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Challenging climate change narratives: Unveiling plastic pollution's role in global boiling debate

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Dive into the scorching debate ignited by temperature records. As climate scientists warn of dire consequences and a world our societies are not adapted to live in very well, Bjorn Lomborg and Jordan B Peterson are challenging prevailing narratives. Discover the hidden role of plastic pollution in amplifying the crisis, and unveil the microscopic menace of microplastics. Explore the blazing wildfires that signal the urgency for collective action. But, most importantly, learn how to help forge a sustainable path towards a thriving future. This week, July was confirmed as the hottest month on record globally, with a global average temperature of 16.95°C, surpassing the previous record set in 2019 by 0.33°C.

Dr Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, warned of the dire consequences of the new temperature records on both people and the planet, leading to more frequent and intense extreme events.

Burgess said 2023 was “the third warmest year to date at 0.43C above the recent average, with the average global temperature in July at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels”.

However, Bjorn Lomborg and Jordan B Peterson last week warned that we need to “stop the panicked fearmongering if we want to make the world better”. In a collective opinion piece in the New York Post, they highlighted, among other things, the “alarmist treatment of climate change”.

Lomborg, the former director of the Danish government’s Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen, became internationally known for his best-selling and controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist. In another book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, Lomborg argued that while climate change is real, it’s not the apocalyptic threat that we’ve been told it is, believing the projections of Earth’s imminent demise are based on bad science and even worse economics.

Protesters holding placard Planet over Profit.

Bjorn Lomborg and Jordan B Peterson believe the new Alliance for Responsible Citizenship forum can help envision the future in a positive manner. Photo: Pexels

He says climate change is not the world’s deadliest environmental problem? Outdoor and indoor air pollution is. "Let’s not get so scared about climate that we forget the much bigger problems," he states in a peer-reviewed article, "Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies".

Peterson, a Canadian psychologist, author and renowned media commentator, has been on an all-out attack on the science of climate change and the risks of global heating since December, with offerings such as “The Great Climate Con”. Last year, Peterson came in for scathing criticism from climate scientists after claiming climate models were mostly useless.

Commenting on the record temperatures, Burgess said on Tuesday: “Even if this is only temporary, it shows the urgency for ambitious efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main driver behind these records.”

UN secretary-general António Guterres cautioned last month that the era of global warming has ended and the “era of global boiling has arrived”.

Imperial College of London climate scientist Friederike Otto told the Washington Post: “We should not care about July because it’s a record, but because it won’t be a record for long. It’s an indicator of how much we have changed the climate. We are living in a very different world, one that our societies are not adapted to live in very well.”

However, Lomborg and Peterson wrote that while heatwaves capture the headlines, globally cold kills nine times more people. Based on two studies from medical journal The Lancetone which compares annual heat deaths to annual cold deaths, and another which measures the impact of temperature changes on mortality over time — Lomborg has suggested that rising temperatures are saving on average well over 150 000 lives a year.

“While you see heat deaths going up, as you would expect, you also see cold deaths going down,” Lomborg told UnHerd’s Freddie Sayers last month. “Over the last two decades, temperature has saved more lives than it’s cost. It has caused about 116 000 more heat deaths, but it’s avoided about 283 000 cold deaths each year.” As a result, “we’re now saving about 166 000 lives because of higher temperatures.”

Scientific studies frequently point out that cold temperatures are more deadly than high ones — by a factor of 10, according to the Lancet — but Lomborg argues that this fact is still too often overlooked.

“Every country in the world has more deaths in the winter than in summer,” he claimed. “It’s mostly because as temperatures get colder, people’s blood vessels constrict to keep their core body temperature warm enough — that increases your blood pressure. So we know that, everywhere, blood pressure increases as you get colder. And that means you have more risk of strokes and blood clots and so on.”

Because the coverage of heat waves has become so alarmist, according to Lomborg, simple measures to mitigate these problems are avoided. Lomborg and Peterson believe “campaigners and news organisations play up fear, in the form of floods, storms and droughts, while neglecting to mention that reductions in poverty and increases in resiliency mean that climate-related disasters kill ever fewer people: Over the past century, such deaths have dropped 97%”.

Several heatwaves occurred in parts of Europe last month, including countries like Greece, France, Italy, and Spain, where temperatures exceeded 40°C. China registered an all-time high temperature for the country of 52.2°C, while the July 16 high of 53.3°C in Death Valley, California, was two degrees shy of the highest reliably measured temperature on Earth. Numerous countries surpassed 50°C for highs.

In the Middle East, the heat index reached 66.7°C, near the limit of human survival. (The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. This has important considerations for the human body's comfort.)

Wildfires prompted evacuations of residents and tourists from Greek islands like Rhodes. Unusually high temperatures were observed in South American countries during their winter.

Antarctic sea ice reached record lows in July, freezing less than in any other winter since satellite observations began in 1979. Scientists warn that uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions could increasingly damage Antarctic ecosystems, with far-reaching effects.

Lomborg and Peterson wrote: “The chattering class’s fear- and force-predicated approaches repeatedly prove inadequate to cope with the true complexities and crises of the modern world. We need instead to foster and promote critical thinking and constructive discussion.

