Debunking 25 arguments against climate change in 5 sentences or less (each)

Climate change is arguably one of the most misunderstood and controversial topics among the general public. Misinformation abounds, and many people are left debating whether or not we are causing it, and even whether or not it is happening at all. Among scientists, however, there is no serious debate, and there hasn’t been for many years. The evidence for climate change is extremely solid, despite what many blogs and politicians will tell you. Therefore, I want to try to correct some of that misinformation. Yesterday, I posted an extremely lengthy article debunking 25 myths and bad arguments about climate change. Today, I am posting the same information, but in a much more condensed form. I have attempted to address each argument in under 5 sentences. Obviously I had to leave out a lot of information, so if you want the more detailed explanations, please see the original post (each short response is accompanied by a link for the full-length explanation).


stephen-colbert-global-warmingBad Argument/Myth #1: It snowed, so global warming must not be true

Reality: Climate and weather are not the same thing. Climate change predicts that on average the earth’s temperature will increase ,but that does not mean that it will always be hot everywhere or that it will never snow. This is a straw man fallacy/reductio ad absurdum fallacy.

click here for the full version of #1

Bad Argument/Myth #2: The ice in Antarctica is actually increasing

Reality: This argument is a Texas sharpshooter fallacy because it focuses on one ice shelf and ignores 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), temperatures are increasing, etc. 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.

click here for the full version of #2

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. Image via Open Mind.

Bad Argument/Myth #3: Global warming has paused

Reality: Not it hasn’t. To make this claim 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), especially when you look at the oceans (Balmaseda et al. 2013; Rhein et al. 2013; Glecker et al. 2016) and account for confounding variables (Foster and Rahmstorf 2011).

click here for the full version of #3

Bad Argument/Myth #4: Global warming wasn’t happening so they changed to name to climate change

Reality: Scientists have been talking about climate change since day one. They changed the name because the term “global warming” is misleading and was leading to faulty arguments (like #1 and 2). The planet is warming on average, but climate change is also about shifts in rainfall patterns, sea level changes, ocean current changes, etc., not just warming.

click here for the full version of #4

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

Reality: No they haven’t. They have actually been quite accurate (Hansen et al. 2006; Frame and Stone 2012; Rahmstorf et al. 2012; Cowtan et al. 2015;  Marotzke and Firster 2015). Claims to the contrary are based on a misleading and deceptive distortion of statistics.

click here for the full version of #5

Bad Argument/Myth #6: Polar bear numbers are actually increasing!

Reality: No they aren’t. They are decreasing (Schliebe et al. 2006; Stirling and Derocher 2012). Also, 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 (Hunter et al. 2010; Molnar et al. 2011).

click here for the full version of #6

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: 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. Scientists 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). 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; more details here).

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.

click here for the full version of #7

Bad Argument/Myth #8: During past climate changes, the CO2 follows the temperature increase

Reality: This is only true at first. 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).

click here for the full version of #8

Bad Argument/Myth #9: CO2 only makes a small portion of the atmosphere

Reality: The fact that something is not abundant does not mean that it is not important. 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). Additionally, satellites have provided direct empirical evidence that the earth is currently trapping more heat than it used to, specifically at the frequencies that are absorbed by CO2 (Harries et al. 2001; Griggs and Harries 2007).

click here for the full version of #9

Bad Argument/Myth #10: We only emit a tiny portion of the earth’s CO2

Reality: Before 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. As a result, 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). Also, we have verified that the increased CO2 is from us via changes in carbon isotope ratios (Bohm et al. 2002; Ghosh and Brand 2003;Wei et al. 2009; details here).

click here for the full version of #10

Bad Argument/Myth #11: Water vapor is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2

Reality: Water vapor increases in response to an increase in 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.

click here for the full version of #11

Bad Argument/Myth #12: In the 70’s scientists predicted an ice age

Reality: No they didn’t. There were a total of seven papers on global cooling, and during that exact same time, 42 papers were published on global warming (Peterson et al. 2008). The media may have said that we were entering an ice age, but that was never what the majority of scientists were saying.

