In the time since I wrote my last article debunking common climate change denier myths, I’ve come across several more that I feel need to be addressed. Some I heard from my Dad or other family members and others from documentaries specifically trying to debunk some of these myths. I figured I’d throw my two cents in the ring to maybe help science win out over the short-sighted greed of Big Oil, Big Coal, and the lying politicians that help keep them in business. No need for a grandiose intro; let’s just jump right into it!
1. It’s the volcanoes, stupid!
Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere. One volcanic cough can do this in a day.Ian Plimer, “Legislative time bomb,” ABC News Australia, August 13th, 2009
It is undoubtedly true that there is far more carbon stored in the rocks of the Earth’s crust than there is in the atmosphere or the ocean. It is also true that volcanoes expel anywhere from 65 to 319 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
Here’s the catch, though. Scientists have demonstrated that the amount of CO2 pumped into the air due to the burning of fossil fuels equates to an average of 34 billion tons, about 100 times greater than the volume produced by volcanoes.
Yes, volcanoes do influence climate patterns, but that has far more to do with sulfate aerosols than carbon emissions, and those tend to cause cooling rather than warming as they reflect sunlight.
Speaking of which…
2. Warming is caused by a lack of volcanic activity.
It is true that the early twentieth century was largely bereft of big explosions between the eruption of Novarupta in Alaska in 1912 and the eruption of Mount Agung in Bali in 1963. It is also true that recent eruptions (most notably Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991) caused global temperatures to decrease as much as 0.3 degrees Celsius.
However, scientists have demonstrated that the comparative lack of volcanic activity between 1925 and 1960 cannot account for the warming that has occurred since the 1970s. Indeed, measurements of aerosol optical thickness, or AOD, data since 1979 has shown that only about 0.12 degrees Celsius at most of the 0.5 degrees of surface warming observed during that period can be attributed to volcanic activity.
3. It’s the solar cycles, stupid!
I already discussed solar cycles, specifically the solar magnetic activity cycle, in the previous climate change myths article, in which I debunked the common myth that sunspots have more to do with warming climate than the greenhouse effect. I especially made clear that the gap between Cycle 23 and Cycle 24 displayed above should have meant a global drop in temperature between 2000 and 2008 (albeit with a different graph than this one), which clearly did not happen. However, there are other solar cycles deniers have turned to in trying to prove their “superior knowledge,” including the Milankovich cycle.
Unlike the magnetic activity cycle, which has more to do with varying solar radiation levels, the Milankovich cycle has more to do with eccentricities in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. First hypothesized by Serbian astronomer and geophysicist Milutin Milankovich in the 1920s, this theory has helped planetary climatologists demonstrate how changes in Earth’s orbit can affect planetary climate patterns.
Naturally, climate change deniers have seized on this cycle to try to explain away the recent warming trend. Indeed, I recently remember hearing my Dad explain to Mom about some kind of thousands-year-long cycle (I want to say 30-40,000 years) that the Earth was going into again as yet another reason why there’s nothing to worry about.
However, there’s one big reason why this assumption is way off base, as NASA’s climate blog demonstrates. The changes caused by any of the variables covered by the Milankovich cycle (changes in orbit shape, in Earth axial precession or “wobbling,” and changes in the planet’s tilt) work on geologic time, meaning that they take thousands of years to have any noticeable effects. It is exceedingly evident that the warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution has risen far too fast to be caused by anything other than the burning of fossil fuels.
Furthermore, the planet is currently in an interglacial period, which means that global temperatures should have continued on a 6,000-year downward trend. But the sheer amount of CO2 we’ve been adding to the atmosphere has canceled much of that out. The same NASA article I linked above mentions that natural concentrations of atmospheric CO2 tend to vary between 180 and 280 parts per million (or PPM for short). The current concentration rests at around 417 PPM, the highest levels we’ve seen in 650,000 years. Be afraid, people!
4. Other planets are warming.
This argument has been applied to eight other large bodies orbiting around our Sun. Most of these arguments tend to focus on four in particular: Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto. Deniers argue that if these other planets are warming, it is proof positive that it is solar radiation and not CO2 warming the Earth.
Let us examine each of these planets, in turn, to see if these arguments hold up to scrutiny:
First of all, collecting climate data from Mars is problematic since we know so little about the Red Planet. Still, there are various factors that scientists point out that we should take into account when assessing its climate patterns:
- First, the Red Planet’s orbital eccentricities are five times greater than that of Earth’s.
- Second, unlike Earth, Mars has no oceans and a very thin atmosphere, making its climate much more suceptible to extraterrestrial influences.
