At the beginning of last year I released a video about the top EV myths I was seeing over and over in the comments. Well, it’s the start of a new year, so I thought, why not kick things off with a new myths video? But this time, I’ve compiled the top 5 climate change myths I see stated most often on my channel.
1: The science is still being debated. It’s not settled — or — it’s not caused by humans.
The simple answer is: yes, it’s settled. But it’s complicated. And it’s complicated not because the science is debated, but because of public misunderstandings and misinformation creating a hot mess.
Taking a big step back and just looking at how scientific research is conducted is important in answering this question. In simple terms, the scientific method begins with a question and then a hypothesis for answering that question. Experiments and research are conducted to test the hypothesis, and based on those results, the hypothesis is modified as needed and more tests are conducted. This cycle continues until the hypothesis matches the observed results. The entire point of this process is to keep things neutral and objective and remove any person’s bias. Reputable scientific research is always carefully plotted, planned and documented. When the final analysis is done others can examine the findings and try to replicate the process themselves to confirm the findings. Scientific papers getting published in respected publications, and peer-reviewed, is an essential part of that process.
So, do scientists agree on climate change? Yes. 97% of scientists studying human impact on climate agree that it’s happening.1 One of the papers that cited that 97% number in 2013 was a co-authored paper published in Skeptical Science,2 which examined almost 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science studies published between 1991 and 2011. They categorized each study based on their final position on climate change, which came out to 97% of studies, with a position on humans impacting climate change, agreeing that it’s happening. The team that wrote that paper had their study peer reviewed … there’s that scientific method again … by the authors of the original studies they categorized. Of the 1,200 responses they got back, the results still came out to 97%.3
And the Skeptical Science paper was an offshoot of an earlier paper that did a similar study. It was published by Naomi Orestes in the peer-reviewed journal, Science, in 2004.4 That earlier study looked at 928 peer-reviewed climate papers published between 1993 and 2003. In that review the findings found that 100% agreed on climate change.
The 2013 paper was a much larger sample size and also included several more years of papers. But what about those 3% that came to the opposite conclusion on global warming?
Well, there was a review done of those papers in 2015 that found all of those papers suffered from methodological flaws that resulted in incorrect conclusions.5 Again, here comes that scientific method. Scientists follow and reproduce those processes and methodologies to see if they can reach the same conclusion. In this case, they didn’t. Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University was one of the scientists that worked on reviewing those papers. She wrote:
“Every single one of those analyses had an error—in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis—that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus.” -Katharine Hayhoe6
Many of the problems found were cherry-picking results that supported their conclusion and ignoring other records. Others used a technique called “curve fitting”7 to get the data points to match the curve they wanted.
That brings us back to 100% consensus once you’ve weeded out the erroneous papers, but even if you leave them in there’s another interesting trend. The 97% all agree it’s humans that are the primary cause of global warming. The remaining 3% don’t have any kind of cohesion as to what’s causing global warming. Conclusions range from everything from the sun, to other planets’ orbital cycles, or the ocean’s cycles.8
One final note on this: Frank Luntz is the Republican pollster that came up with the Republican strategy in 2001 to emphasize a lack of scientific certainty around climate change. The effort was to muddy the waters and change public opinion … and it worked. Well, Frank Luntz has since changed his tune and has been working to do the exact opposite. In fact, he told congress:
“I’m here before you to say that I was wrong in 2001 … Just stop using something I wrote 18 years ago, because it’s not accurate today.” – Frank Luntz9
2: Plants like carbon for food. You’re not helping the environment, you’re hurting it … and Extra carbon in the atmosphere actually helps plants grow.
This one is pretty interesting to me because there’s absolutely a seed of truth in there. Plants and trees do remove and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees actually grow from the carbon they collect from the air, so it makes sense to draw the conclusion that more carbon is good for trees and other plants.
But the problem with this conclusion is that it’s ignoring three areas: 1) the number of trees around the world is declining. Deforestation is eating away at the planet’s natural carbon dioxide scrubbers. 2) the amount of carbon dioxide in the air isn’t standing still, it’s growing.10 So we have a trend lines going in opposite directions. And 3) Plants may love CO2, but they don’t react well to rising temperatures and some of the other environmental changes associated with global warming.11 A paper published in Nature shows that some beans and grains have lower concentrations of zinc and iron when grown under increased CO2.12 Another paper shows that corn and soybean crops have smaller yields.13 And too high a concentration of CO2 can actually cause a reduction of photosynthesis in certain plants.14 The bottom line is that you have to look at the entire ecosystem and not just one part of it.15 It would be like eating nothing but carbohydrates and no protein, fat, or minerals. There needs to be a balance in your diet. And there needs to be a proper balance in the amount of CO2 equivalents in the atmosphere.
3: Climate change and renewable energy is a scam
I hear this one a lot on my solar panel videos. It ranges from climate change being a hoax so some country (or company) can get rich, to solar panels being a scam for a similar reason. I’m not going to address the tinfoil hat conspiracy theories that some of this gets wrapped up in, but one aspect of it that does deserve some attention is the cost of combating climate change, installing solar, wind, carbon taxes, subsidies, etc. All of that kind of rolled into one. As well as some of those solutions, like solar, actually creating more pollution than they solve.
The old saying, “a stitch in time saves nine” comes to mind for me around the costs of switching off fossil fuels. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created a set of Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP).16 There are pathways that show an upfront cost, but have a good long-term GDP and economic performance. RCP 2.6 and 4.5, which are the green and red paths, assume that CO2 equivalents peak between 2010 and 2040 before declining due to efforts to curtail climate change. RCP 8.5 is basically status quo … we do basically nothing. Both RCP 2.6 and 4.5 have a positive impact on the long-term economics vs. doing nothing.17
Sticking with our current mode of operation will have the worst performance because over time the costs of damage and disruption from climate change will far outweigh the short-term savings of doing nothing. We’re going to pay for this no matter what. Addressing it now will be cheaper than waiting.
