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Fact check: Human-generated CO2, not water vapor, drives climate change

Fact check: Human-generated CO2, not water vapor, drives climate change

The claim: Human-generated CO2 is an insignificant contributor to climate change

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released in August, documenting dangerous, human-driven changes to Earth’s climate systems and predicting still more to come.

Though the report was described as a “code red for humanity” by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, a years-old claim soon resurfaced on social media claiming that humanity’s CO2 emissions are too minute to impact climate.

A version of the claim in the form of a graphic titled “How climate alarmists use numbers to deceive” was posted to Facebook on Sept. 19 and received hundreds of shares. The graphic also accuses the Environmental Protection Agency of publishing a misleading pie chart that “exaggerates CO2’s role as a greenhouse gas.”

“SCIENTIFIC FACT: Man-made CO2 constitutes only 0.1 to 0.2% of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It is an insignificant contributor to global temperature and climate," the post concludes.

This claim, which has been repeatedly debunked, is wrong. The human-generated CO2 in the atmosphere is causing significant changes in Earth’s climate, scientists say.

Human produced CO2 is changing Earth’s climate

Josh Willis, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told USA TODAY it's a logical fallacy to assume a proportionally small amount of a substance cannot have a large impact on a system.

“It's a commonly used technique to confuse people,” he said, pointing out that, for example, minute amounts of arsenic can kill an adult.

Willis said human-generated CO2 is indeed changing Earth's climate.

Carbon dioxide is a natural part of atmospheric and biological cycles on Earth. It is not just produced by burning fossil fuels. It is also expelled by animals and volcanic activity, for instance.
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