Why Don’t People Believe in Climate Change? The Answer May Surprise You
Many people believe that climate change due to human activity, or anthropogenic climate change, is the greatest, most urgent threat to life on our planet. But, some people disagree. Do they really believe that climate change does not exist? Keep reading to find out why they’re so skeptical.
Everybody Wants to Live in a Clean Environment
Nobody wants to see our beautiful planet Earth destroyed. The environment is complicated and there are many related issues that require attention, like climate change. There are other issues as well like deforestation, desertification, smog, plastic in the oceans, oceanic fishery collapse, and waste management. We have limited resources, so it is important to prioritize them.
It is tempting to think our side has all the answers and anyone who disagrees with us is mistaken. The climate change question is a big one, and there are many related, complicated issues. One point of contention is the fact that the earth has warmed between 1 and 1.7 degrees centigrade in the last 200 years. Is this a result of human influences on the environment?
97% of scientists believe the climate is warming, and humans are at least partially responsible.
When you go beyond this point the consensus breaks down. How much of the warming is due to human activity? How high will the temperatures go? And, does climate change constitute a crisis? These, and other questions are beyond the scope of the 97% consensus on climate change and the starting point of a greater debate. Is asking such questions grounds for being labeled a climate denier?
A Skeptical Ecologist
Jonathan Grassmick is an ecologist in New Mexico who is part of the 97%, but he is not convinced that climate change is a crisis. Jonathan received a degree in environmental science and wildlife management in 2001 from Stephen F. Austin State University.
Failed Predictions Cause Climate Fatigue
Many politicians, educators, and scientists have been calling for bans and regulations for decades. Jonathan agrees that humans are contributing to rising temperatures, and we need to have regulations in place to protect the environment. At the same time he points out that dire predictions about the short term consequences of inaction have not come true, and these failed predictions have contributed to the public apathy regarding climate change.
The historical record of the scientific and philosophical debate regarding human-caused environmental catastrophe goes back to the 4th century BC when Plato and Aristotle recommended state-controlled birth rates, and includes Thomas Malthus, who in 1798 proposed the world was on the brink of environmental collapse due to overpopulation.
Malthus was wrong and the world did not collapse into famine. Despite the failure of his predictions, his methods and even his name are often referenced when discussing threats to the environment.
Al Gore and others have routinely said we only have a few years or in some cases only months to act to avoid drastic and irreversible changes. Predictions that the polar ice caps will entirely melt, snow will stop falling, and coastal cities will be inundated by sea-level rise have been made as far back as 1922.
These predictions have done more harm than good. When they do not come true, the population assumes there are no problems. When scientists and legitimate activists do not reject alarmist claims made by popular figures, they damage their own credibility.
The deadlines pass and the threatened irreversible changes do not occur. ABC News reports that fatigued Americans rank climate change as the 15th most important issue facing the country today. If scientists and politicians want Americans to worry more about climate change, more accurate predictions about the future could be more persuasive.
People who are skeptical of the theory of anthropogenic climate change are often called climate deniers and accused of not taking science seriously. Many of the scientists who are accused of being climate deniers are included in the 97% consensus.
Skeptics diverge from popular opinion in a variety of ways, but most skeptics agree that anthropogenic climate change is not an existential threat. Good science is driven by skepticism and robust debate, where propositions are challenged until conclusive evidence is demonstrated. The general theory of relativity, published by Albert Einstein in 1915, wasn’t generally accepted until 1919 when conclusive evidence was provided as to its accuracy in predicting future events.
Most theories would have been rejected and discarded after so many high-profile failures, but the consequences of being wrong on climate change are too great to ignore so the debate continues.
We interviewed Aka Niviâna, an indigenous climate activist, and she described the melting glaciers of Greenland. The retreat of the ice has made it harder for natives to hunt for food, and wildlife populations have been impacted in ways that are still hard to interpret.
A Need for Regulations
Jonathan and many others who are accused of not being scientific want to protect the environment. Jonathan has praised actions taken by the EPA and international governments in their efforts to keep the world clean and safe. At the same time, he criticizes efforts to act without evidence. He wants a full and robust debate about important policies that will have far-reaching effects on our economy in order to ensure our actions are as accurate and effective as possible. He does not propose stalling to wait until all the answers are in to take action; he says we need to use the information we have available right now and act quickly.
Environmental Resources Cost Money
Resources are limited to the taxes that governments collect from their citizenry, so it is important to be efficient and economical. If we do not have our priorities in the right order, or if we have incorrect or inaccurate information, we may neglect important problems and waste time, money and resources on ineffective programs. The mismanagement of Yellowstone National Park illustrates the damage that can be done when good people with good intentions act with inadequate information. Yellowstone was mismanaged and suffered from species loss and severe environmental degradation, and despite all that has been learned there are still major problems in the management of national parks and Yellowstone. If we can’t adequately manage a national park then we need to be very careful how we act in relation to our biosphere as a whole, and we should encourage criticism of our theories and ideas in order to increase our understanding and refine predictions.
