5 facts that debunk climate change misinformation

From natural disasters to high carbon dioxide levels, climate change is here.

Oscar Gonzalez Former staff reporter
Oscar Gonzalez is a Texas native who covered video games, conspiracy theories, misinformation and cryptocurrency.
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Oscar Gonzalez
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There's nothing to deny about climate change

There's nothing to deny about climate change.

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Scientists around the globe agree that urgent action is needed to get the climate crisis under control. Humans have already warmed the planet by 1.1 degrees Celsius, and temperatures are expected to keep rising, according to a landmark scientific report published this summer. Communities around the world are feeling the impact of climate change fueled by warmer temperatures, including longer droughts, more hurricanes and bigger wildfires. 

Despite unequivocal evidence, climate change misinformation continues to spread online. Less than 10% of misleading posts on Facebook describing climate change as "hysteria" or a "scam," or similar terms, get marked as misinformation, according to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Researchers said that 10 publishers are responsible for 69% of the climate misinformation on the world's largest social network. 

YouTube videos politicizing the climate crisis have also received millions of views, though Google said recently it would stop monetizing this content. A study from artificial intelligence company AdVerif.ai found more than $200 million in ads have been spent on sites filled with climate change myths and misinformation. 

"To correct climate myths, we need to avoid repeating them and instead repeat early and often the facts about climate change," said Emma Frances Bloomfield, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

This week, global leaders are coming together at the UN summit COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland to try to address the climate emergency. As officials discuss policies and a way forward, let's take a look at five facts that debunk climate change myths.  

Fact: Climate change is real, and the evidence is unequivocal 

When it comes to climate change, one of the biggest pieces of misinformation is that it's just not happening. Oil companies knew of the environmental issues fossil fuels were causing 40 years ago but proceeded to deny their role

These days 77% of Americans say human activity plays at least some role in climate change, while 22% still believe we play no role, according to a Pew Research study conducted in April. Whether it's a politician, a TV personality or a family member on Facebook, some people still don't believe climate change is happening or that humans are responsible. 

"For some people, the very idea of climate change and human's role in it is inherently threatening," said Deborah Brosnan, president and founder of Deborah Brosnan & Associates, an environmental risk reduction firm. 

From a scientific perspective, the data is clear, Brosnan said. She added that "every Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report only strengthens the evidence and confidence in the findings -- namely that rising CO2 levels (now at 419 ppm) are causing profound impacts to the world's climate and life on earth."

Even with proof that Earth's climate is warming resulting in record high temperatures, oceans heating up and glaciers continuing to melt, scientific data doesn't appear to sway some people.  But there may still be ways to get through, Brosnan said.

"In my experience, there are two main factors that seem to make a difference. The first is, unfortunately, by experiencing more of the local impacts that were forecast by climate-change models. Personal experience makes it harder to deny the facts," Brosnan said."The second is through communication that gives people more agency, by showing there are actions they can take to mitigate and adapt, and that those actions can lead to better opportunities and outcomes."

Fact: Weather and climate are separate entities

In February, Texas was hit with a record freeze that caused statewide blackouts. Climate change deniers look to these record low temperatures as proof that the Earth isn't heating up. What they fail to understand is that climate change doesn't mean it won't ever get cold. 

"While the average temperature of the Earth is increasing, that isn't the same as every place is getting hotter," Brosnan said. "Rising global temperatures bring changes to atmospheric wind patterns, more extremes of climate, and changes in weather patterns locally."

One example is polar vortexes. Scientists discovered that warming in the arctic regions disturbed the circular pattern of winds, according to Brosnan. This results in colder winters such as the almost statewide freeze in Texas last year. 

This past June, the Pacific Northwest saw record high temperatures. Parts of Oregon and Washington reached well over 100 degrees, with Salem, Oregon, hitting 117 degrees. This was well above the average for the area, which is usually in the 70- and 80- degree ranges for June. 

Fact: Solar and wind energy are now cheaper to produce than fossil fuel energy 

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The burning of fossil fuels for energy is one of the key contributors to climate change. An answer to this issue is renewable energy such as wind and solar. But misinformation claiming that renewable energy is too expensive to implement continues to spread online. 

"When it comes down to it, renewable energy is quickly becoming the cheaper option at the point of use," said Mark Falinski, a sustainability scientist at Finch, a sustainability tool.  "When you think about the long-term economic and non-fiscal impacts to our planet and our health, renewable energy has likely been the less costly option for a very long time." 

Thanks to improvements in technology, wind and solar are often cheaper to produce than fossil fuels and show signs of going even cheaper, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Not only are renewable options less expensive at producing energy, but they also don't carry the added costs of fossil fuels. Pollution and health care costs due to coal and oil have a global cost of $8 billion a day, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Fact: Increased levels of carbon dioxide are bad for the planet

One of the leading causes of climate change is an abundance of carbon dioxide that comes from the burning of fossil fuels. While CO2 is needed for humans, animals and plants, too much of it leads to the Earth's temperature rising. There are people, however, who ignore the harmful effects of too much CO2 and look at only how it's beneficial. 

"Elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere can enhance plant growth, but that doesn't mean elevated CO2 levels are a good thing," said Taylor Perron, earth scientist and 2021 MacArthur Fellow. "That CO2 still causes global warming, which has many devastating consequences, such as melting glaciers, rising sea level, and more severe weather."

And not all growth is good. Increased plant growth in response to the excess CO2 may cause vegetation to experience more issues, according to Perron. A plant in a dry region can save water thanks to the extra CO2, but those areas are becoming drier thanks to climate change. Crops could become less nutritious due to increased CO2 levels. Plants could also thicken their leaves causing them to absorb less CO2 in the atmosphere.

Fact: There are more extreme weather events happening now 

This is not normal.

This is not normal.

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The role of climate change in natural disasters is also frequently downplayed in misinformation online. Whether it's the Texas freeze from earlier this year, the devastating Hurricane Harvey in 2017 or the massive wildfires in California last year, deniers will point to natural disasters from decades or even a century earlier, claiming things used to be even worse. However, science shows extreme weather events are growing in number and intensity. 

"Disasters happen in nature, but there is clear evidence that disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and droughts are becoming more intense and frequent because of climate change," Perron said. "It's not just an assumption that the increase in natural disasters is related to climate change: we understand why global warming is causing more intense and more frequent disasters."

Last year saw a record-breaking number of named storms in the Atlantic with 30 from May to November. Thanks to the warming of the ocean, storms are more likely to become hurricanes, and those hurricanes become bigger and stronger

Warmer air also holds more water vapor resulting in more rain causing increased flooding, Perron said. The warmer air with more water also leads to surfaces becoming drier, which leads to more wildfires