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Climate Hustle

Climate science comeback strategies: Al Gore said what?

Posted on 13 November 2018 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Karin Kirk

Communicating imageCredit: Image by Karin Kirk.

Don’t feed the trolls. You’ve heard this advice before, but how can anyone sit on their hands when the trolls are just so … wrong? When you encounter a rude and inaccurate comment, often the best bet is to ignore it altogether. But if you’re feeling inspired, you can look beyond the toxicity and aim for a productive outcome. The thing you ought not do, however, is take the bait and lock horns with the offender. That’s a certain path to a lose-lose situation.

What would you do if confronted with this comment?

The High Priest of Environmental Causes Al Gore was out promoting his waste of cellulose In January, 2006 – when promoting his Oscar-winning (yes, Oscar-winning) documentary, An Inconvenient Truth – Gore declared that unless we took “drastic measures” to reduce greenhouse gasses, the world would reach a “point of no return” in a mere ten years. He called it a “true planetary emergency.” Well, the ten years passed today, we’re still here, and the climate activists have postponed the apocalypse. Again.

Tracing the spread of the myth

This gem appeared among a volley of comments on the Facebook page of a science advocacy organization. But the text was not the work of the commenter.

Facebook posts

Further searching revealed the origin of this snippet. By plugging parts of the quote into a search engine and comparing the dates of publication, it was possible to track the spread of this quote across the web. The original idea appeared to emerge from a climate denial blog. A few weeks later, the same sentiment resurfaced, with obviously similar wording, in an article in the National Review, a conservative publication. From there, the quote has been circulated widely by climate contrarians, and in some cases, spread by what appear to be fake social media accounts.

This small example shows how misinformation germinates within dubious sources like anti-science blogs, then spreads into sympathetic media, and gets shared and re-shared outward from there. Welcome to the disinformation age.

Rebuttal Strategy #1 – Correct the science

The myth is mean-spirited, for sure. But is it true? Not even close, according to Scott Denning, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University. Denning’s faculty webpage details his expertise in carbon cycling and trace gas transport, but then offers an unusual credential: “takes special delight in engaging hostile audiences.”

Indeed, Denning has twice been a guest speaker at Heartland Institute conferences on climate change. Though he vehemently disagrees with Heartland’s stance on climate change, he reasons, “Ignoring climate contrarians has not made them go away.” Thus, he’s honed his methods to meaningfully engage people who dismiss climate science.

Denning’s first advice? Don’t fall into the trap of “fighting fire with fire.” Instead, he advises, “Find the nugget of a claim underneath the vitriol.”

It is not true that climate scientists predicted global catastrophe by 2018. Reading past the unhelpful tone, the logic behind this claim is as follows:

Premise 1: Emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have continued and CO2 has continued to rise.

Premise 2: The consequences of the resulting warming so far aren’t all that bad.

Conclusion: Therefore global warming due to rising CO2 is not a problem and emissions can continue to rise without bound.

With the claim stripped of the inflammatory tone, it’s easy to examine in the light of day. The next step, says Denning, is to “dispatch with [the false claim] quickly and convincingly.”

The conclusion does not follow logically from the premises. CO2 and temperature have indeed continued to rise just as scientists predicted. Worse, the CO2 won’t go away when we eventually stop burning carbon, which is why the longer we wait, the more “drastic” measures we will have to take to avoid very serious damages to the world and our economy.

Denning explains, “I’m responding to the implication that there’s no urgency to reducing emissions. This is buried in the nastiness of the comment, but it’s the essence of the commenter’s message, so the thing we must refute.”

Inflammatory rhetoric intended to make you mad – so mad that you might not even catch the nonsensical claim. Denning describes it as “a multilayered trap,” because the comments are “personal, nasty, and inaccurate.”

The tone doesn’t make Denning shy away from addressing the comment, but it does shape the way he targets his rebuttal. “This kind of insulting rhetoric is precisely where we don’t want to go in the response.”

