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Fact check: NASA says modern climate change from fossil fuels – USA TODAY


The claim: NASA ‘admits’ climate change not caused by fossil fuels

Greenhouse gas emissions released by human activities are causing modern global climate change, according to NASA.

However, some social media users are sharing a 2019 article that claims NASA “admitted” that climate change is not caused by fossil fuels.

“NASA admits climate change occurs because of changes in Earth’s solar orbit, not because of SUVs and fossil fuels,” reads the headline of the article linked in a July 6 Facebook post.

The linked article, which was posted on the website Signs of the Times, garnered nearly 7,000 interactions on Facebook since 2019, according to CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool.

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But the headline is misleading. While predictable changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun – called Milankovitch cycles – do affect the climate over long timeframes, NASA says modern, rapid climate change is caused by human behavior, such as burning fossil fuels.

USA TODAY reached out to the article author and social media user who shared the claim for comment.

NASA says modern climate change caused by human activity such as burning fossil fuels

NASA spokesperson Tylar Greene told USA TODAY that human activity is responsible for modern warming.

“Milankovitch cycles are not responsible for the current period of rapid warming Earth has experienced since the pre-Industrial period,” she said in an email. “The warming trend around the globe is due to human activities that have increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

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This conclusion is reflected on the NASA Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet website, which states: Human activities are driving the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century.”

NASA also explicitly denied the idea that Milankovitch cycles, and not fossil fuels, were causing global warming in a 2020 explainer called “Why Milankovitch – Orbital – Cycles Can’t Explain Earth’s Current Warming.” 

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The explainer states that Milankovitch cycles are involved in long-term changes to Earth’s climate as the cycles operate over timescales of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years. The explainer then reiterates the fact that they do not explain recent warming, which is caused by human activity.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that NASA ”admits” climate change is not caused by fossil fuels. The agency’s website repeatedly states that modern climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels and other human activity. It also states explicitly that, while Milankovitch cycles change the climate over very long time scales, they do not account for modern, rapid climate change. A NASA spokesperson also said the agency has concluded that modern climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels and not by Milankovitch cycles.

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