While most of us know that it’s a critical time for us to work on tackling climate change, we still get lots of questions about the real threat that it poses to our world. Here we debunk some of the most common incorrect, yet oft-repeated, climate change myths – to separate fact from fiction.
It’s true that throughout earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, the climate has changed a lot. What is different is the dramatic and unprecedented scale of climate change. The rate of temperature rise is at least 10 times faster than that of the last mass extinction about 56 million years ago, when 95% of marine and 70% of land species were wiped out.
NASA has compiled a scientifically evaluated and compelling list of evidence for rapid climate change. This includes:
Global temperature rise
The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 1.1 degrees Celsius (°C) – 2 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) – since the late 19th century. Most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years.
Rising ocean levels
Rising temperatures are causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt, adding more water to the oceans and causing the sea level to rise. Oceans absorb 90% of the extra heat from global warming; warmer water expands and so our oceans are taking up more space.
The ocean has absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.33°C (0.6°F) since 1969.
Shrinking ice sheets
Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year.
Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world, including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
Decreased snow cover
Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and the snow is melting earlier.
Sea level rise
Global sea levels rose about 8 inches (20 centimetres) in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and accelerating slightly every year.
Extreme weather events
Since 1950, the number of record high temperature events worldwide has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing. Climate change is causing many extreme weather events to become more intense and frequent, such as heatwaves, droughts, forest fires and floods.
The scientific evidence that climate change is a real, present threat is undeniable.
Weather and climate are not the same. A cold spell in winter is definitely not a valid reason to dismiss global warming.
Climate is the average pattern of weather for a particular region and time period, using scientific data collected over decades. The terms global warming and climate change refer to a broad temperature shift across the entire earth's surface over the course of years and decades.
But weather can change minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day and season-to-season in a specific location. That’s why we all love to talk about the weather – it’s always changing. A good analogy is that weather is your current mood and climate is your overall personality.
Scientists predict global warming will cause more volatile weather, with more intense hurricanes, storms, flooding and hot and cold temperature records broken. The UK Met Office reported a new UK and England temperature record of 40.3°C (104.5°F) on 19 July 2022 in Coningsby, Lincolnshire. This marked a milestone in UK climate history, with 40°C (104°F) being recorded for the first time in the UK and 35°C (95°F) being recorded for the first time in Scotland.
In the Northeast US, extreme winter storms have also been on the rise. Between the winters of 2008/09 and 2017/18 there were 27 major winter storms, which is three to four times the totals for each of the previous five decades.1
You’re in an ever diminishing minority if you still think climate change isn’t a concern. In a recent Ipso MORI poll, 85% of Britons are now concerned about climate change and nearly three in four (73%) say that the UK is already feeling the effects of climate change. Similarly, 62% of Americans see the effects of climate change according to a poll done in late 2019.2
Plants do need carbon dioxide (CO2), that’s true. But there’s a limit to the amount they can absorb and, with deforestation increasing, this limit is getting lower. It’s not the nature of CO2 that causes problems, it’s the quantity the world is pumping out into the atmosphere.
It’s widely recognised by scientists and governments that climate change is being triggered by higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Their name derives from the 'greenhouse effect' these gases create by trapping heat from the sun and so warming the earth’s surface and the air above it.
CO2 is the most abundant of the greenhouse gases, and the biggest contributor to global warming, which is why cutting carbon emissions, carbon footprints or seeking low-carbon alternatives are ways we can all address climate change and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Climate change is happening to an extent that cannot be explained by natural factors alone.
Global temperatures have been rising for over a century since industrialisation began. They’ve accelerated in the past 30 years and are now the highest since records began. The worldwide scientific community agrees that the global warming we are experiencing is man-made.
The sun powers life on earth, keeping the planet warm enough for us all to survive. The sun also influences earth’s climate; subtle changes in earth’s orbit around the sun were responsible for past ice ages.
But the global warming we’ve seen over the last few decades is too rapid and dramatic to be linked to changes in earth’s orbit, and too large to be caused by solar activity. For more than 40 years, satellites have observed the sun's energy output, which has gone up or down by less than 0.1 percent during that period, while global warming has increased.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that warming from increased levels of human-produced greenhouse gases is actually many times stronger than any climate change effects due to the sun.
NASA’s conclusion is even more dramatic; since 1750, the warming driven by greenhouse gases from our burning of fossil fuels is over 50 times greater than the slight extra warming coming from the sun itself over that same time interval.
This is a critical time to take action on climate change. And it can be done.
The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have made it clear that we’re running out of time, but there is still a limited window of opportunity to implement policies and take action this decade to ensure we avoid the worst effects of climate change. It’s still possible for the world to reach net zero and to limit warming to 1.5°C, but much more action is needed this decade, from governments, businesses and others, to make that happen.
We already have the technology and systems to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We can halt climate change and create a sustainable future for humans and nature. Energy companies, industry, vehicle manufacturers and governments have an essential part to play and this is a priority for us as a company. We’re committed to leading the clean air transition.
But individually, we can also each make greener daily decisions and take actions that collectively will affect the planet for good – from the way we travel to what we buy and eat.
1 The New York Times: How climate change is affecting winter storms
2 Pew Research Center: For Earth Day 2020, how Americans see climate change…