This one has been puzzling me. When I hear debates about climate change, very often it seems like the debate has been centered around whether or not it is caused by human activity.

To me this aspect feels like a complete red herring.

Presumably both sides would agree that if there is climate change, and if it would be sufficiently harmful (to the planet or to human activity, take your pick) then naturally we would try to reduce it. That's the case whether or not it was human-caused, all that matters is whether there's evidence of change, and whether enough people feel that the prospective/projected climate change we're seeing, would be harmful enough if we don't act globally to deliberately reduce the amount of heat trapped by the earth.

As a (poor) analogy, arguing whether or not it's human-caused feels a bit like planning to develop real estate on a seaside clifftop which some specialists have said might suffer dangerous erosion in the next 70 years unless you put up some seawalls to prevent water action at the base of the cliff - and basing your view whether to build seawalls and other erosion defences upon whether or not there's proof that human activity would be the cause of any future erosion, rather than whether or not erosion is likely and if so how harmful it might be to your interests if nothing is done to reduce it.

Put another way - who cares if it's human caused and why would that be relevant in the debate?

  • We can agree if the earth were to retain heat to an extent that global temperatures slightly rise by a couple or so degrees, it would be harmful to us (whatever the cause of that rise).
  • We can also agree that as a species, we have the ability to cause an increase or decrease to that retention of heat by our industrial and technical activities.
  • So the question surely is whether there is good evidence it's a risk, how big the risk is, and whether the projected impact is likely and sufficient to undertake measures to offset it by reducing the earth's heat retention.

That's classic cost/benefit/likelihood decision-making, and has no relation to any cause of any warming, which seems like a red herring.

So why is the climate change debate so often framed in terms of human cause rather than whether or not it's actually happening or a risk? It's not like, were the same degree of projected climate change present but not human caused, the harm to us would be any different.

Update/note: To be clear, I'm not asking for views whether or not climate change is true, if we have the ability to change it for good or bad, what evidence exists, whether people want or oppose change, or anything like that. I'm specifically looking at why the debate so often gets framed round a point that seems to be a red herring whatever the side one is on.

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    "When I hear debates about climate change, very often it seems like the debate has been centered around whether or not it is caused by human activity." I don't hear this very often when hearing debates about climate change. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 11:11
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    I can't post this as an answer because I have no rep on this site, but this probably is in part down to people's inherent bias against things caused by humans. If climate change is "natural", that (to a lot of people) means it must be a good thing, or for the greater good of nature - see the craze with people who want natural as opposed to artificial ingredients in their food, etc.
    – Muzer
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 14:45
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    @emory Ah, that explains it. I just don't hear very much from climate change deniers here. They are a very small minority here. They surely exist somewhere, but the view is just not very popular. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 8:18
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    @Muzer: It does make some sense though. When you boil down the argument for green living, it is "We are interfering with the ecosystem. We shouldn't be doing that. We should be ecologically invisible." But if it turns out that climate change is (wholly) natural, that means that the core of the outcome gets inverted: in order to not interfere with the ecosystem and remain ecologically invisible, we should then not artificially prevent climate change. Just like how humans are not to blame for natural animal extinctions, so too are they not to blame for natural climate change.
    – Flater
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 13:29
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    @emory Any obvious truth presented out of context and with the purpose of confusing people is very close to if not exactly equivalent to a lie. Anyway, the important truth here probably should be that the Earth will get much hotter before it may eventually get colder again, long after all the detrimental effects of hotness will have taken place. Everyone should care much more about the immediate future than about the very distant future. This question here is just if Trump does deep down really believe anything what he is saying about the climate or not. I guess not but who knows. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 12:57

11 Answers 11


The reason is that if climate change would not be human-caused, then humans would not be able to prevent it by scaling down their greenhouse gas emissions.

The chain of reasoning which is most supported by the scientific data we currently have available (check earth science stackexchange for more information) is:

  1. Our industry creates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses
  2. Those greenhouse gasses increase the global temperature
  3. That global temperature will cause severe economic damage in the future
  4. Therefore, in order to secure our future economy, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, even if it's bad for the economy today.

