the middle). First, for my American readers, I should point out that the prediction is in Celsius, so that is 1.8–5.4°F, and that is actually a big deal. Imagine, for example, a hot week of summer with temperatures at 98°F. Now imagine that those days just jumped up to 100°F. That makes a noticeable difference. Similarly, imagine precipitation during a 31°F winter day. That will cause snow, but now imagine that those days are 33°F. See the difference? A few degrees’ matter, and I have just been describing the lowest end of the predictions. In all likelihood, the changes will be in the range of 3–4°F, and that is enough to make a huge difference.

Indeed, we are already seeing the changes. Glaciers and ice caps are melting (WGMS 2013; Stroeve et al. 2015), the sea is rising (Yi et al. 2015), animals and plants are shifting their ranges and behaviours (Root et al. 2003; Tingley et al. 2012), forests are being affected (Allen et al. 2010; Carnicer et al. 2011),  heat waves and heat associated mortalities are increasing (Patz et al. 2005; Luber and McGeehin 2008; Kuglitsch et al. 2010), extreme weather events are increasing (Coumou and Rahmstorf 2012), coral reefs are bleaching (Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno 2010), droughts are increasing (Dai 2013), etc., and all of these things will only get worse with time. In many parts of the world, it will be harder to grow crops (Schlendker and Roberts 2009), coastal properties will be lost, diseases will expand their ranges, etc. To be clear, this isn’t going to end life as we know it (see #23), but it is an extremely serious problem that will cause a large loss of life, property, and resources, and we need to treat it as the impending threat that it is.

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Bad Argument/Myth #23: It will make humans go extinct/it will be the end of the world
Reality: It will be very damaging, but it won’t end life on planet earth

Following #22, it is important to clarify that although climate change is a very serious problem that will make life on earth more difficult, it is not going to end life as we know it. Indeed, people (especially the media) tend to exaggerate and blow it out of proportion. For example, I once heard a news reporter suggest that food would become so scarce that we would have to resort to cannibalism. Claims like that are just nuts, and they are not supported by the science. I think that this is important to state for two reasons. First, well-intentioned people who accept the science often make unmerited claims, and, second, I often meet people who write climate change off as absurd because they think that the scientists themselves are proposing that climate change will destroy the world. In reality, there are very, very few professional climatologists who make such dire predictions. Again, that is not to say that climate change isn’t a serious problem. It absolutely is a serious problem (see #22), but it’s not going to make me kill you in your sleep and eat your flesh, nor will it cause the human species to become extinct.

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Bad Argument/Myth #24: God is in control
Reality: If you actually think that this claim absolves you from responsibility, then you should never try to prevent anything bad from happening

I am always loath to bring religion into what should be an entirely scientific discussion, because the scientific evidence should be the only thing that matters here. Nevertheless, I often find that Christians try to cop-out of any responsibility for climate change by simply asserting that “God knows best” or “climate change won’t happen unless God allows it to, so there is no point in us worrying about it.” Given that a large portion of the world’s population is Christian and the fact that many Christians won’t accept science if they think it conflicts with their religion, I want to deal with this argument here.

For the sake of debate, let’s assume for a second that the premises of this argument are actually true (i.e., there is an omnipotent, supernatural being who knows everything and is in some way interacting with things on planet earth). If those premises are true, does the conclusion that we don’t need to try to stop climate change follow from those premises? NO! If this argument worked, then Christians should never take action on anything. If, for example, you see that a child is about to get hit by a bus, there is no point in trying to save him because the bus won’t hit him unless God allows it. Similarly, if you see that two countries are about to go to war, you shouldn’t do anything because “God is in control.” Do you see the point? If this argument worked, then it would absolve you of all responsibility for anything. To put this another way, even if God exists and nothing happens without him allowing it, what makes you think that he wouldn’t allow us to cause climate change? We’ve done tons of terrible things to ourselves and this planet, so why do you draw an arbitrary line at climate change? This is a huge assumption and ad hoc fallacy, nothing more (i.e., I would never accept this argument unless I was already convinced that climate change wasn’t true).

Finally, just to prove that I am not committing a false equivalency fallacy, let me set up two analogous arguments.

Argument 1:
1). Science shows that smoking causes cancer
2). God is in control and I won’t get cancer unless he allows it
3). Therefore, I can smoke and not worry about it

Argument 2:
1). Science shows that burning fossil fuels causes climate change
2). God is in control and we won’t cause climate change unless he allows it
3). Therefore, we can burn fossil fuels and not worry about it

Those two arguments are identical, which means that you must either reject them both or accept them both, but I don’t know any Christians who would agree with argument 1 (and just in case you do, we could make it even more extreme by replacing the first premise of argument 1 with something like “Science shows that jumping off a 400-foot cliff causes death”).

Note: To any Christians reading this, before you get all bent out of shape and accuse me of attacking God/the Bible/Christianity, please realize that I am not attacking any of those things or mocking you. I am simply pointing out the logical flaws in one specific argument that many Christians make. I am not making any statements about Christianity as a whole, because this is a post about science, not religion.