- Third, Mars frequently experiences massive dust storms which have an enormous impact on climate patterns.
- Finally, we have little to no historical data prior to the 1970s to compare with current observed changes, so we have no way of knowing if these changes are frequent trends or infrequent outliers.
Jupiter has not actually experienced any observed warming. Such warming is predicted based on the idea that several of the gas giant’s famous storms along the equator are merging into one humungous super-storm, which is projected to cause warming around the planet’s equator and cooling at its poles.
The argument that Neptune is warming is based on an observed increase in the planet’s luminosity around 2007 and that of its largest moon, Triton. However, this was a case of seasonal change: Neptune takes around 165 years, which means that it only completed its first orbit since it was discovered in 1846 in 2011. What scientists observed was summer coming to Neptune’s southern hemisphere.
As for Pluto, determining its climate patterns is even more problematic than with Mars. Its orbit takes 248 years, and it was only discovered in 1930. It has only been briefly visited one space probe, the New Horizons, in July of 2015. Indeed, the only “evidence” that the dwarf planet is warming comes from two observations made in 1998 and 2002. As SkepticalScience.com points out, that would be equivalent to making observations about Earth’s climate based on data collected over just three weeks out of a whole year! We simply do not know enough about Pluto to make these kinds of judgments.
Finally, I reiterate that solar radiation levels have been on a downward trend for the last forty years! The Sun is not causing this abnormal warming!
5. There was no warming during the Industrial Revolution.
Why didn’t we have global warming during the Industrial Revolution? In those days you couldn’t have seen across the street for all the carbon emissions and the crap coming out of the chimneys.Alan Titchmarsh, quoted in “Back to nature,” The Telegraph, October 6, 2007
I remember my grand-uncle making a similar argument around Thanksgiving. He claimed that we would have seen it long before contemporary times if CO2 really were causing a worldwide increase in temperature. But here’s a good question for people who make this kind of argument: How much CO2 do you think it takes to cause a noticeable warming trend?
I don’t know what their answer would be, but, as always, scientists have crunched the numbers. In the late 18th century, during the first fifty years of the Industrial Revolution, emissions averaged out to about 3-7 million metric tons. By about 1850, the average had increased to 54 million. And what’s the current emission rate? Ten billion metric tons of CO2 a year, I shit you not!
As for Titchmarsh’s quote up above… you do realize that carbon emissions are different from soot, right?
6. The switch to renewables will destroy the economy.
One major study that pushes this myth was complied by Spanish economist Gabriel Calzada Alvarez in 2009, who claimed that for every new job created in the alternative energy sector, Spain lost 2.2 jobs in other economic sectors. Let’s put aside the fact that Calzada is involved with a libertarian think tank that takes money from Exxon Mobil (which alone should discredit him) and instead examine the multiple ways the study fails with even a cursory glance.
First, the study underestimated the number of jobs created by renewable energy in Spain since 2000. Calzada claims the number of jobs created was less than 50,200, whereas the United Nations Environmental Programme puts the number closer to 188,000.
Second, Calzada’s arguments should mean that the Spanish province of Navarre, which currently obtains 70% of its energy from renewable sources, should be experiencing high unemployment. However, Jose Maria Roig Aldasoro, the province’s Regional Minister of Innovation, Enterprise, and Employment, pointed out in direct response to Calzada’s study that unemployment in Navarre decreased from 12.8% in 1994 to less than 5% in 2007.
Third, Calzada was discovered to have cherry-picked data in order to support his conclusions. Perhaps most egregiously, he claimed that solar energy destroyed 15,000 jobs in the previous year, seemingly ignoring that that is a drop in a bucket compared to a 500% increase in the sector over the previous three years.
Fourth, Calzada seems to operate under the belief that government subsidies into the creation of green jobs crowd out private investments, which he believes are more efficient at job creation. This ignores the fact that private investments are at an all-time low thanks to economic stagnation and that this only really works when all economic resources are being utilized, which very rarely happens.
Finally, Calzada is proven wrong by the fact that many studies, including one done in 2004 by UC Berkeley, have shown that the renewable energy sector creates more jobs than fossil fuels, mostly because renewable energy tends to involve more labor-intensive manufacturing, installation, and maintenance than coal or oil extraction and transportation. True, renewable energy tends to be more expensive than nonrenewable, but that’s only because fossil fuel companies do not account for the air pollution and health effects that their products produce.
