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How to respond to a climate change denier

Let’s talk about how to respond to a climate change denier. Because let’s face it: freezing and stumbling around your answer isn’t working!

How to respond to a climate change denier - PollyBarks.com

I’m sure you’ve been there. You’re talking about a scary new article you read on the climate crisis or a bit of cool activism you’re doing. All the sudden: boom. A climate denier.

It’s heart-stopping, right?

The idea that anyone could still be a climate denier is hard to imagine. But it’s true.

So here are a few of the most common statements you’ll hear. Then, we’ll talk about how to respond to a climate change denier.

“There’s no actual evidence of global warming”

When you hear this, it’s usually followed up with the arguement that you “can’t trust computer models”.

That may or may not be true, but the fact is the evidence of global warming isn’t actually coming from a computer model.

It’s from tracking rising temperatures from records from the past 150 years, glacial melt observations, sea level rise, permafrost melting, the increased frequency and magnitude of weather events, among other measures.

These are all empirical measurements and non-negotiable proof that the climate is changing. We don’t even need to trust in computer models, although they can certainly be helpful predictors of what’s to come.

How to respond to a climate change denier - science - PollyBarks.com

“Scientists don’t agree that climate change is real”

99 percent of scientists agree that climate change is happening and that humans are the primary cause. The 1% who disagree are often not scientists related to the study of climate/oceans/whatever would be useful and funded by fossil-fuel driven think tanks.

The letter often cited by climate deniers as proof that scientists don’t agree – called “There is no Climate Emergency” – was signed by 506 “scientists” is picked apart thoroughly in the letter linked.

For the sake of brevity, we can focus on the main issue: that the signatories are not climate scientists. One scientist who audited the letter writes:

I categorized all 506 signatories according to their self-identified field of expertise. Only 10 identified as climate scientists, and 4 identified as meteorologists. (Together, that’s 2.8% of the total.) Signatories in totally unrelated academic fields (for example, psychology, philosophy, archaeology, and law) outnumbered climate scientists by two to one.

The most prevalent groups of signatories were geologists (19%) and engineers (21%)—many of whom were implicitly or explicitly involved in fossil energy extraction. Most of the rest were physicists, chemists, and mathematicians. A large fraction of the signatories were not scientists, but rather business executives, writers, activists, and lobbyists (totaling 11.3%).

The dissection of the letter – absolutely worth a full read! – also digs into where those scientists are getting their funding. Spoiler alert: it comes from some companies that benefit from sowing seeds of confusion. If you can get together a significant number of actual climate experts that are unpaid by big oil, then we can talk. Good luck.

“Global warming is a liberal hoax”

Every major scientific institution dealing with climate, ocean, and/or atmosphere agrees that the climate is warming rapidly and the primary cause is human CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, for many people who believe in conspiracies that simply isn’t enough. Instead, why not show them quotes from decidedly non-liberal sources like BP, Shell, and $6.5 trillion dollar investment firm Blackrock?

There is an increasing consensus that climate change is linked to the consumption of carbon based fuels and that action is required now to avoid further increases in carbon emissions as the global demand for energy increases.

Tony Fountains (BP) Speech to the G8 + 5 Climate Change Forum (European Parliament 7th July)

In 2003, oil conglomerate Shell wrote “Shell shares the widespread concern that the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities is leading to changes in the global climate.”

Even massive investment firm BlackRock is backing away from climate driving companies because… shocker, the destabilizing effects of the climate crisis would make them lose money. A huge eff you to anyone whose first thought when they hear about the climate crisis is worrying about losing their millions, but it’s still a compelling argument for anyone:

Will cities, for example, be able to afford their infrastructure needs as climate risk reshapes the market for municipal bonds? What will happen to the 30-year mortgage – a key building block of finance – if lenders can’t estimate the impact of climate risk over such a long timeline, and if there is no viable market for flood or fire insurance in impacted areas? What happens to inflation, and in turn interest rates, if the cost of food climbs from drought and flooding? How can we model economic growth if emerging markets see their productivity decline due to extreme heat and other climate impacts?

Larry Fink investor letter

While these mega-corporations obviously only stand to gain from clinging to an outdated, dangerous model of consumption and this is a clear case of greenwashing, even pro-petrol admits the climate crisis is real.

How to respond to a climate change denier - PollyBarks.com

“We can’t even predict the weather next week! Why should I believe they know what will happen in 100 years?”

Very simply, weather and climate are not the same.

Climate is weather averaged over time – weather day-to-day can be super erratic but climate looks at the bigger picture trends. One great example of how to explain the difference comes from a Grist article:

Think of it as the difference between trying to predict the height of the fifth wave from now versus predicting the height of tomorrow’s high tide. The former is a challenge — to which your salty, wet sneakers will bear witness — but the latter is routine and reliable.

While we can’t be 100% sure of what comes in immediate days, we have a pretty clear idea of the long-term expectations based on the trends and data being measured by scientists.

“Warming climate is just part of a natural cycle”

No question about it, there are natural cycles to the natural world. That being said, our current pattern of CO2 emissions and subsequent changes in things like global temperature and weather patterns are a clear anomaly, sticking out from the natural variations people like to reference so much.

Perhaps more importantly when we talk about natural cycles, what climate deniers are unable to answer is: what creates those natural cycles? How a massive increase in greenhouse gases doesn’t affect those natural cycles?

The current model put out by scientists (massive increases in GHG emissions leading toward “global warming”) is consistent and accounts for what we see happening in the world. It’s important to note no climate denying scientist has provided an accurate model or theory as to why an increase in CO2 emissions doesn’t affect the temperature.

Our present climate change is occurring 20 to 50 times faster than the most rapid climate change events in Earth’s history. There is no credible alternative theory out there. 11,000 (actual) scientists agree.

How to respond to a climate change denier - god - PollyBarks.com

“Like Drake said, it’s god’s plan”

Every religion has a lot to say about the significance of our connection to and stewardship of the planet.

Really! I have a whole post about what religions say about climate change.

I hope these rebuttals were helpful to you! I tried to make them not-too-science-y so the average person you talk too doesn’t feel overwhelmed. Have questions or other arguments you come up against? Let me know what they are in the comments and let’s brainstorm an answer together!

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