Pre-Bunking: False Choice

This fallacy sounds deceptively obvious but can be really hard to spot.
Here is the definition from Skeptical Science:
“Presenting two options as the only possibilities, when other possibilities exist.”

It’s literally everywhere from politics to advertising, everyday life, and, of course, the debate around climate change in general and CDR specifically.

Here are some examples:

“If we don’t order pizza, we’ll have to eat the old leftovers.” Only in very limited circumstances would those be the only options, you could, for example, cook something else, or order a different kind of food rather than limiting the choices to pizza or leftovers.


“You argue against the free market, you are a communist”. The conclusion here is wrong because one can argue for limitations to the free market and not be a communist but, for example, a social democrat.

False Choice in the Climate Change Debate

A false dilemma that climate change deniers like to use is: "CO2 lags temperature in the ice core record, proving that temperature drives CO2, not the other way around.”

While historic data show that when the planet comes out of an ice age higher temperatures (due to more solar energy reaching the earth) lead to increased CO2 in the atmosphere (higher temps lead to warming oceans, which release CO2 into the atmosphere) that does not mean that higher CO2 concentrations don’t lead to higher temperatures. Both are true and the assertion that because in some cases CO2 increase lags an increase in temperature, more CO2 cannot lead to higher temperature is a false choice.

False Choices in the CDR Debate

The most obvious false choice fallacy is committed by those who pitch decarbonization against CDR saying that we have to decarbonize, not remove carbon. The science is clear, we need to do both, and forcing an either-or decision is a false choice.

The “all we need to do is plant trees” - in addition to being an oversimplification - is also a false choice. (There is a bit of a theme here, false choices often rely on oversimplifying a topic). We can plant trees, and deploy direct air capture and enhanced weathering, and other carbon removal methods. There is no reason we have to limit ourselves to one method.

And one last one: CO2 is not the problem, methane is. Again a false choice because both are the problem.

What makes the false dilemma a tricky one to spot is that it follows a structure that is also used for valid arguments such as:
“I did not get accepted into the computer science program so I have to either settle for another course or reapply next year.”
(of course, even here alternatives exist like the person could decide not to go to college at all, but in the context of getting a college education, the two options pretty much cover it.)
False choice is also referred to as false dilemma.

False dichotomy is a special case of false choice when the choice is between two opposites.

If you want to dig deeper into the fallacy of false choice, here is an article worth reading.