Skepticism Drives Science… Except for Climate Science
In 2018, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature published a paper on ocean warming as a result of Climate Change. In September of 2019, the journal retracted the paper due to mathematical inaccuracies. These errors were not caught by the authors of the study, their peers who reviewed their work, or the editors at Nature. Instead the errors were discovered by Nicholas Lewis, a financier and independent climate researcher in Bath, England.
Nicholas studied mathematics and physics at Cambridge University (UK) and has made significant contributions to climate research. Despite his willingness to cooperate, many who work in climate research attack him because of his skeptical stance on climate change. He is called a climate denier, a science denier, and worse. Because of the unwillingness of most climate researchers to work with skeptics, Nicholas had to publish the errors he found in the Nature study on his own website. Had the community been more willing to collaborate and engage in meaningful debate they may have been spared the embarrassment of having a paper retracted from a major publication. It is important to note that in all other fields of scientific study, skepticism is built into the system and all new ideas are rigorously attacked. Today, skepticism is a sin.
Lewis said he found the errors after a cursory inspection of the study and reported the errors to Nature just 3 days after the initial publication. It took Nature 11 months to retract the paper, giving Lewis credit for discovering the errors. Due to the glaring nature of the problems with the paper, it is easy to surmise that if the editors and peer reviewers at Nature were a little more skeptical, then they could have uncovered the math errors and avoided the damage to their reputation.
Nature is one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, and they pride themselves on the accuracy and relevance of the material they publish. The retraction of a paper by Nature is a rare and embarrassing event for such a respected institution, and it is reasonable to suggest that if Nature can make such a large and easily discoverable error, then lesser publications are likely to have made similar errors that have gone unchecked.
Jonathan Grassmick would like to see more inclusion of people like Nicholas Lewis because of the valuable contributions they have demonstrated. The suppression of skeptical and contrarian viewpoints damages the advance of science because skepticism is the core of the scientific method.
Although the climate is changing and humans may be partly to blame, Climate Change is not concerning enough for the US government to take actions that could weaken the economy, particularly since developing countries like China and India will not do the same. In my opinion, advancements in technology that occur organically will naturally lead to fewer and fewer carbon emissions from anthropogenic sources.Jonathan Grassmick
Spending tax dollars costs hard-working people—often middle-class Americans—the fruits of their labor. Regulated behaviors cost people their freedom. This is needless suffering. On the other hand, we should enthusiastically and voluntarily take actions that both fight climate change and provide economic benefit.
Temperatures and Sea Levels are Rising
Temperatures and sea levels have been rising for 12,000 years. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have been burning vast amounts of fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has doubled from 200 parts per million (ppm) to 400, going above levels not seen in over 800,000 years. But the earth has seen higher CO2 levels. For most of the last billion years, CO2 concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere were much higher than they are today. It is likely that human activity is entirely responsible for the doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but again, no proof is available.
Yale Study Shows That CO2 Levels Were Higher In the Past
But let’s assume that humans are the cause. What does it mean? Some are concerned that life cannot exist if the concentration of CO2 goes up much higher, but in the distant past, CO2 concentrations were 5 to 10 times higher than they are today, and current estimates are that if we burned all the fossil fuels on the planet, CO2 levels would not double again.
The current CO2 concentration of 400 ppm is a very tiny fraction of the atmosphere, but some scientists say it’s enough to be forcing temperatures higher than they otherwise would be.
Over the last 200 years, temperatures have risen by 1 to 1.7 degrees centigrade. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, human use of fossil fuels is responsible for 76% of the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, but it is unclear how much of the temperature rise is due to carbon dioxide and how much is due to other factors like the inclination of the sun and cloud cover (among other influences).
NASA and climate change activists often focus on just the last two hundred years of CO2 concentrations, and these graphs, when not taken in a larger context, appear quite alarming.
Sea levels have been rising at a fairly predictable rate since the end of the little ice age, long before the industrial revolution and human burning of fossil fuels. Content has been produced that would suggest otherwise, and the skeptical retorts to “climate alarmism” are often ignored.
Climate Models are Inaccurate
Many models have been created to predict the direction of climate change, and the spectrum of possible futures is large. None of the models so far has been able to predict the future with any reliable accuracy. Despite this fact, it seems every year new models are introduced, and politicians, educators, and scientists who predict doom for the future are given broad and sustained publicity by the media.
The modern era of climate models can be said to have started with Michael Mann and the hockey stick graph from the 1990s.
Since the advent of the hockey stick, people have been much more concerned and scientists have been sounding the alarm, making predictions of permanent catastrophe if action isn’t taken in 5 or 10 years. The deadlines have come and gone without consequence and many in the public at large are experiencing climate fatigue.
