Nothing stirs up debate more than the issue of climate change. There are three schools of thought on this matter:
1) “It’s happening, and we better do something about it ASAP.”
2) “It’s not settled science so we should wait and see.”
3) “Do I need an umbrella today?”
In other words, you have the believers, deniers, and those not really thinking all that much about it. Let’s stipulate for further reading that this post will take the “believer” approach (A.K.A. the convergence of evidence presented by science). If you’re looking for a way to join in on the conversation and want to take on the skeptics (global warming skeptics AKA deniers… not to be confused with those who practice scientific skepticism), then embracing a few of these debunked myths will make you the smartest person in the room – or Facebook.
Myth #1: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside, So Case Closed”
Here’s the big thing most people get tripped up on – the difference between climate and weather. Weather is what’s happening outdoors today. It’s going to change tomorrow. Cold, hot, humid, snow, rain – those are all current potential weather conditions that taken as a whole create climate. In other words, climate is the average weather pattern based on years of collected data. So, what’s the climate trend based on current data? That would be warming.
Ironically, the global warming that impacts the frozen Arctic Sea could be influencing the jet stream with cooler air. Just because ice melts doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot air. If you have a big now storm in Canada and you say, “So much for global warming!“, then you need to brush up on your understand of weather VS climate.
Myth #2: “Climate Has Always Changed”
You are correct.
The Earth’s climate naturally changes when left alone. The key phrase there is, “when left alone.”
The problem with today’s climate change (see above) is that a human factor drives its rapid increase. Therefore, it’s not being left alone. We’re creating vast amounts CO2 released into the atmosphere and causing the much-maligned greenhouse effect. This is the first time in human history when you can trace back those warming trends to human activity. It’s important to note the rapid rate of warming. Yes, kids, its science.
Myth #3: “People Like It Warmer Than Cold Ergo Climate Change Is Good”
Don’t get caught up in the weather vs. climate issue.
Yes, the majority of individuals on the planet might prefer warmth to cold. However, with that warmth also comes the potential for increased flooding along the coast and droughts further inland. That can have a direct impact on two vital commodities: real estate and food. According to the EPA, “Changes in temperature, amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather could have significant impacts on crop yields.”
Myth #4: “Plants Need CO2 Which Means We’re Helping Them ”
While it is true that plants require CO2 to flourish, too much CO2 can actually cause those same plants great harm. Even crops will become less nutritious when bombarded with high levels of CO2. For the sake of your next salad, ride a bike or take a bus. Still not convinced? Here’s 6 pieces of evidence to consider:
- CO2 enhanced plants require extra water to maintain their larger growth as well as to compensate for greater moisture evaporation.
- Our methods of agriculture do not self-fertilize, so more artificial fertilizers will be required, ultimately increasing the price of food.
- If the concentration of CO2 is too high, there’s a reduction in photosynthesis in certain plants. With wheat, for example, it also reduces the nutritional quality.
- Increased CO2, as mentioned earlier, does provide a boost in growth, but this is limited by the nitrogen plateau, which truncates this benefit.
- Many plants’ chemistry changes, making them more vulnerable to insects.
- Finally, added CO2 will likely shrink the range available to plants while increasing the size of deserts. Tropical, forest, and grasslands will try to migrate towards the poles. Unfortunately, it does not follow that soil conditions will necessarily favor their growth even at optimum temperatures.
Myth #5: “The Debate about Climate Change Is Unsettled”
You’ll often hear the number 97% bantered about concerning climate change. That refers to 97% of scientists supporting that climate change is happening and is being accelerated by humans. Actually, when you dig into the numbers, you’ll find that 100% of all scientists agree that humans are contributing to changes in climate. The debate (or that missing 3%) has to do with what kind of impact that change will have on the planet.
Here’s the thing about peer review science: It is peer reviewed. That means a majority of like-minded scientists take a look at a paper or research and deem it quantifiable. If you want to get wonky, then try dig into Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature. Enjoy.
Ok, it’s long. Here’s the TLDR;
The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW is a necessary element in public support for climate policy (Ding et al 2011). However, there is a significant gap between public perception and reality, with 57% of the US public either disagreeing or unaware that scientists overwhelmingly agree that the earth is warming due to human activity (Pew 2012).
Myth #6: “You Can’t Trust Climate Scientists Because They’re Just Cashing In On Fear”
Let’s go to the Government Accountability Office. This is the group who follows the money. They found that although spending increased between 1993 and 2004 for climate change related projects, most of that money when towards conservation programs. The money that went into actual research dropped from 56% to 39%. So, if you’re a scientist hoping to score a big grant to check temperatures, it probably isn’t going to happen.
Myth #7: “It’s the Sun’s Fault”
“The planet’s heat comes from the sun, so it’s the sun’s fault that things are getting warmer.” That sounds logical but let’s go to the scientific data backing up those claims. Crickets. As in, there isn’t any statistically significant trend in tracking cosmic rays. Nice try.
Raymond Bradley of UMass, who has studied historical records of solar activity imprinted by radioisotopes in tree rings and ice cores, says that regional rainfall seems to be more affected than temperature. “If there is indeed a solar effect on climate, it is manifested by changes in general circulation rather than in a direct temperature signal.” This fits in with the conclusion of the IPCC and previous NRC reports that solar variability is NOT the cause of global warming over the last 50 years.
Myth #8: “It Was Way Warmer During Medieval Times”
There a few deniers who like to assert “studies” that show that it was a lot warmer during medieval times. Perhaps there were a few letters written by knights complaining of how stuffy it was in all that armor. However, any true data presented is based on mere conjecture. Plus, that date would be focused on just a few regions and not the entire planet. You know, all those places that weren’t even “discovered” during Medieval times.
Here’s the thing: the Medieval Warm Period was not a global phenomenon. Warmer conditions were concentrated in certain regions. Some regions were even colder than during the Little Ice Age. To claim the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today is to narrowly focus on a few regions that showed unusual warmth. However, when we look at the broader picture, we see that the Medieval Warm Period was a regional phenomenon with other regions showing strong cooling.
You want data? Skeptical Science has it.
The image below shows reconstructed surface temperature anomaly for Medieval Warm Period (950 to 1250 A.D.), relative to the 1961– 1990 reference period. Gray areas indicates regions where adequate temperature data are unavailable.
Now let’s compare to today (or close to “today”). The image below demonstrates the surface temperature anomaly for period 1999 to 2008, relative to the 1961– 1990 reference period. Gray areas indicates regions where adequate temperature data are unavailable (NOAA).
Boom: Roasted. (literally)
Myth #9: “Even If It Is A Problem It Will Cost Too Much To Fix”
Try taking that same approach to replacing your brake pads. There is no denying that making a total switch to renewable energies is going to cost a lot of money in the short term. However, the long-term impact of inaction could end up being far more costly. Not to mention, the economic gains that come from innovation and development of new energy systems in the industrial, commercial, and residential spaces.
Myth #10: “China Isn’t Doing Anything, So We Shouldn’t Either”
Actually, China is doing something about climate change. This notion that the U.S. shouldn’t do anything because the rest of the world is still polluting borders on the juvenile. When you do take a strong position, others will follow. It’s called leadership as in number one country in the world.
The facts are in. Scientific proof does support claims that climate change is real. As believers it’s not only important to reduce our own carbon footprints, but to spread the word about climate change and climate change initiatives. What are you going to do to help the planet? Are you a believer now?
To learn more and, more importantly, to demolish your climate change denying opponents in a debate, download a free copy of “The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism“, by John Cook.
This guest post was written by Megan Ray Nichols, who blogs regularly over at Schooled By Science.