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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Debunked: Climate change is not still being debated by scientists

A video shared on a farming organisation’s Facebook page contains misleading information.

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A VIDEO SHARED on an Irish farming group’s social media page claims that the world is suffering from “climate hysteria” and that the science around climate change “isn’t settled”.

However, the post and video both contain false and misleading information, and lack proper context about the science behind climate change.

Farmers’ Alliance, a group formed earlier this year which advocates on behalf of farmers in Ireland, posted a clip on Facebook earlier this month of an interview segment from Sky News Australia. 

The interview first appeared on a Sky News Australia Opinion segment known as Outsiders on 23 July, and features mining geologist and professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne, Ian Plimer. Plimer is a well-known climate change denier.

The interview segment was ripped to TikTok, where it was shared multiple times with added written captions and commentary. The TikTok video contains added captions which say: “Scaremongering throughout the world”, “AUSTRALIA – Sky News calling bollocks on the climate hysteria” and “The science isn’t settled, you’re just being forced to believe it is”.

The video with these captions was then re-posted on the Farmers’ Alliance Facebook page, with the added caption: “Sky news starting to give air time to the truth.”

The post has gained a lot of traction and engagement since it was posted last month. It has been liked nearly 5,000 times and shared 4,200 times. The post also received 677 comments, broadly supportive of the views being expressed in the video.

The video is by far the most-engaged-with post on the Farmers’ Alliance Facebook page. The next nearest engaged with secured about 200 likes, while in general posts on the page get fewer than 100 “likes”.

False or misleading captions

However, many of the claims and statements made by Plimer are misleading or inaccurate and have previously been debunked. As well as this, the visible captions on the video are also false or misleading.

The caption that says “the science isn’t settled” uses a common trope in climate disinformation, namely that there are a large number of dissenting voices within the scientific community on the causes and effects of climate change.

However, there is a widespread scientific consensus that human activities are having an impact on the climate. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations group which was created to provide regular assessments on climate change from scientists in 195 countries, concluded in 1995 that ”the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”.

A NASA website which explains the causes of climate change specifically states that “human activities are changing the natural greenhouse”.

And hundreds of scientific institutions from across the world have confirmed that climate change is caused by humans. One US study even analysed more than 88,000 papers on climate change – 99% of them agreed about the role played by humans.

Meanwhile, captions that mention “scaremongering” or “hysteria” push the idea that concerns and action around climate change are overblown.

However, an overwhelming body of evidence and a scientific consensus that climate change has been happening since the 19th Century and that global temperature changes have accelerated significantly since the middle of last century.

Warming induced by human activity has already led to global temperatures hitting 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels – and the World Meteorological Organization says there’s now a 67% chance it could reach 1.5 degrees in the next five year (in 2015, it was close to 0%).

If that seems small, scientists say that warming beyond 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels would pose a significant risk to the existence of human life.

The interview 

In the clip shared by the Farmers’ Alliance, Plimer makes a number of claims throughout his segment and says that journalists reporting on the effects of human-made climate change are “just scaremongering”.

At another point, reporting on record heat waves across Europe is described as “hysteria”, and it is stated that journalists are “pushing an agenda”.

He references the 1930s in America as an example of a time that was hotter than now.

Temperatures in the Central US in 1936 were certainly record-breaking at the time and occurred during the Dust Bowl – a time of widespread dust storms and crop failure. 

However, the heat experienced that year was localised in certain parts of the United States.

Today, high temperatures are a global phenomenon. July 2023 will likely be the hottest month on record around the world. 

As well as this, in general, every decade since the 1980s has been warmer than the one that preceded it, a trend which is expected to continue, while the seven warmest years during human life on Earth have all occurred since 2015.

Although notable weather and heat changes can occur at different times, that doesn’t change the fact that heatwaves are becoming more frequent.

A study in the journal Science found that a person born in 1960 will only experience four major heat waves in their life, while a child born in 2020 will experience 18, even under the target to keep global temperatures to 1.5 degrees above industrial levels by 2100.

As the Earth has warmed up, we’ve seen a change in weather patterns, like longer and more intense heatwavesincreased flooding, and a likely increase in the strongest type of hurricanes.

Recent examples point to evidence of this. Climate attribution scientists – those who examine single weather events in the context of wider trends - say that last year’s devastating heatwaves in south-east Asia were 30 times more likely because of climate change.

Other claims made in the segment have been made by Plimer previously and debunked.

These include that the world has been cooling down for the past 4,000 years. However, as pointed out by Climate Feedback, the average world temperatures have rapidly increased since the beginning of the industrial era, so the world has not been cooling.

Plimer also suggests that rising global temperatures are as a result of the world emerging from the “Little Ice Age”, a period of cooling believed to have occurred from the early 14th century through to the mid-19th century.

However, as pointed out by Carbon Brief, temperatures over the past 60 years cannot be explained by natural warming or emergence out of this period alone.

In general, the interview segment seeks to undermine or water down scientifically agreed-upon and accepted facts around the reality of human-made climate change.

 The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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