Your handy dandy guide to arguing about climate change

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the largest youth-led demonstration of all time to strike against climate change and in the next few weeks, we’re predicted to suffer through the hottest October on record. 

We are experiencing a slow-moving extinction-level event that gathers speed every year, and while people all over the world are dedicating their lives to this cause, the deadline to turn the ship around is ever creeping closer.  Whether you call it “global warming,” “climate change,” or anything else, this is an emergency on a global scale, which everyone seems to recognize outside of the most powerful country in the world (and the second-highest contributor to the problem): the United States of America.

Due to decades of lobbying, political messaging, and general disrespect for settled science, the most developed country on Earth can’t seem to do anything meaningful to address this disaster.  I can’t even blame it on all Republicans because, as I’ll get to in a minute, the vast majority of them believe in and want to do something about, climate change, but they’re being overlooked by their own representatives. 

We’re not the only nation not doing enough, but our country has an almost unique problem in the developed world: half of our government refuses to even acknowledge the problem.  It’s the same as if your elected representative was denying the holocaust while a video of the Nuremberg trials played in the background and experts pointed to huge reduction in the Jewish population in Eastern Europe (By the way, there are still a lot of holocaust-deniers too).

This article is not meant to argue that climate change exists, educate you on how it’s working, or explain our species’ role in the cycle.  I think if you still aren’t convinced of any of that by now, there’s no helping you.  If you do need the basics, however, check out this link from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions to get the rundown. 

Instead, this article is for people who are tired of explaining all of that and instead want to refute the most common arguments we’re tired of hearing from climate deniers.  There have been thousands of scholarly papers written about the effects of climate change and the danger it poses, but we can’t really address those concerns until we’re all on the same page.

It’s a left-wing conspiracy

This is by far the most common argument I hear, and the most frustrating thing about it is most of the people making it are old enough to remember the Republican party was originally very aware and concerned with the problem as you’ll see below.

As you can see from the statements these politicians and newscasters made, it’s not even all the Republicans’ fault (at least at first).  John McCain said very early on, when the deniers first starting speaking up, that oil lobbying was to blame.  And he’s absolutely right on that mark; from 2000 to 2016, $2 billion was spent to combat climate change legislation.  Republican lawmakers are happy to reject climate science and general logic, which is terrible in its own way, but if you’re a Republican, chances are they’re rejecting you.  76% of Republicans believe in climate change (for comparison, that’s a higher percentage than Republicans who believe in the Christian god), which should infuriate people on both sides of the political aisle because it creates strife between the two parties that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

The internal logic of this argument is also ridiculous because if it were a Left Wing conspiracy, it wouldn’t benefit liberals.  If climate change was a hoax, then Democrats could:

  • Create stronger unions in the refinery market and increase blue-collar voters;
  • Impose higher taxes on the wealthy because there isn’t an environmental penalty to pay;
  • Invest in foreign oil projects to increase global ties and stop threats like deforestation that come from some alternative fuel sources;
  • Most of all: the world wouldn’t be on fire.

Framing this very real issue as a political attack on a single party is not only unfair and harmful to the Democrats, but Republicans as well.  The vast majority of this country believes in the destructive power of global warming and I’m so tired of this argument due to the level of petty tribalism and abandonment of logic it hinges on.

Natural Process

This is an argument that I’ve seen on this website before.  The idea behind it is that the planet has gone through several drastic climate shifts (a true fact) in the past and we’re currently going through another one that has nothing to do with humans (a dangerous lie). 

Mother Earth emerged from her last Ice Age nearly a million years ago, and since then (up until the last century), the global temperature rose about 4-7 degrees Celsius.  Since then (not so coincidentally at the time of the Industrial Revolution), the global average has risen 0.7 degrees, which is 10 times faster than the million years preceding it.

The Industrial Revolution, as important as it was to human progress, started our horrible practice of dumping gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate we only started to notice in the early 1980s.  It’s criminal to deny the correlation between humans learning how to burn fossil fuels and the insane spike in temperature we saw immediately after (if whoever you’re arguing with is still unconvinced, refer them to the link in the intro).  

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN group charged with assessing the science related to climate change.  They concluded, with certainty, that climate change is man-made and the IPCC is widely seen as the ultimate authority on the issue. 

They’re apolitical and even if the members had a political agenda, it wouldn’t make any sense because the group is made up of over 192 members from around the world, including thousands of (at times) volunteer scientists that often donate their work just because it’s so important.  If you’d like to see their entire process, including how they deal with disputes and errors, their policies are listed in six languages here:

The scientists don’t even agree with each other

This is just categorically false.  Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree, not only that global warming is real, but that we’re directly causing it.  Don’t take my word for it though, take NASA’s.  There’s really no nuanced way of presenting this argument because it literally is just a misconception based on what people see on TV.  I don’t care who Exxon got to testify at some hearing and I don’t care what hack they got to appear on Fox News.  Climate scientists are the literal experts in the field and as Greta Thunburg said, “don’t listen to me, listen to the scientists.”

Why is it still cold?

Yes, sometimes it’s still cold.  The fundamental misunderstanding that underscores this insanely dumb argument is the difference between weather and climate.  The National Centers for Environmental Information wrote an extensive explanation on the difference, but the gist is: the weather is what’s happening right now, outside, and climate is the larger trend over time.  And sure, while it’s still cold out (even though it’s October and it was 90 degrees just a few days ago), 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have been in the last decade.

If we’re all doomed, why should I do anything?

This is my least favorite argument made by climate deniers.  It’s not the most frustrating, or even the most idiotic, but it is the saddest.  It’s particularly bleak because it relies on the concession that the person saying it believes in the issue, but just doesn’t care.  I know the discourse around climate change is all doom and gloom (including most of this article), but there is still some hope.  We can’t reverse so much of the damage we’ve caused, or even the damage yet to come, but we do have the opportunity to make it better for the younger generations.  If someone makes this argument to you, point out these simple actions they can do to help out:

  • Switch to a plant-based diet
    • This doesn’t mean you have to go full-vegetarian, but even starting meatless Mondays, or only eating meat in half your meals can go a long way.  This is the most impactful thing you can do as an individual to combat climate change.
  • Use less gas-powered travel
    • I know everyone is pretty attached to their car, but maybe the next time you’re in the market for a vehicle, you look into a hybrid or even an electric car.  Every year more fuel-efficient models hit the market and get cheaper and cheaper.
    • The best way to do lower your gas reliance is to fly less.  I know the U.S. is criminally lacking in train infrastructure, but it is possible.  If you travel for work (or pleasure, I’m guilty of this too) look into buying carbon-offsets if you’re able to.  They go towards a good cause, just be sure to research where the money is going before you purchase.
  • I know many of my readers are farmers, which is great because the agriculture and food sectors can have the biggest impact and there are tons of things farmers can do.  Here are three, just to name a few, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
  • Vote
    • I know this may sound hard to believe, but I really don’t care who you vote for as long as they believe in climate science and will do something to halt global warming.  Remember, it’s only the politicians spouting these lies, the vast majority of us want to make sure the youth can grow up safe

In conclusion, I know there are myriad of additional “arguments” climate deniers throw around, but apart from these five, I’ve never heard one that even comes close to reality.  Denying global warming’s existence is one of the most impressive feats a lobbying effort has ever achieved and I, for one, am sick of having to justify sound science to those who won’t hear it. 

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and while we may not be able to solve it right away, at least you have some ammo to refute your dumb family member next Thanksgiving.

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