Strategy #2 – Expose the myth, misinformation, or fallacy

John Cook, research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, likes to use “parallel arguments” to help dismantle pervasive myths. In other words, take away everything to do with climate change and look at a situation similar to the one in the myth. At that point, it’s easy to “expose the poor logic in misinformation,” says Cook. To make his message memorable, Cook captures the parallel argument in a cartoon and a short rebuttal.

This climate myth argues that we haven’t felt climate impacts yet so CO2 emissions are not a problem. This is like jumping from a height and commenting halfway down that you haven’t felt any impact yet so everything’s fine. We are committing actions now that will have consequences in the future.

Cartoon on falling

And for the record, we are experiencing climate impacts now. Heat waves are getting hotter and more frequent, droughts are intensifying, and warmer oceans are fueling hurricanes.

This myth supposes that we’re waiting for an apocalypse to arrive. But one needn’t look very far to realize the impacts of climate change are already at our doorsteps.

Strategy #3 – Engage in dialogue

De-escalation is a common technique in conflict resolution. While this climate myth intentionally stokes antagonism, Karin Tamerius illustrates how to walk the conversation back to practical turf.

You know, I think the word “emergency” probably means different things to different people. What would it take for you to see pollution as a planetary emergency?

Tamerius is no stranger to controversy. In fact, she routinely poses difficult questions and wrangles with members of her SMART Politics Facebook community. All the while, she’s using her background in political psychology to help people communicate more effectively on the topics of the day.

Tamerius prefers to begin her engagement with a question. “I’m trying to redirect attention from the credibility of one person (Al Gore), to what this person believes,” she says. “If I can find out what matters to them, I can address those concerns specifically.”

By steering the conversation away from the arena of partisan politics, Tamerius hopes to uncover deeper understanding. “After determining how they define ’emergency,’ I would turn to finding out how close they think we are to an emergency now,” she says. In the face of copy/paste talking points, probing how someone knows something can bring the conversation to a more rational place.

“The best way to change this person’s mind about who climate activists are and what they stand for is through example,” she says. “Attacks should be ignored or sidestepped, not engaged.”

Strategy #4 – Be persuasive

Rachel Molloy, of Redmond, Washington, is an art director and a determined volunteer who seeks to advance climate policy. She’s currently dedicating her time to build support for a Washington state ballot initiative that would implement statewide carbon pricing. Meanwhile, she’s also volunteering with the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps. From knocking on doors, to visiting schools, to responding to never-ending false claims on social media, Molloy tirelessly strives to help people understand the need for climate action. And she’s no stranger to the false narratives that surround climate change.

As she considers the Al Gore myth, Molloy quickly targets the claim that impacts have not occurred. “This is demonstrably incorrect,” she writes. She starts by leveraging the power of personal experiences.

We are seeing signs of widespread planetary problems. This summer offers plenty of evidence for that.

My daughters had to wear face masks for the first time just to play outside in the smoke and falling ash, as our wildfire costs ballooned over budget, and our air quality fell among the worst in the world.

She then proceeds to a larger scale:

The National Weather Service called Hurricane Florence “the storm of a lifetime” for the Carolinas, and recently Hurricane Harvey dropped “historic amounts of rainfall” of more than 60 inches. The storms are getting bigger and our USA record-keepers are exactly who is warning us on that.

When responding to misinformation on social media, Molloy always references credible sources. She selects some of those sources with an eye toward their potential resonance with her audience. For example, for fiscal conservatives who might be swayed by the rising price tag of climate change, she shares NOAA’s tally of weather and climate disasters.

AnimationWhether you look at the number of events or the (inflation-adjusted) price tag, the upward trend of weather and climate disasters is clear. Source: NOAA.

Molloy keeps a “stockpile” of sources that are likely to be viewed as credible by conservatives: Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Exxon, and Chevron – all have supported taking action on climate change.

From Ronald Reagan to the 2017 Trump Administration National Climate Assessment … the science and the findings have been clear. Impacts from a warmer world are expensive and those costs are accelerating. 2017 just cost us +$300 billion, that’s some very expensive inaction, right here, right now.

Following a similar playbook as Dunning, Cook, and Tamerius, Molloy sidesteps the obvious attempts to drag the argument into the swamp. “Stay calm,” she advises. “I try to get the conversation back to credible sources and factual information at all times, and remain civil and patient throughout.”

