And when figures are mis-reported and experts mis-quoted, it can become even harder.
Australian climate scientists have reacted angrily to a story in today's Australian Newspaper which claims a leaked version of a major upcoming report admits the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was wrong in its predictions.
Doctor John Cook from the University of Queensland, is one of them.
He told Pacific Beat the article is one of a series in recent weeks, and the information doesn't come from climate scientists.
Reporter: Timothy Pope
Speaker: Doctor John Cook, Research Fellow in Climate Communication at the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland
COOK: The article is actually quoting from a UK tabloid, rather than quoting climate scientists or the actual IPCC report.
POPE: Take us through the main point of the article. It says that the IPCC's 2007 Assessment Report claimed that the planet was warming by 0.2 degrees Celsius every ten years and that this leaked update says that it's only 0.12 degrees celsius, which is a reasonable difference. Are those figures accurate?
COOK: I find that actually quite extraordinary that they say that. I went straight to the 2007 report this morning to have a look at what the IPCC actually said and they say that the linear warming trend over the last 50 years was 0.13 degrees celsius per decade, which is almost exactly the same as the accurate value that The Australian is talking about. So they just seem to have made up this 0.2 C per decade number. Even The Australian in this article aren't disputing that carbon dioxide causes warming. What they're talking about is climate sensitivity, which is how sensitive is our climate to a doubling of carbon dioxide.
Now in 2007, the IPCC said that their best estimates, climate sensitivity was three degrees, so if we doubled carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then we should experience three degrees of global warming.
Now, in the latest IPCC report, which is due in about a week or so, the best estimate, the climate sensitivity is still three degrees celsius, so that hasn't changed at all.
What has changed is the range of very likely value, so they give a best estimate, but then they also give a range of possible values.
Now in the new report coming out and embodying that the report hasn't come out yet, but just based on a version that has been leaked onto the internet, they seem to have updated this range, possible range of values. It's a little bit wider.
POPE: Leaks can't be helpful either, because the nature of a leak is that there's something sensational about it and there's something worth leaking?
COOK: Well yeah, a leak is actually not the most appropriate term here, because just about anyone could sign up and receive the early draft for the IPCC. So these leaks aren't done necessarily by the climate fighters who are writing the reports. They're most likely done just by anyone online, on the internet, who signed up to be a commentator. So it's not like a whistleblower, finding something sensational.
POPE: Do you think there is a prevalence of perhaps wilful misreporting on this subject?
COOK: Ah, that's a good question. And in fact, just over a the last few days, they've been pretty much a misinformation blitz. The Australian has published this article, but there's also been articles written in some of the conservative newspapers in England, as well as The Wall Street Journal, which is a conservative newspaper in America. And all these articles have come out at the same time. They're all saying the same message and they're all misrepresenting the science. So not only has there been a misrepresentation of the science. Currently what we're experiencing is a blitz of misinformation all at the same time, all over the world.
There are actually several stages of climate denial from the most basic where people deny that it's even happening. People might accept that it's happening, but deny that humans are the cause. And then when they finally come to accept humans are causing global warming, then they deny that the impacts are going to be that bad.
And what's interesting is over this last week, we're seeing all the stages of denial coming out at once.
POPE: Is there need for more care perhaps in the way the issue is reported?
COOK: Well, there certainly need for more care the way the mainstream media report it, particularly when you have articles like this one in The Australian, which is actually misrepresenting the science quite badly.
I think you could also argue that the IPCC could communicate things a little clearer as well, but as you say, it is complicated, it is a difficult job and I don't think they're the main culprits, the public confusion. I think the main culprit is articles in conservative newspapers which really only give you pieces of the puzzle and don't give you the overall picture and an accurate picture of what the science is telling us.