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A weekly show where we debunk common misconceptions. This week, Elliott discusses some misconceptions about climate change!


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Hi, I'm Elliott and this is Mental_Floss on YouTube. Today I'm going to talk about some misconceptions about climate change, which I know is sometimes a controversial subject, but we're gonna have a lot of fun together. I promise.

(Mental_Floss intro plays)

Misconception number one: climate is the same as weather. The main difference is that weather is short term and climate is long term. So weather is what the atmosphere's doing right now, it's what you might look outside and describe, sunny, rainy, hot, cold, etc. Climate, on the other hand is a long term pattern in a location. To get an average like that, experts like to observe weather for at least 30 years, so they'll determine how much an area sees rain, heat, snow, etc. So when we talk about global warming, that's a reference to the increase in the Earth's temperature from year to year that leads to climate change, changes in things like seasonal conditions and precipitation.

Misconception number two: winters are cold, so global warming can't be real. When people say this, they're failing to understand the difference between climate and weather that I just described. it might be snowing where you are, but on average, temperatures are getting warmer. Every year the Earth gets warmer by about .02 degrees Celsius which might not sound like a lot but according to the World Meteorological Organization, the worst decade since modern temperature measurements were invented in 1850 was 2001 to 2010. You might not experience this depending on where you live though, like in 2014, the US had its 34th warmest year ever but it was one of the hottest years ever on Earth.

Misconception number 3: scientists disagree that climate change is happening. This might seem like an obvious one, but apparently it's not because a 2011 survey found that 40% of Americans agreed with the statement, "There is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." In fact, scientists are very much in agreement that global warming and climate change are happening. In 1988 the World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environmental Program created an inter-governmental panel on climate change. The panel published a paper claiming that the scientific consensus was that the Earth was getting warmer thanks to human activity. Later, a group analyzed 928 abstracts from scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 that contained the phrase "climate change." They found that exactly 0 of these papers claimed that global warming was still a point of disagreement among scientists.

Misconception number four: There's a hole in the ozone layer, which is why there's climate change. So the ozone layer is basically a shield in the Earth's stratosphere protecting us from the UV radiation that comes from the sun. In the 80's, experts discovered that this layer was being depleted largely due to chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, but after an international effort to ban CFCs, the hole has started to recover, and actually it's this recovery that might cause some warming by trapping more heat. The warming should be minor, largely limited to Antarctica, and it's universally agreed that this tiny bit of warming is preferable to having an ozone hole. Scientists primarily blame climate change on the carbon dioxide that gets emitted when humans use things like electricity, transportation, and industrial processes. So let's talk about carbon dioxide.

Misconception number five: Carbon dioxide is natural, so it's not bad for the environment. So carbon dioxide is natural and it exists in the Earth's atmosphere, but when human's pollute the air with tons of carbons dioxide, it's bad because that can mess up the Earth's carbon cycle, which impacts everything from the atmosphere to oceans to animals and we do emit a lot of it. Like according to the United States' Environmental Protection Agency, 82% of all greenhouse gas emissions from the US were carbon dioxide in 2013 and that directly leads to global warming.

Misconception number six: global warming is just a response to Europe's Little Ice Age. It's true that Europe had a little ice age as you will remember from our episode on the United States. No one knows exactly when it started but experts think it ended during the late 19th century or early 20th century, so some believe that global warming's just a natural bounce back from those cold temperatures. But according to the intergovernmental panel on climate change, "[global warming] cannot simply be considered as a recovery from the 'Little Ice Age.' "

Misconception number seven: climate change is just a natural process. It's true the climate naturally fluctuates, that's why we have things like the Little Ice Age in Europe, but scientists are able to include these fluctuations in their calculations when they study climate change. Cuz that's their job, OK, so they know that in addition to natural processes, humans are speeding up climate change by increasing carbon dioxide in the air.

Misconception number eight: the sun causes global warming =. The sun does get brighter and dimmer, this can be measured in Total Solar Irradiance or TSI. NASA has observed that this tends to happen in an 11 year solar cycle, but right now we're actually in a dimming phase so it's probably not making the Earth warmer. And again, this has been goin on for so long that scientists can take it into consideration when they calculate climate change. According to the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a report written in 2009 by 26 climate scientists, "The incoming solar radiation has been almost constant over the past 50 years, apart from the well-known 11 year solar cycle. In fact, it has slightly decreased over this period."

Misconception number nine: nuclear power contributes to climate change. Actually some experts would prefer if we use nuclear power because it is "low carbon" electricity which doesn't burn fossil fuels. 20% of the United States' power comes from nuclear plants and according to expert James Hansen of Columbia University, this saves us about 64 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution each year.

Misconception number 10: it's too late to solve climate change, ahhh! This is definitely the most controversial one on the list, but we have to end on a happy note. Obviously some scientists are more optimistic than others. Many world leaders have pledged to prevent global warming from increasing over 2 degree Celsius by 2050, but according to the intergovernmental panel on climate change, that means greenhouse gasses will need to be reduced between 40 and 70% by that time.

Hey if you have a topic for an incoming misconceptions episode that you would like to see, leave it in the comments and thank you for watching misconceptions on Mental_Floss on YouTube and I will see you next week. Bye.