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Bad Argument/Myth #25: Man is not powerful enough to cause climate change
Reality: This is a baseless ad hoc assumption, not a logical claim

Following the previous argument, many Christians respond by saying, “but man is not powerful enough to affect the climate.” That response is, however, an ad hoc fallacy. Again, let’s assume for the sake of argument that the premises are true (i.e., God is real, the Bible is true, etc.). There is nothing anywhere in the Bible (at least to my knowledge) that says that man can’t change the climate. If God exists, then he has obviously given us tremendous freedom. Look at the things that we have done and accomplished (some good, some bad). We have eliminated diseases that used to kill thousands of people annually, we’ve removed mountains, we’ve created lakes, we’ve cleared forests, we can take an organ out of one person and put it into someone else, we can restart a heart that has stopped beating, we’ve built planes that can travel around the world, we’ve gone to the moon, we’ve created weapons that can annihilate entire cities in mere seconds, we’ve started wars that have engulfed the entire planet, etc. Given all of that, it is completely arbitrary to draw the line at climate change, which is why this is a perfect example of an ad hoc fallacy. I would never accept that such an arbitrary line exists unless I was already convinced that we aren’t causing climate change. In other words, this argument is a baseless assumption.

At this point, some Christians try to cite Bible verses that say that there will always be a harvest and a winter. That is, however, a straw man fallacy, because no one is saying that winter will cease to exist or that there will be a world-wide famine. Winters will be warmer, and climate change will strain the food supply, but it’s not going to end the world (see #22 and 23).

Finally, I think that everyone can agree that if every country fired their entire nuclear arsenal, we would create a nuclear winter and alter the earth’s climate, which proves that man does have the ability to change the climate, and no, it doesn’t matter that my example used nuclear weapons. Christians’ argument makes an absolute statement: “man cannot change the climate,” and it only takes one counter-example to disprove an absolute (i.e., my example shows that man can change the climate). Nevertheless, many Christians often try to worm out of this by changing the argument to, “man isn’t powerful enough to change the climate via greenhouse gasses,” but by making the argument more specific, you only make the ad hoc fallacy more absurd.

Note: To any Christians reading this, before you get all bent out of shape and accuse me of attacking God/the Bible/Christianity, please realize that I am not attacking any of those things or mocking you. I am simply pointing out the logical flaws in one specific argument that many Christians make. I am not making any statements about Christianity as a whole, because this is a post about science, not religion.
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Conclusion
Let’s review what we have learned, shall we? Many people seem to be under the impression that scientists are hopelessly incompetent and have never bothered to look for obvious natural causes of climate change, but that notion is completely incorrect. In reality, scientists have carefully examined natural sources of climate change, and none of them can explain our current warming (#7). Indeed, the greenhouse gasses that we produce are the only thing that can explain the warming that we are currently seeing (#7 and 9), and yes, we have confirmed that the increase in CO2 is actually from us (#10). It is true that we produce only a small amount of the earth’s CO2, and it is true that CO2 is not abundant to begin with (#9); however, uncommon though it may be, we know that it is incredibly important for regulating our climate and has been largely responsible for past climate changes (#8), and we know that prior to the industrial revolution, the CO2 cycle was in balance with roughly the same amounts of carbon being released and removed (#10). We have now shifted that equation so that more is being released than is being removed, and the result is that the planet is warming. No, the fact that it snowed where you are does not discredit this notion (#1), nor does the fact that Antarctic sea ice is increasing (#2). Those are cherry-picked data points that ignore the overarching pattern of warming and climate changes (#22). Additionally, it is a myth that all of the models have been wrong (most have been quite accurate; #5), and it is a myth that in the 70’s there was a scientific consensus that we were entering an ice age (#12). Also, scientists are well aware that water vapor traps more heat than CO2, but water vapor is simply a feedback mechanism that increases in response to warming (#11). So CO2 is the ultimate cause. Finally, this is not “just a theory” (#13). The science of climate change has been extremely rigorously tested, and its predictions have consistently come true (#5, 7, 9, and 22).

Look, this is happening, people. We know that it is happening. We are already seeing the consequences, and we know that it is our fault. The scientific community stopped debating about whether or not we were causing climate change years ago, and it is about time that the general public stopped debating it as well.

In closing, I want to leave you with a logical proof that we are causing climate change. According to the rules of logic, if you want to reject this argument, then you must either discredit one of my premises or show that I have committed a logical fallacy. If you cannot do one of those two things, then you must accept the conclusion that we are causing the planet to warm. To do otherwise would be illogical.

  1. CO2 traps heat and is largely responsible for regulating our climate
  2. When you increase something that traps heat, more heat will be trapped
  3. We know that increasing the CO2 results in more heat being trapped from both laboratory experiments and past climate data
  4. We have greatly increased the CO2 in the atmosphere
  5. The earth is trapping more heat now than it used to, and this increase matches the increase in CO2.
  6. Therefore, we are causing the climate to warm

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Related Posts

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39 Responses to 25 myths and bad arguments about climate change

  1. realthog says:

    Thank you for this invaluable resource.

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  2. Tryingtohelp says:

    Need to edit this for some pretty obvious spelling mistakes. (buy=by, plant=planet, etc.)

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    • Fallacy Man says:

      It is helpful to me if people can point out specific mistakes, because although my errors are certainly obvious to someone reading this for the first time, when I am trying to proofread a 12,000+ word post that I wrote, it is very easy to miss homophones and similar errors. My brain knows what I was trying to say, so it tends to gloss over things like plant vs planet. I have fixed the specific two that you mentioned, but I have no doubt that there are more. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Turboblocke says:

    Actually incoming solar radiation is made up of many wavelengths ranging from UV to IR passing through what we call visible light. Some is “absorbed” on the way in, but most reaches the surface which it warms. The surface then emits heat at a different wavelength dependent on the temperature. These wavelengths are more easily ” blocked” by greenhouse gases.

