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The war on nothing

12 Jun 2019 | OP ED Watch

One reason scary words aren’t leading to effective action is that many of them are obviously wrong. The apocalyptarians talk a great deal about extreme weather and disasters. But the facts are quite clear: Far fewer humans are dying from such causes than at any time for which we have decent statistics, despite there being far more of us. (Cold also kills more people than heat.) And while not everybody loves a chart, ordinary people sense that Al Gore’s “nature hike through the Book of Revelation” simply isn’t going past, or through, their house.

The reduction in disaster-related deaths is especially pronounced in advanced countries, and David Harsanyi argues in The Federalist that in consequence such ill-founded alarmism may cost the Democrats the 2020 American presidential election. Which might be a case of a man with a hammer thinking everything is a nail; climate is unlikely to be decisive in the election and may well not be a major issue at all. But it is true that the Green New Deal is not popular with a lot of blue-collar workers who would normally vote Democrat. And, more fundamentally, that spewing obvious nonsense undermines your credibility.

Including the latest hype that 187 million people might have to flee surging oceans by 2100, which isn’t even that large a share of the Earth’s population and depends critically on nobody doing anything as the waters rise, such as building dykes. It also depends on us experiencing a 1 metre rise which seems highly unlikely given the current slow pace although to hear Advocate Media tell it, rocky Nova Scotia is on the brink of being washed away.) When our PM says “We know that the extreme weather events coming are unaffordable for Canadians and for our society” he says the thing that is not (as well as drawing a distinction very hard to parse).

Some observers of the debate are uneasy about increasing alarmist impatience with democratic processes of the crisis-requires-strong-action variety that infamously led Justin Trudeau to express admiration for the Chinese dictatorship’s supposed aggressive environmentalism. But it’s hard to get public traction for drastic action to meet a crisis whose impact is not obvious except to the true believers for whom every hurricane is proof of warming and every nice day proof of nothing at all.

To conclude on a positive note, in an interesting piece of sanity NBC notes that while tornados rarely hit major cities “that may not always be the case”. And just as you’re bracing for the usual “scientists say” about climate change they say instead that the paths of tornados are essentially random when it comes to rural versus urban so as cities expand geographically the chance that any given tornado will hit one goes up.

If there is a decrease in the rhetorical wind and more attention to facts, we’re liable to sort things out in the usual messy but effective democratic fashion. If the world really does keep heating up, and then we cut GHG emissions and it stops, we’ll know humans were to blame. If we keep emitting GHGs and the warming stops, we’ll know they weren’t.

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