Climate change myths

Climate change myths are widely held beliefs about the way the Earth's climate works. The problem is what, if anything, about climate change is a myth?

It can be very difficult to find out the truth.

Myths are legends, traditions and folklore often told as stories of heroes or supernatural beings that can be used to explain aspects of human behavior. The creation of legends and stories has always helped to glamorize or idealise an idea. It can be especially helpful if the idea is complex to grasp or beyond the scope of the everyday.

The problem is that the story is just that, a fabrication, used to explain in believable terms things that might be hard to believe.

Some people believe that climate change itself is a myth. The climate change deniers claim that climate change is a fabrication to try and slow down economic activity or simply to hoodwink the public to support the political ends of the left.

Others are less belligerent. They accept climate change but are skeptical that the current warming is a result of human activity [climate change skeptics]. More likely, they say, it is just part of the cycles of change that have gone on ever since the earth formed.

The believers in anthropogenic climate change seem to know for certain that humans are responsible for global warming and that releasing all that fossil fuel was simply irresponsible. Warming is our fault.

To highlight what they see as an irrational deed, some believers are starting to call their toddlers 'generation hot'.

More moderate believers in climate change agree that natural climate cycles are important too, but that human actions have not helped.

Conviction is often strong either way.

climate change myths baobabs

Climate change myths resonate and grow in the community because:

  • when positions are opposed it is often a human necessary to win the argument
  • fuzzy or inclusive evidence makes the argument easier to bend - a good example is the correlation between greenhouse gases and global warming that implies but does not prove a causal link
  • psychologically we prefer the 'known' because 'unknowns' make us uncomfortable - this means we will choose to believe, even if it might not be true, rather than sit in the uncomfortable limbo of uncertainty
  • consensus is a powerful force

Here are some random examples of climate change myths propogated from the green end of town:

  • we can stop global warming
  • global warming will cause mass extinctions
  • the floods and cyclones are evidence of climate change
  • we must commit to emission reductions of 20% below 1990 levels
  • we must keep below 360ppm CO2 in the atmosphere

Here are some from the deniers:

  • there is no global warming
  • global warming will make it easier to grow crops where it is currently too cold
  • climate change is a normal part of nature and we have nothing to do with it
  • fighting climate change is a waste of money
  • CO2 have been more than double 360ppm in the past so why worry

Not surprising when there is a spread of views and noisy advocates at both ends of the spectrum, the truth can be hard to find.

What aspects of the climate debate are truthful and what are myths, those stories to be told?

How to spot climate change myths

Here are four tips on how to spot a climate change fabrication, a cliam that is just out there without any support and ideas that simply don't make any sense:

1) When the claim at the heart of the story seems fanciful or just not quite believable for a rational world - polar bears will go extinct as a result of global warming

Polar bears have been around for a very long time so the species has survived both warming and cooling climate events. A warming period is not the end of the world for them — hunting is a far more serious pressure.  

2) when the source of the claim is not given.

The climate change debate has claimed numerical evidence for both sides of the argument. It is important to know where the climate change evidence comes from and the credibility of the source. 

3) where the scientific data used to support the myth is derived, such as with a ratio or percentage

It is easy to take data and massage it into a shape that supports your argument. For example, if the CEO of a company proudly announces that after a good year of sales all staff will receive a 15% bonus on their base salary, realise that this is a great deal for the CEO.  

4) when the claim has a statistical ring to it be especially cautious of the claim - even professional statisticians can find probabilities tricky enough to interpret

What to do with suspected climate change myths

Use Occam's razor.

That is, take the simplest option that presents itself.

Don't believe everything you read in the papers (even though this is easier said than done) and if you come across a statement or idea that you can't put down then read a counter claim - it is unwise to listen to only side of any story as all stories have at least two sides to them.

Above all, go with your intuition because gut feel often makes a whole heap of sense.

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