Climate change is in the news almost every day. Maybe it’s also coming up at your dinner table — and triggering tense conversations with friends and family who don’t believe it’s real.
If you’ve been avoiding this tricky topic, you’re not alone. About two-thirds of Americans say they “rarely” or “never” discuss global warming with family or friends, though 70 percent believe it’s happening, according to a study from Yale University and George Mason University.
We're here to help you navigate the climate talk and (gently) bust five common myths, so you can have more meaningful discussions that help spur understanding and action.
Myth No. 1: The science is not settled: The climate is always changing! If the planet is getting warmer, 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 his baseball team is losing.) Day-to-day fluctuations in temperature are less significant than broader average changes. And those changes take time to detect.
Here's the thing: Scientists have been measuring the atmosphere and other environmental indicators for many years, and there's overwhelming evidence showing that global average temperatures are indeed rising alongside levels of greenhouse gases. This brings extreme weather, such as more intense and unpredictable storms, floods, droughts and heat waves.
Myth No. 2: Weather predictions can be wrong — perhaps the climate predictions are wrong too.
Scientists 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 are a bit different from predicting whether it's going to snow during the big game.
The fact is, the last six years have been the hottest on record — with 2020 and 2016 tied as the hottest years ever. Global warming is not a phenomenon of the future, it’s here now.
- Study confirms climate models are getting future warming projections right
- Global warming isn’t just a natural cycle
Myth No. 3: So the planet gets warmer — isn’t that a good thing?
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 as cold regions become more temperate, for example.
But on balance, around the world global warming spells disaster.
- Worsening droughts and wildfires will threaten human health, agriculture and property.
- Hotter temperatures will bring lethal heat waves — indeed, some places in the Middle East may become uninhabitable.
- One million animal and plant species could face extinction due to climate change and human activities.
- Acidification of the ocean will affect a wide variety of marine species, including coral reefs — epicenters of biodiversity, and linchpins of economies and food security.
- Rainforests will become emitters, not absorbers, of carbon, which would rapidly accelerate the planet’s warming.
- Armed conflicts over scarce resources will intensify.
These are just a few of the impacts we can expect from global warming. Though you may prefer balmy weather, a considerably warmer world will affect you in more ways than you can imagine — mostly for the worse.
- Global warming 101: The past, present and future of climate change
- Climate change recognized as ‘threat multiplier,’ UN Security Council debates its impact on peace
Myth No. 4: Even if the climate is changing — Western countries are not the problem, China is.
Climate change is a global problem that will require a global solution.
China is investing heavily in renewable energy and spurring innovations in solar power (while bringing down the price of solar energy for everyone). Still, China has a long way to go. And so do many other countries that are not living up to the goals they set to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
- China’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2060 explained
- The price of solar energy has dropped 89% in 10 years
Myth No. 5: It’s too big of a problem, and it’s too late to do anything about.
The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that the climate is in crisis — we have about 10 years to drastically cut our carbon emissions or humanity will suffer devastating consequences.
It's easy to throw your hands up. Climate change can feel overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.
But there is a solution: nature.
Most emissions cuts must come from ending the use of fossil fuels. But even if the world stops using fossil fuels completely, we will fail to avert the worst impacts of climate change if we do not also reverse the destruction of ecosystems — such as old-growth forests and mangroves — that absorb and store carbon. Research shows these ecosystems could account for at least 30 percent of global action needed to avoid the worst climate scenarios.
- We can limit global warming to 1.5 degrees — with nature’s help
- Study: Protect these places or face climate doom