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How to debate with climate change deniers… and win!

Refuting the arguments of climate change deniers

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In a world of extreme weather, climate change affects daily life. Sorting through misinformation from deniers is crucial. For example, during heatwaves, false claims challenge understanding.

Deniers will tell you climate change is a ‘natural process that has always been part of history’. Their aim is to create uncertainty and confusion, which prevents action. 

Even though constant media coverage highlights disasters caused by droughts or forest fires, these voices persist, presenting their ideas as the 'true' situation.

However, despite the voices that deny the reality, there’s an overwhelming scientific consensus on the existence and seriousness of climate change.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the ideas of those who don’t accept the climate emergency we are facing and make a science-based call to action

What do climate change deniers say?

Well-known political figures like former U.S. President Donald Trump, Christopher Monckton or Italy's former Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Matteo Salvini, have used their positions to say things like "global warming is a concept created by the Chinese".

Climate change deniers use different arguments to question its existence or severity. A favorite is the alleged lack of scientific consensus. 

In an article published in the journal Tabula Rasa, sociologists from the University of Valencia, Spain, detail some of these arguments:

1. This is part of a natural cycle, where they point out that climate change is a process inherent to the Earth's cycle, not necessarily caused by human activity.

2. Minimisation of the impact of CO2, stating that carbon dioxide is a natural component and its impact on the atmosphere is minimal, which leads to questioning its contribution to global warming.

3. Discrediting scientists, indicating that there is some sort of global conspiracy to mask data and manage climate analytical frameworks that are provisional and unreliable, undermining the credibility of climate change science.

4. Use of philosophy, where denialists use Popperian philosophy [icon1] of science and its falsifiability criterion as a reference to argue that no scientific theory can be definitively accepted, including climate change.

Dismantling the arguments: you can't deny the undeniable

As the saying goes, "You can't cover the sun with one finger." The scientific evidence is clear and convincing. Reports like this one published in the journal Environmental Research in 2021 strongly and overwhelmingly support the scientific acceptance that contemporary climate change is caused by human activities.

The study concludes that the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change is over 99% in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

This consensus is reflected in reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), backed by thousands of scientists worldwide. 

In their most recent report published in 2023, experts have pointed to significant evidence that:

- Human-induced global warming of 1.1 °C has caused changes in the Earth's climate that are unprecedented in recent human history.

- Climate impacts on people and ecosystems are more widespread and severe than expected, and future risks will increase rapidly with every fraction of a degree of warming.

- Some climate impacts are already so severe that populations can no longer adapt to them, leading to losses and damages for vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

- Removal of carbon dioxide is now essential to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

- Climate finance for both mitigation and adaptation must increase dramatically in this decade.

This is a clear triumph of evidence over opinions. Climate science, backed by decades of rigorous research and data analysis, provides a deep understanding of climate change's processes and causes. 

Ignoring this evidence compromises our ability to make informed and effective decisions to address its impacts and develop mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The cost of climate change denial

Climate change denial is not simply an academic issue; it has severe and tangible consequences. Denial implies a lack of urgency in taking measures to mitigate its effects. 

Another study published in the journal Environmental Research provides clear evidence that belief or denial of climate change "affects behavioural decisions with real environmental consequences".

The research analysed more than 56,000 pollution-related decisions from over 2,200 participants in more than 30 countries and the results are loud and clear: Climate change scepticism predicts self-interested decision-making and an insensitivity to climate consequences, even when personal benefits are minimal or climate costs are significant. 

Individual and collective decisions on how we address climate change translate into environmental, social and economic consequences, all of which go hand in hand. Situations where there is an increase in extreme weather events, like more intense hurricanes, prolonged heat waves and severe droughts, bring as an "added effect" social issues such as the threat to food security, public health and economic stability around the world.

Importance of action and awareness

The fight against denialism is not only about persuading the unbelievers but also about fostering collective action and raising awareness of the urgent need to protect our planet. 
Scientists, communicators, activists, and governments all have crucial roles in conveying accurate information, promoting policies, and implementing measures to mitigate climate impacts. Additionally, the social sciences and humanities must be recognised for their importance in addressing the root causes of climate denial and fostering a cultural shift towards sustainability. 

As we confront the challenges of climate change, it's not a matter of assigning blame but rather of collectively safeguarding the natural world upon which we all depend.

Final verdict

Climate change deniers' arguments lack solid scientific support and are only aimed at generating uncertainty in society. 

Overwhelming evidence supports the reality of climate change and its connection to human activities. It is critical to recognise the seriousness of this crisis and act accordingly. In doing so, we can work towards a more sustainable and resilient future for generations to come.

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Author: Gabriela Aceitón Cortés

Author: Gabriela Aceitón Cortés

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Social communicator specialized in science and environmental journalism, I am motivated to disseminate knowledge generated in research projects to society.

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