When I hear or read the phrase “the climate change debate,” I get all worked up. Because in the world of serious science, there’s really no “debate” that pollution from human activities is changing the climate. Discussing the science behind whether carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases cause warming is so 19th century .
That’s why at The Climate Reality Project, we’re constantly on the lookout for stories that focus on the impacts of climate change and strategies on how to avoid or minimize those impacts. In our opinion, a good debate would center on what we should actually do about climate change.
Unfortunately though, that’s not the debate being had on the public stage in some parts of the world. Climate change deniers are distracting us and preventing us from having more meaningful and productive conversations. Take the Galileo Movement in Australia, which recently put a page of “scientific facts” on its website. These facts (many of which are sound) look pretty straightforward at first. But actually, they’re used in misleading ways that raise doubts about the reality of climate change.
For example, the website states that “CO2 levels in the air are less than 0.04%”. This naturally gets people thinking: “Well how could less than one percent of anything do much harm!?” This stat is accurate (as I’ll show below), but it doesn’t tell the full story.
Concentrations of gases in the atmosphere are commonly measured in parts per million (ppm). Right now advanced monitoring technology tells us there are 391 carbon dioxide molecules for every 1,000,000 molecules in the atmosphere, which does in fact work out to approximately .035%.
Now, cue the climate reality check. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has jumped from 280 to 391 ppm — a whopping 40% increase. Plus, gases have the potential to be very potent in extremely low concentrations. People die when carbon monoxide leaks in homes cause concentrations of the gas reach just 275 ppm or .027%! (Remember, unlike carbon monoxide, CO2 isn’t toxic to humans — it’s harmful in the atmosphere, not in our kitchens — but you get the idea.) For more on the Galileo movement’s misleading statements, check out this excellent article in Scientific American.
In a way then, CO2 and climate deniers have something in common. They’re exerting a powerful influence … even in small concentrations. But there’s no good reason why deniers can’t be diluted. Be wary of deceptive denier tactics like the one described above! Speak up, climate realists, when you see accurate science packaged in a misleading manner. And then, let the real debate — on how we should address climate change — begin!