But when our industry would not be responsible for the raise in global temperature, that chain of reasoning would be irrelevant:

  1. The greenhouse gasses emitted by our industry only have a negligible impact on the world climate.
  2. Which would mean that reducing them would also have a negligible impact on the world climate.
  3. Which would mean that the economic damage caused by raising temperature is inevitable
  4. Which would lead to the conclusion that reducing our greenhouse gas production today would be a pointless endeavor which would restrict our economy today for no tangible benefit in the future.

As you can see, the answer to the question about whether or not climate change is man-made has a direct impact on which policies should be enacted to solve this problem.

There are people who have a direct business interest in preventing any policies which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because these would have a negative financial impact on them. There are also people who have ideological reasons for opposing government-imposed economy regulations. The best way to prevent these policies from being enacted is to cast doubt on the causality chain outlined above.

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    In that case, why is the debate so emphatic about "humans aren't culpable" (which seems irrelevant) and not on the takeaway point that you'd expect to be held, which is "sorry, humans can't do anything about it"?
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:37
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    @Stilez Because the second statement is the direct corollary of the first. Also, the second is not necessarily true. There are some ideas around for geoengineering mega-projects which might counter global warming. These would be even more expensive than just reducing greenhouse gas emissions (and carry other risks which are hard to calculate), but that cost would not be paid by the current greenhouse gas emitters, especially if they can convince the public that it's not their fault.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:41
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 17:36
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    "There are people who have a direct business interest in preventing any policies which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and there are also people who have a direct business interest in getting policies which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enacted." It goes both ways.
    – Wilbert
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 11:54
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    @Wilbert Agreed. This answer is clearly biased in the last paragraph, attempting to paint that only one-side of this debate cares about the policies on the greenhouse gas emissions. Same with ideological reason - there's also many people with ideological reason for supporting goverment-imposed economy regulations.
    – James H
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 0:55

As long as we're still debating the nature of the problem, we don't have to actually address it.

This is perhaps a cynical view, but I see this as a misdirection: "if you don't like what people are saying, change the conversation."

You're right that whether or not humans caused it is somewhat tangential - either way it's happening and we need to deal with it. The problem is that combating climate change is massively disruptive. Changing our routines is uncomfortable. Retrofitting all of our industries is expensive. Reducing oil dependence reduces profits and strains some international relations. None of us really want to deal with this.

We're past the point where we can seriously debate whether climate change is real (it's frighteningly real), so rather than admitting defeat and moving on to the "what painful things must do about it?" debate, those who are resistant to taking action have shifted the conversation. It's tougher to prove that we're at fault, but more importantly it's simply a new debate. As long as we're still debating the nature of the problem, we don't have to actually address it. This debate also lets the resistant leverage the "if it's natural, it must be good" sentiment that advertisers have been driving into us since time immemorial.

If we ever conclusively prove climate change is human-caused, expect another shift of the goalposts. Probably international finger-pointing, "They're currently producing more greenhouse gases!", "Yeah, but they had their industrial revolution first!", "Their emissions are low now, but their historical cumulative emissions are higher!"

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    "We're past the point where we can seriously debate whether climate change is real " Do you mean as a society, separated from the scientific facts? That may be true for most of the world, but I don't think it's true for the US, where deniers are still common and hold key positions in government (if you disagree, sources would be great!). If you mean scientifically, we are also past the point were we can seriously debate human involvement in climate change.
    – tim
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:45
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    @tim I mean as a society. I'm not sure how to provide a source for that, but I think the fact that we're debating human involvement indicates the deniers have stopped debating whether it exists. They haven't admitted it exists, but they have largely stopped debating that it doesn't. Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:59
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    If we ever conclusively prove climate change is human-caused done. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 0:24
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    Often the people doing the most blocking (politicians, owners of huge companies) are so old that it is not something they need to worry about. As long as the supply of yachts and blondes keep coming they are not going to change their behaviour.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 7:05
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    @TobiaTesan p < 0.05 isn't "conclusive proof." Very likely, sure. Conclusive proof, no.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 15:33

The debate is important because it informs the actions that can be taken.

If climate change is mostly caused by human activity, then climate change can be managed using the same mechanisms. i.e. If more car pollution implies increasing temperatures, then less car pollution implies a cessation of increasing temperatures.

