Grace Galletti is a sophomore at Brown University, majoring in Environmental Engineering. She grew up in Paris, France and is passionate about environmental sustainability. As an international student, she realizes the global extent of climate change. She believe's this is the biggest and most pressing issue that humankind is facing. As an environmental engineer, she hopes to create solutions to environmental problems. However, technology can only bring us so far, which is why she is very excited to work on the campaign to put a price on carbon. In her free time, she loves to do gymnastics, go rock climbing and be a part of the Brown Outing Club.
Debunking Climate Change Myths
“Being brought up one way and trying to see another way is very difficult” is a quote that I feel reflects the essence of climate change. I was brought up to think that I could be anything we set our minds to and that the world is my oyster. However, climate change is telling us that our actions have consequences. We need to take responsibility for them even though it’s not necessarily someone’s fault in particular. To be fair, this is a scary concept to accept. Hopefully, debunking these myths will bring the average person closer to recognizing climate change is very real.
The climate has changed before so there is nothing to worry about
It is true that the temperature of the planet has changed before as the planet has moved between glacial and interglacial periods. However, in these cases the temperature has changed on a much longer time scale. The phenomena responsible for these changes are related to different cycles of the Earth. The orbit of the Earth changes every 100,000 years, the tilt of the Earth every 41,000 years and finally the precession, which is the wobbling of Earth on itself, changes every 23,000 years (1). However, climate change is on a scale of decades which is much too small for these cycles to be responsible.
To learn more about the scale of the temperature change check out this comic.
The sun is causing the warming
One good indication of the Sun’s innocence is due to the different layers in the atmosphere. The troposphere which is closest to the Earth, goes up to an altitude of about 10km (1). It contains 80% of the total mass of the atmosphere including greenhouse gases (1). The stratosphere on the other hand, goes from about 10 km to 50km (1). If the Sun was responsible for the warming of the planet then both of these layers would warm. However, it has been observed that the troposphere is warming while the stratosphere is cooling. This can be explained by the presence of greenhouse gases in the troposphere which capture the heat. This prevents heat from reaching the stratosphere resulting in its cooling.
The climate is cooling
Climate will not affect every place on Earth in the exact same fashion. However, in the past 100 years there has been a recorded increase of 0.75°C in the global temperature of the Earth (1). 2016 has broken record after record as the first six months of 2016 have been the hottest months ever recorded. In addition, the last 16 years have been the hottest since 1880 (2).
Humans are not responsible for the increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
Before the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide shifted between oceans, plants and the atmosphere. However, burning of fossil fuels has added carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which was not previously present. We know that fossil fuels are responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide due to Carbon 14 dating. This process relies on the radioactive decay of Carbon 14 through time. It takes about 5,000 years for half of the Carbon 14 to decay (1). However, fossil fuels are about millions of years old which means that Carbon 14 has long since decayed and fossil fuels bear no trace of it. Observation of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere indicate a decrease in the concentration of Carbon 14 and an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. This in turn demonstrates that fossil fuels, which have no Carbon 14, are responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide.
Models are unreliable
Models have become increasingly complex taking into account many different aspects such as the melting of the poles, expansion of the ocean as it warms, solar radiation as well as many more factors influencing climate. They will never be completely accurate because climate is so complicated. However, the models can be tested on past climate which we have records of. These assessments allow us to verify the validity of the climate models.
Many articles prove climate change is a myth
Scientific articles need to be peer reviewed before they are published. This is a long process in which a certain number of anonymous scientists review submitted papers to validate their claims. Therefore, it is imperative to check if a source has been peer reviewed to attest to the accuracy of the data. Thus, most of the articles disproving climate change have not gone through this official peer review process.
Eating meat has nothing to do with climate change
Livestock contributes to many different aspects of climate change. First of all, livestock requires a lot of resources. For instance, it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to make a single pound of beef (3). Livestock also impacts land use as it covers about 45% of the Earth’s total land3. Furthermore, livestock is responsible for 65% of nitrous oxide emissions which is 300 times more powerful at trapping heat than CO2 (3). A plant based diet on the other hand, reduces someone’s carbon footprint by 50% (3). A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases produced by an entity.
(1) Courtesy of a lecture from Professor Stephen Porder’s course on Environmental Science at Brown University