Addressing myths about carbon and climate change

arming you with everything you need to respond to the most common myths about climate change

Everybody knows a climate skeptic. Unfortunately roughly two in every ten people either don’t believe in climate change or are dismissive of it, and it can be really frustrating when you are faced with a climate denier and don’t have the answers to hand to bust their myths. In this article, we arm you with everything you need to respond to the most common myths about climate change with hard facts.

Myth 1: Carbon is GOOD for the planet.

"Animals and plants need more carbon, not less!"

Our entire planet runs on the carbon cycle—it is the backbone for life on Earth. We are made of carbon, we eat food that contains carbon, our civilization is built on carbon, and the element is literally everywhere - stored in rocks, fossil fuels, forests, plants, oceans, soil, and the atmosphere.

The problem that the world faces is not the element carbon, but the gas form - carbon dioxide. And while plants and animals do need carbon dioxide to survive, the world has seen rapidly increasing amounts of CO2 emissions over the past 40 years which has directly influenced global warming and the changing of our environment.

Where did this increase in emissions come from? From Human activity. Burning fossil fuels causes over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide to be emitted every year - far outdoing the naturally caused carbon emissions that volcanoes emit (in fact, it’s 100-300 times more). Simply put, when too much carbon dioxide is emitted into the earth’s climate system, it unbalances the natural carbon cycle and has a number of cascading effects - including changing weather patterns, increasing global temperatures, prolonged droughts, more severe storms and increased flooding.

The rapid pace at which the climate is changing greatly harms our plant and animal ecosystems. Often, climate skeptics will push the “carbon dioxide is good for plants” or “CO2 is plant food” narratives. However - this isn’t necessarily the case when we consider how much carbon dioxide the world has now, and is predicted to have in the future. A study conducted at Stanford University in the US concluded that there is a limit to how much CO2 a plant can absorb, and the extra amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere actually have very little effect on promoting plant growth. Plants rely on nitrogen to grow, so higher levels of nitrogen help, but not carbon dioxide. In reality, increased temperatures caused by global warming have been detrimental to plant and animal life. With the Earth increasingly acting like a rapidly warming greenhouse, plants don’t have time to adapt to the warmer temperature and changing climate patterns. Hotter temperatures can cause certain agricultural crops such as wheat, to decrease their yields, which in turn will have horrible downstream impacts for many societies dependent on this food and income source.

Skeptics often cherry-pick scientific results; however, many studies exist that support the fact that any adaptations plants may have in absorbing CO2, will not occur fast enough for them to adapt to the changes of the environment caused by increased heat, droughts and floods as a result of climate change.

Myth 2: I already have trees in my backyard

"I'm doing my part so I don’t need to do more"!

Trees are a very important part of our planet’s ecosystem and for slowing climate change. Planting, restoring and protecting trees on a wide scale is one of the most effective ways to fight climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emit oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. Some people believe that planting trees in their backyard will neutralize their carbon emissions, and therefore believe they do not have to take any further action. However, while planting trees in your backyard certainly helps the cause, there’s still more that needs to be done when it comes to being carbon neutral.

It’s estimated that it takes about 6 mature trees to absorb 1 tonne of CO2 emissions per year, though this number fluctuates, depending on the tree age, size, species, soil and weather conditions. Considering that the average Australian has a yearly carbon footprint of 22T, neutralising your footprint, takes around 132 trees. Unless you have a particularly large back yard, it’s unlikely that you can achieve that.

While we encourage homeowners to plant trees in their backyards and avoid cutting them down, we also believe that your involvement in reducing climate change shouldn’t stop there. You can be proactive and further reduce your carbon footprint with certain actions, including recycling waste, reusing materials, investing in carbon credits, purchasing an electric vehicle, changing to solar (or another renewable) energy for your home—the list is endless! We need to think globally and act locally.

 

Myth 3: Plants and animals need warmth to survive.

"What’s the problem with a heating planet?"

Our Earth’s ecosystems are being thrown into chaos due to global warming and climate change. A rapidly heating planet will be devastating for many plant and animal species that we rely upon for our survival. Approximately one million plant and animal species are on the brink of extinction from climate change. Our planet is experiencing about 1,000 times faster change in average temperature than seen in paleo times. To put it simply, plant and animal adaptive response times will not be able to keep up with the current rate of global warming.