On the other hand, if climate change isn't caused by human activity then it is unlikely we have any technical means to change that. For example, if climate change is being caused by an increase in solar output, then there doesn't seem to be anything we can do to reduce that.

  • This seems the same point @Philippe makes. See my comment to his answer for my question about it.
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:38
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    I still find it perplexing. Assuming that climate change was caused by an increase in solar output (which it is not), we would still have to do something about it (e.g., move coastal communities to higher ground, prepare for stronger hurricanes, etc). If you genuinely believe in nonanthropogenic global warming then you would not order federal agencies to not take into account global warming when considering federal infrastructure projects (let us build in the areas scientists predict will soon be claimed by the sea).
    – emory
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 11:54
  • @emory The question isn't about whether or not climate change is real, but whether it's caused by human activity. So therefor this answer only mentions reducing global warming. That said, in a lot of cases climate change itself is questioned, in which case: there is no danger, so there is no need to deal with it. But again, that's a different question. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 16:43
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    The science is settled now, there is no serious doubt as to humans being the cause of global warming, so I don't think that's the reason why it keeps being questioned. The purpose of re-hashing the argument and denying the undeniable evidence is to avoid making the inevitable decision to act.
    – user
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 17:01

The question of whether or not humans cause climate change matters because for many people an answer of 'no' will remove the need to act, and even if the answer is 'yes' it helps determine who should pay.

Why people might think that we can only do something if humans are currently causing climate change

Let's pull up a truth table of sorts:

  1. Humans don't cause climate change, but humans can change the climate
  2. Humans don't cause climate change, and humans cannot change it now
  3. Humans are causing climate change, and humans can change the climate
  4. Humans are causing climate change, but humans cannot change it now

Your comments and question indicate that you don't see why #1 can seem absurd. The best way I can help you see is to rephrase it a little: "Despite hundreds of years of industry on an unparalled scale, humans haven't changed the environment. However, we somehow could if we tried."

That being said, regardless of whether or not you see the absurdity of #1 and #4, many people do, which means that only options #2 and #3 are available for them. If you can then show that humans don't cause climate change, then only #2 (and possibly #4, which has the same conclusion) is left, and it means that we have no obligation to try and do anything about it. Therefore, people who find #1 absurd can determine whether or not we should do anything about climate change by determining whether or not humans are causing it.

Why people who think we can do something still care about 'blame'

However, many people believe that #3 and #1 are the most true statements. We can change the climate back or at least hold it in place. Let's see why blame still matters here...

Let's assume that humanity has decided to rationally debate climate change as a collective, global body. (This is, of course, flying the face of all recorded history and psychology.) Now, let's continue and assume that everybody agrees that there is climate change, it will be harmful to human activity, and there is a way to stop/reduce it.

Fantastic!! Now who's going to pay for it??

Nobody likes paying for stuff. Friends argue over splitting a bill, roommates argue over utilities, spouses argue over dishes, etc. The easiest and most common way of assigning responsibility for payment is to assign 'blame'.

  • You ordered dessert and an appetizer, so you should pay more.
  • You take 2-hour-long showers, so I'll pay garbage and you pay for water.
  • You're right, sweetheart

Therefore, blame still matters, since we've got to figure out how to pay for it. Also, if you are busy proving that humans are causing climate change, you can probably pinpoint which humans are causing climate change and then we really know who to 'blame' and make pay for it. Invest in torches and pitchforks

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    In a single word: liability. +1
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 19:17
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    Despite 70 years of having nuclear weapons, humans haven’t rendered the Earth a radioactive wasteland. But I’ve no doubt that we could if we tried. Obviously, climate change is caused by human emissions - but that doesn’t mean that the first statement is logically true. If humanity decided that the issue with Earth was that is wasn’t covered in enough radioactive ash, we could and would do something about it - despite the fact that humanity is in no way responsible for Earth’s current nuclear-wasteland-free state.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 21:12
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    To be more pertinent, if for some reason the planet started getting cooler, humans could readily raise the temperature through increasing carbon dioxide emissions, regardless of the original reason for the cooling. It wouldn’t matter whether it was because of massive, natural volcanic eruptions, or because of human-created particulate pollution.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 21:18
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    #1 is not absurd. We could cause nuclear winter at will. Yes, this will stop global warming. No, we don't want to do it.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 21:24
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    I agree, it’s a good answer. :) I’m just saying that #1 isn’t an absurd situation. It’s just one that doesn’t pertain in the current case of anthropogenic climate change. But it’s easy enough to cook up a situation where it would make sense.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 21:28

Question: if climate change is not human caused, how could we make it not happen?