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    • Fallacy Man says:

      This is certainly true, I was just trying to simplify things for ease of understanding because many people seem to be confused about whether it is UV or IR that drives climate change, and I often get bizarre arguments like, “well if the greenhouse gases trap heat going out, then they should also prevent it from coming in in the first place.” Nevertheless, I will try to clarify that statement.

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  4. kishoreragi says:

    Your rationality is very poor. You say that the models are consistent with observations, but if you are more rational, you have to see how reliable our observations are and how the model processes are heavily parameterized in numerical models. It is very pity that the scientists ignorantly believe these poor climate models.

    Although every segment of the system is poorly understood as you and me know very well, I would like to bring an important part of the system here. Have you ever wondered how poorly we understood the cloud micrphysics and how heavily it has been parameterized? You might know how important clouds are in the radiative budget in the earth system.
    Bottom-line is: We need to focus on understanding several things than suddenly jumping into loose conclusions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fallacy Man says:

      First, as explained in the post, the models are used for predicting future climate changes, and the fact that we are currently causing the climate to change is independent of those models (though it is strongly supported by the fact that the predictions of the models have come true). Throughout the post I presented numerous pieces of evidence showing that we are causing the climate to change, and you haven’t addressed any of them (e.g., the fact that past climate changes were largely driven by CO2 coupled with the fact that we have greatly increased the CO2 in the atmosphere, the satellite data showing that more heat is being trapped by CO2 in the atmosphere than was being trapped 40 years ago, the statistical tests showing that natural drivers of climate change can’t explain the current warming, etc.).

      Second, what exactly do you mean when you say, “Although every segment of the system is poorly understood.” I don’t think that any climatologists would agree with that. We have been studying the different components of the climate for many decades and have an extremely good understanding of how they work. Sure, there are gaps in our knowledge and things that we are still actively studying, but saying that they are all “poorly understood” is nonsense. Similarly, you said, “We need to focus on understanding several things [rather{?}] than suddenly jumping into loose conclusions.” No one “jumped” to a conclusion. Scientists debated the concept of global warming for several decades as all of the individual pieces were studied. Scientists did exactly what you are suggesting that they should do.

      In short, for your argument to work, you are going to need to actually give me a good reason to think that all of the components of our climate are poorly understood (I have a hefty body of literature that says that they have been well-studied), you are going to need to present some actual evidence that our observations are inaccurate (that seems like quite the absurd claim give how many different measurements they are based on and how many different methods have corroborated them), you are going to need to provide actual evidence that something other than CO2 is driving climate change (your current speculation is an argument from ignorance fallacy), you are going to need to explain to me why satellites show that earth is trapping more heat (specifically at the wavelengths that CO2 traps), and you are going to need to defeat the logical proof that I presented at the end of the post.

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      • kishoreragi says:

        First issue in your reply is that the models are not granted for predicting climates. Your and my mental model should predict the future, but mind can’t processes everything so we depend on numerical models that can run on fast computers. However, it is our primary duty to check if the models are behaving what exactly we wanted them to. It is true that 97% scientists are agreeing with model projection, but my experience peeping through those model physical processes tells me that the scientists who claim are either incompetent to understand the physics/meta physics included in the models or not evening thinking about how those models are built.

        You said you have shown evidences, but I don’t agree with each everything article that is published; however, I use my common sense to know if the research is worth-full. However, I am not disagreeing with your claim of trapping heat by the CO2 in the atmosphere. I do have strong background in chemical spectroscopy so I can understand that, and further, I did not say that your claim of global warming wrong too because we are still to know whether you are wrong or your opponents. I am neither of you groups, but my intention is to reduce the gap between these groups.

        ““Although every segment of the system is poorly understood.” I don’t think that any climatologists would agree with that” This is the main reason for we are depending on the consensus (which is not scientific as everyone can understand) rather than showing solid evidence to shut others mouth (that is what I expect from the scientific community).

        “Sure, there are gaps in our knowledge and things that we are still actively studying” This is enough to be QUITE for sometime to fill gaps so that we can show evidence instead of depending on nonsense consensus.

        I suggest you analyse surface energy and moisture fluxes from different sources (satellite, different model output and re-analysis products, especially African region). Also, check the model processes in the land surface schemes. It is an example I have given because one can get into this quickly and easily, but you can get into atmospheric variables/models too. I am sure you will agree with me right after analyzing.

        “you are going to need to explain to me why satellites show that earth is trapping more heat (specifically at the wavelengths that CO2 traps)” Why do I only have to tell you? why not you? If I had taken up that part, I would come up with unquestionable evidence that the CO2 only trapping at that wavelength (not at all other phenomenon), instead of thinking only about CO2.

        Finally, one should keep in mind that CO2 only would tell everything about global warming is absolutely wrong (your argument unfortunately says that). CO2 is a part of the whole system; however, it influences a lot that I know very well.

        I am happy to discuss further if you want me to.

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        • Fallacy Man says:

          “but my experience peeping through those model physical processes tells me that the scientists who claim are either incompetent to understand the physics/meta physics included in the models or not evening thinking about how those models are built.” I am going to need far more than your opinion before I accept not only that the collaborative work of hundreds of scientists with various backgrounds is wrong, but also that the entire rest of the scientific community missed the problems with those models. I need evidence. Nothing else will persuade me.

