How Climate Activists Hurt the Case for Man Made Climate Change

climate-change-activistI’m going to examine the climate reality project’s The 12 Questions Every Climate Activist Hears and What to Say. Let me start by saying that by calling yourself an activist, you immediately give up any claim to an unbiased scientific opinion. Let’s see if this “handy guide” to the most common arguments against the reality of man-made climate change delivers on its promise to tell us “why they’re totally wrong”. Note that I’m only including quotes from the document. Please refer to the original for full context.

HOW CAN THERE BE GLOBAL WARMING WHEN THERE’S A SNOWSTORM?

The simple answer to this question is that climate and weather are not the same thing. Analogy: How can the days be shorter in winter when its light out at the moment?

BUT IT HASN’T GOTTEN WARMER FOR, LIKE, 15 YEARS, RIGHT?

Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record globally have occurred since 2000. Global
data shows that 2014 was the hottest yet, and 2015 is likely to be another record-
breaker too.

According to UAH satellite data for global temperature in the lower atmosphere, this is untrue. 1998 was hotter than any year other than 2016.

Compare this to the chart in the article:

LandSurfaceAirTemperature

They have cut the graph off at the high point, and are showing 2000 as high, when by 2000, the temperature had dropped back to early nineties levels.

BUT NOT EVEN THE SCIENTISTS AGREE, RIGHT?

Wrong. More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree it’s happening and it’s because of us.

This is false. This claim has been thoroughly debunked by one of the UN IPCC’s own lead authors, Dr. Richard Tol. In his blog post on the subject (read it for the full excoriation), he points out:

  • Consensus has no place in science
  • The claim was that 97% of articles, not scientists, were pro human climate change
  • The claim was that humans had some impact on climate, not that it was dominant
  • The claim was not reproducible

SCIENTISTS CAN’T EVEN PREDICT THE WEATHER, MUCH LESS THE CLIMATE

Climate scientists can’t tell you with 100-percent certainty how much the world will warm in 100 years (the planet has some pretty complex systems and scientists are understanding more and more about them every year). But they can say with certainty that the world will continue to warm, especially if we continue on our business-as-usual path of burning ever more fossil fuels, and the more carbon pollution we put in the atmosphere, the worse things will get.

This is true. The problem with the statement is that the IPCC’s scientists are predicting that the world will warm a lot (3 degrees by 2100), but the predictions are based on models, not measurements. If the world warms by only 1/2 a degree, it’s not as much of a problem. Eliminating CO2 is costly, those costs will have to be born, and while those who are well off can absorb price increases, those already struggling to get by can not. Determining what the true forcings (feedback effects) are will allow us to gauge the best response. Saying it’s a done deal, we know it’s 3 degrees, is foolish.

IF THE PLANET IS GETTING WARMER, WHY ARE ARTICLES CLAIMING ICE IS INCREASING AT THE POLES?

This is like the cold winter argument. Keep your eye on the global temperature, not any one geography.

OK, SO MAYBE IT’S GETTING WARMER. HOW DO WE KNOW WE ARE TO BLAME?

We know how much sequestered CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere. We know that, without forcing, it will lead to roughly 1 degree of warming by 2100, by which time, we are likely to be using far less fossil fuels. The big question is, will forcing cause the warming to be 3 times worse, as suggested by climate models? This is important, because it’s the difference between a 50 cm (1′ 8”) rise in sea level and a 2 m (6′ 8″) rise. 50 cm and we’ll need to shore up some dykes. 2 m, and significant swaths of land will be underwater.

Arguing that humans aren’t the cause of climate change today is like arguing humans can’t cause forest fires because they’ve been started by lightning in the past.

No one (well, no one credible) is arguing that humans don’t cause some warming. The question is, how much warming. If humans caused a tiny fraction of forest fires, we would be best not to focus on human causes, but rather deal with the natural causes, or work to be able to minimize the effects.

Climate scientists take all these factors (and more) into account and weigh the
contributions that each one makes to our climate. When they do, it’s clear that
man-made carbon dioxide pollution is overwhelmingly responsible for the global
warming we’re experiencing now. When people say otherwise, they’re basing their
claim on something other than accepted science.

This claim is exaggerated. The following figure shows the contributions from all sources, both positive and negative, and helpfully shows the net contribution by man. We are responsible for slightly more than 1/2 of the greenhouse effect. Note that CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas. Methane, ozone, and water vapor also play their parts.

Greenhouse-Effect

ISN’T MORE CARBON DIOXIDE MORE PLANT FOOD?

It is true that CO2 is beneficial to most plants (watch Freeman Dyson’s interview on global warming, where he discusses the benefits of CO2). The bad effect climate change has on plants is really change in prevailing weather patterns. Even if on average CO2 helps plants, in the short term, areas that are currently agriculturally productive may be destroyed by drought.

