Activists campaigning for stronger action to stop climate change often come up against pseudo-scientific arguments from climate change deniers.
Arguments put forward by misusers and abusers of the science such as Ian Plimer or “Lord” Christopher Monckton have become mainstays of the deniers’ argument arsenal.
Below are three of the most common violations of science that are touted as evidence disproving the “theory” of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, and response to these arguments.
1. Climate change is a cycle. It’s happened in the past and it will happen again. There’s nothing we can do.
Yes, the Earth has been much warmer, and has also been much cooler than it is now. Yes, atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentrations have been much higher in the past. This isn’t news to climate scientists.
Throughout the Earth’s history, climate has been driven by what are called “natural forcings”. These are the naturally occurring phenomena that force climate change.
Past ice ages have been triggered and ended by big volcanic events releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Changes in the tilt of the Earth’s axis and orbit over many thousands of years have altered the planet’s distance and exposure to the sun.
These cyclic changes in the Earth’s position relative to the sun are termed Milankovitch cycles. We know exactly where we are in these cycles at any given time, and we know that right now they cannot explain the rapid climate change we’re experiencing.
Right now, the big climate forcings are human-caused greenhouse gases. Current warming does not fit the criteria of any known natural forcings. This has been shown time and again by rigorous testing of scientific hypotheses through repeated experiments.
2. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is plant food. Higher atmospheric concentration is good news for everyone.
This argument suggests CO2 released through the burning of fossil fuels is actually good for the environment. For example, Plimer says in his book Heaven + Earth: “Global warming and a high CO2 content bring prosperity and lengthen your life. Carbon dioxide is plant food.”
The argument is based on the notion that more is better. Plants need CO2, water and sunlight to synthesise sugar, so elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 concentrations should lead to elevated levels of plant growth, and therefore higher agricultural output.
Most reputable climate scientists and botanists, however, will tell you that this argument is a load of rubbish.
Increased growth under higher CO2 conditions has been demonstrated only in controlled experiments, and applies to only certain kinds of plants.
So-called C3 plants have the right enzymatic equipment to deal with higher CO2 concentrations, but are not representative of all plants. Any potential increase in plant productivity brought about by higher atmospheric levels of CO2, for these kinds of plants, will be vastly outweighed by the negative impacts, such as water shortages and changing weather patterns.
Also, the higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are irrefutably contributing to acidification of the oceans.
This acidification is a particularly dangerous problem, which could lead to the collapse of global fish stocks, and the extinction of many marine species of plants and animals too fragile to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
3. The sun is getting brighter. That’s what is causing warming
There is some evidence to suggest that solar flares and sunspot activity have very slight effects on temperature and overall climate change, but these effects are negligible in comparison with human-caused effects, and barely influence the long-term brightness of the sun.
We have very accurate satellites that measure the sun’s brightness. We know that the sun’s brightness has not increased markedly in all the time we’ve been measuring it, and we know it cannot be causing the current increase in global temperatures.
It is a sad indictment of our society when science can be seemingly bought and misrepresented to meet the selfish ends of the capitalist class.
The climate change debate in the mainstream media is guided and censored by the vested interests of big corporations, who stand to lose profits through the introduction of environmental protection laws, or a large-scale switch to renewable energy sources.
Almost certainly, those who stand to gain the most from denier propaganda do not even believe it themselves.
To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, leaders of big business have an institutional obligation to maximise profits for their shareholders. If they don’t do the job, someone else undoubtedly will.
So it is that those who espouse their science fiction, often unknowingly, become pawns for the economic interests of big business, and prevent us from taking the action we so desperately need to take.