SCIENCE

Climate change myths debunked: what you need to know

Jul 13, 2021, 10:18 AM | Updated: 10:33 am
climate change hottest month July...
Earth faced unprecedented heat in July, its hottest month on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Photo: solarseven/Shutterstock

Climate change myths abound, with the debate over the phenomenon taking on political significance. But how do you sort the fact from the fiction? 

All week long, we’re diving deep on the Utah Drought, including whether climate change plays a part. Listen live here

KSL’s fact checkers went to work to debunk the most common climate change myths you may hear. 

What is climate change? 

Climate change is “changes in the Earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns, and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gases, especially carbon dioxide,” according to the Australian Academy of Science

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, defines climate change more simply, as a change in the usual weather you might find in a specific location. 

While Earth’s climate has changed repeatedly in his history, the average global temperature rose about one degree Fahrenheit over the last century. 

According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, if you go back more than 100 years, surface temperatures of the Earth have risen two degrees since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

noaa graph of global temperatures climate change myths debunked

A measure of global surface temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. Source: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series/globe/land_ocean/ytd/12/1880-2019

That brings us to our list of climate change myths, debunked here. 

If CO2 is plant food, more of it brings more plants, right?

Wrong. 

Initially, carbon dioxide delivers a growth blast to plants, but once saturated with CO2, the effect levels off. Trees and plants can only absorb so much carbon dioxide. And as more countries cut down more forest land, that amount dwindles. According to NOAA, as more CO2 enters the Earth’s atmosphere, rain patterns change, temperatures rise and drought expands, negatively affecting crops and livestock. 

In fact the last time CO2 levels were as high as they are today, humans didn’t exist.

According to NOAA:

By drilling for ice cores and analyzing the air bubbles, scientists have found that, at no point during at least the past 800,000 years have atmospheric CO2 levels been as high as they are now.

Carbon dioxide can’t make a difference since it makes up 0.04% of Earth’s atmosphere

This is another one of the climate change myths we can debunk. While we do breathe in a small — very small — amount of carbon dioxide, even a small amount of CO2 has a large impact on temperatures. 

The power of CO2: Even though carbon dioxide is a tiny part of our atmosphere…(280 parts per million (ppm) in 1800s, Now 410 – i.e. 410 molecules of each 1 million molecules are CO2)…that CO2 has a huge effect. If you remove all CO2 Global temps drop 50 degrees F in 50 years! https://t.co/uWIaOle8yt

— Jeff Berardelli (@WeatherProf) November 20, 2019

 

chart debunks climate change myths

Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Data recorded over the past 60 years shows while temperatures rose globally, the amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also rose. 

Climate change is a naturally occurring weather event, not caused by humans

This is one of the climate change myths that persists, but it dismisses the facts of recent warming trends. 

The rapid rise in temperatures today cannot be explained by natural cycles of heating and cooling, scientists say. The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing since 1950, according to NASA.

  • In fact, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have all happened since 2001. And 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year on record.
  • Las Vegas tied its all-time record high of 117 degrees on Saturday afternoon.
  • On Saturday, St. George, Utah, also hit 117, setting another tie for an all-time high, according to the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
  • On June 15, 2021, Salt Lake City tied its record high of 107 degrees
  • On Friday, Death Valley reached 130 degrees, beating the previous world record of 129.9 degrees (54.4°C), set there on Aug. 16, 2020 and just off the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth: 134 degrees set on July 10, 1913, in Death Valley.
  • Between June 27 and June 29, Lytton in British Columbia broke the all-time Canadian high-temperature record over three straight days: the town reached 116 degrees on Sunday. The record was broken Monday with a high of 118 and again on Tuesday with an astonishingly high temperature of 121, according to AccuWeather.

Today’s warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over millennia, according to NASA.

Various analyses over many years have shown that between 90% and 100% of publishing climate scientists agree that humans are the main cause of our warming climate, according to CBS News.

If global warming is real, why is it cold outside?

“Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2018

Since the late 19th century, Earth was warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. During this time, cold snaps still occurred. It can be unseasonably cold where you are, but hot in other places.

In January 2019, a cold air outbreak swept across parts of the Northern Plains and Midwest. Temperatures dropped below (minus) 40 degrees, and wind chills blew near 60 degrees below zero. Yet, January 2019 was the Earth’s third-warmest January ever recorded. During that year, the Western US experienced temperatures 3 to 9 degrees above an average January while in Australia and Asia, temperatures were 7 degrees or more above normal, according to Yale Climate Connections.

In 2015, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor to “prove” climate change is a hoax.

The bottom line: an overall average temperature rise does not preclude the occasional cold snap. 

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

An actual tweet sent by Donald Trump on Nov. 6, 2012, according to PolitiFact. Account suspended Jan. 8, 2021.

This argument relies on the idea that China would want to put US manufacturing out of business. To be fair, that might be true — we can’t say that they’re NOT trying to do that. 

However, manufacturing is vitally important to both the United States and China. In fact, manufacturing accounted for  about 30% of China’s workforce which employed about 400 million citizens. Records from October 2020 show that 15.6 million or 4.8% of  Americans are employed in the manufacturing sector, according to manufacturing.gov.

In other words, climate change can and does negatively impact manufacturing in the US — but those same effects would only hit China — the world’s No. 1 manufacturer — even worse, according to Forbes. So the odds that China created climate change to hurt the US seems unlikely as a result. 

Do you have climate change myths you’d like us to check out? Email digitalcontentradio@bonneville.com and we’ll find the answers and add to this story. 

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Climate change myths debunked: what you need to know