click here for the full version of #12

Bad Argument/Myth #13: It’s just a theory, not a fact

Reality: In science, 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 the theory of universal gravity, explains that fact by stating that all bodies that have mass produce gravity and are acted upon by the gravity of other bodies.

click here for the full version of #13

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: The fact that scientists have been wrong before and might be wrong now does not mean or even suggest that they actually are wrong now. You have to present actual evidence that they are wrong now, otherwise this is 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 and we can’t be totally sure that gravity is true, so I don’t have to accept them now.”

click here for the full version of #14

scientific consensus on global climate change, global warming

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

Bad Argument/Myth #15: There are thousands of scientists who disagree (e.g., the Oregon Petition)

Reality: The overwhelming majority of climatologists (somewhere in the high 90’s) agree that we are causing climate change. The Oregon petition is a fraud. Most of its signatories weren’t real scientists, and only 39 of them were climatologists. Also this argument is a blatant appeal to authority fallacy.

click here for the full version of #15

Bad Argument/Myth #16: “Climategate” showed that scientists are falsifying data

Reality: It did no such thing. The stolen emails were full of conversations about real data, but a handful were taken out of context and twisted to make them appear corrupt. In context, however, nothing unethical was occurring. 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.

click here for the full version of #16

Bad Argument/Myth #17: Scientists are manipulating the data to make it look like warming!

Reality: No they aren’t. Almost all real data sets have to be adjusted for biases in the collection methods, and climate change data are no different. 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 (details here and here). Scientists have been open about these corrections and have publicly documented them from day one (details here and here).

click here for the full version of #17

global warming money

Details and sources here.

Bad Argument/Myth #18: It’s a liberal conspiracy/It’s all about the money!

Reality: These are ad hoc fallacies (i.e., unless you provide actual evidence that they are corrupt, these claims are baseless assumptions). 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. 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.

click here for the full version of #18

Bad Argument/Myth #19: But politicians and the media…

Reality: They are irrelevant. 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. 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.

click here for the full version of #19

Bad Argument/Myth #20: Climate change is being caused by the ozone hole (or vice versa)

Reality: Climate change and the ozone hole are separate phenomena that sometimes interact. Climate change is caused by greenhouse gasses trapping heat before it leaves the earth, whereas the ozone hole is caused by chlorofluorocarbons and other gases that deplete the ozone, thus allowing high levels of UV radiation to enter the earth. They are caused by separate sets of gases, and they act very differently.

click here for the full version of #20

Bad Argument/Myth #21: But CO2 is actually good for plants

Reality: 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).

That was the full version for this one.

Bad Argument/Myth #22: It’s not really a big problem because the planet will only warm by a few degrees

Reality: Even a slight increase in temperature will have huge consequences. 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.

click here for the full version of #22

Bad Argument/Myth #23: It will make humans go extinct/it will be the end of the world

Reality: 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. The media loves to sensationalize things, but very, very few professional climatologists think that it will end the world.

click here for the full version of #23

Bad Argument/Myth #24: God is in control

Reality: If you actually believe this and think that climate change isn’t a problem because it won’t happen unless God allows it, then you 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. Do you see the problem? 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 something really harmful, like climate change?

click here for the full version of #24

Bad Argument/Myth #25: Man is not powerful enough to cause climate change

Reality: This is an ad hoc fallacy. It is a baseless assumption that I would never accept unless I was already convinced that climate change wasn’t true. Even if God is real and the Bible is true, there is no Biblical support for this argument, nor is there any reason to think that God drew and arbitrary line at climate change and said, “this far, no further!” If God exists, he has obviously allowed us to do a great many terrible things.

