In today’s world, where even the most basic facts are distorted and disputed based on partisan viewpoint, climate change.is rife on social networks. And there is no subject for which this is more true than of everything in the United States today:
This week, a false claim about volcanoes posted on Twitter went viral. The tweet claimed that the eruption of Mount Merapi in Indonesia on Tuesday “released more CO2 than any car driven in history. Climate change is natural.”
The tweet generated significant interest and engagement, with over 100,000 likes and millions of video views. But scientists say this claim is demonstrably false.
“There are a billion cars on the planet today, and the emissions from this volcano are tiny compared to their pollution. This statement is completely false,” says Rob Jackson, professor of Earth system sciences at the University of Stanford and president of Global Carbon Projecta collaboration that measures the different contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions.
“The eruption mentioned seems quite small compared to others on this volcano and around the world,” agrees Dr. Ellen Prager, earth and ocean scientist and author of “Dangerous Earth,” a book on volcanoes and climate change. “The cloud of ash and gas is believed to have reached 6,000 meters high. During the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the cloud of ash and gas rose to 35,000 meters and had a width of several hundred kilometers.”
According to the US Geological Survey, in an average year, all global volcanic activity exits a total of 0.13 to 0.44 gigatons of CO2 emissions. In the United States alone, in 2017, transport emissions of all road vehicles was 1.56 gigatons of CO2 equivalent. So, in the United States alone, in a single year, vehicle emissions are five times higher than those from all the world’s volcanoes.
Total greenhouse gas emissions from road vehicles worldwide are greater than 3.0 gigatons per year — more than 10 times the annual production of the volcano. And when compared to the 42 gigatons of emissions produced each year by all human contributions (from energy production, agriculture, industry, etc.), the contribution from volcanoes seems relatively small – approximately 150 times less.
Remember, the tweet’s claim wasn’t referring to a single year, but to “more CO2 than any car driven in history.” So this statement is not only false, it is also false by my multiple orders of magnitude.
False claims about volcanoes and carbon dioxide emissions are not new: they have been circulating for decades. In 2015, the fact-checking site Snopes addressed this very topic and called the claim false.
As a scientist, messages distorting the facts concern Prager. “Assertions like this, not based on data, breed misunderstandings,” she said, noting that they “promote and are linked to scientific illiteracy.”
Dan Patterson, CNET’s senior producer who covers technology and misinformation, sees a problem that goes beyond science. “Messages like this often ignore facts and science, which can conflict with how we see the world, and instead pander to our emotions and what we want to believe,” he said. declared. They are particularly problematic on sites like Twitter and Facebook, where “inauthentic and misleading social media posts can spread like wildfire.”
The false claim was tweeted by a man who says he is running for governor of California in 2022. He follows up his claims about climate change by saying, “Taxing us into poverty is not the solution.”
This phrase, which refers to fear of the cost of potential solutions, opens a wide window into why this issue has become so politicized. Although on the surface the debate appears to be about science, on the surface it is primarily a debate about one’s political worldview.
The tweet’s author, Matt Thomas, revealed this in a follow-up post when he wrote: “This original post was more about our taxation than the climate.”
CBS News asked Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, why this tweet is getting so much attention.
“The appeal of this tweet for people who don’t want to believe that human activity is creating catastrophic climate change is that these claims – while factually false – support a worldview that they want to believe to be true, so they are self-affirmed. -serve,” he said.
Maibach also suggested that most people who retweet messages like this are “unwitting victims of the fossil fuel industry’s self-serving lies.”
“Most, if not all, of the tens of thousands of people who retweeted these lies are good people, people of conscience who would never knowingly harm others,” he said. “They feel they are doing their duty to others by sharing this information with their supporters. But they have been deceived into behaving in a way that harms others, including their own children and grandchildren. ”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the cloud of ash and gas rose 35,000 meters, according to Dr. Ellen Prager.