Not a day goes by without you being confronted with it. You are the environmentalist of the family. The environmentalist of the office, or of the group of friends. While you think that global warming should be the priority of our concerns, they think that you are exaggerating, that we have time, that whatever happens we are screwed, and that in any case, Man has always adapted.
Sometimes you may not know what to say. Or simply that you are afraid to respond to these arguments without spoiling the atmosphere, or looking like a pain in the ass. A difficult balancing act.
Here is an article where you will find answers to (almost) everything you need to navigate in society and stay on course.
Preamble and prerequisites
The examples and explanations you will find in this article are the result of 3 years of work on Bon Pote. 3 years posting information daily on the social media (Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram and Facebook) as well as one or more articles every week. Numerous articles were written in reaction to remarks or fallacious arguments that came up very often, which helped to feed the 20 articles written in partnership with the CNRS.
Let’s make one thing clear right away: there is no such thing as a single, perfect solution that works for everyone, and there never will be. Each person is different and will be receptive to different arguments or forms. Some will require numbers. For others, appeal to pathos. Finally, for some people, it will not be until it is 50 degrees in their city that they will ask themselves questions…
I still encourage people to debate, to dare not to let anything be said. Not only because it gets you out of your filter bubble, but also because it’s great training. You will see that the same arguments will always come up, and you will be more and more able to answer them easily.
Some tips before you start
All responses to the arguments put forward by climate deniers or climate delayers are accompanied here by scientific sources. On a personal basis, and based on my experience, here are a few tips that I think are worth mentioning:
- Apply Brandolini’s law no matter what. There is no point in wasting 3 hours refuting a fallacious argument, especially if the person opposite will never change his or her mind, with figures to back it up. On the other hand, spending time with someone who is able to question themselves is never a waste of time.
- When is it better to intervene…or to remain silent? Only you will know. It should also be noted that everyone has a different level of patience. if you face a bad faith black belt, sometimes it’s just better not to waste your time… especially on Christmas night 😉
- The mental load is greater when we talk to our family than with colleagues or friends. The family circle is the most difficult to convince and often the last to change. There is no point in insisting if nothing happens.
- Be prepared to be attacked personally. The ad hominem attack is a classic. “You say we should fly less, but you flew last year“. If this is the case, denying it is of no use. Instead, refocus the discussion on the facts. “You’re right, and I know it’s not great. But do you agree that a reduction in air traffic is necessary to meet our climate objectives, by asking the wealthiest households in particular to make an effort ?”
Last point. The aim is to have at least one answer for each argument. This response could be a whole article. Yes, it will take you a little longer than 5 minutes to be able to answer the main arguments. Don’t dream. To fight lies and bad faith, you need a little more than a 3-minute Konbini video!
How do you respond to a climate denier?
Before reviewing the main climate sceptic arguments, perhaps we should first define what a climate sceptic is. A climate denier is a person who questions anthropogenic, i.e. human-induced, climate change. According to her or him, this is ‘natural warming’, it is part of a cycle, and humans are not (or are only marginally) responsible for this warming.
It is now easier to answer and debate with a climate denier because we have much more scientific evidence at our disposal. These are the most common arguments.
“Scientists are not sure about warming among themselves
This is WRONG. The consensus on global warming is well established and unequivocal. By the way, make sure that your interlocutor knows how a scientific consensus is built…
“Yes, but in the past we’ve had this, these are cycles!”
So, it’s true and false, depending on what we’re talking about, but above all, the subject is the speed of the current change. To remember:
- The magnitude of recent changes in the overall climate system and the current state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented, ranging from several centuries to several thousand years.
- Human activity has warmed the climate at an unprecedented rate for at least 2000 years.
“They can’t predict the weather 10 days ahead and they want us to believe that they can know the weather in 2100!”
This sentence is a classic, used for example by Jean-Christophe Buisson, deputy director of Figaro Magazine. Big problem of understanding. Defined as the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, weather is subject to change from hour to hour and from day to day. Climate, on the other hand, generally refers to weather statistics over a decade or more.
To find out more, you can read this article.
PS: there is the variant “yes, but the climate models are unreliable” which often comes in the wake. Unfortunately, they have been very good until now….
“And the IPCC there is worse than a cult, a lobby financed by the warmists!”