While certain plant and animal species depend on warm temperatures to survive, they cannot necessarily adapt to a warmer ecosystem at the same rate as global temperatures are increasing. It’s worth keeping in mind that it’s not just the increased heat that plants and animals need to adapt to, it’s also the droughts, floods, more severe storms and rising sea levels that will alter the ecosystems that the species live in, and that will result in massive biodiversity loss.

Species have two options with a warming habitat—adapt or migrate. Their first adaptive response is to either move further south (or north if above the equator), or towards higher elevations where there are cooler temperatures. Due to the rapid rate of global warming, many species don’t have the time to adapt to keep up with their changing environment. More than 50% of species could be lost from the Amazon, southern Africa, and southwest Australia if we don’t stop climate change.

Further, studies examining avian (bird) species have concluded that their phenology (life events such as breeding and migration) have changed. Birds have changed their migration patterns, begun laying their eggs earlier, and marmots have started ending their hibernation periods earlier than ever before—3 weeks sooner than 30 years ago. But even these adaptive behaviours aren’t enough to save species over the long-term. Once their precious habitats are gone, they may die or be cut off from their fellow species, thereby decreasing the numbers in their gene pools for optimal genetic diversity. Species can only adapt so much before they perish, so we need to protect and preserve their habitats as much as possible by limiting global warming by curbing our carbon emissions.

Myth 4: Individuals won’t make a difference.

The government needs to do the work otherwise nothing will change!

Individuals have a huge role to play in stopping climate change. With a global population currently at 7.9 billion and projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, the rate of consumption, and our energy and food requirements will drive up emissions and put further strain on our planet’s resources. While some of the largest carbon emitters are industry, agriculture and transport, there are many ways individuals can make an impact by reducing their personal carbon footprint.

People who live in developed countries, including Australia, have much larger carbon footprints than those living in developing countries. The average carbon footprint for a person living in Australia per capita is about 22 tonnes, compared to the US at 16.2 tonnes and Canada at 15.6 tonnes. There is a very strong relationship between income and carbon emissions, countries with a high standard of living, generally have higher carbon emissions per capita. However, policy and technology choices as well as consumer consumption awareness play a big part in how much a country emits. In other words, both the government and individuals need to make better, more sustainable choices to reduce their carbon footprints. Every person must do their part; from driving their fossil fuel vehicles less, to using reusable bags, to investing in carbon credits, or installing solar energy for their homes.

Reducing your carbon footprint is an effective way to decrease your emissions by making planet-friendly choices in your daily life. Some activities that you can do to reduce your carbon footprint are relatively simple - in fact, we have an article dedicated to how you can reduce your carbon footprint. In fact, one of the key ways you can reduce it significantly is by offsetting or removing your transport emissions. Just driving your car produces an average 3.2T of carbon emissions every year – offsetting this would take the average Australian’s yearly emissions from 22.4T to 19.2T - just by making one simple change.

Every person can lower their carbon footprint if they make more carbon-conscious lifestyle decisions. The small actions that an individual takes today can make a huge impact on their community if everyone takes part.

Myth 5: The earth’s climate has always changed

What’s happening is nothing new.

Many climate skeptics will argue that the earth’s climate has always changed, so the global warming we are experiencing now is nothing new. Although not completely untrue, this climate change cycle is very different to its predecessors, primarily influenced by record levels of anthropogenic (human-caused) GHG emissions. While our 4.5-billion-year-old Earth has gone through various cycles of climatic change, this particular cycle is different from the predictable and typical cycles, known as Milankovitch cycles, due to the rapid global average temperature rise and rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Myth 6: “X” country is the problem—they should fix it!”

Climate change is a global environmental problem. While certain countries may be responsible for larger proportions of historical and current emissions, every country has a part to play in mitigating climate change. Most countries agreed to act on climate change when they signed the Paris Agreement—they committed to limiting global warming to well below 2.0 °C with the goal of keeping the temperature rise at 1.5°C. As climate change is impacting each region around the world, no one can escape it, and it is the responsibility of each country to take action to promote green businesses, sustainable development, and invest in controlling air pollution in order to combat climate change.

Myth 7: It’s too late to do anything about climate change

It’s definitely not too late to stop climate change. According to climate models, the Earth is projected to rise to an additional 4° C  during the 21st Century if greenhouse gas levels continue to rise at their current rates - so to stop this from happening - we need to act, now!

This interactive graph shows the difference between 2C and 4C of global warming and what it will mean for sea level rise - and it’s no small matter.

With conscientious climate mitigation actioned by countries, businesses and individuals alike, we may be able to hold global warming at 1.5C, which would avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. It would save countless lives of human, plant, and animal species.

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