Fact check: Climate change caused by humans, celestial ‘magnetic state’ not cause of extreme heat – USA TODAY
The claim: Climate change not caused by humans; extreme heat events caused by ‘sun-Earth-lunar magnetic state’
However, some social media users are sharing a video clip that claims climate change has nothing to do with humans.
The clip shows a British meteorologist and climate change skeptic, Piers Corbyn, talking about climate during an airing of Russia Today, a Russian television program.
“Climate has always been changing, but this has nothing to do with man,” says Corbyn.
He also claims that extreme heat events in Europe and Russia were caused by “circulation patterns” driven by a “combination of solar activity and the state of the phases of the Moon,” specifically citing a “sun-Earth-lunar magnetic state.”
The video surfaced in a Nov. 13 Instagram post where a graphic superimposed over the video refers to climate change as the “joke of the century.”
But the claim is wrong. Modern climate change is caused by human behavior, namely the release of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, into the atmosphere, a wide array of experts agree. Heat waves are caused by atmospheric circulation patterns, but atmospheric circulation is not driven by “sun-Earth-lunar magnetic” states, according to researchers. While heat waves are natural phenomena, they are worsening due to global warming.
USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user who shared the post for comment.
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Climate change caused by human behavior
Research organizations such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have found that human CO2 emissions and other behaviors are clearly driving modern climate change.
“The warming the world has experienced is primarily due to CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere,” Zeke Hausfather, climate research lead at Stripe, previously told USA TODAY. “We know that human activity is causing it to rise because the accumulation in the atmosphere matches the amount we’ve added through burning fossil fuels.”
Further, the amount of warming that has been observed corresponds to the amount of warming that would be expected given “human emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols” as well as human-driven changes to Earth’s reflectivity, Hausfather said.
Heat waves not caused by ‘sun-Earth-lunar magnetic state’
Juan Lora, an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Yale University, told USA TODAY that heat waves are not caused by a “sun-Earth-lunar magnetic state,” calling the concept “nonsense.”
“The moon does not have a magnetic field,” he said in an email. “There is no such phenomenon.”
Heat waves are related to atmospheric circulation patterns, but these patterns are not driven by magnetism as the video claims, Vikki Thompson, a Bristol University climate scientist, told USA TODAY. Instead, they are caused by differences in how much of the sun’s energy strikes different parts of the planet.
This differential heating causes the atmosphere to circulate as warmer air rises and cooler air sinks. Earth’s rotation and topography then create complexities in the circulation pattern, she said in an email.
Heat waves generally occur when the circulation patterns result in a high-pressure system – an area of high air density – settling over a region, according to NOAA. The pressure forces air downward, trapping warm ground air in place.
Thompson noted circulation patterns and subsequent heat waves are driven by the sun’s energy, not its magnetism.
“The moon has no magnetic field,” she said. “The Earth’s magnetic field does not interact with the weather and climate of the Earth.”
There is some evidence that gravitational force from the moon could impact atmospheric circulation, but these interactions would be very minimal, she said. Some scientists have also hypothesized that the sun’s magnetic field could have a minor influence on cloud formation in the Earth’s atmosphere, but this is not currently supported by data.
Thompson said the general consensus in the scientific community is that the sun’s magnetism has no influence on Earth’s atmosphere.
However, human greenhouse gas emissions have a direct and well-documented impact on atmospheric circulation and heat waves, Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told USA TODAY.
While heat waves themselves are natural, “climate change exacerbates heat waves,” he said in an email.
“First, the additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels traps more of the sun’s energy,” Wehner said. “Second, the generally warmer conditions from global warming result in drier soils, leading to less … evaporation from the ground and transpiration (emission of water vapor) from the plants, which means there is less cooling from that process.”
This results in heat waves that are longer and warmer, he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the frequency, duration and intensity of heat waves have increased in the U.S. since the 1960s.
“Heat waves are occurring more than they used to in major cities across the United States,” reads the agency’s website. “Extreme weather events such as heat waves and large storms are likely to become more frequent or more intense with human-induced climate change.”
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that climate change is not caused by humans and extreme heat events are caused by a “sun-Earth-lunar magnetic state.” Experts say modern climate change is caused by human behavior, primarily the emission of greenhouse gases. Heat waves are a natural phenomenon exacerbated by climate change. They are not driven by a “sun-Earth-lunar magnetic state,” which experts say is not a real phenomenon.
Our fact-check sources:
- Michael Wehner, Dec. 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Vikki Thompson, Dec. 13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Juan Lora, Dec. 9, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Zeke Hausfather, Nov. 17, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Wim Thiery, Dec. 15, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- AFP, Sept. 27, British meteorologist falsely blames climate change on sun, moon
- PolitiFact, Nov. 29, No, climate change isn’t driven by solar activity and lunar phases
- NASA Global Climate Change, accessed Dec. 2, Causes
- NASA Global Climate Change, accessed Dec. 2, Global temperatures
- NASA Earth Observatory, accessed Dec. 2, World of Change: Global Temperatures
- The Guardian, May 12, How the moon influences temperatures on Earth
- USA TODAY, Nov. 28, Fact check: Earth’s warming well documented, other planets’ climate data limited
- CarbonBrief, Dec. 13, 2017, Analysis: Why scientists think 100% of global warming is due to humans
- NOAA Science on a Sphere, Feb. 21, 2017, ClimateBits: Albedo
- NOAA Climate.gov, Oct. 29, 2020, Are humans causing or contributing to global warming?
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, accessed Dec. 18, Sixth assessment report: headline statements from the summary for policymakers
- EPA, accessed Dec. 18, Climate Change Indicators: Heat Waves
- EPA, accessed Dec. 18, Climate Change Indicators: Weather and Climate
- NOAA SciJinks, accessed Dec. 19, What is a heat wave?
- The Farmer’s Almanac, Aug. 23, 2021, What Causes A Heatwave?
- University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, accessed Dec. 19, A global look at moving air: atmospheric circulation
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