click here for the full version of #25

Related Posts

Literature Cited

  • Allen et al. 2006. Quantifying anthropogenic influence on recent near-surface temperature change. Surveys in Geophysics 27:491–544.
  • Allen et al. 2010. A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests. Forest Ecology and Management 259:660–684.
  • Balmaseda et al. 2013. Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content. Geophysical Research Letters 40:1754–1759.
  • Bohm et al. 2002. Evidence for preindustrial variations in the marine surface water carbonate system from coralline sponges. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 3:1–13.
  • Carnicer et al. 2011. Widespread crown condition decline, food web disruption, and amplified tree mortality with increased climate change-type drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:1474–1478.
  • Coumou and Rahmstorf 2012. A decade of weather extremes. Nature Climate Change 2:491–496.
  • Cowtan et al. 2015. Robust comparison of climate models with observations using blended land air and ocean sea surface temperatures. Geophysical Research Letters 42:6526–6534.
  • Dai. 2013. Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models. Nature Climate Change 3:52–58.
  • Easterling and Wehner 2009. Is the climate warming or cooling? Geophysical Research Letters 36.
  • Foster and Rahmstorf 2011. Global temperature evolution 1979–2010. Environmental Research Letters 7:011002.
  • Frame and Stone 2012. Assessment of the first consensus prediction on climate change. Nature Climate Change 3:357–359.
  • Gillett and Thompson 2002. Simulation of recent Southern Hemisphere climate change. Science 302:273–275.
  • Ghosh and Brand. 2003. Stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry in global climate change research. International Journal of Mass Spectrometry 228:1–33.
  • Gleckler et al. 2016. Industrial-era global ocean heat uptake doubles in recent decades. Nature Climate Change.
  • Griggs and Harries. 2007. Comparison of spectrally resolved outgoing longwave radiation over the tropical Pacific between 1970 and 2003 Using IRIS, IMG, and AIRS. Journal of Climate 20:3982-4001.
  • Hansen et al. 2006. Global temperature change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10314288–14293.
  • Harries et al. 2001. Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997. Nature 410:355–357.
  • Held and Soden 2000. Water vapor feedback and global warming. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 25:441–475.
  • Hunter et al. 2010. Climate change threatens polar bear populations: a stochastic demographic analysis. Ecology 91:2883–2897.
  • Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno 2010. The Impact of climate change on the world’s marine ecosystems. Science 328:1523–1528.
  • Imbers et al. 2014. Sensitivity of climate change detection and attribution to the characterization of internal climate variability. Journal of Climate 27:3477–3491.
  • Karl et al. 2015. Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus. Science 348:1469–1472.
  • Kuglitsch et al. 2010. Heat wave changes in the eastern Mediterranean since 1960. Geophysical Research Letters 37:L04802.
  • Lean and Rind. 2008. How natural and anthropogenic influences alter global and regional surface temperatures: 1889 to 2006. Geophysical Research Letters 35:L18701.
  • Lefevre et al. 2013. Antarctic ozone loss in 1979–2010: first sign of ozone recovery. Atmosphere Chemistry and Physics 13:1625–1635.
  • Lewandowsky 2011. Popular consensus climate change is set to continue. Psychological Science 22:460–463.
  • Lewandowsky et al. 2015a. On the definition and identifiability of the alleged hiatus in global warming. Scientific Reports 5: 16784.
  • Lewandowsky et al. 2015b. The “pause” in global warming: Turning a routine fluctuation into a problem for science. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 96:723–733.
  • Lockwood and Frohlich. 2007. Recently oppositely directed trends in solar climate forcings and the global mean surface air temperature. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 463:2447–2460.
  • Lockwood and Frohlich. 2008. Recently oppositely directed trends in solar climate forcings and the global mean surface air temperature. II. Different reconstructions of the total solar irradiance variation and dependence on response time scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 464:1367–1385.
    Lorius et al. 1990. The ice-core record: climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming. Nature 139–145.
  • Luber and McGeehin 2008. Climate change and extreme heat events. American Journal of Preventative Medicine 35:429–435.
  • Marotzke and Firster 2015. Forcing, feedback and internal variability in global temperature trends. Nature 517:565–570.
