My Least Favorite Argument Against Man-made Climate Change

The climate has always been changing.

The climate has been changing since the Earth began.

We have warm periods and cool periods.  That climate.

Likely you have heard one of these arguments or some variation before.  Look at any conversation about climate change and you will see at least some man-made climate change denier using it.  It’s hard to even know exactly what they mean by the argument.  I’m not even sure what argumentation fallacy to call it.  Perhaps it’s just a non sequitur, but let’s try to break it down.

First, let’s start simply.  If such people using the argument are trying to claim that what we are seeing is natural climate change, then they are misstating the argument.  They should simply say.  Yes the climate is changing, but there is insufficient evidence that man is the cause.  I mean that’s not true, of course, but it would be an argument.  Just one in which the person making the argument hasn’t adequately analyzed the evidence.  The other implication here is that scientists in this field either don’t know that the climate changes naturally or that they don’t know what causes climate to change naturally, but just decided to come to a massive consensus across multiple scientific disciplines that it’s happening.  This is also is ridiculous.

However, the way this argument is phrased it seems that the argument that is really being made here by those who use it, is that they think one of two things (or perhaps both):

  1. Since climate changes naturally it can’t change because of human influence.
  2. Since climate changes naturally there is nothing that can be done about it.

Let’s deal with the second argument first.  And let’s even go so far as to say that the person is right.  What we are seeing is just natural.  Given the rate the temperature is warming this is cause for alarm, even if it is natural.  It threatens many human populations, will increase drought frequency, extreme precipitation events, national security issues, species extinction, rapid sea level rise, etc. If this is happening naturally, then why shouldn’t we be trying to do something about it?  If a naturally started forest fire threatens people’s homes, should we not put it out.  Should we not build homes more securely to mitigate damage from hurricanes?   We do so many things to try to mitigate and prevent damage and deaths from natural disasters, it seems ridiculous to me to make any such claim that natural climate change that threatens large populations of people and ecosystems worldwide isn’t something that we should be trying to do something about.

The first argument takes even less effort to counter.  My favorite example is to use evolution, which of course happens naturally, but practically all farming, horse and dog breeding happens through man-made selection in order to increase food nutrition and create your favorite breeds of dogs and horses.  Taken to the extreme we could simply say that death is a natural process, thus there is no such thing as murder.  Or since death is a natural process there is no sense in trying to cure people of cancer.

Overall it is difficult to understand why this is such a common argument, and why this seems to be the final argument for so many to dismiss man-made climate change as a non-issue.  Feel free to share this post with folks you know who have made this argument.

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27 thoughts on “My Least Favorite Argument Against Man-made Climate Change

    1. I am. There are some people that I’ve at least be known to be fairly reasonable in other issues. The complexity of climate leads I think to a much easier exploitation when it comes to misleading arguments

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Honestly, I can’t even understand people fighting against it. It’s just so insane it’s beyond words. But then again, I suppose Republicans have convinced poor people to vote against their own interests, so anything is possible.

    Like Young Earth Creationists (Creationists in general, really), Flat Earther’s, and Anti-vaxers, the hotbed of this nonsense is the US.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed. It’s weird hope expertise can matter for many things but somehow expertise here is ignored. It’s also weird how it’s become a political issue in this country. Their are a lot of political arguments to be had about how to address the problem. But the problem itself is non-partisan.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. On the other hand these same people criticize all of the innovations in agriculture. I certainly have reservations about some gmo products, but these innovators really are busting ass to feed billions of people an less and less land. You can’t win with conspiracy. They want more babies, more people, yet complain that organic food is expensive. Sure, it’s a lot of work. These farmers are really making it happen, then getting sued for it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Indeed. There are definitely concerns about some GMOs, but in large part they have literally kept populations from experiencing massive widespread. We sadly live in a society where the people’s whose daily calories are most assured are the ones who are complaining about efforts to feed hungry people.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Years ago (in the 1980s) I met a scientist who had recently returned from Antarctic to Australia. His job was to take large ice cores and examine them for signs of climate change in the past. He had identified that there were warming and cooling cycles that occurred over a period of about 28 years and that been happening for a very long time.. He told me that scientists would not be able to tell (from ice cores) if the current rate of global warming was different from that cycle until the ice was already melting. I think the current rate of glacial melt is now taken by most scientists to be evidence that the climate change that is currently occurring is happening at an alarming rate that can’t be dismissed as part of that ancient cycle of warming and cooling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think with ice core data the resolution is much lower so you are really analyzing longer timescale trends like 100s to 1000s of years. So it’s hard to compare what we’re seeing now to what ice core data shows. What it does give us is a nice time history of how CO2 levels and temperatures correlate. It also gives us information on the periodicity of cold and warm periods. Finally the isotope information in the trapped air from the ice cores shows us that the source of the carbon is from fossil fuels.