          I’m not exactly sure what you are arguing for some sections of your comment. At times you seem to be agreeing that we are causing the climate to change. For example, you seem to agree that CO2 is important for trapping heat in the atmosphere. I also presented several solid studies on isotope ratios that clearly show that the nearly doubling in the CO2 in the atmosphere is from us. Do you agree with that? If so, then the only logical conclusion is that we are causing the climate to change. i.e.
          1). CO2 traps heat and increasing it causes more heat to be trapped
          2). We have nearly doubled the CO2 in the atmosphere
          3). Therefore, we are causing the climate to warm (on average).

          Notice, no predictive models were needed for that, which was one of my fundamental points. The basic science that says that we are causing the climate to change is not based on the predictive models. We simply use the models to understand and predict what will happen in the future.

          “This is the main reason for we are depending on the consensus (which is not scientific as everyone can understand) rather than showing solid evidence to shut others mouth (that is what I expect from the scientific community).” I am typically loath to tell people to “google” something, but there is really no way that I can prove to you that thousands of studies exist, you kind of have to do that yourself. So, pick any component of the system and get on Google Scholar or go to an academic library and look at the papers. There are multiple journals that are entirely devoted to understanding the climate (Climate, International Journal of Climatology, etc.). We have studied the climate extremely thoroughly. I’m not talking about a consensus among scientists here, I am talking about a mountain of scientific studies. We have tens of thousands of studies and numerous decades of research on how the climate works, which is why I find you claim that “every component of the climate is poorly understood” (paraphrasing) to be ridiculous.

          “I suggest you analyse surface energy and moisture fluxes from different sources (satellite, different model output and re-analysis products, especially African region).” I’m not sure exactly what you want me to do here. What I am testing for? Whether or not there are warming trends? Whether or not CO2 is driving trends? Etc.? Also, why should I focus on Africa? I am interested in global patterns, not regional ones. Finally, specifically which data sets are you talking about? I have in fact played around with multiple of the data sets from different sources, and they all show warming.

          “Why do I only have to tell you? why not you? If I had taken up that part, I would come up with unquestionable evidence that the CO2 only trapping at that wavelength (not at all other phenomenon), instead of thinking only about CO2.” First, you have to tell me because that is the way that the burden of proof works. I already showed you my evidence, and you are saying that it is wrong, so it is your job to back up that claim. The satellite data present direct evidence that our CO2 is currently causing the planet to trap more heat. If you want to claim that the evidence is wrong, then it is your responsibility to provide the evidence for that claim. You are obliged to give me a rational, evidence-based alternative to the conclusion that we are causing more heat to be trapped. As far as why they looked specifically for the wavelengths that CO2 traps, as I’m sure you realize, scientific experiments are most robust when as many confounding variables as possible have been controlled. If they looked at all wavelengths, they could only have showed that the energy balance is different, rather than specifically that CO2 is causing the difference. Climate change predicts that CO2 should be causing more heat to be trapped, so this was a direct test of that particular prediction. That is how science works. Indeed, this study was doing exactly what you said needs to be done: studying a particular component of the climate.

          I have never said that CO2 alone was responsible. Indeed, I talked about some of the feedback mechanisms involved, but CO2 is the predominant driver.

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          • kishoreragi says:

            I guess that you run the models but don’t care how they work. Please try to understand me here. These models started existing with the advent of computers and evolved with computer speed. At the beginning, scientists had no luck to be more physical while building these models by keeping the computer power. As the computer speed increases, addition of new components/modules are being added to the models, but the basic simple and over-parameterizations are still existing in the models. I want these models to be more physical by focusing on this part, instead of projecting climate using such archaic models. Your focus is always that we are causing global warming. I do neither want words nor loosely concluded published research, but I don’t want to attack anybody personally because I want change not argument.

            You are asking me to google for existing results. Thanks for the suggestion. Surely, I do, but I am highly critical while reading science. I do have one suggestion for you. Please read the science critically, even it is published by Einstein also, and don’t believe anything easily.

            Again, your focus is on CO2. I said CO2 traps heat and it is true; however, it does not mean that human are causing global warming and I am supporting your claim. Please think that the global warming is very complex phenomenon, unlike you believe that CO2 is a sole culprit for climate change without considering numerous feedbacks in the system.

            “Also, why should I focus on Africa? I am interested in global patterns, not regional ones.” This clearly infers that you don’t do much climate research; however, I believe you compile climate research data. Africa is a part of the globe and it is one of the contributors of global change, so you and I should consider when we want to quantify global changes. The global change is assessed by the average of each and every part of the globe. Furthermore, I brought this African region because it is fully ignored by the scientific community, but people talk about global warming/cooling. As I suggested earlier, please try to analyze the data when you get free time.

            Best Regards,
            Kishore

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            • Fallacy Man says:

              I don’t really understand what you are saying for most of your post, and I feel like we are talking past each other.

              Regarding models, the models are constantly being upgraded with new, modern techniques and methods. I have read the technical reports on them. So I’m not really sure what you arguing.

              Regarding the literature, I do in fact read it quite critically (indeed, you can find numerous posts on this blog that are devoted to dissecting papers and explaining how to read them critically), and there certainly are some junk papers out there, but there are plenty of high quality ones that are consistently finding that we are causing the climate to change.

              For CO2, you said, “you believe that CO2 is a sole culprit for climate change without considering numerous feedbacks in the system.” That is completely untrue, as I both said in the previous comment, and in the post itself. Indeed, I talked about feedback mechanisms in the post, as did the studies that I cited. However, what both they and I am arguing is that CO2 is the primary driver. Yes, there are other factors at play, but that does not change the fact that increasing CO2 will cause temperatures to increase.

