It's about time we stopped believing, repeating, or even acknowledging these 10 most persistent myths about climate change on which deniers rely.
Though more and more people across the world are realizing that climate change is real and we're its leading cause, there's still a surprising number of deniers who refuse to accept what's going on and what must be done about it. This is dangerous, as collective action is needed now rather than later—so we can't simply wait for the right people to come around. We must all put pressure on governments and corporations immediately, and for that, we first need to dispel some of the most pervasive myths surrounding climate change—myths that deniers are still using to try and turn a blind eye to the problem.
Myth #1: Global warming isn't real because some places are still cold
There's a big difference between weather and climate—they should not be confused. Weather refers to specific, often local conditions of the atmosphere over short periods of time. Climate, on the other hand, refers to the atmosphere's behavior over far longer time intervals—from decades to centuries.
That sometimes a particular place gets really cold has nothing to do with whether global climate is cooler or warmer. That's like saying a day isn't cloudy because some sunshine just happens to peek through right where you're standing, while the rest of the city is covered by clouds.
Another example: think of a mountain. Any given mountainous region has ups and downs, but the terrain tends to go higher towards the peak nonetheless. Now imagine that, as you're climbing, you reach a valley where you actually have to walk down for a while before going up again. Now imagine that someone walking beside you suddenly yells, "there's no mountain, because we're actually going down right now!" That sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn't it? That person is denying the existence of a mountain on the basis of a small decrease in its terrain, which is utterly absurd. Well, that's kind of what people who deny global warming on the basis of cold regions sound like.
Myth #2: There is no scientific consensus on climate change
According to several studies, over 97% of the scientific community agrees that climate change is happening, that it's accelerated by human activity, and that there are specific steps we could be taking in order to tackle it. In fact, it's likely that the consensus has passed 99%, according to John Cook, the lead author of several studies on the subject. That's basically as much agreement as you can get on any given topic.
So, yeah, there's no doubt left among experts on the field and scientists in general that anthropogenic (i.e. man-made) climate change is real.
Myth #3: Climate has always changed, it's a natural cycle
This is one of the most repeated myths out there, and it's about time it dies out. While it's indeed true that climate has changed many times in the past, natural cycles usually take millennia to develop. The rate at which temperatures are rising now is certainly not natural. Changes that would take thousands of years are happening in a matter of mere decades, which is why scientists are so alarmed.
The only factor that could possibly cause this disruption has to do with the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, which prevent heat from leaving the atmosphere. These levels, in turn, perfectly correspond to what humans have been doing since the Industrial Revolution by burning coal, oil, gas, etc. In short, no other factor could account for what we're seeing, while human activity perfectly does. That's pretty conclusive evidence that we're significantly accelerating climate change.
Myth #4: Volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activity
Which brings us to our next myth. Some people actually want to claim that humans don't release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as scientists would have you believe, so we're not the main culprit for climate change. Volcanoes, these people say, emit far more CO2 than humans ever could. But that's simply false.
Volcanoes do shed carbon dioxide naturally, but we're not in a particularly noteworthy era of high volcanic activity. As a matter of fact, volcanoes currently emit less than 1% of the total emissions of CO2, far less than just a single dimension of human activity.
Myth #5: We won't see any harmful effects for generations
We're actually seeing the terrible effects of climate change as you're reading these lines. Global temperatures are at their highest since humanity began measuring and recording their trends. 17 of the 18 warmest years ever recorded have taken place since 2001, which itself has major effects on the farming industry which are already all-too palpable to ignore.
The clock's ticking as the point of no return nears—the moment where it'll be too late to take any action. Right now, we can still implement measures on an international scale to keep average temperatures beneath 2ºC (anything higher would be devastating not only for the economy, but for our way of life and that of millions of other species).
Experts estimate that by 2050 we'll be facing catastrophic consequences all over the planet, with many such issues already present now. Sea levels are rising, crucial species are going extinct, the ocean's acidification is increasing (threatening the marine ecosystems we rely on), extreme weather caused by climate change makes natural disasters (like hurricanes, floods, or fires) far more likely. Certain regions on the planet are undergoing desertification, land is becoming unusable, which is in turn increasing the rates of climate refugees along the Equator.
Economic systems are collapsing already and we're actually the last generation that can do anything about it. So, yeah, future generations might have it worse—but that doesn't mean we shouldn't act now.
Myth #6: Extreme weather has nothing to do with climate change
Speaking of extreme weather patterns, some people think that the higher rate at which we're experiencing them is just a coincidence that has nothing to do with climate change. That's incorrect.
The whole climate is a well-regulated, fragile system of interconnected weather patterns across the entire planet. Change the overall pattern in some way, and you'll get a ripple effect with consequences being felt everywhere in some way or another. Man-made climate change is disrupting these delicate patterns, causing all sorts of weather abnormalities to wreak havoc at an international scale. Sometimes we get droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves, but polar vortices and other extreme phenomena on the colder side can also be caused by a number of factors, including changes in the ocean's salt levels and disruption of ocean currents, which have massive effects on how weather behaves in many regions.
Myth #7: A slightly higher average temperature could actually be good for us
That brings us to the next important point. Though a rise of a couple of degrees on average global temperature might not sound so threatening, it actually has a considerable effect on various ecosystems whose balance relies on stable temperatures.
Also, consider that we're talking about global averages, which probably means that some regions see massive changes while others have to deal with minimal effects. The fact that it doesn't seem so drastic leads many to claim that overall global warming is a good thing, as otherwise uninhabitable areas become ripe for human exploitation. But that assessment doesn't take into account the cost: many places are becoming uninhabitable as we speak, and key species to our own survival are going extinct by the thousands, especially insects—who rely on carefully-timed life cycles to thrive. These cycles are fundamentally based on, you guessed it, temperatures, so a two-degree increment actually disrupts the balance of life beyond repair.
Myth #8: Plants need carbon dioxide and they will take care of the problem
Yes, plants do need carbon dioxide. They also need water, but that doesn't mean pouring too much over them is good for their health. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere far exceeds what all the plants in the world can consume and turn into oxygen. Species on earth hadn't seen this amount of carbon dioxide for 800,000 years—and the planet was a very different place back then.
Myth #9: Humans and other species will simply adapt to climate change
There's simply not enough time to adapt when drastic changes take place over decades instead of millennia. Sure, some species will survive and eventually their offspring will be highly adapted to their new environment in hundreds of thousands of years, but humans will not likely be among the survivors if the current trend continues. At this rate, only incredibly-resilient critters will come out the other side of the climate crisis.
Myth #10: Doing anything about it is too expensive anyway (or outright impossible)
There are cost-effective measures we can take, like moving towards biofuels and renewable energies—which are getting cheaper by the year. Changing our habits internationally can effectively slow down climate change to the point where we might be able to survive it and adapt. So yes, since our activities are the problem, keeping our bad habits in check will certainly help solve it. Plus, the economic cost of not doing anything far outweighs the cost of implementing good environmental policies.
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