      You are right that the rate of ice melt is part of what’s alarming because we don’t see evidence of that in the ice core data.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is well articulated, Swarn. I think those who make the argument that it is natural and we can do nothing about it could be looking at previous extinction events or even natural disasters like earthquakes that release more toxins in a single event than what we can do in a year or more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe that’s what they mean, but as I said, they don’t really express it in those terms. The wording should be different. Let’s also remember that previous extinction events were caused by rapid climate change. And none of those previous extinction events had a creature intelligent enough to at least try to do something about it. If all this was natural, we could still try to do something about it…not to mention we can migrate with greater mobility than any other species. So even if the answer was “run!” We could do that better with some careful planning.

      In regards to Earthquakes I had not heard what you are referring to. Just poking around I found this article:
      https://m.phys.org/news/2018-08-carbon-dioxide-earthquakes.html

      While NZ might not have the biggest Earthquakes, considering we are releasing about 35 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere per year right now, this is about a 1000 times greater than an Earthquake. And as the article suggests, some Earthquakes may take carbon out of the atmosphere as well. So it’s a complicated picture. This article compares volcanic activity, which should actually be higher in terms of carbon release, and our activities even eclipse volcanic release.

      https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/which-emits-more-carbon-dioxide-volcanoes-or-human-activities

      Certainly as we go back in time, tectonic activity was greater and carbon release from tectonic activity was likely very significant. But that far back you are also looking at a cooler sun. Which is why the Ordovician period had about 10 times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, but similar global average temperatures to what we have today.

      I guess if you are referring to toxins and not CO2 then this may be true, but I am not familiar with health problems associated with Earthquakes unless they are destroying nuclear plants!

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        1. That is quite possible. There is certain an undercurrent in both secular and religious minds a lot that this world is ours and we are at the top of the evolutionary ladder and thus beyond reproach. I don’t know if that’s consciously what people are thinking, but I think it’s in the background. Certainly there are religious people who think that God is at the helm and all that matters is that if they are good Christians (whatever that entails in their own minds) that they will be going to a better place and what happens to the Earth matters little since it isn’t the endpoint. And of course many Christians believe in the End Times and perhaps even climate change will bring that about, which many Christians even welcome the apocalypse.

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          1. I do think the belief in a better place out there contributes to the attitude that we don’t need to care of this earth here. We are on a journey out and that is all that matters

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  4. I suggest that the people making these statements are not making an argument. They are fishing for the simplest dismissal that will cause you to go away or change the subject.

    Let me make up a few more–the temperature changes twenty degrees in one 24-hour period, how bad can that be? Boy, the winters where I live are brutal, I could use some warmer weather. Those climate scientists are just fishing fro grant funding.

    Imagination is unbound by reason, especially when reason is not applied at all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Perhaps you’re right. I think at the very least what’s clear is that they don’t really understand the claim scientists are making because they don’t really understand what climate is, or maybe what the actual problem is.

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    1. At this point we know if no natural phenomena that would lead to this rapid of warning. If it was coming then possibly… An asteroid hit or maybe volcano eruption like Yellowstone could cause that rate of cooling.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Swarn,

    I think you miss a third option: Since climate changes naturally, what is the guarantee that efforts that we make will have the effect that we want?

    Regardless, I believe the real argument is more like: I don’t want to make the sacrifice required to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions; therefore, I’ll say something that is difficult to refute directly and maybe you’ll leave me alone.

    The carbon tax in Canada seemed reasonably popular until it came time to being enacted and one by one, provinces are electing governments committed to reversing the tax. It’s disappointing, to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true there are lots of options as to what it could mean, but that’s not the argument that is being articulated. Which is what I pointed out in the beginning. I was more trying to break down what the argument could literally mean based on how it is phrased. I suspect you’re right in your assessment to some degree.

      This then translates though into a new problem which is also not an uncommon ethical and moral dilemma which seems to be often applied to things like gun control. Well we can’t stop all murders, so any measure that might stop less than all murders thus shouldn’t be enacted. Or people will always murder so thus taking measures to stop murder isn’t realistic. That’s a strawman though of course, but gun control measures aren’t supposed to stop murder, just reduce murder.