              Regarding Africa, I am well aware that we need to look at all of the data from everywhere. That was, in fact, the very point that I was trying to make. When you “focus” on something, you pay more attention to it than to everything else. So “focusing” on Africa would, by definition, mean applying more attention to it than to what is going on everywhere else, which is what I am objecting to. We have to look at all of the data from every continent (and the oceans) rather than “focusing” on the data from one continent.

              Perhaps most importantly, you claimed that Africa is “fully ignored by the scientific community,” but that claim is demonstrably false. For example, look at the maps, data, and analyses used in the GHCN and the many calculations and models that come out of it. Africa absolutely is included in those calculations. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/ghcnm/v3.php Similarly, the IPCC has an entire separate report on it https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter9.pdf. This is really my fundamental point throughout these comments. You keep saying, “scientists haven’t done X and the need to” but the reality is that scientists have done X.

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              • kishoreragi says:

                As you are saying that you could not understand what I am trying to argue. Ok. Let me clarify it to you. There a fundamental difference between you and me so you did not get me. The difference is that: You try to look for your claim of global warming while reading publication, but I look for if any issues are there in their studies. Furthermore, you look for the data already produced by other scientists, but I see how that data is produced. Anyway, I don’t argue with you harshly because it is your finding.

                “Regarding Africa, I am well aware that we need to look at all of the data from everywhere. That was, in fact, the very point that I was trying to make. When you “focus” on something, you pay more attention to it than to everything else.” It does not look correct to me because one should consider all these factors owing to its capacity to change the global climate (you might have to know long-range atmospheric teleconnections here), may be small, the average global temperature, but small changes also influence the whole system. People out there like you think that the global view is different from regional one, but we should have complete knowledge that includes Africa, to claim such big global warming issue.

                Because you don’t want to listen my words, I would like to give a reference regarding the state-of-the-art of research in African region. Washington R, James R, Pearce H, et al. (2013) Congo Basin rainfall climatology: can we believe the climate models? Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 368:20120296. Please read the literature along these lines.

                “You keep saying, “scientists haven’t done X and the need to” but the reality is that scientists have done X.” People are doing a lot of work, but they are trying to project the climate with incomplete model. What I have been stressing here is that we have to focus on understanding the system better rather than projecting the climate with limited understanding and claiming that the science is settled.

                Again, I would like to let you know that I am neither supporter nor denier of global warming. My potential contribution is to reduce the gap between them by showing the ignorance of both the groups as they do have.

                Thank you.

                Regards,
                Kishore

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                • Fallacy Man says:

                  First, I want to clarify that I am not cherry-picking the literature and do read the literature critically. It is worth mentioning that at one point in my life I was not convinced that we were causing climate change, but I was persuaded by critically reading the literature.

                  “but we should have complete knowledge that includes Africa, to claim such big global warming issue.” Again, I agree with you. My point was simply that using the word “focus” means that you pay more attention to one are than to others, which is invalid. You have to consider all of the components. At this point though, I think that we are quibbling over semantics rather than anything substantive.

                  The paper that you posted is quite informative and illustrates why I said that I was confused by your statements. Throughout this thread, you have said that scientists need to stop focussing on predicting climate change and focus instead on understanding the components of the climate, that every component of the climate is poorly understood, that scientists are totally ignoring Africa, etc., but this paper stands in contradiction with those claims. It shows that scientists are in fact working to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the climate (indeed the ratio of papers on understanding the climate compared to papers predicting climate change is heavily skewed towards understanding specific components).

                  It also stated that many of the components are well understood and have been well studied. For example, it said “The Maritime continent, as the most spatially extensive region of tropical convection and the core of the Walker circulation, has unsurprisingly been widely studied [5,6]. Similarly, the Amazon has long been the focus of attention in both theoretical and observational studies, with the latter being underpinned by major field programmes such as the Large-Scale Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA) [7] and more recent programmes such as the South American Biomass Burning Analysis (SAMBBA).”

                  Further, it shows that climatologists are in fact paying attention to Africa and using it in the models (despite your claim that it is completely ignored). Beyond the fact that this study was on Africa, it also cited multiple other studies on Africa and includes statements such as, “The Congo Basin’s role in the planetary circulation and the Earth system is undisputed.”

                  This is really my fundamental point throughout this: the system has been very well studied and scientists are constantly updating the models. To be clear, that isn’t to say that there aren’t still things that we don’t understand, because there certainly are, and scientists should (and are) continuing to study those. However, we understand it well enough to be confident that climate change will continue if we don’t change our actions. The exact magnitude of that change is debated and models are constantly being updated with new information, but it is very unlikely that we have so thoroughly misunderstood the situation that the core conclusion is false. Indeed, the paper that you cited supports this as well. It showed that our understanding of one particular component was incomplete, and although that affects the general models, it does not discredit them or alter the core result (i.e., climate change will continue unless we change our actions).

                  Finally, your entire argument seems to be based around the models, so I want to remind you again that the models are simply used for predicting the future effects of climate change. The core claim that we are causing the climate to change is not, however, reliant on those projections. Rather, it is based on the empirical evidence that I cited, such as the satellite data showing that our CO2 is causing more heat to be trapped, the studies of past climate changes that showed that increases in CO2 drive climate change, etc.

                  In short, we have plenty of evidence to be extremely confident that we are causing the climate to change.

                  Like

                  • kishoreragi says:

                    I don’t want to extend further as we are not going to convince each other, but let me clarify a bit here.

