With the Paris climate talks in the news this holiday season, it’s not unlikely that climate change will be a topic of dinnertime discussion, though it remains a touchy subject for some. How can you talk passionately and knowledgeably about climate change — while still maintaining cordial family relations?
We’re here to help you bust — gently — five common myths about climate change, and to offer some online resources that help to explain things in an accessible way.
Myth No. 1: The science is not settled: The climate is always changing! Why is it cold out?
Think of climate as a personality, and today’s weather as its mood. (Grandpa may have a cheery personality, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get grumpy when the Packers are losing.) The day-to-day temperature is less significant than broader average changes to temperature, and changes to the climate (personality) take time to detect in a way that is not immediately visible when you’re talking about the weather (mood).
Here’s the thing: Scientists have been measuring the atmosphere and other environmental indicators for many years, and there’s an overwhelming tide of evidence showing that global average temperatures are indeed rising alongside levels of greenhouse gases. With climate change goes more extreme weather, such as more intense and unpredictable storms, floods and droughts.
Myth No. 2: Weather predictions can be wrong — perhaps the climate predictions are wrong.
While nothing is truly certain about predictions, scientists already have a good track record when it comes to modeling what our climate is going to look like on our present course. Remember, predictions about long-term climate trends is a bit different from predicting whether it’s going to snow during the big game.
The fact is, 2015 is already shaping up to be
the hottest year in recorded history, and the five hottest years before that have all come since 1998. Overall, computer climate models continue to be proved accurate — unfortunately for the planet.
Myth No. 3: So the planet gets warmer — isn’t that a
It’s possible that there will be some winners as a result of global warming (beyond folks who don’t like snow) —
some crops will be easier to grow farther north of their existing range, for example.
But on balance, the global warming’s effects are a laundry list of awful:
These are just a few. Even though you may prefer the weather in Florida to Minnesota, a considerably warmer world will affect you in more ways than you can imagine — mostly for the worse.
Myth No. 4: Even if the climate is changing — Western countries are not the problem, China is.
Correct: One country can’t go it alone — climate change is a global problem that will require a global solution.
That said, China is
investing heavily in renewable energy and
spurring innovations in solar power (while bringing down the price of solar energy for everyone). Let’s be honest: China
still has a long way to go. But last year’s
U.S.-China agreement to curb carbon emissions is a sign that two of the world’s largest polluters are serious about tackling the problem — and that joint action is possible to address climate change.
As one of the world’s highest per-capita polluters, the U.S. has its work cut out.
Myth No. 5: It’s too big of a problem, and it’s too late to do anything about.
While it’s true that climate change is a huge, complex problem that will require bold action from all sectors, it’s not too late avoid catastrophic impacts. The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) reports that it is still possible to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — if we lower global emissions by 40%-70% by 2050.
Part of the solution will be to transition to renewable energy sources. This is already happening —
and quicker than many expected. (It’s also going to be
more complicated than many expected, as new-energy jobs are gained and old-energy jobs are phased out.)
But a frequently overlooked solution is right in front of us: nature. In fact, nature provides some of the most economical, sustainable and effective means available for addressing the climate challenge. The destruction of tropical forests alone is
responsible for about 10% of all global emissions. Stopping deforestation is a good start.