Molloy understands that persuasion is a delicate balance, and she’s found that backing off the arguing and sharing some optimism about solutions can present an appealing détente. “Constantly be looking for that small offer of friendship or the crack in the door of someone willing to see that you are presenting a solid foundation that we can all stand on.”

The author is grateful to John Cook of George Mason University for his advice and recommendations on this project.

This series will continue to explore different facets of climate communication, while showcasing the voices of scientists, communicators, and everyday people.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 13:

  1. I have been a skeptic for many years.  Not of climate change but the degree of man's role in the change.   That being said I don't think it's wise to whistle past the grave yard.   There are so many pressing problems that need resolution.  For example.  Plastic in our oceans, mono-cropping, acidification of our oceans, and many others just to name a few.  We need to make alternative energy sources affordable to the average consumer.  Most people don't have 35,000 dollars for an electric car or 100k for solar panels.  Practical solutions would dictate that these alternate sources must become more accessable.  

    While I am not alarmed and hysterical about climate change and global warming I am not a gambling person.  We should try to err on the side of caution without going to extremes.  Consider all the outcomes of measures to control climate and will they really work.

    I think it is also important to important to hear all sides of the issue.  So called "concensus" findings is not always scientific.  For over 100 years practically 100% of all scientists believed in "Luminous Aether" .  Even as late as 2002 there were some experiments being done to disprove it's existence.  So don't hedge all your bets on concensus.   All scientific concensus needs is one good repeatable experiment to disprove it or at least cast doubts on a concensus.  

    Keep the discussion open as well as our minds.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] No one claims "consensus" makes something true. This is a strawman argument and verging on sloganeering. Consensus studies show a/ that there a consensus exists (counters the argument the science is divided), and b/ that it is strong. Everything in science is conditional, no better than the next experiment, but a scientific consensus, especially when it is strong, is the only rational guide to policy.

    Open discussion is welcome. You could begin by stating what evidence you have that man's role in climate change is not strong, on the appropriate thread. Use the "arguements" menu item, then Taxomony, and look under "Its not us" to help.

    [DB] Please read this post before commenting further.  If you have questions on it, place those questions there, not here.

    Attribution

  2. Imho people must rebut climate science denialists, and unambiguously and firmly. There's no way on earth we should ignore their toxic  garbage. If we don't rebut climate denialists, their nonsense will gain traction. Would you go to court and not rebut accusations made against you?

    But you don't want to give them too much oxygen and publicity either. Feeding trolls is risky and often they are best ignored, but I dont think this is quite the right response over the climate issue, not in every case anyway.

    Keep to the core issue like the article says and stick to the facts. I would add be polite and keep it fairly concise and include an internet link to the key data, so it's not just your opinion its something more. Don't let them bait you into loosing your temper or getting bogged down in game playing, because you end up looking foolish to other people reading. But imho don't be nauseatingly polite and boring either.

    Remember you are commenting not to convince some hard core denialist, but for the benefit of more open minded people reading. If the troll keeps comng back with more nonsense, terminate fast, you have made your point and long discussion with trolls are a waste of time
    I admit I dont always follow my own rules. It takes discipline. 

    It also depends on the situation. Long discussion can be good if someone makes genuinely good points or is a genuine open minded sceptic, as oppsed to some politically tribal denialist.

    Regarding the Al gore issue and the real science behind it. Heres an analogy. I knew this smoker who was convinced it was harmless because he had never became sick, then a few months later he was diagnosed with emphysema. He was relying on short term personal anecdotal information, rather than understanding he was gradually increasing his risk and playing russian routlette and also failing to trust the experts, who are right far more than the non experts.

    But he couldn't be told, perhaps because there's lots of psychological denial and rationalising going on, because smoking is very addictive and its easier to just deny theres a problem.

    Although the climate issue has become a political issue as well as an addiction to oil, so theres more going on.

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  3. prophtch44 @1, one thing it's not 100K ( $100,000 (American)) for solar panels. About $10,000 will get the average home owner a good solar panel array and a tesla backup battery pack is about $10,000. This is easily googled. so perhaps your 100K was a typo.