The assumption is that increased carbon dioxide in the air, caused by humans (not really disputed by anyone), is causing climate change (colloquially known as global warming even though some of its results are cooler weather). If it's not the increased carbon dioxide though, then what should we do about climate change?

The only real climate change solutions that I have seen are to reduce carbon dioxide in the air by having human activity emit less of it. If increased carbon dioxide is not the cause of climate change, then why would reducing carbon dioxide reverse climate change? Or affect climate in any way? If increasing it doesn't matter, then reducing it most likely wouldn't matter either.

If climate change is not a result of humans putting increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the air, then what action are you recommending that humans take? Eliminate sunspots? Change the planet's orbit? Build a sun shield?

Or are you thinking smaller? Individuals who have been moving south to embrace warm winters could move north instead. No government policy required, just individual action.

The general belief of those who embrace the explanation of natural climate change is that if we wait long enough the world will get cooler again. After all, when the industrial revolution started, trends looked to be leading towards another ice age.

If average warming is instead caused by increased carbon dioxide, then a cooling trend is unlikely to start on its own. We are actively pushing against it. The warming will continue as we add more and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. "Just wait and it will fix itself" is not practical in that view.

Accepting the denier's view that human activity is not causing climate change would also preclude the natural solution to human-caused climate change. Because the diagnosis and the treatment are tied together.

"I don't believe that humans are causing climate change, but I believe that reducing carbon emissions might reverse climate change." Why? If climate change is not caused by increased carbon emissions, why would reducing them do anything?

TL;DR: Human caused climate change has one solution (stop causing it by stopping the causal behavior). Natural climate change would have a different solution, if solvable at all.

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    Carbon sequestration has been actively researched, it just hasn't been anywhere near as successful as source mitigation and usage reduction. Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 4:00
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    @SilverbackNet Nearly a quarter of global carbon emissions are from 3rd world slash and burn agriculture. I suspect a great deal of carbon is also sourced from 3rd world industrial expansion. I have yet to see a single "source mitigation" plan that included curtailing the 3rd world. It is nearly exclusive in it's damning of the 1st world, out of 'fairness' toward letting the 3rd world catch up industrially with the 1st. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 13:37
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    @JackOfAllTrades234 - slash and burn means that the plants being burned have just removed that CO2 from the atmosphere. Not great, but the carbon has to first be removed by those plants (either very short term or on a scale of decades or centuries) before burning them can put it back into the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels reintroduces carbon that has been out of circulation for millions of years, on a massive scale. Not at all the same thing. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 22:10

To my mind the two main standpoints currently are:

1) There is no climate change.

2) There is a climate change caused by, or at least highly influenced by, human activity.

The effect of standpoint 1: As there is no climate change, there is no need to prepare for the non-existant effects.

As far as I can understand US politics (you can never really understand the politics of a foreign country) the Trump adminstration adheres to standpoint 1.

Large parts of the World countries, inluding UN, adheres closer to standpoint 2.

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    I've NEVER met anyone who believes the first standpoint (Trump does not). And I don't see how anyone could. Point One should be "climate change isn't cause by human activity" or "this climate change is normal" (which are both closer to what Trump thinks). I'd really like to see sources to people saying that there is no climate change. I assume it's just a troll movement like flat-earthers IF it indeed exists at all.
    – user16214
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 18:38
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    @AytAyt that is objectively provable that there are politicians that believe in #1. Even Trump himself: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
    – user1530
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 20:08
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    (To be fair, there can be a gigantic difference between "believe" and "pretends to believe", of course)
    – user1530
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 20:08
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    @AytAyt sorry to add to the anxiety. I know there's enough of it out there these days. :/
    – user1530
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 21:02
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    @supercat - No, “climate change” was adopted because it describes a more complex phenomenon than global warming, or at least seems to. Basically, it more clearly implies that (time-averaged) temperatures need not rise at every point on Earth, even though (time and space) averaged temperatures will. It also implies more complex atmospheric phenomena, such as increased storms and flooding.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 22:02

If we were not looking looking at "human-caused," and looked at "the climate is warmer because the sun is warming and will continue to warm until the entire planet's atmosphere is burned away,".... what, exactly is our possible intervention for stopping the sun? We look at what we can control or mitigate.