                    I would like to remind you that the empirical relations may show that the climate is changing, but there is no way you can say that human are ONLY causing it without numerical models. Please remember that I don’t say anything if you say that the climate is changing because everybody knows that it have been happening (ups and downs). I hope you now found why I am stressing about our state-of-the-art numerical models.

                    You have a favoritism towards anthropocentric global warming, but you can’t prove that it is right until we have good understanding of the whole system.

                    I have cited that article to let you know that the region is poorly observed so the research is going like a snail. Please don’t say that few studies are there because they are not enough.

                    Like

                    • Fallacy Man says:

                      “but there is no way you can say that human are ONLY causing it without numerical models.” I actually never said that humans are the only factor causing it. Indeed, the studies that I cited show that natural factor are at play as well, but they are not enough to explain the current warming.

                      You seem to be conflating two different types of models. There are statistical models that take the current climate data from the past century or so and test climate drivers to see which ones can explain the current warming, and there are predictive models that use that information to try to predict future changes. The later group (the predictive group) is significantly more complicated and requires a much better understanding of the climate in order to be accurate. However, the former group (which has been used to establish that we are the primary driver of the current change) does not require as much information, and we do in fact have a thorough enough understanding to be quite confident in them. They all consistently show that when we only have natural factors in the models, we cannot explain the warming trend, but once we add our greenhouse gasses, we get an extremely close match between the model’s expectation and the observed trend. Indeed, when you look at figures like the one that I posted from Hansen et al. 2005, it is very obvious that natural factors don’t explain the current warming.

                      Finally, you still have not addressed the satellite data or the logical proof that I presented. If our Co2 is not trapping more heat and causing the planet to warm, then please explain to me why we have direct empirical evidence that the CO2 in the atmosphere is trapping an increased amount of heat? To be clear, I am not suggesting that CO2 is the only factor at play, but we know that it is very important and increasing it causes the temperature to rise (as you seem to agree with), we know that we have nearly doubled its concentration in the atmosphere, and we know that CO2 is currently causing the earth to trap more heat than it used to. That is pretty clear empirical evidence that we are causing climate change.

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                    • kishoreragi says:

                      I don’t say that I am fully expert at climate processes, but I can confidently say that your knowledge and understanding of the earth system for the climate scenarios is very limited. Please don’t try to convince me with articles (because, as I said, I don’t believe each and every article and each every bit in the article), but there are quite few informative articles are out there. Please go and try to dig deeper into the subject to know why I am saying our understanding is limited.

                      My understanding about the utility of the statistical models, unlike other folks think, is to make an hypothesis, but they are incapable to confirm your dubious claim as there is a potential for the hypothesis to be wrong. Unfortunately, you stopped there and jumping at it.

                      Like

                    • Fallacy Man says:

                      (this is actually a response to your comment below but it has reached the reply limit)

                      I did not claim that is is impossible that climate change is false. Of course it is (it is possible that any scientific topic could be wrong). Also, again, I am not blindly accepting papers. I have critically looked at them. If you want to claim that they are wrong, then you need to give me some actual evidence and specific reasons to think that they are wrong. Vague and unsubstantiated claims about the extent of our knowledge won’t cut it. Again, you are asserting that you understand statistics and climate science better than essentially the world’s entire scientific community. That is an extraordinary claim and you need to provide some extraordinary evidence before I will accept it. So far you have repeatedly asserted that you are more knowledgeable than the vast majority of scientists, but you have not given me any evidence to think that your claim is true (to be clear, I realize that you stated in your last comment that you are not an expert, but that statement conflicts everything else that you have said because you need to be an expert before you are in a position to say that all of the experts are wrong).

                      I don’t really see this going anywhere, so unless your response includes some actual evidence to support your claims, I’m not going to waste any more time on this dialogue.

                      Like

  5. Cleon W. ross says:

    As usual, your article is just excellent. I do think your explanation in the second paragraph (essentially of the greenhouse effect) is off base. Sunlight is almost surely not largely ultraviolet but instead visible.. A broad peak appears in the visible in the blue and green regions of the spectrum, followed across the graph with decreases out to 800 nm in the red and near infrared. Second, it is misleading to imply that those wavelengths (colors) are not absorbed by the earth’s surface, because they are. Their energies heat up whatever absorbs them, then those heated objects RERADIATE longer wavelengths as heat energy. Thus, reradiation is the important mechanism of atmospheric heating, not reflection of ultraviolet. In fact I doubt if reflection of any UV radiation is even measurable.

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    • Fallacy Man says:

      Hmmm, I find your comment a bit distressing as I certainly did not mean to imply that all of the energy entering the earth was UV, or that no energy was absorbed by the earth, or the UV radiation was reflected off of the earth’s surface. I clearly did a terrible job writing that section. I have tried to rewrite it, but please let me know if it is still confusing.

      Like

  6. R.Dann says:

    In view of the fact that there has been no reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases and
    that all the CO2 we have been putting into the atmosphere will remain there for decades plus
    that as the plant warms there is more water vapor and the tundra is thawing releasing methane
    Even in the very unlikely event that emissions are cut by 20% will global warming come to a
    halt??

