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. Most Americans say they “rarely” or “never” discuss global warming with family or friends, though 74 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.
Fact is, the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2010 – with 2023 widely expected to be the hottest year on record, according to scientists.
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.
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.
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 until 2030 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.