While experiments have shown that some plants respond well to higher carbon dioxide levels, others have shown that abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide can cause damage.

This is false. As is pointed out in the Freeman Dyson interview, very high levels of CO2 are used in commercial greenhouses to enhance growth. Most plants grow better with more CO2.

EVERYONE KNOWS WE BREATHE OXYGEN AND EXHALE CARBON DIOXIDE. SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO — STOP BREATHING?

The contribution from people breathing is not significant.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH A FEW DEGREES ANYWAYS?

Even a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius will disrupt our lives and challenge our ability to cope.

Yes, but the disruption may be less significant than the disruption caused by an unmeasured response to the problem. Switching to renewables could create worse problems, for example by increasing food costs, especially if global temperature only rises by 1/2 a degree.

The world has already warmed about 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880 (that’s 1.5
degrees Fahrenheit). Rising seas are damaging homes near the water. Some populations of animals are starting to die out.

Considering that we have been able to feed most of the world (one of the largest sources of human C02 is food production), this may be an acceptable trade off. I’d rather not see mass starvation. So, the question is, how much more warming are we actually going to cause? 1/2 a degree might be worth the ill effects, 3 degrees might not be, especially for people living in places like Bangladesh that are low lying.

IF WE LIMIT CARBON EMISSIONS, WON’T WE HALT GROWTH, CUT OUR GDP, LOSE JOBS, AND HURT THE ECONOMY?

Once again, certain media outlets love to repeat this one and just like with other
claims, the absence of supporting facts doesn’t seem to stop them. Over and over, we hear the claim that we can’t afford to shift to clean energy and address climate change.

OK, here’s a supporting fact for you: Farm equipment is diesel powered. You read about the new electric tractor from John Deere? It runs a generator off its diesel engine. Converting all our agriculture to electric power isn’t even possible now, and the costs to develop the technology and for farmers to replace all of their equipment will be enormous. For trucking, the news is better, with hydrogen burning zero emission long haul trucks now available, but the fueling infrastructure still needs to be built, and the existing fleet replaced.

We can’t afford not to. According to a 2012 study by the European non-governmental organization the DARA Group and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, climate change is already contributing to over 400,000 deaths and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion each year.

Excuse me if I find such groups less than credible; the Climate Vulnerable Forum are hardly likely to be unbiased. Their report, the Climate Vulnerability Monitor, claims that climate change costs the world 1.7% of its GDP and that converting away from fossil fuels would only cost 0.5% of GDP. You can find a good explanation of the cost estimates to the US in The Cost of Climate Change. The lions share (2/3) of the costs are due to water use (drought). What is far less well explained is where the DARA CVF come up with their 0.5% of GDP figure for conversion away from fossil fuels.

I would take any claims that shifting away from fossil fuels will free up trillions with a big grain of salt. In the short term, conversion to alternate fuels will cost, and the costs will be direct, and passed on to consumers. Higher costs of food, air conditioning, and insurance, as well as indirect price increases due to real estate losses due to sea level rise, will also be passed on, but savings in these from a switch to renewables won’t be realized immediately. Another important point: A lot of our electricity is still being generated using coal and oil, so switching to electric/hydrogen powered vehicles won’t eliminate CO2 emissions, at least not immediately.

EVEN IF WE WENT TO 100-PERCENT CLEAN
ENERGY NOW, THE WORLD WOULD STILL KEEP
WARMING. AT THIS POINT, ISN’T IT TOO LATE TO
DO ANYTHING?

Simple answer here: no. A little more warming is better than a lot more.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP, AND WHAT IMPACT WILL IT HAVE?

The best thing we can do is to conserve. Buy an electric lawn mower (mowers are incredibly high polluters). Telecommute. Take transit, and support transit projects. Insulate. If you live somewhere sunny, put some solar panels up. When you can afford to, buy an electric car (but remember, generating your electricity may still be causing CO2 emissions).

Here’s something to not do: overstate the case for global warming. The facts make the case for moving to renewable energy as quickly as we can, but we need to be practical, and understand that we don’t know what is going to happen. We have models and estimates. They will change as we measure things. Having an irrational bias toward any “answer” is not going to help us see reality clearly. Making unsupported claims means that skeptics will throw the baby (there is man made global warming) with the bath water (97% of all climate scientists are 100% certain that if we don’t immediately stop burning all fossil fuels, the world is going to spontaneously combust).

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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2 Responses to How Climate Activists Hurt the Case for Man Made Climate Change

  1. simonjkyte says:

    Nothing is going to help us.

    • jimbelton says:

      I take a view closer to Freeman Dyson. We are adaptable. That said, nothing is going to help all of us. Even in the best case, many will be hurt or killed.

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