It’s the hot topic of the decade — pun intended. And the heat is coming from a few directions: a lot of people are worried about it, scientists say they know how to fix it, and some politicians don’t even believe it’s real. But most of us just want to understand what’s happening to the planet, so we can try to help, and plan for the future.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to long-term climate change. Add to the mix the youth involvement, and anxiety, towards finding a solution. Here are three common climate change myths, and three simpler ways to make sense of it.
1. Climate Is the Same as Weather
Recent cold weather shifts, like the Northeast “polar vortex” earlier this year, or the unusually chilly, rainy spring that just ended in Southern California, might have you wondering if the planet isn’t warming so quickly after all, or is even cooling down. But don’t let the cloudy skies fool you.
Weather patterns can last weeks, even months, but the climate is measured by decades. The National Center for Environmental Information explains while climate is what you expect, weather is what you get: air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and more can shift the forecast for an entire season.
Climate data, on the other hand, averages 30 years of weather, taking regional differences and seasonal changes into account. According to the most recent Climate Science Special Report, Earth’s climate is changing much more rapidly than ever before in the planet’s history.
Based on global temperature averages, measured sea-level rise, land-based ice melt and many other climate variables, leading scientists and multiple independent research groups have found consistent evidence the planet is warming.
2. Rain and Snowstorms Aren’t Related to Global Warming
Another key finding in The Climate Science Special Report was not only extreme heat, but also heavy precipitation, is increasing in most of the world. Blizzards, hurricanes, monsoons and dust storms are an expected side effect of a warming climate. Even scientists admit their calculations often underestimate just how extreme these weather events can be.
Severe storms are predicted to continue to increase and intensify worldwide, triggering floods and droughts in certain regions. Hotter summers might seem manageable, but that may be the least of our problems: if these trends continue, fall, winter and spring will be seriously affected too.
3. Humans Aren’t To Blame
It’s true Earth’s climate varies naturally through the centuries, but the dramatic shift since the mid-20th century indicates some impact outside the usual long-term ups and downs. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, evidence strongly supports man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) as the primary cause of recent warming.
Scientists are able to tell natural and human factors apart, and agree that the sun’s energy output hasn’t increased over the past 30 years, while human influence has become more and more obvious in the same time period.
While no natural factor has been shown to significantly affect the changing climate, scientists can identify man-made CO2 in the atmosphere as 80% from fossil fuel burning, and 20% from deforestation and other land surface changes. Trees, which take in CO2 and release oxygen, are necessary to keep the atmosphere (and climate) stable, but they’re disappearing at an alarming rate.
The Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forest every year, according to the World Wildlife Fund. That’s 27 soccer fields every minute.
Humans aren’t just pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. We’re removing our best tool to recycle it into the oxygen we need to breathe, and keep the climate livable.
What Can We Do?
These statistics might seem overwhelming or even scary, but it’s important to know what’s really going on. There’s a lot of doubt and misinformation about climate change, and a lot of it is spread because it’s hard to admit how much humans are at fault.
But if we want future generations to be able to play outside, travel, or just feel safe from life-threatening events like storms and floods, we need to understand what’s happening and make changes, fast.
As for planning for the future, Environmental Conservationist Dr. Nahmi Jones VMD says, “The best way to overcome feelings of overwhelm when faced with saving the planet is to approach it together as a family.”
Even then, Jones says to seek out support from your community. “Trying to figure out alone, hasn’t worked for us up to this point,” she says. “Bring climate change up in your parent groups or with friends, talk about articles like this one, the feelings they bring up and then find ideas, and the strength, to help your kids.”
Read up from reputable sources like the ones linked below, and look into some simple changes at home that can have a big effect on the planet.
Jones adds, “It’s our job as adults to offer kids some hope.” Her sage advice: let’s work together.
Climate Change Myths — Sources
National Centers for Environmental Information: What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate
CSSR: Our Globally Changing Climate
WWF, World Wildlife Fund: The Trouble Is, We Think We Have Time
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: Climate Basics