Ever heard someone try to dismiss the reality of climate change by trying to discredit climate scientists?
It happens more than we’d like to see, and it can be painful to see the hard work scientists are doing attacked and dismissed. A simple misunderstanding regarding the difference between climate and weather leads some people to ask this question:
“These scientists can’t even predict the weather, much less the climate. How do they know what temperatures were like 500 years ago – or what it will be like in another 100 years?”
Climate change deniers never get tired of this argument, or its sister complaint, “Well, in the 1970s, these scientists said there was going to be a new Ice Age!”
The phrasing may differ but the implication is the same: According to them, “mad” scientists are toying with data in their labs to make wild guesses, none of which will ever come true out here in the real world.
Here’s the reality. We can't predict what the weather will be like on a given day in the year 2100 — but we can be very confident the world will be a lot warmer, especially if we keep heading down our business-as-usual path of burning ever more fossil fuels.
Look at it this way: does a motorcycle accident down the street mean you can’t drive your (electric) car safely? No. In much the same way, “incorrect” weather forecasts don’t tell us much about the reliability of climate projections.
Here’s how astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it:
Weather forecasters and climate scientists don’t look at the future the same way. A weather forecaster in New Jersey, for example, is interested in the chance of rain in Hoboken three days from now. On the other hand, a climate scientist is interested in whether the state of New Jersey will be wetter or drier on average 40 or 50 years from now.
Much like a motorcycle and an electric car, weather and climate models include similar parts, but they also process data very differently to arrive at their respective destinations. Climate scientists can’t tell you with 100-percent certainty how much the world will warm in 100 years (the planet has some pretty complex systems and scientists are understanding more and more about them every year). But they can say with certainty that the world will continue to warm, especially if we continue on our business-as-usual path of burning ever more fossil fuels…
And the more carbon pollution we put in the atmosphere, the worse things will get.
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.