    Like

    • Fallacy Man says:

      There is actually good evidence that we can greatly reduce the impacts of climate change, even if we don’t immediately halt it.
      http://www.earth-syst-dynam.net/7/327/2016/esd-7-327-2016.pdf

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      • David Annan says:

        Side note: We can significantly alter mankind’s ‘contribution’ [and some countries have taken ‘extreme’ measures to do so] but we will not [According to current statistical models] “significantly” alter the natural cycles [Annual, ~Century, ~Millennium { ~ = not an exact time frame}]. Nor should we want to; keeping all our pollution levels [not just CO2’s] to where ‘natural’ conditions use/neutralize our ‘pollution contributions’ would be ideal. /////// {([ Statistically anything under 2.5% is typically considered statistically insignificant; this is not necessarily true in climatology as 2.5% is [in my head math about 1.3 degrees] – and a Global change of 1 degree can [does] make some notable changes. ])}.

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        • Fallacy Man says:

          Just a couple of quick notes on statistics, because there is often a lot of confusion about how they work and what they mean.

          First, there is no set threshold of difference that constitutes a significant difference. Rather what the statistics do is look at the probability that an observed result arose by chance. For example, if you are comparing a drug vs a placebo, then the statistics tell you how likely you are to get a result of that difference or greater that you observed if the drug does not actually work. Thus, the threshold that is used (such as 5% or 2.5%) is not a percent difference in the sample. Rather, it is the probability of obtaining the difference or correlation that you measured if no difference/correlation actually exists.

          Second, the ability of a test to pick up on a difference is largely dependent on sample size. Going back to the drug example, if you only have 10 people in each group, then you need an extremely large difference to detect it. In contrast, if you have 10,000 people, then you can detect even a modest difference.

          Third, statistical significance is not the same thing as ecological or biological difference. You can have a difference that is statistically significant, but meaningless in the real world.

          So, when we apply all of this to climate change, typically the significance values are in the context of tests that are looking for associations between drivers of climate change and the current warming. In other words, they calculate the probability that the association between the warming and a given variable arose just by chance, and what those models show is that natural variables alone have random relationships with the warming, but when we include anthropogenic factors, the relationship becomes significant.

          I explained how statistics work in a lot more detail here
          https://thelogicofscience.com/2015/12/28/basic-statistics-part-4-understanding-p-values/

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  7. paulski0 says:

    Thanks for this comprehensive article!

    Just thought I’d nitpick on #2 where you say ‘the temperature of the Southern Ocean is actually increasing (Zhang 2007).’

    This conclusion in Zhang 2007 was based on ocean temperature measurements at depth (which aren’t relevant for sea ice) and reanalysis data for SAT (Surface Air Temperature). Reanalysis products tend to be quite uncertain in regions with sparse data, such as the Southern Ocean. Using climate explorer I’ve plotted here results from two different reanalysis products using the same parameters for the Southern Ocean. You can see Zhang 2007’s conclusion with regards SAT was highly dependent on choice of dataset.

    Trends from remote sensing satellite data suggest atmospheric temperature over the Southern Ocean have, on average, cooled since 1979. Such as they are, SST observations also indicate overall cooling in this region.

    Data sparsity perhaps precludes definitive statements on trends but a general synthesis of what’s available would suggest sea-ice relevant Southern Ocean surface temperatures have steadily cooled on average since 1979.

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  8. Rickycardo says:

    You forgot my favorite argument against climate change, “I don’t care enough about anyone to change my standard of living so…. Get off my lawn.” They’re honest if nothing else.

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  9. Scott A Clauss says:

    Very nice summary.
    On myth #4 did not see mention of Frank Luntz. He was a W, Bush political consultant who suggested the name change (though both terms predated this suggestion) to make it seem less threatening. It didn’t come from liberals or whatever other nonsense the deniers can come up with.

    Typo on myth #3 “Not” should be “No”

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  10. Scott A Clauss says:

    Very nice summary.
    On myth #4 did not see mention of Frank Luntz. He was a W, Bush political consultant who suggested the name change (though both terms predated this suggestion) to make it seem less threatening. It didn’t come from liberals or whatever other nonsense the deniers can come up with.

    Typo on myth #3 “Not” should be “No” This is on the summary page apparently not on the Full page.

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  11. Digby Scorgie says:

    Regarding #24, I’ve heard some religious people say that it is God’s will that we are seeing these changes in the climate. This is my rebuttal: If you get thoroughly drunk one night and wake up the next morning with a splitting headache, is it valid to say that it was nothing you did but rather just God’s will that you should get this headache? For “getting drunk” substitute “carbon pollution” and for “splitting headache” substitute “dangerous climate change”.

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    • Fallacy Man says:

      Yeah, that line of reasoning basically suffers the same problem as the “God is in control” argument. No matter what happens, you can arbitrarily claim that it is God’s will.

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  12. DavidAnnan says:

    As I see it there is no ABSOLUTE evidence, as not all climatologists are in agreement [if the evidence was absolute surly they would be in agreement.], {But all I’ve seen/heard agree we can/do influence our climate.}, Therefore ‘freaking out’ about it is a waste of effort. Taking ‘reasonable steps’ {so we avoid being in the position Japan is in with it’s lack of “Air Quality”} is logical. But to have people unable to support/feed/cloth themselves because of ‘global warming’ is not. The ‘CORE STUDY’ I saw {in the 1980’s?} showed a variant of several degrees {that we are still within by several degrees as I recall}, meaning we can ‘work on the issues’ in a sequentially logical manner [on step at a time]. I haven’t heard of any climatologists in disagreement with the reduction of pollutants {Air/water/earth – even though two aren’t totally within ‘their field’.}. Even many {?MOST?} religions say in one manner or another that people are to care for the planet. My major gripe/complaint about the ‘global warming scare’ is over-rating the anticipated immediacy and severity of it’s occurrence {After all, some predicted we already died out, and they were obviously wrong.}. P.S. I only look at my e-mail once a Month or so; don’t expect a ‘fast reply’, and my name needs to be in the subject line or it’s put in the junk mail – which I don’t even look at, I just delete it. {After all, it’s junk !}.