If our actions cause a problem, then it certainly is in our power to mitigate it, or at least examine our actions in the context of what we can do to lessen our impact. Not so with events beyond our ability to control or impact.

Logically, those elements most easily within our control would be the easiest to impact.

There is also the factor of the phoniness of the debate and how that has evolved. Initially the denial was that warming was happening, at all. The common denialist claims is "well, we're not certain" - whether it's global warming, cigarette health effects, the effects of lead, or coal plants and mercury - so initially it was "we don't really know it's happening." Since the evidence became so overwhelming that this phony denial couldn't even be made by the denialists, it then became "it's not caused by humans, so we have to adapt instead of intervene," or "it's part of a natural cycle of fluctuations, and it will go away by itself, so it would be foolish to try and intervene."

So, to your specific analogy, if we can't control it, we just have to live with it, adapt and not change the underlying (and profitable, for some) behaviors that we would if we could control it. To make another analogy, it's the difference between getting stitches and bandages for wounds after the fact, if there's no way to stop your injuries, or getting the guy with the knife in front of your office building, every morning, to stop stabbing you as you go by.

The science is solid, and those possibilities have been examined and have, over time, been pushed aside for more valid arguments. These denialist claims have all the intended validity of the previous ones, but it's all part of a concerted strategy of obfuscation where they muddy the waters, grudgingly eventually concede the established facts, and move onto the next set of facts to dispute and spend time "debating," thus delaying action.

... the report affirms that climate change is driven almost entirely by human action....

"... For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence."

Washington Post: Government Scientific Report on Climate Change Released

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    Any time I hear something along the lines of "the science is settled!", I cringe at the reality of what our scientific community has become. This applies to any number of controversial scientific subjects for which dissent means a ruined career. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 13:23
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    @JackOfAllTrades234 - that doesn't mean that there's nothing to learn or in dispute within the subject matter. It just means that this particular aspect, which has been studied for decades, is no longer in question and they've moved on to the next level, so to speak. If you want to tell me about issues you see with traffic infrastructure, and I keep demanding that you first establish that internal combustion is actually a thing, and that it does have the ability to power a motor vehicle, you'd never make any progress because you'd be re-proving what has been proven. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 14:50
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    I'm not sure I've ever encountered anyone that had completely disregarded climate change as existing, as your analogy would appear to imply. What troubles me is how willingly man made climate change proponents ignore any and all evidence that suggests the change might be a natural cycle(Holocene temperature variations have high points far in excess of our current temperatures for example). To merely question the church of man made climate change is heresy in academia, and it is that almost religious aspect that bothers me. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 15:28
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    @JackOfAllTrades234 - If you've never seen that, then you haven't been paying attention. That has been a claim, and continues to be a claim in slightly modified fashion (see the ridiculous "we've been cooling since 1998" argument that still gets circulation). And those talking points had no credibility when being used. It reached the point where people repeating it just advertised themselves as foolish, so they moved onto the next point not really in dispute, but one that hasn't been so repeatedly debunked that everyone is familiar with the lack of credibility - that it's not man-made. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 19:41
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    @JackOfAllTrades234 - They understand the mechanisms at work, and can point to specific events and conditions that caused that spike. None of those conditions are at work now. The fact that a massive asteroid impact caused global cooling would not magically mean that, if we had massive particulate pollution, we could not determine that cooling was caused by that, especially absent a modern asteroid collision. What bothers me is when people like you pretend that the scientist haven't explored these things, when they have. Exhaustively. These possibilities are not new or novel. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 19:47

Because there is a lot of policy being proposed or enacted on the basis of preventing or reversing it. If it was not caused by human activity, but is something that happens regardless of what humans do, trying to do stop or reverse it is obviously a waste of time, money and effort.