  • Martin et al. 2005. Role of deep sea temperature in the carbon cycle during the last glacial. Paleoceanography 20:PA2015.
  • Meehl, et al. 2004. Combinations of natural and anthropogenic forcings in the twentieth-century climate. Journal of Climate 17:3721–3727.
  • Molnar et al. 2011. Predicting survival, reproduction and abundance of polar bears under climate change. Biological Conservation 143:1612–1622.
  • Patz et al. 2005. Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature 438:310–317.
  • Peterson et al. 2008. The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 89:1325–1337.
  • Philipona et al. 2005. Anthropogenic greenhouse forcing and strong water vapor feedback increase temperature in Europe. Geophysical Research Letters 32:L19809.
  • Rahmstorf et al. 2012. Comparing climate projections to observations up to 2011. Environmental Research Letters 7:044035.
  • Rhein et al. 2013. Observations: Ocean. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Stocker (eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA
  • Robinson et al. 2012. A meta-analytical review of the effects of elevated CO2 on plant-arthropod interactions highlights the importance of interacting environmental and biological variables. New Phytologist 194:321–336.
  • Rode et al. 2010. Reduced body size and cub recruitment in polar bears associated with sea ice decline. Ecological Applications 20:768–782.
  • Rode et al. 2012. A tale of two polar bear populations: ice habitat, harvest, and body condition. Population Ecology 54:3–18.
  • Root et al. 2003. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421:57–60.
  • Schlendker and Roberts 2009. Nonlinear temperature effects indicate severe damages to U.S. crop yields under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10615594–15598.
  • Schliebe et al. 2006. Range-wide status review of the polar bear (Ursus maritimus). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    Shakun et al. 2012. Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation. Nature 484:49–54.
  • Schmittner and Galbraith 2008. Glacial greenhouse-gas fluctuations controlled by ocean circulation changes. Nature 456:373–376.
  • Skinner et al. 2010. Ventilation of the deep Southern Ocean and deglacial CO2 rise. Science 328:1147-1151.
  • Stirling and Derocher 2012. Effects of climate warming on polar bears: a review of the evidence. Global Change Biology 18:1694–2706.
  • Stott et al. 2001. Attribution of twentieth century temperature change to natural and anthropogenic causes. Climate Dynamics17:1–21.
  • Stroeve et al 2012. The Arctic’s rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: a research synthesis. Climate Change 110:1005–1027.
  • Swart et al. 2015. Influence of internal variability on Artic sea-ice trends. Nature Climate Change 5:86–89.
  • Tingley et al. 2012. The push and pull of climate change causes heterogeneous shifts in avian elevational ranges. Global Change Biology 18:3279–3290.
  • Toggweiler et al. 2006. Mid-latitude westerlies, atmospheric CO2, and climate change during the ice ages. Paleoceanography 21:PA2005.
    Trenberth 2009. An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth’s global energy. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 1:19–27.
  • Tripati et al. 2009. Coupling CO2 and ice sheet stability over major climate transitions of the last 20 million years. Science 326:1394–1397.
  • Wei et al. 2009. Evidence for ocean acidification in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 73:2332–2346.
  • WGMS 2013. Glacier Mass Balance Bulletin. World Glacier Monitoring Service12.
  • Wild et al. 2007. Impact of global dimming and brightening on global warming. Geophysical Research Letters
  • Williams et al. 2012. Modifications to pairwise homogeneity adjustment software to address coding errors and improve run-time efficiency. NOAA (GHCNM-12-02).
  • Yi et al. 2015. An increase in the rate of global mean sea level rise since 2010. Geophysical Research Letters 42:3998–4006.
  • Zhang 2007. Increasing Antarctic sea ice under warming atmospheric and oceanic conditions. Journal of Climate 20:2515–2529.


This entry was posted in Global Warming and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Debunking 25 arguments against climate change in 5 sentences or less (each)

  1. Fallacy Man says:

    Because the core content of this post is the same as the full version, I have decided to close the comments here and direct everyone to the full version if you want to comment. I am doing this for two reasons. First, it is easier to keep up with comments when everyone is on the same thread (there are fewer repeats). Second, if you are going to claim that I am wrong about one of these 25 arguments, I would appreciate it if you read the full version of the argument before posting. Thanks.


Comments are closed.