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    • Fallacy Man says:

      First, it is important to note that a 100% agreement is almost never achieved on any scientific topics. There are doctors who still say smoking is safe, doctors who say vaccines are dangerous, biologists who reject evolution, etc. So if you are waiting for a 100% consensus, it’s not likely to ever happen, no matter how clear the evidence is. There is, however, roughly a 97% consensus, which is extremely high (to be clear, we have to reach conclusions based on the evidence, not the people who support it, but my point is simply that expecting a 100% consensus is unrealistic).

      Regarding the rest of your comment, there are certainly people who exaggerate the risk (as stated in the post), but that doesn’t make the actual threat any less real or important, and the sooner that we take action, the better it will be in the long run. Also, again, actual scientists weren’t the ones predicting the end of the world, and the predictions made by scientists have actually been very accurate.

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      • David Annan says:

        I agree that a 100% agreement is almost never achieved on any scientific topic, end even when there has been, later scrutiny [with far far better equipment] showed them all to be wrong. I not waiting for a 100% consensus, But I will wait for a ‘prevalence of overwhelming evidence’; that doesn’t counter any of the other scientific topics I have accepted from a ‘prevalence of overwhelming evidence’ unless that “New” [as in discovery, no as in it’s existence] evidence has a ‘prevalence of overwhelming evidence’ countering the previous ‘prevalence of overwhelming evidence’. I’m an ex-cop; evidence can be misinterpreted, forged, altered, messed up, etc. so I expect to see the “Original” evidence, not just the interpretation of someone [that I really don’t know] about it. I’m picky, I know it; but I’ve been lied to and deceived, and yes believed others that had been lied to and or deceived so experience tells me extreme caution is required. And trusting my own judgement is more reliable than trusting the judgement of people I don’t know.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fallacy Man says:

          Demanding good evidence from primary sources is certainly the correct way to approach any scientific topic, but I am curious as to why you don’t find the primary sources that I cited in the post (or the thousands of other studies on this topic) to be compelling.

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          • David Annan says:

            I looked at several and saw opinions on the data; but not the data {like right now – I was tired and may have missed the link to the actual data}. If I don’t have access to the unaltered, unfiltered data, I’m looking at opinions.

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            • Fallacy Man says:

              I’m not sure that I am following what you are saying here. Are you suggesting that scientific studies are opinions? The scientific papers that I linked to are not simply the scientists stating their opinions. Rather, they are careful, controlled analyses of data. If you read the methods section, the authors explain exactly what analyses they did, and in the results section they state exactly what the outputs of those analyses were as well as providing the summary statistics of the data (usually there are also figures that visualize the data). The discussion section is the only section where they provide commentary on the results, but even there that discussion is simply to explain their results and put in in the context of what other studies have found. Further, these are papers that passed peer-review, which means that other experts examined their methods and results and determined that they did the study correctly. That obviously doesn’t guarantee that the studies are correct, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t read the papers critically, but it does elevate them beyond mere opinions. Finally, many studies do provide supplemental material that contains the raw data, and (particularly for climate change research) the analyses often use publicly accessible data sets (some of these were also cited such as NASA’s http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/). You are obviously welcome to examine those data sets, but I should caution you that there is a reason that scientists spend years being trained on statistics and complex analyses. To put it simply, the raw data are pretty meaningless unless you also now the proper analysis methods, how to correctly control all of the confounding variables, etc. That is part of why papers use graphs and charts to visualize the results in a way that most people can understand (see, for example, the figure from Hansen et al. 2005 that I included in the post).

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            • Fallacy Man says:

              Just to be clear, that last part of my comment was not in any way meant to be belittling or sound elitist. I am simply pointing out that a certain amount of background knowledge is necessary before you can really understand the data. To give an analogy, I would be pretty worthless at a crime scene, because I don’t know how to analyze the data that is contained therein. Sure, I could fumble around with the basics, but ultimately I just don’t have the background knowledge or training to know what I am doing, whereas someone like you who has that knowledge and training would know how to process the situation.

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              • David Annan says:

                Thank you; I missed seeing some links to the data; [Always seem to get on these FB things when I should/want to be in bed]. My computers {unlike the computers at my Alta-mater University} aren’t able to crunch the numbers [still way to slow]; I have however had plenty of math & Statistics and can sometimes ‘see’ trending. One of the reasons I’m so skeptical is I know the “Bend-the-math” methods used to alter conclusions from the data. I saw it “Back-in-the-day” with the tobacco industry and several other ‘less-noted’ times. I’ve even done it myself {Showing someone the unreliability of believing *Anything*, just because “the-stats-said-so”. For Stats to have the maximum meaning, HOW they were achieved can be more important than what they say!}. We seem to agree on the ‘base’ evidence, and even on some of the rest, but I suspect without going thru a vast amount of data neither of us have enough to sway the others position. Thank you for the polite [Not often I get polite dis-agreement] communication, don’t know that I’ll have access to another “Nice” enough computer to crunch the data in less than a year [decade for mine – small-n-slow], and suspect the weather will be more ‘telling’ then the data crunching would be by then. Perhaps some other subject sometime.

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