Climate change has been in the news almost every day, so it's not unlikely it 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, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the UK Met Office and other groups ranked 2017 in at least the top three warmest years on record. Since records of annual temperatures began in 1880, the six warmest years have all occurred since 2010, an alarming trend.
This reconfirms what we know about climate change — that global mean temperatures are rising and that the impacts of climate change are accelerating.
- Climate models are even more accurate than you thought
- The new normal: Last year was among the hottest on record, researchers say
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 of their existing range, for example.
But on balance, global warming's effects are a laundry list of awful:
- Worsening droughts
- Increase in human deaths due to heat waves — indeed, some places in the Middle East may become uninhabitable altogether
- The mass die-off of certain species, not least polar bears
- Acidification of the ocean, affecting a major source of our food
- Rainforests becoming emitters, not absorbers, of carbon
- Intensified human conflict or wars over scarcer resources
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. Yet, as one of the world’s highest per-capita polluters, the U.S. has its work cut out.
- Everything you need to know about the U.S.–China climate change agreement
- Solar energy’s price drop, ahead of schedule, could help save the planet
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.
A report released this year issued an ominous warning: The world is on track to blow past the limit at which runaway climate change will upend life as we know it. Even with commitments made to date under the 2015 Paris Agreement, the largest global accord on climate change, we will overshoot Earth's "carbon budget" in a matter of a few years.
When a report like this comes out, we're presented with choices: give in to despair and fatalism, or keep working. It's easy to throw your hands up and assume that a ghastly climate future is sealed.
But we can avoid the worst that is yet to come. The solution is in our back yard: nature.
Simply protecting and restoring forests will get us about a third of the way to keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Trees are the original carbon-sequestration tech, and new research continues to open our eyes to their promise as allies in the effort to halt climate change.