    It's the cost equivalent of one ensuite bathroom, to put it in context.

    And another thing. Experiments have been done literally hundreds of times  with CO2 in a canister with a light source applied and a warming effect has been measured. The planets temperature can also only be explained by the greenhouse effect. This is the basis of the whole issue. It's incredibly unlikely any of this would ever be overturned, virtually zero chance.

    But yeah everyone should keep an open mind in general.

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  4. Scepticism is a process of doing checks but to refuse to accept the mainstream science until and unless personally satisfied is a serious logical fallacy - more so even than appealing to authority - and the 'appeals to authority are fallacious' argument is one of the most abused bits of logic going, allowing anything someone doesn't understand, can't understand and doesn't want to understand to be rejected out of hand. ie a way to conclude that anything you don't understand is wrong.

    Something said by a consensus of experts isn't evidence of anything but that it is a consensus of experts, however it is a common sense truth that people who study and work at something almost all know more about it than people who don't. An empirical truth or perhaps a statistical one - not a certainty but by far the best bet. Scientists do work within codes of professional conduct and, by the nature of their jobs, is accompanied by copious documentation - which is usually openly available for independent review and critique. And such review is generally welcomed - but with a requirement for actual knowledge and appropriate expertise by the reviewers.

    Undermining trust in the science and fanning alarmist economic fear of going without fossil fuels are the principle themes of obstructionist climate politicking. That and blanket blaming of 'green' politics - for misrepresenting the science, for being the hidden hand behind the science, for failing to be enthusiastic supporters of the nuclear option that - bizarrely - most of those calling for it don't actually have as their own policy response.

    There was never anything wrong with the communications by scientist, but it was met with counter-communications at every point of the way. The counter communications didn't arise because the numerous studies and reports didn't express it clearly enough. Quite the inverse - it is because it did express it clearly and left no legitimate room for rejecting it that prompted the concerted efforts to employ misinformation undermine trust is science. In the absence of any way to prevent it, dealing with the counter-communications to diminish it's reach and effectiveness is essential.

    My own choice in discussing these issues is to make it clear that it is about the mainstream science, not the advocates. I routinely tell people to look to long running organisations like The Royal Society or US National Academy of Sciences for non-partisan advice. I don't ask or expect people to trust and accept what Al Gore or Greenpeace say - even though on this issue they are getting it much closer to correct than the counter-informers do; I say look to three decades of expert reports and studies that have been consistent and persistent in what they have been saying.

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  5. Al Gore was right ten years ago. 

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  6. There is the possibility that we actually have past the point of no return or at least have committed outselves to suddenish climate flip which will not be pleasant.  It is a little like a balistic pendulum.  This is a device for measuring the velocity of a bullet.  A heavy weight is suspended on a teather and the bullet is fired into it.  If you watched it in slow motion, you would see initially nothing happening but the momentum of the bullet has been added to the inertia of the weight.  The weight begins to swing and by measuring the height to which is swings you can calculate the velocity of the bullet.  In our case, the ocean is the huge weight that has been set in motion but we won't see the results for a while.  Since there seems no prospect that we will stop pouring green house gasses into the atmosphere it is as if we continue to fire at the balistic pendulum.

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  7. Yep, Al Gore's "point of no return" appears to have been reached.  And, yes, we are still here, but our being here has nothing to do with having "reached the point of no return". He didn't say humans would disappear from the planet "in ten years", he just said we would reach "the point of no return".  Presumably, he was interested in our "return" to the relative "normalcy" of our last 8,400 years of Goldilocks" climate. But, alas, seems not to be possible now.  I think it's pretty well accepted (scientifically) that some humans will probably be around when the predicted climate problems "do in" most of the human race (if the problems are unresolved).  Certainly, the accelerating disappearance of phytoplankton in the oceans is going to make animal respiration a lot tougher "someday" if we humans don't fix what we've broke.  The plight of phytoplankton is only one problem..how many more problems need to be solved so that deniers can hope to share a livable planet with the rest of us?  It's too bad there's a "tragedy of the commons".  If we could export our deniers; say, to Mars, perhaps we could set about to fix things. 

