Debunking Claims by Climate-Change Skeptics

Use scientific evidence to counter the argument by climate-change skeptics that global warming might have positive effects.

| November 2014

  • “How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate,” by Seth B. Darling and Douglas L. Sisterson, provides explanations as to why global warming is real — and what we can do about it — to use against climate-change skeptics.
    Cover courtesy The Experiment
  • Climate-change skeptics might argue that increasing the global temperature by one or two degrees won't make a difference, but scientists and their research say otherwise.
    Photo by Fotolia/sumos

How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate (The Experiment, 2014), by Seth B. Darling and Douglas L. Sisterson, provides arguments backed by scientific evidence to use against climate-change skeptics who believe that climate change isn’t real or think that we can do nothing about it. In the following excerpt from Chapter 3, “Who says climate change is such a bad thing?,” Darling and Sisterson show how an increase in greenhouse gases would be unequivocally bad for the planet, despite claims from climate-change skeptics that global warming would actually be good.

You may know a Brad (or two or three). He’s that neighbor/brother-in-law/coworker/politician/TV personality/blogger who thinks this whole climate change thing is a bunch of malarkey, and he’s got arguments—and even some data—to back up his claims. He is a climate-change skeptic, and if you’re a member of the majority of folks who accept that climate change is happening and that it’s caused by human activity, he can be an exasperating thorn in your side. Brad may have ideological motives, or maybe he’s just fallen victim to the very same faulty arguments that he’s parroting to you.

While the claims of skeptics like Brad can seem outlandish, paranoid, and maybe even deceitful at times, perhaps no skeptic misconception is as dangerous as this one. Brace yourself . . . Brad is going to start with a premise that you wouldn’t expect here. He grants you that the planet is warming up and (gasp) that humans are likely the dominant reason for it. After you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, you realize that he’s got a zinger for you. There is a school of thought in the skeptic community that climate change is, overall, actually a good thing. All those tree-hugger stories about looming global calamities? Just scare tactics. Now, we’ll grant you that there are folks out there who take things a bit far, sometimes for dramatic effect. Watching Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal in The Day After Tomorrow run for their lives from a climatic change that’s moving faster than Usain Bolt may make for a good movie (or not), but that scenario takes more than a little artistic license. Believe it or not, there are indeed some positive effects that are expected thanks to global warming. We’ll go over these in this chapter, but we’ll also cover lots of the negative consequences—and these dwarf the handful of helpful ones. As you’ll see, there is no question that, in the grand scheme of things, climate change is unequivocally bad for humankind. Really bad.

Before we delve into the sorts of things that will happen (or in many cases are already happening) as a result of anthropogenic climate disruption, there are a few general concepts to go over. A key thing to keep in mind when it comes to effects of climate change is that they will all be proportionate to the amount of warming. Each additional degree of warming beyond the baseline global temperature will not only introduce new effects, but it will also make each effect more severe. It may seem that one single, lowly degree shouldn’t even make a difference. Who among us can really tell the difference between, say, seventy-four and seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit? (No doubt some of you are now turning to argue with a significant other or roommate about that thermostat setting in your home.) Surprisingly enough, that one degree really does have a colossal impact on the planet and its inhabitants. This is why it’s so important to limit our impact on the climate as much as possible. We are already at a point where we’ve begun to screw with the system, but that doesn’t mean we’re all doomed. Every bit that we can lessen our greenhouse-gas emissions will make the effects less severe.

Before we send you cowering under your covers and buying emergency kits, let’s be fair to Brad and spend a little time talking about the handful of positive effects anticipated to result from a warming planet. The positive outcome that probably receives the most attention is the fact that the Arctic Ocean’s Northwest Passage will eventually be free of sea ice (at least in the summer months), thereby opening up a shortcut for marine shipping between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Assuming that the passage was safely navigable (a big “if,” since iceberg threats will remain), it would represent a substantial boon for the shipping industry. A related opportunity would be the ability to lay fiber-optic cables under the Arctic Ocean, which could significantly increase global communication speed. Also, there are probably undiscovered natural gas and oil that will become accessible, though of course that’s the stuff that got us into this situation in the first place.

Another consequence of maintaining a relatively cooler climate is pretty straightforward: winter kills. Segments of the population that are especially vulnerable, such as the elderly, can succumb to extreme cold weather; every year there are many thousands of deaths worldwide that are attributed to this phenomenon. If the planet warms, you’d expect to have fewer such deaths.

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