Don’t laugh, this argument was given to me by a person invited every week by LCI and Russia Today France. Here is a comprehensive article that helps you know exactly what to say. For the short version:
- The IPCC is not an association of individuals, but an association of countries: its members are nations, not individuals. The people who sit on the IPCC meetings only represent member countries.
- The transparency of the IPCC is total, everything is on the website: how the authors are selected, on which documents they base themselves, how the reports are approved, etc.
- The IPCC is not a research laboratory. It is an organisation that evaluates and synthesises research carried out in laboratories around the world.
- There are 3 main working groups and a task force:
- The first report (published this summer) deals with the physical understanding of the climate system and climate change.
- The second will focus on the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of human societies and ecosystems to climate change.
- The third will address global solutions to mitigate climate change and its effects. Groups 2 and 3 are due to approve their reports in February and March 2022. The synthesis report is due in September 2022.
- The IPCC does not make recommendations, but projections.
- The IPCC synthesises all scientific papers, provided that the work has been peer-reviewed in a scientific journal.
- Each line of the summary for decision-makers is validated by a delegate, who represents a country.
Now you know that the picture below is not correct, but it can still make you smile…
Other arguments that have unfortunately become classics, to be quickly debunked
For the more experienced climate denier, there are variations. Here are some of them:
- “CO2 is good for plants ! “-> CO2 in small doses is very good! It is partly thanks to CO2 that the Earth is not a completely frozen planet. But the increase in CO2 is not without problems for human societies. Although long-term stability of atmospheric CO2 has been observed,it is known to have been punctuated by major disturbances at least five times in the last 500 million years. During these events, huge volumes of carbon were degassed, leading to atmospheric warming, ocean acidification and mass extinctions.
- “You emit CO2 when you breathe, to be green you have to kill everyone, right?”->Breathing out does not contribute to a sustainable increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration. So another method will have to be found before attempting genocide…
- “It’s not so bad, look at the polar bears thriving!” -> This is a fallacious argument. The published scientific evidence all leads to the conclusion that polar bears depend on pack ice for their survival. This ice pack is shrinking year by year, which will affect bear populations and potentially (if we continue to emit large quantities of greenhouse gases) make this species extinct in the more or less long term. And if we have to talk about biodiversity and say that everything is fine, here is a graphic to end the debate:
- ““It’s OK, fires/floods/droughts/canicles, there have been them before! The trends for these 4 climate hazards are very clear, with an increase in frequency and intensity. A full article has been written for each hazard: megafires, floods, droughts and heatwaves. CAUTION : not every disaster can be attributed to climate change. Be precise in your terms (and read the relevant articles ;)).
How to respond to climate delayers
Even if the result is the same (inaction), it is necessary to differentiate the climate sceptic from the climate delayers, who will tend to recognise a warming, but will rather say that it is not so serious, that it is exaggerated, and that Man has always adapted. First and foremost, I encourage you to read through and have these 12 discourses of climate inaction in mind before your next dinner or lunch…
Not a day goes by that I don’t refer to it. Between the blissful techno-optimism of politicians, the guys who prefer to blame the Chinese and Indians rather than question themselves. A selection :
“France is only 1%, while the Chinese are 28%!
The question underlying these first points is: why act? Is France not an exemplary country, as some politicians and influential people love to repeat? “France is only 1% of emissions”.
First of all, let’s remember some figures: on average, each French person emits 6.5 tons of CO2eq/year on the territory, but also a carbon footprint of 9t CO2eq/year. Not only do we need to at least divide our footprint by 5 to meet our climate commitments, but we are also well above the world average of 7.5 t CO2eq/year. In the end, France is not so exemplary…
If, in addition to these first elements, we take into account the historical responsibility and the financial means at our disposal, there is no room (or excuse) for inaction. In other words, those who spend their time accusing the Chinese and Africans of all the evils do not do so on scientific grounds but on ideological grounds.
PS: it also works with “flights are only 2%, cars are xx%! No sector is sustainable today, all must evolve.
“You’re not going to give me any trouble for 2 degrees more, it’s not that bad!”
Or her little sister “ahah I’ll take a sweatshirt off!“. It’s important to have humour.
Except that 2 degrees more is a global average. Knowing that the land is warming on average twice as fast as the oceans. That some regions are warming faster than others (in France, for example, we have already exceeded the +1.5°C increase). In other words, an average means everything and nothing. The average hides the fact that it’s going to be 50 degrees in your city and taking off a jumper won’t stop you from suffering.