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  8. #5,6,7
    Whether or not we have passed a point of no return is a rather moot argument in my book.  It's akin to (what?) stage 5 climate change denial. "We Win!! There is nothing we can do so burn baby burn!!"

    My view is that even if we've reached a point where a lot of bad things will happen, like excessive ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, major  sea level rise, and climate shifts that force mass migrations, etc. We still can and must take actions to mitigate whatever "no return" exists.

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  9. prophtch44.
    "Keep the discussion open as well as our minds."
    When ever anyone mentions "open minds", I get suspicious. Usually that is a dogwhistle to the "woke" crowd that implies climate scientists minds are somehow closed. TL;DR climate scientist's minds are not closed, they will believe anything if there is credible evidence for it.

    "While I am not alarmed and hysterical". That's an insult, unless you can demonstrate who is "hysterical".

    "So called "concensus" findings is not always scientific." Ummm the hypothesis about the Luminous Aether WAS scientific, it was completely falsifiable as the Michelson–Morley experiment later demonstrated. The scientists at the time believed in the possibility of the aether based on theoretical reasoning about the wave nature of light.

    "All scientific concensus needs is one good repeatable experiment to disprove it or at least cast doubts on a concensus." Really, on a consensus of evidence? I don't think so. Either way this comment is speculation/wishful thinking on your part.

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  10. The aether was a well-motivated hypothesis, given that physicists were trying to interpret light as a mechanical (transverse) wave in some 'medium'.  And the predictions the model made were really based in Maxwell's equations, which we still use.  So saying there turned out to be no ether is a completely different kind of 'correction' than saying that CO2 emissions don't cause the climate to warm.  The ether was required if Maxwell's equations described a mechanical wave phenomenon.  But whatever the deep metaphysics of radiation and its interaction with various gases, we know that CO2 absorbs IR and causes the earth to be warmer than it would be (quite a bit warmer, in fact) if the atmosphere didn't include CO2...

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  11. I am a climate fence sitter.  I like to think I read diligently on all sides.  Recently I came across a paper listed on a "denier" site and was wondering what the folks here had to say.  The conclusion of the study was quite clear:

    "The record shows a substantial and long-term warming during the Roman Warm Period (~350 BCE – 450 CE), followed by variable bottom water temperatures during the Dark Ages (~450 – 850 CE). The Viking Age/Medieval Climate Anomaly (~850 – 1350 CE) is also indicated by positive bottom water temperature anomalies, while the Little Ice Age (~1350 – 1850CE) is characterized by a long-term cooling with distinct multidecadal variability. When studying the Gullmar Fjord bottom
    water temperature record for the last 2500 years, it is interesting to note that the most recent warming of the 20th century does
    not stand out but appears to be comparable to both the Roman Warm Period and the MCA."

    Tracing winter temperatures over the last two millennia using a NE
    Atlantic coastal record
    Irina Polovodova Asteman1
    , Helena L. Filipsson 2
    , Kjell Nordberg 1 5
    1 Department of Marine Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Carl Skottbergsgata 22B, 41319 Gothenburg, Sweden
    2 Department of Geology, University of Lund, Sölvegatan 12, 22362 Lund, Sweden

    https://www.clim-past-discuss.net/cp-2017-160/cp-2017-160.pdf

    I realize the first and foremost rebuttal would be to say the report covers a subset of the globe and not the whole, but similar such studies show the same result in many areas of the globe.  Is the data incorrect?  Why are global average anomalies better suited to determining whether there is warming?

    Thank you for your input.

    Joe in NY

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  12. JP66 @11 ,

    A/ Yes you are quite right, we should assess things coolly and logically, and not be swept away by a few tiny pieces of evidence (like cherry-picking a handful of leaves from a large forest).  There is a vast wealth of  evidence ~ consilient evidence ~ supporting the mainstream climate science . . . and there is almost none supporting the "denialist" viewpoint.   The denialists have rhetoric, and not much else.

