Updated: Dec 14, 2020
The current climate of mistrust and scepticism amongst our politics and industries lends itself to conspiracy and anti-establishmentarianism. For some, this has leaked over into the topic of climate change, with many sceptical of the extreme impacts that scientists have been predicting.
There is a lot of noise when it comes to climate-scepticism, and it can be hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction.
Whilst it is true that absolute non-believers of climate change are rare in the UK (only 2% of brits believe that climate change is definitely not happening according to a 2018 study by the NCSR), just over half the population disagrees with the idea that climate change is mainly caused by humans.
Therefore, it is necessary to bring an end to some of the many doubts surrounding the reality of climate change.
Why are people sceptical about climate change?
A healthy level of scepticism towards any topic is important in all fields, particularly science. Critical thinking and research are key to properly understanding any topic. However, there is a difference between healthy scepticism and blindly rejecting well established, reliable scientific data. Unfortunately, accessing this data and avoiding misleading outside noise is much easier said than done.
For those who believe in climate change and those who don’t, it is important to understand why some people might have doubts about the gravity of the problems the earth is facing today. Many believers ask themselves; “with so much scientific evidence in support of a changing climate, why do so many people doubt the experts?”
For one, there is often a reliance on personal stories and anecdotal evidence that takes a higher precedence than statistics and scientific data. It is important to understand how this limited personal experience is when facing a complicated issue such as climate change. The recorded evidence that scientists use is that of millions of years - far more than any human lifetime. An inclination towards personal experience is just part of human nature, but it can be particularly unhelpful when facing such large scale, existential issues.
Another key factor is people in positions of authority and influence who cherry pick their data. When you are listening to someone who appears well read and prepared with statistics, it is only human to take what they’re telling you as fact. However, there are many people who know how to manipulate data, ignoring context and criticisms, in order to make their argument convincing. With the sheer number of scientific studies carried out (2 million are published each year) it is easy to find a study that suits your narrative. A common criticism of a number of ‘intellectual dark web’ figures, including that of Ben Shapiro, is that they cherry pick data to ‘destroy’ people in debates but neglect to acknowledge the often-times very important context surrounding that data.
There are a number of large corporations that also manipulate data and evidence due to their vested interest in pollutant industries. These corporations do not have an irrational hatred for polar bears, but rather make a lot of money dealing with climate-harming activities. As expected, the majority of these companies' business plan is based on the sale of oil - BP and Shell are just two examples. Publicly, most of these companies want to present an image of being forward thinking and climate conscious, but make no mistake, they collectively put hundreds of millions towards preventing tackling the issue of climate change every year.
Their influence is far reaching. Many climate-sceptic political organisations such as PragerU are motivated largely by money rather than just revealing the truth. In its early years, PragerU was heavily funded by the Wilks brothers, former fracking shareholders and managers of oil and gas company Interstate Explorations, where they currently maintain their billions. This is just one example of where it is important to look into the wider context of what you read - who might be influencing an organisation, and where might their motivations lie?
Organisations who seek to alter facts to their agenda are also prone to cherry picking data, so whilst an article may sound convincing, try and do some research into where they get their sources from.
What common doubts or misconceptions are there about climate change?
1. "Climate change is a natural phenomenon and human activity has little to do with it"
The idea that the changes we are seeing at the moment are natural comes from a theory that we are in a period comparable to the ‘medieval warm period’ and we are simply recovering from the previous ‘little ice age’. The error in this line of thinking is that when talking about our current climate crisis, the changes are on a global level, whereas these former periods refer to regional changes.
2. "Many scientists disagree about the threat of climate change"
To put it simply, this is not true. There are a number of studies that have looked into the general scientific consensus of the reality of climate change and it falls between 90-100%, with most studies putting the number at 97%.
3. "Solar flares are the cause of climate change"
There are a number of reasons why this is not true, which have been proven both by ground and space-based systems for many years.
For example, the poles of the earth are warming faster than the equator (which directly faces the sun) and so the opposite would be true if solar flares were the key factor behind global warming.
Even more convincingly, the upper layer of the atmosphere (the stratosphere) is warming at a slower rate than the lower level, indicating that global warming is not caused by something external to our atmosphere.
4. "It’s called global warming but there has been more snow than usual"
Although the surface of the earth is warming, depending on where you live, this doesn’t mean you will automatically see a disappearance of winter. The warming of the earth affects our very complicated climate systems.
So, where can I find reliable sources on climate change?
Podcast: Costing the Earth
This podcast looks at the role of humans in climate change, questions some commonly accepted truths to do with the topic, and challenges those in a position of influence on their efforts to solve the problem.
Documentary: Merchants of Doubt (2014)
Inspired by the book of the same name, this documentary takes a step back and looks at the initial PR tactics taken by the tobacco industry in quelling worries about the effect smoking has on health, and how these same tactics are now being used towards the topic of climate change.
Documentary: Chasing Coral (2017)
This documentary takes a specific look at the effect climate change has had on the world’s coral reefs and the knock on effects this will have on the rest of the world.
Book: Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshall
With climate change being a truly existential issue that can oftentimes make us feel helpless, this book helps us to understand when in the face of truth we still aren’t likely to act.
Website: Skeptical Science
A website set up in 2007 by John Cook which aims to be “skeptical about global warming skepticism” and asks “Do their arguments have any scientific basis? What does the peer reviewed scientific literature say?” This website is full of resources to educate oneself on the common misconceptions and misunderstandings in relation to climate change.
You can listen to John Cook talking about the website and climate misinformation here.
Take a look at our brief guide on The Global Injustice of the Climate Crisis for more information on its repercussions.