Yes, you read that right. Without drastic changes, it will be 50 degrees in the city, and before 2050. When the heatwaves last up to 20 days instead of 5, it will be “too late” to say that you should have listened to this good old friend.
“It’s too late, we’re screwed”.
These reactions are daily and understandable: the environmental situation is truly catastrophic. But fatalism is as dangerous as techno-optimism. In other words, believing that nothing can be done and talking about the climate apocalypse all the time is as dangerous as believing that a life-saving technology will solve everything.
The scientific literature is very clear: our climate future is in our hands. Our individual and collective actions can bring about changes that will benefit us quickly. Read more on this topic.
Elon Musk’s techno-optimist cousin
“Technology will save us! Nuclear fusion is coming! And then we’ll all drive Tesla’s and be fine.” This kind of discourse comes up very frequently, whether from people who refuse to change their behaviour, or more sadly from a politician paid with our taxes:
Not only is the technological gamble extremely risky, but for the moment we have not a shred of evidence that it is possible for clean energy to replace all existing energy sources. The zero-carbon plane in 2035, so much vaunted by the Macron government, is an unmitigated bullshit refuted by many specialized engineers. Concerning fusion, it would only be part of an energy mix. So no, it is not energy that will save us all.
Moreover, on average, between a scientific publication and the filing of a patent, it takes about 10 years. Then there is the marketing, deployment, etc. Yes, technological innovation will be part of the solution, but relying on it alone is foolish.
And the other classics of climate delay…
- “The number one problem is demography!“ -> The work of Emmanuel Pont is particularly enlightening on this subject. In a nutshell: no, we are not too much on Earth, but we would be too much to live with the lifestyle of an ‘average’ American.
- “We have time, it is only in 2050 that it will be difficult!“ -> If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are 10 images for the year 2021 alone.
- “Tired of your punitive ecology” -> ask to define what ecology is, what is punitive, and for whom. Then recall the orders of magnitude… that should close the debate pretty quickly. A whole article to read on the subject.
- “Oh that’s okay, man has always adapted!“. -> This is totally wrong. Man has historically adapted to the vagaries of the climate, and this has taken decades. Problem: we don’t have many decades ahead of us, and change has never been so rapid. Read an article on the subject, which will not please David Pujadas.
- “It’s up to companies to make an effort first! And the state too!” -> No, it is up to everyone to make an effort, according to their means. It is certain that responsibility for emissions is common, but differentiated: some are more responsible than others. But to say “100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions” or “individual actions are only 25% of emissions, the collective 75%! Individual and collective actions are inseparable and indispensable: we will need both, and everyone.
- “We’re not going to stop living, we have to enjoy life anyway!” -> No one asked you to put an end to your hobbies and everyday pleasures. It is just asked (by some people) to understand that every action has consequences. Did you know that? It is quite possible to live a decent life without ruining the lives of others! What’s more, it is entirely possible to reduce your carbon footprint and still enjoy life, I am living proof of that!
The last word
You now have enough information to respond to the main fallacious arguments. Of course, the list is (unfortunately) not exhaustive, and it will take a lot of patience to even agree on the facts. It is likely that some people are not acting in bad faith, but just do not have the right priorities, or orders of magnitude. Typically, a person who will tell you “I’m doing my part, I’m recycling”, when they fly 10 times a year…
There is everything you need on the site to learn, understand the issues, and act:
- A 10-minute summary of the latest IPCC report, with some bad news… but also some good news!
- 10 simple actions to go green
- Learning via articles, videos, and at all levels
- Listen to podcasts on your favourite subjects
- Reading and giving books
- LET’S STOP MAKING THE FRENCH FEEL GUILTY, DAMN IT!
I know that there is a missing category in this article. We could call them the “climatoIdontgiveafuck”. Those who know, know the consequences, but will not change anything. This is their right. This is why we need to change the current laws, which are completely unsuited to climate issues. As long as you can have a carbon footprint of 2000 tons/year like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos and tell everyone how to go green, there will be a problem.
Good luck with the upcoming dinners and lunches. And remember: change takes time. Months. Sometimes even years. No one is asked to be perfect, just to stop hitting the accelerator against a wall.