Climate Change B.S. Detector: Sorting Fact from Fiction

which makes more sense sml

By Stephen Leahy

Uxbridge Cosmos, Feb 2013

There is quite a bit of misinformation about climate science and climate change (global warming). This is the most important issue of our time but it can be a complex subject. Here are some tips to help sort fact from fiction based on my experience of writing about science and climate change for the past 15 years.

Tip #1: Consider the source

It’s important to know where the information is coming from. Are they an expert or someone with an impressive looking website but no climate science training? No one goes to an engineer if they want their appendix removed.

If someone says a group of retired NASA scientists claim there is no evidence carbon dioxide causes global warming, I check to see if they are climate scientists — they’re not. Then I go to the official NASA website and in a big headline it says: “97% of climate sciences agree” climate change is happening.  This is followed by a long list of well-regarded scientific societies from around the world who also agree.

Tip#2 Verify

A reader once sent me a link to a “science” article from Investor’s Business Daily that said increased activity of the sun was entirely responsible for the current warming according to the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, a well-known research centre in Germany. A quick check of the Max Planck Institute’s website revealed their actual conclusion: “Solar activity affects the climate but plays only a minor role in the current global warming.”

Tip#3 Brush up on some science

Our atmosphere traps and retains the suns heat which is called the greenhouse effect. Without this the Earth would be more like the moon: +100C in the day and -170C at night. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that helps keep the planet warm by retaining some of the sun’s heat.  John Tyndall proved this 150 years ago in 1861. In the last 100 years our burning of oil, gas and coal has added 40% more CO2 to the atmosphere. That extra CO2 has warmed the planet 0.8C globally and 1.5C to 2.0C in Canada so far.

Tip # 4: Follow the money

Ask this question who has the most to gain or lose? Climate scientist’s largely rely on getting research money from governments. Scientists are smart people who are good with numbers so if they just wanted to make money they’d be working on Bay St or Wall St.

On the other hand the oil, coal and gas companies represent by far the richest industry in human history. In 2010 their revenues were estimated to be $5 trillion, far more than Canada’s $1.7 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) that year. (A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years).

The five biggest oil companies made a record $137 billion in profits in 2011. Surprisingly Canada’s largely foreign-owned oil and gas industry still receives $1.3 billion a year in public subsidies despite many promises to end this taxpayer handout.abyess cartoon 2012Toon05

Some fossil fuel companies have been caught sowing confusion and doubt about climate change just like the tobacco companies did regarding the link between smoking and lung cancer. Fossil fuel interests fund organizations that look official or science-based and they publish reports, write opinion pieces or do media interviews stating that global warming is a hoax and there is no real need to burn less oil, gas or coal. One of these organizations is Canada’s Friends of Science and its related site ClimateChange101 that received funding from Calgary oil company Talisman Energy to put out false and long-debunked critiques of climate science.

Here’s two of the best sources I use to help me sort fact from fiction:

For climate science go to “Skeptical Science”, a volunteer community with clearly written, rock solid science-based answers on climate.

For everything else go to “DeSmogBlog – Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science” . There is now a Canadian version “DeSmogCanada”  that I will be contributing to.

No one really wants to think about climate change and what it means for our children’s future. It is too difficult, too painful to even consider. But avoiding or denying global warming and its dangers prevents us from taking action to minimize future impacts. Inaction and delay are truly terrifying. However taking action at the personal, family and community levels is liberating and empowering. We need to start a conversation about this.

Uxbridge’s Stephen Leahy is the 2012 co-winner of the Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for Climate Change reporting . He is the senior science and environment correspondent at IPS,  Inter Press Service News Agency, based in Rome. His work is also published in National Geographic, The Guardian (UK), New Scientist, Al Jazeera, Earth Island Journal and others.

Or Just Print This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Win Every Climate Argument (thanks to Mother Jones)climate-flowchart_FINAL2sml

10 thoughts on “Climate Change B.S. Detector: Sorting Fact from Fiction

  1. Dear Mr Leahy- I have followed your writing and it is a great and simple but powerful point “to follow the money”! I have looked at the table above by James West. I am reading Christopher Booker’s The Real Global Warming Disaster, I have read the two Lomborg Skeptical books and Al Gore’s book and seen his film. Booker seems very powerful? I am still not clear a) if there is Global Warming and b) if there is what we can do about it and c) if it matters. I know our UK weather has been terrible with high rain, clouds and low sum light and temperatures. Is that to do with jet streams and/or ice melt pushing back the gulf stream.
    one goes round in circles and I guess both sides have some facts but no one knows? in some instances sceintists and legislators take the precautionary priciple and in others they wait and see. that often seems to be influenced by the money in the arguement. The above books are now several years oldWhere do I look for the most uptodate arguements for and against?
    Thank you

  2. When I was in grade school in the 70’s I was told the polar ice caps would be completely melted in 20 years, but they’re still there. In the 80’s we were told the Amazon rain forest would be completely gone in 15 years, but it’s still there. In the 90’s we were told global warming was out of control and we would have 100+ degree temperatures year round in twenty years, but it never happend.
    The problem with the climate change community is they lie and exhagerate to scare people into getting their way, but it doesn’t work and when the predicted catastrophies don’t happen they look stupid. They don’t even call it global warming anymore, now they call it climate change so any type of weather can fit their propaganda.

    • Your memory is faulty. No scientist would have said ice caps would melt in 20 years – and certainly not in the 1970s. So I don’t know who told you all these other things but it certainly wasn’t scientists or anyone with real knowledge of those subjects. You appear to be the one exaggerating. FYI Its always been called climate change.

      • In the ’70’s they were handing us the “global cooling” bs…..they were trying to convince everyone that the planet was cooling at such a rate that no one would be able to plant crops and that everyone would starve to death…..they were wrong then….and they are wrong now!

      • There is no evidence “they” (scientists) were saying any such thing. You are likely thinking of ‘nuclear winter’ scenarios that might have resulted from a nuclear war. Screaming that someone is wrong doesn’t make it so. It just makes you look childish.

  3. The fact that we have been measuring “global” temperatures for a Very small number of years in comparision to the age of the earth has escaped you. How can you look at a single step and determine the direction of a 1,000 mile journey- you can’t. Standarized units of measure has only been around since the 50’s. The simple fact is that the earth has raised and lowered its temperatures, drastically, for millions of years prior to man (ice ages???). There is no “normal” temperature for the earth. thow in Global Plate Tectonics – as the plates shift there will be changes to the weather patterns.
    Please explain what occured to lower temperatures to allow 1 mile high glaciers over the great lakes.
    Please explain what caused the tropical forest at the Sahara to disappear 5,000 years ago.
    You have to be able to explain why the earth had previous drastic climate changes before you can smiply blame man.

    • umm are you seriously interested in scientific discussion? Ice cores, tree rings and other proxy records offer detailed insight into global temperatures 10,000 to 100,000 years ago. Yes the planet has been much hotter in the past but there were no humans. And it has been colder during the ice ages. Not surprisingly scientists know all of this and they still have concluded that human’s are changing the climate through burning of fossil fuels.

      • So if a scientist tell you…
        2 plus 2 equals 4.
        4 times 4 is 16
        2 plus 2 equals 4.
        4 times 4 is 16
        2 plus 2 equals SIX. Im supposed to assume the scientist is right due to his ‘Title’ as scientist?

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