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Debunking Common Climate Misconceptions

By: Isabelle Burnett-Herkes

In the age of climate activism, you may be tired of hearing “save the turtles” and feel like you’re constantly bombarded with contradicting information concerning climate change.  With such a vast spectrum of information pulling you in all different directions, people are left vulnerable and confused about what’s actually going on. (Somehow climate change is both a farce and an apocalypse?)  Being daunted by climate change, people are inclined to adopt misconceptions that soothe their fears.  The truth is that climate change is an alarming reality which we can only face when we all accept the same facts. Here are three myths, debunked. 


1.  Reducing U.S. carbon emissions is futile because China is the leading polluter. 

Although China is one of the largest contributors to the climate crisis, so is the United States, and shifting blame to China will never lead to positive change.  In 2018, the U.S. was the world’s second largest consumer of oil, at 2,258 Millions of tonnes of oil (Mtoe), as well as the world’s second largest emitter of CO2 emissions.  On top of that, the U.S. is the single top consumer worldwide of natural gas. Although China had the highest rate of pollution in 2018, it is also the top investor in renewable energy sources.  In 2018, “China … accounted for 32 per cent of the global total investment, followed by Europe at 21 per cent, [and] the United States at 17 per cent.”  China invests in renewables at almost double the rate of America, and “2018 shows that China led investment worldwide for the seventh successive year,” proving that China is making a much greater attempt at reducing carbon emissions than the United States.  The U.S. has a long way to go in reducing its emissions and investing in renewables as a primary energy source, regardless of China’s progress. At the end of the day, if we want to see any drastic results from our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, every country will have to participate, as the globe is interconnected.


2. Renewable energy is too expensive to be an accessible energy source.

Solar has been going down in price for more than 20 years, dropping 70% from 1998 to 2014, and the price is estimated to keep decreasing.  Solar and other renewable energy sources are technologies, as opposed to fuels such as gas or oil, so they will continue to get cheaper and more efficient as they advance.  Fossil fuels, on the other hand, won’t become more efficient, and the damage done to extract them from the planet will only worsen over time. Companies will have to exploit further and deeper to keep up with the demand for fossil fuels, as they deplete more conveniently located resources.  The factor that scares people away from solar is the initial cost, but this is often reduced by federal and state tax credits, and solar panels can pay for themselves in as little as 6 years. With solar, your monthly energy bill is greatly reduced, and after 20 years, the average savings is estimated to be $20,000 (in addition to increasing the value of your home).  So is renewable energy really more expensive than fossil fuel alternatives? According to the stats, the answer is no.


3. Climate change won’t affect me.

Climate change may be the only issue connecting all people of all backgrounds because we all have to share the same planet.  Although climate change will be more dangerous for the elderly, children, and the poor, it is a problem that affects everyone.  Climate change will bring more severe weather events across the earth, in every region. If you live near the coast, you will likely have to face severe flooding much more frequently as sea levels continue to rise, in addition to more severe tropical storms and hurricanes.  You will also be heavily impacted by the sea level, which is estimated to rise 0.7 meters to 1 meter by 2100.  This rise may not sound like a big deal, but “In the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in … coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms.”  More frequent flooding, hurricanes, and other weather events will cause increasingly extensive damage. If you live inland, you are likely to encounter more drastic hot and cold spells, which are both estimated to increase mortality rates.  Some areas, such as the Middle East, will likely become uninhabitable to humans altogether. Christopher Schär of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, Switzerland, wrote that "[t]he combination of high temperatures and humidity could, within just a century, result in extreme conditions around the Persian Gulf that are intolerable to humans, if climate change continues unabated."  Extreme changes to the climate such as these, are already causing excess migration in many regions. “In 2018, the World Bank estimated that three regions (Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia) will generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050,” and the same trend is estimated to occur in many other regions.  This not only puts pressure on the immediate countries involved, but also the countries which now have to support millions more refugees, turning climate change into an immigrational issue as well as an environmental one. This is just one example of the many negative effects climate change is expected to have not only on our planet, but also on our way of life.


At the end of the day, everyone has the power to choose.  Are you going to inform yourself and take action in promoting a more sustainable world?  Ignore the facts because you don’t like them, and let the consequences play out? “Leave it to the next generation” because it’s too much work for you?  The reality is that our generation is the last chance to turn around the catastrophe that is climate change. As a society, we depend heavily upon this planet for our survival, and if we continue to inflict severe damage on it, the consequences will be hard felt.  Preserving our planet is the only way to maintain our way of life for ourselves, and for future generations. So I implore you, take the time to educate yourself on the subject, join Environmental Club, bring a reusable cup every time you go to Starbucks, make the small changes you can afford to make, and they will add up.  

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