To look at a real world example where some of this is playing out already, we could look at British Columbia in Canada, which introduced carbon pricing to reduce fuel use. A report that looked at the effectiveness of the policies since they were introduced in 200818 found it had a good balance. Fuel consumption across all fuel types fell by 17.4% per capita. British Columbia’s GDP kept pace with the rest of Canada. And cuts to income and other taxes exceeded the $500 million in carbon tax revenues in the first four years. Bottom line: it benefited the taxpayers.
Which leads me to the cost of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels. Going with hydro, wind, and solar is now the cheapest way to generate electricity19 … and that’s without any subsidies. In many cases it costs less than even coal or natural gas.
Lazards Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 2019
And an increase in renewables on a grid doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in electricity prices. A new report from the Department of Energy suggests that renewables are lowering wholesale prices across the US.20 California has seen a cost reduction of $2.2 per MWh, which is mostly a result of solar.21 And one interesting side effect of renewables like solar and wind is that some areas can see negative wholesale prices from time to time. That’s when there’s a surplus of energy during times of peak solar or wind production. Now, this doesn’t mean consumers aren’t ending up paying more on their bill because there are other factors like taxes and fees that might increase.
And finally, electric utilities are opting to go for solar and wind over building out new natural gas or coal plants because it’s the cheaper option. A good example is in Florida, where FPL is building out a massive solar-powered battery to replace two natural gas plants.22
4: Western countries aren’t the problem. It’s China.
This one is somewhat related to the last myth because China keeps getting wrapped up into this discussion in two ways. It’s either responsible for the scam because so many solar panels are built there, subsidized, and exported out through questionable trade policies. Or it’s responsible for the majority of climate change, so why should (fill in your country here) be on the hook for solving the problem. I get a little perplexed when I see those two different points on various videos because they’re a contradiction of each other.
And the response to both of those arguments is the same. The truth of the matter is that China is the fastest growing country when it comes to renewables being rolled out. As of 2019 China is the largest producer and consumer of renewable energy in the world.23 If renewables were a scam, they wouldn’t be doing that.
Wood and Mackenzie
They make up a third of total wind power capacity in the world, and a quarter of the world’s solar. But as impressive as that is, it’s still only a fraction of their total energy requirements. Wind is only producing 5.2% of what they use. And solar is at 2.5%.24 And over the last few years there’s been an increase in the amount of CO2 emissions. So it’s complicated. China is rolling out renewables faster than most other countries, but they need to do more to stop the CO2 increase and reverse that trend.
But the argument that “why should we cut back when China is worse” makes me think of another old saying: cutting off your nose to spite your face. This situation isn’t about holding any one country responsible, consequences be damned. This is about the whole world. Countries like the US need to stand up and make the change because it’s what needs to be done, and they have the ability to do it. It’s just the right thing to do.
5: Solar panels need more energy to create them than you’ll ever produce. They also create a lot of toxic waste in landfills. You’re actually creating more pollution than solving it.
This one is stated a lot. It’s kind of a crazy the number of times I’ve seen it, especially when it’s so easy to to run through the numbers to disprove it. There are several studies on the energy costs to manufacture versus what that panel will produce over its lifetime. According to one study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory,25 a PV system can repay their energy investment in about 2-3 years. The payback time depends on the type of panel, but in general we’re talking about a very short timeframe compared to the life of the panel. Most panels come with 20 – 25 year warranties, but can also last well beyond that point. So from about year 3 onward is all in the green.
As for the pollution side of the statement, again, it’s pretty easy to walk through. From that same NREL study, an average solar panel installation on a home that covers half of the energy needs would eliminate about half a ton of sulfur dioxide pollution, and 600lbs of nitrogen oxides,26 which far outweighs the amount of pollutants produced in manufacturing the solar panel. It’s a very similar point for EVs, which I covered in my last myths video.
The science and the data is pretty clear regarding human impact on climate change, and that we need to address this problem now if we’re going to slow or stop it. This video isn’t an argument about conservative versus liberal solutions on how to fix the problem, but just that … objectively … the problem is here. It’s real. We need to deal with it. It’s hard to ignore the polar ice caps melting. Or the increasing trend of strong and damaging storms. Or disasters like the California wildfires becoming the new norm. And the devastating wildfires that Australia is struggling with as I’m filming this video.. Unless we make significant changes, it’s only going to get worse. I don’t want to end on such a downer because I’m actually pretty optimistic that we can fix it. I think when people are armed with the facts, they’ll make smarter choices.
Some additional posts about climate change myths:
The article I cited did the math for 1/2 of the energy needs of an average U.S. household. The math works out like this…
Average U.S. Household per Month:
830 kWh of electricity
Pollution Offset for 1,000 kWh Solar Production per Month:
- 8 lbs Sulfur Dioxide
- 5 lbs Nitrogen Oxides
- 1,400 lbs of Carbon Dioxide
Meeting 1/2 of the average U.S. household’s energy needs means 415 kWh solar production per month, which works out to a 28 year lifetime offset of:
- 1,116 lbs Sulfur Dioxide
- 697 lbs Nitrogen Oxides
- 195,216 lbs of Carbon Dioxide
- http://climate.nasa.gov/faq/17/do-scientists-agree-on-climate-change/ ↩︎