Top 10 Climate Change Myths BUSTED

Update from 2023: 10 myths about climate change – and how to debunk them

Transcript

Is global warming a hoax? What if the Earth is actually getting cooler? The climate has always been changing, so what’s the big deal? Myths and disinformation about climate change are all around us. But while it can be a controversial and politically charged topic in some parts of the world, the climate crisis is not a matter of opinion, or about which political party you support. It’s rooted in hard evidence that scientists have been collecting for decades. So today, we’re going to debunk 10 of the most common climate change myths. Let’s dive right in.

Myth number 1: global warming stopped in 1998. Here’s a chart showing average global temperatures since the year 1880, which clearly shows that the Earth has gotten warmer, especially since the 1920s. Here’s another view of the same data, but this time stretching back to 1850, which again shows a warming trend over the last 100 years. But wait a minute. What if we zoom in to take a closer look at the data, let’s say, for the period between 1998 and 2012? If we only look at that period, the Earth hasn’t gotten any warmer since 1998! Well, first of all, that’s cherry picking. But it is true that the Earth did warm more slowly during the period from 1998 to 2012 than it did in the 20 to 30 years prior. And yes, global warming slowed down, but it certainly didn’t stop. Climate scientists call it a “global warming hiatus”, and it was mainly caused by a natural cycle in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño–Southern Oscillation. There was also a decrease in energy from the sun, which we’ll talk about later. The reason it’s called a hiatus is that the slowdown was only temporary, and since 2012, the planet has continued to warm faster than ever. In fact, each of the last nine years, from 2013 to 2021, rank among the 10 hottest years on record – not to mention that the period from 2011 to 2020 was the hottest decade ever recorded. So no, global warming didn’t stop in the 90s. In fact, every single year since 2013 has been even hotter than 1998.

Myth number 2: Global warming has stopped, and the world is getting cooler. And chances are, it’s cold where you are right now! So, let’s just ignore all of the signs that the Earth is getting hotter, from rising air, land and sea temperatures to rising sea levels to melting glaciers to spring arriving earlier… and let’s focus instead on the fact that it gets cold sometimes! There’s a big difference between weather and climate. Weather is what it’s like right now – whether it’s hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, rainy or dry. Climate is about long-term averages: it’s about how the weather usually is at a given place and time. And the reason we call it “climate change” and not “weather change” is that the Earth as a whole is getting hotter over a span of decades – not necessarily everywhere and every day. So, there will still be cold days even though the Earth is getting hotter overall. In fact, we’re probably going to see even more extreme weather not just in summer but also in winter. As the Arctic gets hotter, it’s destabilizing the polar vortex, bringing freezing temperatures to places that don’t normally see snow, like Texas and northern Mexico. In other words: global warming can be cold, too. But wait a minute: how do we know that it’s going to continue to get warmer? Scientists rely on models to predict climate change.

Myth number 3 is that those models aren’t reliable, and that scientists wrongly predicted an ice age back in the 1970s. Models are mathematical representations of reality that can be used to estimate general trends. Climate modeling is a lot like weather forecasting: it makes predictions based on things like wind patterns, ocean currents, and changes in temperature, only that these predictions take place over a much longer span of time, usually decades or even centuries. We can already tell how accurate a climate model is by hindcasting, which means running it using data from the past to see how well it can predict events and trends that have already happened. It turns out the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been pretty accurate at predicting temperature changes since 1970, which they managed to hindcast to within 8%–17%. And in this recent study, 14 out of 17 models managed to accurately predict global warming between 1970 and 2007. But back to the whole ice age saga: Back in the late 1960s and 70s, only a few studies predicted that the Earth would get cooler. The vast majority quite rightly thought it would get warmer.

Myth number 4: Antarctica is gaining ice rather than losing it. Most scientists agree that the eastern part of Antarctica is gaining mass in the form of either ice, snowfall, or both. That’s because as the continent gets warmer, it’s becoming more humid, leading to increased snowfall. West Antarctica, on the other hand, is losing mass faster than ever as global warming causes its glaciers to melt, which is contributing to rising sea levels. But back in 2015, NASA published a study that contradicted every other study up to that point. It found that Antarctica is gaining ice overall because snowfall in East Antarctica is increasing more quickly than glaciers in West Antarctica are melting. The study concluded that Antarctica was not contributing to rising sea levels as a result. The NASA study was instantly picked up by conservative news outlets like Fox News and Breitbart as proof that global warming wasn’t real. But other scientists quickly pointed out some issues with the study’s methodology, and many more recent studies have found that the NASA study probably overestimated how quickly East Antarctica is gaining mass. Today, the scientific consensus is that Antarctica is still losing ice overall, and the NASA study is the only one that suggests otherwise.