    B/ As you are already aware, I'm sure, the hugely significant difference between the previous changes in temperature during the Holocene, and the present day global temperature . . . is that of rate of change.  At present, the surface temperature is climbing vertically like a Hornet on afterburners (excuse the mild hyperbole!).  And it is still climbing rapidly.   This is a vastly different situation from the slow & slight changes during the so-called Holocene Optimum and during the 5,000 years since then.

    C/ It's a good idea to step back and look at the bigger picture.  Coming out of the last glacial stage (and speaking in broad terms) there was a 10,000-year gradual rise of temperature of roughly 5 degreesC (and there was also a 1,000-year wiggle in the middle of that, named the Younger Dryas).  Then came a rather flat period of about 5,000 years, which some call the Holocene Optimum.   Following that, for 5,000 years has been a slow fall of temperature . . . until now.   Just as seen in the level Holocene Optimum, we also see during the declining past 5,000 years ~ various minor bumps and minor troughs (named the Roman Warm Period, the Medieval, the Little Ice Age, etcetera etcetera).   These small wiggles are very small, and came and went slowly (and they are so small in amplitude of rise/fall, that is is difficult to exactly define their start and finish).

    D/ The more important point is : what caused these previous minor wiggles during the Holocene?  There's only a limited number of candidates ~ minor variations in solar output (on a multi-decadal scale); occasional major volcanic activity; long-cycle oceanic overturning currents; etcetera.  Climate changes when something causes it to change.   It doesn't change for no reason.  (And I am sure you also know of the ultra-long cycle of Milankovitch.).   This is why the denialists are talking arrant nonsense, when they say that the recent warming [say from 1800 or 1850] is just "a rebound from the Little Ice Age" ~ they seem to forget that there must be an actual cause for change.

    JP66 . . . against the overall picture, the overall evidence . . . it is very difficult to find anything to get excited about, in fjord depths.  (If I have mis-read that, then I would be grateful if you would explain the significance.)

    JP66 , if you wish to question the general world data being correct/incorrect ~ you should read & discuss at a more appropriate thread.  [And a Spoiler Alert : the denialists have got that wrong as well!]

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  13. It's important to remember that the globe is not a homogenous whole, warming or cooling uniformly.  And that regional and seasonal differences exist, sometimes opposite in sign, over time.  So if the goal is to gain the best understanding of change over time, then I think that most would agree that the imperative is to use as many locations as possible using the most proxy types as possible, with the longest records possible.

    With that in mind, we can look at the last 1,700 years, (from the NCA4, Vol 1 from 2017), which covers the specific period in detail, but from a global perspective (and not confined to just winters):

    Last 1,700 years

    For additional perspective, we can look at global temperatures over the past 22,000 years (from Bruce Railsback's Fundamentals of Quaternary Science):

    Last 22,000 years

    So as we can see, global proxies offer the best context.

    A good summary of the present iteration of warming, from last week's released National Climate Assessment 2018, Vol. 2, from the Trump Administration:


    "Scientists have understood the fundamental physics of climate change for almost 200 years. In the 1850s, researchers demonstrated that carbon dioxide and other naturally occurring greenhouse gases in the atmosphere prevent some of the heat radiating from Earth’s surface from escaping to space: this is known as the greenhouse effect.

    This natural greenhouse effect warms the planet’s surface about 60°F above what it would be otherwise, creating a habitat suitable for life. Since the late 19th century, however, humans have released an increasing amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels and, to a lesser extent, deforestation and land-use change. As a result, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to human-caused warming, has increased by about 40% over the industrial era.

    This change has intensified the natural greenhouse effect, driving an increase in global surface temperatures and other widespread changes in Earth’s climate that are unprecedented in the history of modern civilization.

    Global climate is also influenced by natural factors that determine how much of the sun’s energy enters and leaves Earth’s atmosphere and by natural climate cycles that affect temperatures and weather patterns in the short term, especially regionally.

    However, the unambiguous long-term warming trend in global average temperature over the last century cannot be explained by natural factors alone.

    Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the only factors that can account for the observed warming over the last century; there are no credible alternative human or natural explanations supported by the observational evidence.

    Without human activities, the influence of natural factors alone would actually have had a slight cooling effect on global climate over the last 50 years."

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