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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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 by itself, 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 behaviors (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.
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.
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?
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 an 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.
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- “Follow the money”: the finances of global warming, vaccines, and GMOs
- Global warming hasn’t paused
- Global warming isn’t natural, and here’s how we know
- The GHCN Temperature Adjustment Myth
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