Climate Change Myths
The "climate scientists" who deny global warming are, with one
or two exceptions, not actually climate scientists. They work at "institutes" that
are funded by big oil, and they are unable to publish their "findings" in
respected peer-reviewed scientific journals. They are out solely for number
Friends of Science (FoS) and Science
and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) are prime examples. (The Union
of Concerned Scientists has an excellent PDF available).
Groups like the FoS and the SPPI work in a way that might best be described
as throw-enough-shit-against-the-wall-and-surely-some-will-stick science.
But the term junk science will work just as well. They don't even bother
with people who have an understanding of how science works; they just work
on people who may not have the time to study the issue in depth. Anything
is fair game, and honesty matters not a whit. They can lie faster than
scientists can correct the misinformation.
In many ways, they are quite clever. Even scientists and the media who
face off against them have give them that. Often what they do is take a
grain a truth, and wrap it with a falsehood or unsupported conjecture that
seems to makes sense to non-scientists — even though its verifiably wrong.
They cherry pick facts, or find an instance where a result flies in the
face of commonsense (even if it's nevertheless true). After awhile, it
gets, very confusing. People believe elaborate lies. And even when you
explain it to them, they still believe the lies.
That's exactly what has happened with Dr.
James Hansen; good people actually believe that he's falsified information
to help Al Gore sell An Inconvenient Truth. But he's not the
only one. Sadly, it's happened again and again over the last 20 years.
Here are examples of five popular myths that are now accepted as truth
by global warming deniers. We'll keep adding to the list in
the coming weeks, and we'll link to other common Global Warming myths to
help you learn the truth, and realize that our time is growing short. (Also,
have a look at our Get Involved page).
Five Global Warming Myths
Myth # 1: In the 1970s, scientists were suggesting
that the world was cooling. They were wrong then, so why should we believe
Fact: The world did cool slightly between 1945 and the
1970s, so scientists might have been confused in 1970s. Only they weren't.
A thorough review of the scientific literature shows 44 peer-reviewed studies
were suggesting the world was warming, and only 7 studies suggested the
world might be cooling because soot and aerosol pollution might counteract
the CO2 warming effect.
Myth # 2 The world isn't warming, it's cooling, and it has been cooling
Fact: See how clever the deniers are? Truth to tell,
1998, with a very strong El Nino event, was the second warmest on year
on record. So if you compare, say, 1998 and 2002, you will find that 1998
But that doesn't mean the world is cooling, and that's not the comparison
you should be making. If you compare 2002 with any year in the 1960s, 1970s,
or 1980s, you'll find that find that 2002 was much warmer. And if you plot
the yearly temperature deviation from the mean for the last 130 years,
you'll get a graph that looks like this one.
See, here's the thing. It doesn't make sense mathematically to compare
one year to any other year. It does make sense to compare decades. In truth,
nine of the warmest 10 years on record have occurred in the last decade,
and the last decade has been the warmest our planet has seen in more than
Myth # 3: If human induced carbon emissions are responsible
for the slight half a degree Fahrenheit rise in the earth's temperature
since the 1970s, how do you explain the temperature increases during
the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) from 900-1300 prior to the invention of
the internal combustion engine?
Fact: Again, notice the cleverness: take a real event,
and suggest that it means more than it does. Depending on world events,
our climate does naturally warm and cool, so scientists confidently proclaim
that the world did go through a period of slight warming after the Dark
Ages and a period called the Little Ice Age (LIA) in the 1600 and 1700s.
I've watched as global warming deniers have used these events to promote
preposterous ideas, including one wag who suggested that Greenland is called
Greenland because it was ice free during the days of Eirik the Red, and
that Eastern Island is treeless now because the cold weather during the
LIA forced natives to burn the forests to stay warm. (It's far more complicated
But the point remains. Why did the Earth warm during the MWP? Well, the
first point is that we don't know if the entire planet warmed, as the data
is only conclusive for the North Hemisphere, which does appear to have
enjoyed a milder climate for three or four centuries.
Scientists don't know the exact causes, but expect a number of variables
came into play, including a shifting of ocean currents, a dearth of volcanic
eruptions, and a dramatic increase in solar activity. But even still, over
the 400-year course of the MWP, temperatures only rose by an estimated
Temperatures have risen by more than 1°C in the last century, and more
than 0.6°C in the last 30 years alone. As the above graph shows, that is
a dramatic spike. Nine of the warmest 10 years on record have occurred
in the last decade.
And the sad truth is that we haven't seen anything yet. If you go back
to the question above, you'll notice that the temperature increase since
1970 is described as slight, which totally ignores the fact that all that
separates humanity from another ice age, or a catastrophic rise in sea
level is just a few degrees Celsius.