In short, Calzada’s study was clearly reaching for excuses to support oil over solar to make its Exxon donors happy. Speaking of being paid off…
7. Climate scientists are being paid off.
It is, of course, very tempting to dismiss this argument as a case of psychological projection. After all, it’s common knowledge by now how Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries, and other fossil fuel companies have spent years lobbying politicians and the public to sow doubt about the scientific consensus behind anthropogenic climate change. But for the sake of argument, let us see how conservatives justify this narrative in their own words:
In truth, the overwhelming majority of climate-research funding comes from the federal government and left wing foundations. And while the energy industry funds both sides of the climate debate, the government/foundations monies go only toward research that advances the warming regulatory agenda. With a clear public policy outcome in mind, the government/foundation gravy train is a much greater threat to scientific integrity.Henry Payne, “Global Warming: Follow the Money,” National Review, February 25, 2015
How do skeptics claim that scientists acquire such funds? Mainly research grants, which sometimes can reach millions of dollars. However, Scott Mandia, writing on his WordPress blog, has a question for deniers who follow this line of reasoning:
How many climate scientists are driving a Mercedes sports coupe or other $100,000+ car into a three car garage in a posh gated neighborhood?Scott Mandia, “Taking the Money for Grant(ed)- Part 1,” Global Warming: Man or Myth?, updated on March 22, 2010
Mandia uses a NASA grant proposal he and his team received the month he wrote that article to demonstrate how grant money is usually spent. Out of the $437,232.67 his team receives over three years, the total costs come out to:
- $152,678.50 to pay the 135 participants and trainees.
- $4000 for consulting services to assess the cirricula being developed.
- $76,064.25 for adminsitrative fees and others that are not collected by those named on the grant.
- $204,489.92 to actually pay the investigators over the three years.
Mandia himself only receives $16,088.25 per year, while the PI, or principal investigator, at $16,391.77, barely gets over $300 more. Not exactly Mercedes money.
Meanwhile, oil companies like Exxon Mobil and BP made profits in excess of $20 billion in 2020, far more than any company solely investing in green energy, which is certainly enough to sway more unscrupulous scientists into selling their souls to live in the lap of luxury.
Climate scientist Richard Alley also made this salient point regarding this point in this interview:
If we could overturn global warming; if we could prove that CO2 was not a greenhouse gas; if we could prove that we could burn all we want and not worry about it, how exciting would that be?… Is there any possibility [that out of] tens of thousands of scientists, there isn’t one of them that’s got the ego to do that?! It’s absurd! It’s absolutely, unequivabably absurd! We’re people and we’ve got it in us the way people do.“What drives scientists- Richard Alley,” published by the YouTube channel UQx Denial101x Making Sense of Climate Science Denial on August 25, 2015
Trust me, if any scientist ever found definitive proof that CO2 emissions weren’t causing climate change, everyone from National Geographic to ExxonMobil to the New York Times and everyone in between would be hailing them as the hero or heroine of the century. But none has arrived so far, and until then, we have to treat anthropogenic warming as an absolute certainty.
8. Why are we focusing on America and ignoring China?
It’s easy for deniers to cry hypocrisy when it comes to comparing America’s CO2 output with China’s. After all, China has had the dubious honor of being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2006. Take this graph from 2017, for instance.
Indeed, since China’s total CO2 emissions far outpace those of the United States, you might understand at first glance why deniers might be incensed by environmentalists giving the U.S. such a hard time when China is clearly so much worse.
But notice the right-hand side of the graph. That side shows the tons of CO2 per person that were released into the atmosphere in 2017. When one looks at the data there, one can easily see that America’s CO2 emissions are far greater than China’s (which is rather impressive, given that China’s population of over 1.4 billion is far larger than America’s).
One also has to look at the cumulative amount of CO2 each country has historically emitted from 1850 in order to truly make the comparison fair. When looking through the lens of this metric, it becomes obvious that the U.S. once again outpaces China by a wide margin.
But even if all of this wasn’t true, so what? Do any other countries’ CO2 emissions absolve us of our own climatological sins? As the biggest global superpower, don’t you think we should be setting a good example for others to follow? I’m just saying, maybe those three-quarters of a trillion dollars that we spend on our military every year might be better spent on building up instead of breaking down.
9. CO2 limits will hurt the poor.
Climate change skeptics love to argue that enforcing restrictions on CO2 emissions would have a dangerous impact on the GDP of developing nations like India and many countries in Africa and South America. Of course, as my debunking of myth no. 6 on this list demonstrates, investment in renewables is likely to help these countries more than hurt them. But, of course, the real question here is, “Which will hurt the Global South more? CO2 limits or climate change itself?”