Michael Mann is currently embroiled in a legal storm of his own creation. He sued two of his detractors in Canada and the United States for defamation, but when called upon by the judge to produce his data to prove he is right, he refused and has been held in contempt of court.
Science is supposed to be about published data that is subject to rigorous review. His hockey stick graph is more than 20 years old now and Mann is one of the most prominent climate scientists in the field, and yet he refuses to release his data. Traditionally, scientists are not given a forum until they produce data and the community is able to reproduce their results. While the lawsuit isn’t over, the fact that Mann will not release his data says troubling things about what we will find when, and if, it is ever released.
Fossil Fuels are Dirty
But even if the data is unreliable and the climate is complicated, fossil fuels produce pollution, and we should look for alternatives whether climate change is a threat, or not. The energy market trends towards cleaner energy, so if we allow voluntary private action to continue, we are likely to see fewer carbon emissions in the future as power plants switch to natural gas instead of coal and petroleum. Air pollution kills millions of people a year and contributes to asthma, allergies, and the general misery of billions of people. So why not just get rid of them anyway and find something new?
Renewable energy is touted by many as the main source for hope for the future. Solar and wind are renewable and clean and the Climate Change Lobby wants us to switch. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a Green New Deal that has garnered much attention in the media. She has made a prediction that we have 12 years to switch to solar and wind or we will all die.
But renewable energy sources have a low density, meaning they require a large surface area to produce power, and humans and industry have a high density. Additionally, power consumption around the world continues to increase, and as nations develop economically and people are pulled out of poverty, they will need more access to cheap electricity. Not only is this power hard to collect, once it is collected in remote places it has proved difficult to transmit from the low-density areas where it is collected to the high-density areas where it is in the greatest demand. And it is unreliable, meaning sometimes an overabundance of energy is created that ends up being dumped at low prices or even at a loss and at other times it isn’t producing as much as expected and power has to be purchased from other sources at inflated prices.
Markets using renewable energy, at this point, are experiencing much higher prices. Despite promises that renewable energy will be cheaper than coal, the cost of electricity in Germany and California is still much higher than in countries that use fossil fuels and nuclear power, and the higher cost is due to the use of renewable energy.
Nuclear Power is a Proven Solution
The only complete alternative to fossil fuels right now is nuclear power. Nuclear scientists agree that this energy source is safe, clean and reliable, and with current designs, it is cheaper and better than any other source of power.
The accidents involving nuclear reactors that happened in the past all came from the first generation of nuclear reactors. There have been no accidents with second and third-generation nuclear power plants, and Generation IV plants are safer and more efficient than those. The climate change lobby is not united on the question of nuclear power. They tout the importance of listening to scientists, but when nuclear power is mentioned as a solution it is often rejected without discussion or simply ignored.
Scaring Children is Wrong
Greta Thunberg and many children around the world are terrified they will not live to grow up, or that the world will be miserable and hopeless by the time they are adults. While Greta is very intelligent and has drawn a lot of attention to important problems, her use of appeals to emotion and outrage are not appropriate for a serious scientific question.
Children should be protected from exposure to public debates that are often heated and emotionally charged. Children are not ready for the burden of dealing with being contradicted in public by people who are vastly more experienced at debate and whose feelings are less likely to be hurt.
The use of children to promote political policies has led to severe harm. Many children (and adults) have developed a newly defined disorder called eco-anxiety that mental health professionals are treating at increasing levels. Children are not scientists and should not be exposed to the emotional pressures involved with public political policy debates. The use of children for political means is generally seen as immoral and propagandist. Even scientists can’t agree on the climate, and indoctrinating children into having fits of anxiety and hysteria hearkens back to pre-enlightenment days of children’s crusades and an era when beating and terrorizing children was acceptable.
What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and Low Hanging Fruit
The climate is changing and we might be the cause. Renewable energy shows great promise for the future and we should continue to invest in and develop new technologies.
Fossil fuels are dirty and not renewable. While they are not going away any time soon they contribute to significant misery for billions of people and they are contributing factors in millions of deaths.
Nuclear power is cheap, clean, and proven to be better in all ways than fossil fuels and is an easy answer to fill the gap between fossil fuels and renewable energy, even if that gap takes 10,000 years to cross.
People are worried about climate change, and they should be. Earth’s climate is possibly the most complex system we as humans have ever tried to study, and at this point we are still vastly ignorant of what influences it, how much, and where it is headed. We should balance our concerns about the climate with healthy skepticism, in order to form rational opinions. Most “climate deniers” do not deny that climate change is happening. They only question whether its impact is as significant as the zeitgeist of our time would suggest.
This doesn’t mean we should ignore our impact. Far from it. We should be concerned and very preoccupied with how we are impacting the world. We should also be taking full advantage of the clean and cheap technologies that do not appear to have any downside.
Watch the full interview with Jonathan Grassmick to learn more.