      When we weigh the consequences of climate change, it seems that any position which has us doing nothing since we aren’t sure how much we can even reverse course at this point isn’t tenable from an ethical or moral standpoint. We know for certain that doing nothing has bad results, so doing something seems like the most sensible course of action.

      From my understanding the carbon tax returned money to those at the lowest income levels and only became an actual tax to those at higher income levels. It seems that this is not something the conservative parties have been honest about. I get concern about corruption and waste of taxpayer dollars…I don’t understand how one can see tax itself as being inherently negative, given the cooperative nature of a society and how pooling money together through tax helps build stable infrastructure. The anti-tax sentiment would have us believe that we would have the society we have without it, and this seems simply not true.

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  6. Climate change deniers have simply got to be shitting their pants in fear. Yet instead of that fear motivating them to make sensible and sustainable choices, many tend to swing the opposite direction into even more mass consumption and chaos. Heaven help us. ☄️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think even when climate change wasn’t part of the consciousness there was still an increasing push towards recycling, being green, etc. And there should be. Sustainability is an inevitability if we are going to all survive on this planet and for people to fight that just seems strange.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have heard that ignorance is bliss. But it’s dangerous in these times. I just read a post by the group Recycle Hawaii which stated that all the careful recycling we are doing here at home is simply being thrown in a landfill. It’s hard not to despair at such times. Aloha.

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  7. Just my anecdotal experience here, but all of the climate-change deniers I have met have a few things in common:

    1. They are religious. They believe whatever happens with the earth is God’s will and wash their hands of any responsibility. Or some think that God is punishing us for turning our backs on Him.

    2. They don’t trust the science. In fact, they don’t trust studies and statistics at all. They believe people will twist the numbers and facts to further their (godless) agenda. Many of them think scientists are desperately trying to grasp at straws to explain the world without God.

    3. They base their conclusions off only the trends that support their bias. For example, one of my coworkers scoffed at global warming due to our record cold. However, she was blind to other extreme weather we’d been experiencing the last couple years with flooding and heat waves.

    In that last example I think my coworker expected me to chuckle along with her at “those idiots who believe in climate change”, however she shut up and looked embarrassed when I responded with “Well, actually if you look at our other weather trends and what 99% of scientist are saying about it…”

    Most people in my area are climate change deniers, so I hear these arguments a lot, but after our devastating flooding last year I think some may be changing their minds:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-north-carolina-hurricanes-do-what-scientists-could-not-persuade-republicans-that-climate-change-is-real/2018/10/17/45136c56-d0ac-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9c6ac86cf75b

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quixie, thank you for your comment. I agree with you that this is the large majority of deniers, but I would say there are also heard this argument from many more secular people as well. People that are happy to trust scientists on a variety of issues, just not this one. I do think there are some unique properties on the climate issue that I think make it a harder issue for many to buy into. For instance, the fact that climate is not something you can really experience. Only weather is. Whether it’s your co-worker experiencing cold snaps and conveniently editing out the hot weather, or the people in the article experiencing a hurricane, neither of those incidents actually have anything to say about climate themselves. It is the totality of incidences which define climate, and so even the people who had their minds changed by the hurricane still get it wrong. Because if you think that way, this person who is taking it seriously now, what happens if 5 years go by and there is no hurricane? They could easily change it back.

      This is an issue where expertise make a big difference, because scientists are analyzing something that “seems” experiential but actually are looking at long term trends over large geographical areas to measure the severity of climate change.

      The truest experiential measure is by people who live near the coast who have seen their sea level rise, or who live close to glaciers and have seen those glaciers retreat faster and faster with time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Overall it is difficult to understand why this is such a common argument

    The argument makes no logical sense, for the reasons you lucidly explained. But remember that there are fossil-fuel companies with billions of dollars at stake motivating them to fog up the public’s understanding of global warming by any means which seems likely to work. It parallels the fake research funded by cigarette companies, decades ago, to try to convince the public that smoking was not dangerous.

    This is why you’ll see silly arguments like this used to refute global warming by people who are genuinely arguing in good faith. A lot of money has been spent to convince such people that arguments like this are valid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. One can’t forget the intentional misinformation campaign, and part of the reason why logical fallacies persist is because it takes some actual time to think about them and recognize them as such. Our cognitive biases generally tend to accept fallacious arguments especially when they fit in with our worldview.

      Thanks again for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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