In your analogy, if a person agrees that the erosion will happen anyway regardless of human activity, it makes sense for them to take some steps to mitigate the harm of erosion. This analogy doesn't describe the climate change debate accurately because:

  • What about carbon taxes and similar laws aimed at reducing the human contribution to climate change? This is actually the bulk of policy, rather than measure that work regardless of whether it's human caused. In your analogy, it would be the specialist saying "you must stop doing X because X causes erosion". Obviously the person would disagree if they don't believe erosion is caused by anything humans do, including X.
  • Even though you agree that something should be done, you may think that a particular solution is ineffective. In your analogy, if the specialist offers to sell the person a bottle of special snake oil, which they can pour on their land and prevent the erosion, why would the person agree? The specialist must convince the person that their solution is effective. This is easy if your argument can be "well it happened because we did X, so just stop doing X, problem solved" but if you can't use that argument if you can't convince the person that doing X caused it in the first place.
  • Generally, the person could refuse to listen to any specialist because they don't believe any solution is possible. In your analogy, if the person believes that there is nothing that can be done against erosion, why would they bother even talking to the specialist? Again, it is easy to argue that "if we made it, we can unmake it" (which isn't even true, strictly speaking) but you can't argue that if you don't get to say we made it.

There's not really a lot being done about climate change that would work regardless of whether humans caused it. A lot of it rests on the assumption that humans both caused it and are capable of reversing their actions. That's one big complaint I see opponents bring up: They don't want to be tricked into doing solutions that won't work. They also don't want to be tricked into doing solutions to a problem that doesn't exist - many people who agree that climate change happens but isn't natural, don't believe that its consequences will be as severe as is claimed or that it won't reverse its course. Again, part of the argument for increasing severity is increasing human activity, which doesn't work if you don't accept that it's human caused.

We can agree if the earth were to retain heat to an extent that global temperatures slightly rise by a couple or so degrees, it would be harmful to us (whatever the cause of that rise).

Actually a lot of people (commentators, not scientists) don't agree. Not only in principle, but also about how much the increase would be and whether it would be very harmful or just a little.

We can also agree that as a species, we have the ability to cause an increase or decrease to that retention of heat by our industrial and technical activities.

Obviously, we can't agree if some people think it's not caused by human activity.

So the question surely is whether there is good evidence it's a risk, how big the risk is, and whether the projected impact is likely and sufficient to undertake measures to offset it by reducing the earth's heat retention.

Also whether the measures are effective, and whether an effective measure is possible.


Why it is a red herring

I would say, those who don't care about what's causing it, who see the argument of 'are humans causing it' as a red herring, are focused on solutions, and how to fix it. They're focused more on things like... artificial trees, enormous air purifiers, or any method for making the world greener (solar power, electric cars, etc.)

Why it is NOT a red herring

Those who don't see it as a red herring, want to identify the bigger 'problem-child's' of what causes climate change, so we can focus our resources on fixing those issues, either by improving technology, or through regulations (carbon taxes, not allowing deforestation, eating less meat).


Those who view it as a red herring want to create new technology, don't want some major shift in how we live our daily lives, and want to find a way to remove co2 from the air.

Those who don't view it as a red herring want a drastic change in our lifestyles, and want to decrease the amount of co2 we pump into the air.

While both of these solutions are necessary to combat climate change, solutions (pulling co2 from the air) is the only thing that will reverse climate change. Drastic changes will only slow it's progression... which is why i believe it's a red herring, we need solutions that reverse it, not slow it.

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    Hmm. I'm not asking "what we need to do", or even if it's true or not, nor about other views held by those who have some view on it. I'm asking why the debate is so often framed around a point that it would appear cannot possibly be relevant, rather than those that might be.
    – Stilez
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:37
  • Right - which is why i explained why people view that argument (who is causing it) as relevant. They believe if we find the root problem (humans), then we can build solutions around that problem. Sorry, i insinuated from your question how you felt about the situation. Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:43
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    @JustinBeagley just as an aside, you cannot insinuate from something, you can insinuate something yourself, but not FROM something. I think the word you were looking for is "infer". "I inferred from your question". You could use insinuated if you flip the sentence "I thought your question insinuated", but that's a little clunky imo.
    – user16214
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 18:44
  • It's not an on-off switch. The same mechanisms that would slow it are vital in reversing it, since there are natural mechanisms for removing CO2 that are being inhibited or overwhelmed by human activity. I don't see the dichotomy that you do. Interesting and thought-provoking take on it, in any case. Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 21:32
  • @PoloHoleSet no i agree with both. (changing lifestyles, creating things that reverse the co2 levels)... i don't think those people are mutually exclusive - just saying that those who see a herring, and those who don't - this is (probably) how they view solving the problem. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 0:21