Climate scientists are expecting global temperatures to rise by 4-6°C
over the next century, which is enough to eventually cause sea levels to
rise by up to two meters by 2100. The increased temperatures
will cut global food production by more than 30 percent, and create more
than 200 million environmental refugees, and destroy 30 percent of the
current infrastructure of North America.
Myth # 4. More than 17,000 American scientists —
two thirds with advanced degrees specializing in physics, geo-physics,
climatology, meteorology, oceanography, environmental science, chemistry,
and biochemistry — have signed a petition disputing the "consensus
view" that man is responsible for climate change. If there is a
scientific "consensus" that human carbon emissions are responsible
for "global warming" how would you characterize the scientists
who signed this petition? Are they merely heretical "deniers" in
the pocket of Big Oil companies?
Fact: Of all the oily tricks played by the global warming denier industry,
this is one of the oiliest. It's known as The Petition and, according
to some sites, the number of scientists who openly debate the global warming
consensus now stands at 31,000.
It's nothing more than a dirty trick organized by the Oregon Institute
of Science and Medicine.
The Petition Project was organized by Frederick Seitz, who is
a real scientist, and a former President of the National Academy of Science.
The project started by sending a so-called scientific study — really just
a diatribe written by global warming skeptics that was filled with half-truths
— asking "scientists" to sign a petition urging the US government
not to ratify the Kyoto Accord.
The petition and that accompanying letter were written on a letterhead
and in the style of a scientific paper that made it seem like it had been
published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, so it was designed
to be deceptive.
After the petition appeared, the NAS issued a press release. "The
NAS Council would like to make it clear that this petition has nothing
to do with the National Academy of Sciences and that the manuscript was
not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or
in any other peer-reviewed journal." It also said "The petition
does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy."
Nevertheless, 17,000 did sign the petition, and Seitz would have you believe
that all 17,000 - or 31,000 in 2008 - are working scientists with PhDs.
But when you look deeper into the list, it begins to fall apart. The vast
majority of signatories have nothing more than a bachelor's degree. By
Seitz's definition, I'm a scientist. As well, scattering among the number
of "scientists" are signatures by Spice Girl Dr. Geri Halliwell,
author John Grisham, Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Honeycutt from MASH.
Almost 10,000 signatures come from engineers, another 3,063 come from
physicians and veterinarians. I have no doubt that these professionals
are smart people, but it would be difficult to believe they are experts
on global warming.
But even if we allow their signatures to stand unchallenged, they prove
nothing. Even if more than 3,000 doctors signed the petition that would
mean that 99.7 percent of all doctors practicing in the US didn't sign
the petition, and 99.2 percent of US engineers didn't sign.
The Petition is a fraud and a deception.
Myth # 5: There are thousands of scientists who have
concluded that there is substantial scientific evidence that increased
atmospheric carbon dioxide can have beneficial effects on natural plant
and animal environments of the earth.
Fact: It's true that plants pull CO2 from the atmosphere
during photosynthesis, so this would seem to be a commonsense proposition.
But it ignores several essential truths; that global warming will flood
a great deal of arable land; that global warming will cause widespread
droughts, and dramatically decrease the water supply that now feeds billions
of people; that global food production is expected to drop by more than
30 percent if the planet warms just a couple of degrees.
In any event, plant growth today isn't limited by the amount of CO2 available.
It's limited by water supply and by soil nutrients. Any increase in carbon
dioxide isn't going to create a lush planet.
For more myths, and the facts that demolish them, see How
to Talk to a Skeptic at Grist.
See our Global Warming Resources
page for more information on the science. In particular, I'd point
you to the New
The Challenge: Environment & Economy| Climate
Change Science | Misinformation | Our
Campaigns | Clean Tech | Blog | Get
Involved | Climate Change
Resources | OBM Store | About
OBM | Home |
Campaign # 1: The Red Letter Campaign
The Red Letter Campaign: Let's put
Ignatieff on notice | Red Letter Day: Let Environment Canada Scientists
Campaign # 2: Canada's Sorry Environmental Record
Canada: World's Worst Climate
Villain | Turning the Corner:
Conservative Disaster | Harper
and Climate Change |
Campaign #3: Slow the Tar Sands
Alberta Tar Sands (Overview) | Alberta
Tar Sands: Modern Parable | Alberta
Tar Sands 2 | Alberta Tar Sands
3 | Alberta Tar Sands 4
Campaign # 4: Old King Coal (Coming Soon)
Campaign # 5: One Voice (Coming Soon)
USA: Supporting Obama's Leadership
The Global Warming Denial Campaign
Astroturfing & Misinformation |
Climate Change Denial
Industry | Climate Change Myths