That brings us onto myth number 5: scientists aren’t really sure if climate change is real, and there’s no scientific consensus. But multiple studies have shown that at least 90% of climate scientists agree that climate change is not only real but also primarily caused by humans. There have been four studies that find that 97% of publishing climatologists agree with that statement, while other studies put that figure at 91%, 93%, 99%, or even 100%. What’s interesting about these studies is that they found that the more qualified an expert is, the more likely they are to agree with the consensus. Climatologists who publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals are the most likely to say that climate change is mainly caused by humans, while among non-publishing climatologists, that consensus drops to 66%–87%. And let’s not forget the crown jewel of climate science, the IPCC, which brings together hundreds of leading experts to produce the definitive assessments on climate change. According to its latest report, not only are humans causing climate change, but we’re already suffering the effects of more frequent disasters like droughts, heatwaves and floods, which are only going to get worse if we don’t act quickly.

Myth number 6: so, we’ve established that global warming is real. But what if it’s just some sort of natural phenomenon? Well, here’s the Earth’s atmosphere, which keeps us warm by trapping heat from the sun using gases like carbon dioxide, methane and ozone, which are collectively known as greenhouse gases, and their warming effect is known as the greenhouse effect. If the Earth didn’t have an atmosphere, it would be around 33°C colder than it really is, making it almost totally uninhabitable for humans. Temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been closely linked throughout the Earth’s history. During the Eocene, which was between 56 million and 34 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels were almost four times higher than they are today, at around 1,500 parts per million, which is why temperatures were about 10°C hotter. During the last ice age, on the other hand, they were between 180 and 300 ppm. But here’s where we come in: each year, humans are emitting about 9.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, plus an additional 1.5 billion tons through deforestation. Today, carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years, at 420 ppm. That’s why the Earth has gotten about 1.2°C hotter since the late 19th century. It’s almost double the warming at the end of the last ice age, and it’s happening at least 100 times faster. The only reason for that is us.

That is, unless you believe myth number 7: the sun is burning brighter and making the Earth hotter. The sun’s energy has actually been decreasing since the 1980s, and yet the Earth is still getting hotter. If the sun were getting brighter, we would see that reflected across the entire atmosphere. But instead, only the lower atmosphere is getting warmer while the upper atmosphere is getting cooler, and that’s because more and more heat is being trapped in the lower atmosphere by the greenhouse gases that we’re emitting. But in any case, solar fluctuations only have a very minor impact on the Earth’s temperature – in the range of about 0.1°C at most. So, there’s no way it could have caused the 1.2°C of warming so far. So, remember how I said that the Earth used to be 10°C hotter back in the Eocene?

Myth number 8: the climate is constantly changing, and it has been warmer in the past, so it’s no big deal, right? There are natural cycles that cause the Earth’s climate to fluctuate between cooler and warmer periods. For instance, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean consisting of a warm phase called El Niño and a cool phase called La Niña, and it swings back and forth between the two phases every 3–7 years. And the Earth also fluctuates between cold periods, otherwise known as ice ages, and warmer periods, known as interglacials, roughly every 100,000 years due to what are known as Milankovitch cycles, which are fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit and tilt. But the warming that we’re seeing today isn’t part of any of these natural cycles. The Earth hasn’t been this hot in at least 12,000 years – and perhaps even 125,000 years.

And on that note, here’s myth number 9: the benefits from climate change outweigh the costs. It’s true that a few regions of the world could experience benefits from climate change. Canada and Russia, for instance, could gain huge areas of farmland that are currently too cold for farming, as well as new shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean. But even those countries are already suffering from melting permafrost and raging wildfires in the Arctic, which is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the Earth. And for everyone else, there aren’t really any benefits from climate change. According to the latest IPCC report, over 40% of the world’s population is “highly vulnerable”, and by that, they mean half the world currently suffers from water shortages at some point every year, one in three people are exposed to deadly heat stress, a billion people could be affected by rising sea levels by 2050, and an extra 180 million people will go hungry by 2050 due to crop failure caused by extreme weather. So, the climate has changed before, but humans have never experienced this much warming this quickly, and it’s going to be rough.

And lastly, myth number 10: climate change solutions are too expensive and would hurt the economy. According to this study, the world could lose up to 18% of its GDP by 2050 if we do nothing, and 11% even if we manage to keep global warming to 2°C. And by 2100, climate change could cost 37% of global GDP, based on this study. But we don’t even have to look that far into the future. In just the next five years, companies will lose US$1.2 trillion to supply chain disruption from climate change. On the other hand, it could cost less than 1% of global GDP to mitigate climate change by 2030 using cost-effective solutions like improving energy efficiency, expanding renewable energy, and restoring forests and degraded landscapes. So, there you have it: next time you hear someone repeating any of these myths, you know the drill: send them this video. And if you like what you saw, don’t forget to drop us a like, leave us a comment, and hit that subscribe button for more episodes of Landscape TV.

Thanks for watching, and we’ll see you on the next one.

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