"We are making every effort to ensure that our new Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC), an international coalition of politicians, business leaders, public intellectuals and cultural commentators, will help ensure that a broader range of perspectives can be heard globally. The higher temperatures arguably characterising this century have resulted in 166 000 fewer temperature-related deaths overall.

Buildings on fire.

At least 36 people have been killed in devastating wildfires in Hawaii since Tuesday. All of the deaths occurred in the 'decimated' town of Lahaina, where some 271 buildings have been destroyed by the inferno that has ravaged 800 hectares of land. Photo: Facebook

“Fear-mongering and the suppression of truly inconvenient truths are pushing us dangerously toward the wrong solutions: Politicians and pundits call en masse for net-zero policies that will cost far beyond $100 trillion, while producing benefits a fraction as large.

“We need to be able to have an honest discussion of costs and benefits — a true reckoning with the facts to find the best solutions. The UN promises everything imaginable in the form of its Sustainable Development Goals: the end to extreme poverty, hunger, and disease; reduction of inequality and corruption; cessation of war; amelioration of climate change; universalization of education — even ease of access to urban parks.

“But a plan that makes all problems the same compelling crisis without prioritisation is no plan at all, merely a recipe for the appearance of action and virtue. This year, 2023, sits at the midpoint between the start of the goals in 2016, and their hypothetical attainment in 2030. We are now at halftime, but nowhere near close to halfway there.”

What Lomborg and Peterson did not touch on in their opinion piece was that beyond the warming trend lies a subtle accomplice: plastic pollution. The heatwave amplification effect is at play, with plastic waste acting as an accelerant for rising temperatures. The sun’s energy, once deflected by ice and forests, is now absorbed by plastic-ridden landscapes, creating a vicious cycle that propels us further into the era of “global boiling”.

Beneath the surface of this catastrophe lies a microscopic menace: microplastics. Recent studies reveal that plastic waste, under the duress of higher temperatures, breaks down at an alarming rate, releasing these minuscule particles into the environment (Auta et al., 2018). These insidious fragments infiltrate our oceans, soil, and air, permeating ecosystems and endangering both wildlife and human health.

Europe’s wildfires serve as an ominous embodiment of the consequences of our environmental choices. The blazes, fuelled by a perfect storm of plastic-laden landscapes and soaring temperatures, unleash a torrent of smoke and toxic emissions, further exacerbating climate change (World Economic Forum, 2023).

Navigating the crossroads amid this challenging landscape, a path forward emerges — one guided by urgency, innovation, and collective responsibility:

  • Eco-innovation: Champion the development of sustainable materials and promote a circular economy, halting the influx of plastic waste and mitigating its impact on rising temperatures.

  • Policy reform: Advocate for stringent regulations that limit plastic production, encourage recycling, and foster green practices within industries.

  • Climate education: Bridge the gap between plastic pollution and global boiling through comprehensive education, empowering individuals to become agents of change.

  • Green energy transition: Accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources, curbing the carbon emissions responsible for both plastic degradation and temperature rise.

  • International collaboration: Forge alliances across borders, uniting nations in a common endeavour to combat plastic pollution and tackle climate change head-on.

As we navigate the treacherous waters of plastic pollution, global boiling, and escalating wildfires, the imperative for immediate action has never been clearer. The era of global boiling serves as a stark reminder that we're at a critical crossroads, where the choices we make today will reverberate for generations.

By weaving together the narratives of plastic pollution, soaring temperatures, and raging wildfires, we unearth a roadmap for change — one that leads us towards a sustainable future where our planet thrives, not just survives.

However, as Lomborg and Peterson emphasised, there needs to be a meaningful exchange of truly diverse ideas, which has withered over recent decades, with the response to the Covid-19 pandemic an alarming example. “A panic-stricken lockdown orthodoxy far too soon took hold, and those whose policy proposals deviated quickly were labelled ‘Covid-deniers’,” they argued.

"The obvious downsides to universal lockdowns were ignored by those striving to garner credit for simple-minded immediacy of response. Thus, we saw increases of inequality in income distribution and wealth, widespread loss of employment, substantive declines in spending and general deterioration in economic conditions; serious declines in mental health and well-being, delayed and diminished access to healthcare and record high levels of domestic violence."

The duo believes the new ARC forum can help envision the future in a positive manner, highlighting the ability of the “properly competing and cooperating people of the world to solve whatever problems confront us, as we have so often and often so effectively done in the past”.

“We can focus on what is truly important and attainable, initiate and reward a more nuanced global discussion regarding the problems that will always beset us, and look forward confidently to a world more abundant, more laden with opportunity, more sustainable, and more hopeful.”

* I'm Not Plastic's vision is to encourage people to embrace an ethical and authentic lifestyle, in which single-use plastic and food waste are eliminated.


Auta, H. S., et al. (2018). Evidence of microplastics in samples of zooplankton from Portuguese coastal waters. Marine Environmental Research, 140, 95-100.

Lomborg, B., & Peterson, J. B. (2023, August 3). A Symphony of Global Boiling: Urgent Action and Diverse Dialogues. The New York Post. Retrieved from

Niranjan, A. (2023, July 27). Era of global boiling has arrived, says UN chief as July set to be hottest month on record. The Guardian. Retrieved from

World Economic Forum. (2023, July 27). Europe's wildfires: A sobering warning of climate change's impacts. Retrieved from


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