To answer this question, James Samson led a team of climate scientists in creating a new metric known as the Climate Demography Vulnerability Index (or CDVI for short) in 2011. First, they measured how much a population in any region on Earth is predicted to grow as well as how much the local climate is expected to change to determine which areas are most vulnerable. This showed that the areas most vulnerable to climate change were central South America, Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Middle East.
They next compared this metric to the amount of CO2 emissions that each country produced per capita and found that the countries that contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions were the ones most affected.
It is also highly unlikely that these countries will have the infrastructure necessary to handle these drastic climate impacts. In this light, Skeptical Science.com argues that the assertion that “CO2 impacts will hurt the poor” is just a dog-whistle for “Rich, developed countries should be allowed to pollute as much as they want.”
This kind of entitlement, along with the massive waves of immigration that are likely to result from climate impacts in the Global South, lead to the final climate myth I will cover here, which is by far the darkest of them all.
10. Overpopulation is causing the warming trend.
Here is where the ugly specter of fascism rears its ugly head once again.
Many experts have noticed that the far-right is starting to turn away from outright climate denial and finding an alternative source for the warming trend. They blame overpopulation, immigration, and multicultural attitudes towards certain populations they see as inferior.
“But Preston,” I imagine you must be asking from beyond your computer screens, “isn’t environmentalism a left-wing ideology.” Not always. Many ecofascists today (perhaps most notably Anders Brevik) have cited Madison Grant as an influence. You may remember Grant as one of the founders of the wildlife management discipline, but he is far more infamous for his influence in the fields of eugenics and scientific racism. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Grant’s legacy is the fact that none other than Adolf Hitler referred to his 1916 book The Passing of the Great Race as “my Bible.”
Speaking of the Nazis, much of their ideology also contained ecological undertones. Social ecologist Janet Biehl has argued that the Nazis had a deep abiding interest in “traditional agrarian romanticism and a hostility to urban civilization.” Indeed, the infamous white nationalist slogan “Blood and Soil” was first popularized by prominent Nazi ecologist and race theorist Richard Walther Darre, explicitly tying the Aryan race’s ancestry to the land that is “rightfully” theirs.
Ecofasict tendencies have continued to flourish through the writings of radicals like Ted “the Unabomber” Kaczynski, and Pentti Linkola. You may remember me mentioning Linkola in my Halloween article on Deathspell Omega, where their suspected vocalist, Mikko Aspa, cited him as an influence on his politics. Allow me to provide you with some more context as to why Aspa’s support of this man is such a red flag.
Linkola, who died in April 2020 at the age of 87, believed that democracies were ineffectual at preventing large-scale ecological collapse and that the only way to save humanity was mass murder to curb exponential population growth. He was a devout believer in “lifeboat ethics,” a philosophical concept developed by Garrett Hardin, an American ecologist well known for his anti-immigrant activism. Indeed, this Linkola quote succinctly (and chillingly) summarizes what lifeboat ethics is all about:
What to do when a ship carrying one hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides of the boat.Pentti Linkola, The Doctrine of Survival and Doctor Ethics, 1992
We’ve seen similar expressions of a need to stop overpopulation even in more left-wing philosophies like anarcho-primitivism and the deep ecology movement, who also often argue for a drastic reduction in human population growth to prevent ecological catastrophe.
But I think all this is missing an important question: Does human overpopulation even exist in the first place? Leaving aside the fact that I already demonstrated that the Global South has little to no impact on greenhouse gas emissions, many environmentalists have argued that people arguing this Malthusian rhetoric are painting a reductive picture of what is really going on.
United Nations statistics have pointed out that population growth has actually slowed worldwide since the 1960s and will likely start to level out sometime later this century. Other critics have argued that issues like world hunger aren’t caused by overpopulation; they’re caused by late-stage capitalist inefficiency leading to resources not getting where they need to. Still others have argued that fears of overpopulation in the Global South have racist and colonialist undertones to them (for example, American biologist Paul Ehrlich claimed that his 1968 book The Population Bomb was first inspired by a trip he took to Delhi, India). As environmentalist David Roberts notes in this article he wrote for Vox, “where you find concern over ‘population,’ you very often find racism, xenophobia, or eugenics waiting in the wings.”
Indeed, Roberts also correctly notes that population growth often slows whenever women become more educated and start entering the workforce. He also points to income inequality as a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions.
So once again, the problem turns out to be capitalism all along. Why am I not surprised?
And that’s the end of this second go-round at helping to put paid to several more climate change myths. Once again, a big thank you to SkepticalScience.com for helping inform the critiques of these new myths. Join me next time for some more debunking as I dive into the mysterious waters of the Bermuda Triangle to uncover the truth behind some of its most famous disappearances. Until next time, friends.