The data doesn’t lie: average global temperatures have risen by about two degrees Fahrenheit in the past century, and even more in polar areas. In addition, of the 17 warmest years on record, 16 have taken place since 2001. Skeptics may attribute these trends to coincidence or natural climate cycles, but the scientific consensus overwhelmingly holds human activity responsible for recent changes in climate.
A handful of arguments have been popularized which claim to profess “the truth” about climate change; they assert, for instance, that the world is actually cooling down, or that climate change is harmless or beneficial. In Siberia, for example, Soviet scientists referred to climate change as the “Garden of Eden Effect” rather than the “Greenhouse Effect” Many of these claims are misleading at best, and intentionally deceptive at worst.
The evidence for such climate “truths” is often about as reliable as what we’ve gathered in support of the Loch Ness monster, Sasquatch, leprechauns, Piltdown Man, or other famous myths once widely believed. Proponents of such views use this scant “evidence” to draw conclusions through unsound methods, often employing circular logic, exaggerating the significance of certain data, or basing their premises on other forms of pseudoscience. The following will help distinguish scientific consensus from “the truth” about climate change.
Myth 1: There is no scientific consensus on climate change
In 2004, Naomi Oreskes, a professor of science history at Harvard, reviewed over 900 research papers on global warming. She did not find a single one refuting the idea that humans were at least 50% responsible for global warming. Subsequent studies carried out between 2009-2010 reached a similar conclusion after surveying researchers and analyzing public statements on climate change.
A 2013 study by John Cook looked over 20 years of climate data, and found that 97% of scientists agreed that humanity plays a significant role. In addition, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–a UN-managed organization tasked with providing an objective view of climate change– in 2014 released its AR5 report analyzing 20,000 peer-reviewed papers.
The AR5 states: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history…warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.”
Myth 2: Global temperatures are actually dropping.
Originators of this belief follow a nonscientific process: they start from the conclusion that the world is really getting colder, isolate particular locations with weather patterns conforming to their preconception, then improperly generalize their findings to support their theory of worldwide cooling.
In reality, hundreds of record high and low temperatures might be set every day. While a balanced, or cooling climate would see a ratio of highs to lows of 1:1 or lower, rates instead trend toward record highs; across the entire US, for instance, high low ratios held at 2:1 throughout the 2000s, with high rates increasing even more in recent years.
Myth 3: Climate change isn’t a threat
Every year, millions are forced from their homes due floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters. The buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere contributes, at least in part, to the formation of extreme weather events. In a warmer environment, water evaporates and accumulates quickly, worsening floods. Hurricanes are strengthened by the additional energy absorbed from warmer ocean waters, and longer, more intense heat waves exacerbate droughts. One might conclude from this that some “natural” disasters are no longer entirely natural.
While no statement–climate-related or otherwise–should be accepted unequivocally, climate change deniers have a nasty habit of peddling falsehoods drenched in the same flavor of dishonesty they claim to refute. It’s essential that those with the power to effect change examine any theory–no matter its conclusion–with a healthy dose of skepticism, and a careful evaluation of the analytical methods used.