Climate change myths
Lots of climate change myths or confusions still crop up in the media and in conversation. As a result, it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction and attitudes can prove difficult to change.
Here are seven of the most common misconceptions that arise during climate change discussions.
Myth one: The climate is always changing
Natural changes in the world's climate have happened in the past and sometimes these have led to mass extinctions. At the end of the Permian geological period 250m years ago 96 per cent of life on Earth became extinct. However, what we are beginning to experience now is potentially a big change in our climate which we have caused.
Concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are now higher than they have been at any point in the last 800,000 years. Although this may not be new in relation to the history of the planet, it is entirely new in human history. It doesn't mean the world will end, but it could make the world such a hostile place that it cannot sustain life as we know it.
Myth two: Climate change has no basis in science
Since the early 1800s scientist have been thinking about the relationship between emissions of gases and our climate Much of the pressure on national politicians to do something about climate change now actually comes from the scientists who can see serious changes ahead.
In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme got together to form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (opens in a new window) (IPCC). Hundreds of scientists from around the world are involved in this organisation, which gathers together and asseses the best available peer-reviewed scientific and technical information on climate change. A recent IPCC report warned that average global temperatures could increase by up to 5.8 degrees by the end of this century.
Scientists who question whether climate change is happening are now few and far between. Some evidence used to question climate change − for example that changes are not verified by satellite recordings of temperature − have been shown to be wrong. Now these have been corrected, the evidence points in the same direction − that temperatures are increasing.
Myth three: Human activity doesn't cause climate change
The majority of scientists are convinced that we are affecting the climate by the way that we live. The Hadley Centre in the UK is one of the world's foremost modellers of climate change. They recently looked at what the effect of natural changes in temperature would be, compared with actual observed changes over the last 150 years. They found a mismatch. But when they added human effects to the natural effects, the match was very close.
This is not surprising; we know gases keep the earth warm and we know that concentrations of these gases are increasing. We emit greenhouse gases when we use energy from fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil or electricity generated from these fuels). We also change the balance of gases in our atmosphere when we cut down forests and replace them with agricultural land.
Myth four: It's too late to make a difference
There are some changes that have happened already which cannot be reversed. However, by acting now, we can reduce the risk of big changes occurring to our climate and reduce the impacts that we and future generations will experience.
The last report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that, if we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly within the next 10 to 20 years, the risk of seeing temperature changes higher than 2 degrees would be greatly reduced.
This is an enormous challenge − but it can be done. Everyone must play their part − local authorities and other public sector organisations, businesses, governments, community and voluntary groups, schools and other educational establishments and last but not least, individuals. We can all reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, particularly our carbon emissions. Find out how and pledge to do your bit online at www.everybodys-talking.org (opens in a new window)
Follow this link to find out what the council is doing to reduce its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Myth five: There's no point in me taking action
Every reduction in emissions that takes place, no matter where it occurs and how small it is, makes a difference by not adding to the risk. Also, some countries like the UK are in a great position to give a positive example to the rest of the world. We do need other countries to join in, but if we can show that we can rise to the challenge successfully and make a real difference, others will follow.
Myth six: Climate change will make life more comfortable in the UK
True, climate change may lead to a warmer climate overall in the UK. But the climate may also be unpredictable and extreme, which will be unpleasant for many people. We may have warmer winters, but they are also likely to be wetter. And in the summer, excessive heat will cause problems for the elderly, the very young and those with health problems.
There's also the risk of rising sea levels and extreme weather events like storms and floods, which cause havoc to vulnerable areas. So tackling climate change and helping to secure a more stable climate for ourselves will make life a lot more comfortable for us all in the end.
Myth seven: Tackling climate change means making big sacrifices
Tackling climate change is not going to be easy, but it need not damage the economy as a whole if we take action soon. As we shift to new ways of using and creating energy, industry will have to adapt and jobs may change − but more may be created overall. Using less energy can also save companies and households money.
By investing in new energy technologies at home, we also help to reduce our reliance on imported sources of energy and can help prepare for when fossil fuels such as oil and gas start to run out.
Not tackling climate change has a price too. Since 1998, the cost of repairing the damage from extreme weather events and floods in the UK has increased by 60 per cent. The insurance industry is one of the first sectors of the economy to be feeling the economic effects of climate change.