We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re at a holiday party. The eggnog gets spiked and the climate denier questions start up. Or perhaps you’re visiting older relatives who ask what you’re up to these days. Then again, maybe it’s yet another laughable Facebook post from that guy you met at your cousin’s birthday party.
“Isn’t the climate is always changing? How do we know it’s us? Are we really so powerful that we can affect the entire atmosphere? Maybe it’s the sun. Or volcanoes. Or a natural cycle.” These are some of climate deniers’ favorite ways to foster doubt. Meanwhile, big polluters love these statements since they effectively absolve them of all responsibility for the detrimental effects of dumping unlimited carbon pollution into our atmosphere.
Here is the reality: Our planet’s temperature is going up thanks to something called “the greenhouse effect.” More greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide strap more heat in the atmosphere. And ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been releasing more and more heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which accumulates in the atmosphere, enhances the greenhouse effect, and disrupts our Earth’s climate.
It's true that other factors affect our climate, including other greenhouse gases such as methane. Solar variation, volcanoes, and clouds can all affect the climate, too.
So here are some facts to put those factors into perspective:
First up: Volcanoes. Consider this: emissions from Mount Pinatubo, the strongest volcanic eruption over the past 50 years, amounted to just 0.2 percent of human emissions in 1991. Just 0.2 percent! On the other hand, we’re releasing around 35 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. This number equates to more than 100 times more carbon dioxide released into the air than volcanoes. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is – and it makes us the main drivers of climate change.
As for the sun, it’s our primary source of energy here on Earth, and yes, it most definitely keeps us warm. And its power helps us generate energy through solar technology. We love the sun! After all, we wouldn’t be where we are today without it.
But here’s the thing — it’s not the sun’s fault our planet is getting warmer. Over at least the last 35 years, the sun has shown a slight cooling trend while global temperatures have been increasing. So there’s simply no correlation between what the sun is doing and the impacts we’re observing on Earth right now.
Has our climate changed before? Absolutely! Nobody disagrees with that. But arguing that humans aren’t the cause of climate change today is like arguing humans can’t cause forest fires because they've been started by lightning in the past.
Basic physics tells us something important: Climate change happens for a reason. Some past changes in the climate were driven by the sun burning brighter, or by an increase in volcanic activity.
That’s not the case now.
Climate change happens for a reason. And right now that reason is us.
In summary, climate scientists take all these factors (and more) into account and weigh the contributions that each one makes to our climate. When they do, it's clear that man-made carbon dioxide pollution is overwhelmingly responsible for the global warming we’re experiencing now.
When people say otherwise, they’re basing their claim on something other than established science.
Get Answers To The Most Common Questions About Climate Change
You know climate change is the challenge of our generation. But still, you hear the misinformed questions all the time. If you’re wondering how to respond the next time your great-aunt mistakenly asks if climate change exists or when your brother-in-law claims it’s too late to do anything, download our free e-book, The 12 Things Every Climate Activist Hears and How to Respond now and you’ll be ready to give quick, science-based answers to these questions and more.