One primary reason is: the debate has become politicized, and has devolved into an 'us versus them' thing. The left believes it, the right does not. Each sees only what they want to see. Each seems determined to ram their belief down the other's throats. The right ignores scientific study, the left ignores the historical perspective that contradicts attributing every negative weather change to human causes - drastic climate changes and bad storms have happened in pre-industrial times.

It's a lot easier to feel ire towards people you don't like, rather than focus on the benefits to everyone, regardless of their political persuasion.

The sad part is - there are several valid benefits from reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, that have nothing to do with climate change. These benefits would be relevant to both sides.

One could frame the debate in the advantages of using less fossil fuel, which range from lower costs to people (an all electric car has operating costs about 1/4 that of a gasoline vehicle), to balance of payments (less capital flowing out of the country, especially relevant to countries who import most of their oil), to terrorism (not funding it, and western influence leaving the ME, which is the basis of most ME terrorist organizations) to conflict in general (most of the major conflicts in the last 30 years have involved ME oil), to finite supply (when we run out, we'll be facing a global economic meltdown).

For example, an all electric car with a 500 mile range, selling for $20k, would be a best seller. We're fairly close that right now. If 1/4 of the cars on the road in the US were all electric, we'd pay less to drive plus a whole lot less on repairs. And, we could kiss ME oil goodbye, and all the headaches and terrorism and armed conflicts that come with that. We could walk away and leave them to their eternal squabbles. And, we'd be cutting CO2 emissions in the process. Who would be opposed to that goal, which is very achievable?

Instead of this practical approach that focuses on the benefits to everyone, the argument is framed as 'my idea versus your idea', sort of like a Catholic vs Protestant debate, one that will never be resolved to the satisfaction of both. Since neither side holds a clear majority, neither side will prevail. But, both will bask in the warm glow of self satisfaction, knowing that they defended their ideology, while we crank out more CO2, and fight more wars and buy more gasoline.

We've become a hateful society. Addressing the issue of excessive consumption of fossil fuel is one of many problems that have fallen victim of this need to self justify and hate, rather than solve a problem that affects everyone.

  • 1
    This reads more like a rant than an answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 19:08
  • This feels a bit like you're trying to say both sides are to blame, but then point out a lot of suggestions that only one side routinely makes.
    – user1530
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 23:33

Because instead of dealing with complicated scientific issues, we prefer to deal with simple morality based story.

Yes, of course we can discus a more nuanced issue, concerning:

  • priorities for wellbeing of mankind (like Copenhagen Consensus) and wonder whether reducing carbon dioxide emission shouldn't be downgraded towards medium priority goals
  • what is our ability to coordinate international action (the EU is successful in reducing emission as long as one do not count increase of consumption of Chinese goods in the EU, yes we proudly outsourced this dirty job...)
  • long cost/benefit analysis, which not only include loss of arable land but rather shifting it further towards pools (in my country, unless there is an awful change in sea currents, one could actually expect longer vegetation season)
  • ability of absorbing moderate damage in future (+3C, 50cm higher sea level and possibly a bit more cases of extreme weather in a century? Does not sound as sudden doomsday, unless someone decided to build in a flood zone)

But such discussion would be boring. It would involve too many scientific papers, calculations, models and huge of assumptions (like technological advancement).

Thus the solution is simple. Because we abandon traditional religions, we need something new. We need to be told that we sinned by carbon dioxide emission thus we can only repent and save ourselves by serious emission reduction or we would all be doomed. (such version is able to claim being scientific, even while contradicting rather moderate warming estimates based on IPCC consensus)

Of course such narrative could be only countered with other, equally simple story. That is that everything is fully natural. In desperation one can use data about prior climate shifts. (which maybe a bit tricky when one try to use old climate cycles among young Earth creationist). Additionally, trying to slow down climate change would require high level of international cooperation. If only solution would require such taboo thing, then the easiest thing is to assume that the problem simply do not exist.


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