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18th November 2023

“The climate change hoax” – and other X threads

When 97% of scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans, what could sway people to go against them and call it a hoax? We took to X to find out
“The climate change hoax” – and other X threads
Credit: Matt Brown @ Wikimedia Commons

For many of us, the reality of climate change seems like common sense. We’ve seen the increasing number of extreme weather events and the destruction they leave in their wake. We’ve seen images of emaciated animals, surrounded by their burning or melting habitats. Unfortunately, these images of a planet in climate crisis have become familiar.

Therefore, it is easy for many of us to think of climate change doubters as ‘others’. Their views seem so far removed from our own that conversations on the topic are pointless.

In this article, we take a deep dive into X (formally Twitter) to find some of the most common arguments against climate change and figure out why people believe these arguments and whether there is any substance to them.

Carbon dioxide makes up how much of the atmosphere?

The first argument which seems to be circulating X is from a debate in 2019, where Australian broadcaster Alan Jones suggests that if carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere, it simply can’t be that important.

The comments on the tweet are filled with praise and support, applauding the video and suggesting that Jones has just “proved climate change is a hoax”.

Jones’ comments regarding the small percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere are true, but are redundant. As scientists, we are used to dealing with concepts of small yet mighty: DNA, atoms, and the healthy range of atmospheric CO2.

Turning inward to the human body, for example, lymphocytes make up about 0.02-0.04% of your blood composition. Yet, fluctuations outside of these levels are indicators of serious disease or infection and subsequently leave your immune system open to attack. 

As it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. And however small the percentage of CO2 may be, fluctuations outside of the healthy ranges would be just as devastating no matter how big or small it was to start with. As NASA put it in one of their own tweets, “Small amounts of powerful substances can have big effects”.

As for Jones’ comments that humans are responsible for 3% of CO2 emissions; the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has risen from 280 ppm in 1850 to 421 ppm today – a rise of around 33%, which has been attributed to human activity. 

Climate change is real… but it’s natural – we can’t do anything about it!

Climate change is not man-made. On face value, these words may sound like the words of a conspiracy theorist, but, indeed, climate change is not all man-made. The climate of our planet, and others is constantly changing and always has been – long before we were around to affect anything.

The crux of this discussion is – has our planet shown the effects of unusual climate change, outside of documented normal levels since the Industrial Revolution?

The controversial hockey stick graph referred to in the video is actually a set of graphs that show the temperatures of the northern hemisphere across the last 1000 years. The name refers to the shape of the graph, which shows a gradual cooling and then a steep rise in temperature in the last 100 years. 

The graph was included in the beginning of the IPCC 2001 report which is used to inform and advise policy makers on climate action. It has since become a symbol of the disagreement between climate change activists and deniers, with many claiming the graph exaggerates the impact of human activity on climate change and is, at best, “rubbish”, and at worst, “fraud”.

It is true that the methodology of the research that created the graph was criticised by some scientists but a debate around the methods of one study doesn’t mean that the earth’s temperature didn’t increase after the Industrial Revolution. In fact, studies have confirmed the graph’s key conclusions over and over again: the world is warmer now than it has been for at least 1000 years.

Despite being proven correct, “the great hockey stick debate” continues to be used as a tool to damage public trust and to push a narrative of fraudulent science.

We are increasing CO2 levels… but it’s a good thing!

Many of the statements on X refer to the magic number of CO2 levels dropping below 0.02% which would kill off all plant species. Again, this fact is true but gives only one side of the story. 

Plants require CO2 to create energy through photosynthesis, and if CO2 levels dropped too low, then it would be devastating for all life. But, higher levels of CO2 have led to fluctuating temperatures across the globe resulting in natural disasters such as drought or flooding – anyone who has struggled with house plant care will understand the perils associated with over- and under-watering.

The discussions on X on this topic also sometimes link back to the idea of governments aiming to be net zero in policy, suggesting that getting to net zero would kill plant life. But, the policies refer to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 0, not CO2 levels – as the planet has a natural CO2 level which has been maintained for centuries.

We’ve heard it all before

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is hard to ignore the number of posts from climate change doubters documenting an overwhelming number of historical videos and documents, of times when the public has received a climate change warning which has turned out to be false, or at least hasn’t come true within the timeline outlined.

I don’t have the space here to address each of those points, and that isn’t the point of this article. But, there is a truth that there has been so much varying information – correct or otherwise – by scientists, the media and the public alike since climate change critics started appearing from the early 70s. Some of the information is completely wrong, some of it is partially wrong, a lot of it relies on predictions (defined as “a statement about what you think will happen in the future”) which are often subjective to the person doing the thinking.

The point is, this mass false information, whether it was concocted by a climate change denier, or was an incorrect prediction from a climate scientist can be viewed as reminiscent of a certain fable regarding a boy and a wolf. Perhaps a sympathetic view of climate change doubters is that the line where we each stop listening to the shouts of ‘wolf’ is different.

Where the analogy fails though, is that there are millions of people shouting. And in a time when 97% of scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans, I think I’ll hedge my bets that the wolf is coming.

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