As Michael Walsh put it on The Pipeline, “One by one, prominent members of the Doomsday Cult of Climate Annihilation are beginning to defect to the side of reason and rationality.” It’s not just Michael Shellenberger, former Extinction Rebellion spokesperson turned nuclear advocate Zion Lights, or the somewhat murky case of Michael Moore’s newfound dislike of alternative energy as a capitalist plot. The self-proclaimed “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg has a new book out False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet. The point here is not that any or all of these people agree with us, which they do on some points and emphatically not on others. It’s that they’re insisting on a debate in which a variety of views are permitted, nobody gets “cancelled” or even yelled at for deviating from orthodoxy, and making the claim that climate change is an “existential threat to human civilization” is simply wrong.
If you read Lomborg’s book, which we are far from persuaded many of his critics will do, you find up front that he is far from being a “denier.” On page 5 he writes “I have been part of the global discussion on climate change policy for two decades… Throughout all this time, I have argued that climate change is a real problem.” And he still does. He even says “Scientists agree that global warming is mostly caused by humans” which would have us raising one eyebrow if we possessed that skill.
In our view the human contribution to the warming since 1860 is essentially nil until at least 1970, and far from decisive thereafter. And our research suggests that a great many scientists believe there is some human impact but a great many do not believe it is preponderant. But we recognize that intelligent and decent people can think otherwise. What they can’t do is try to silence debate with cheap tricks.
Consider for instance the offensive response Willie Soon got from Wikipedia when he tried to change “Baliunas is a denier in regard to there being a connection between CO2 rise and climate change” to “Baliunas disputes there being a connection between CO2 rise and climate change”, saying some climate skeptics found the link to Holocaust denial offensive, which included “They find it offensive? So what? I find their existence offensive…”
As a matter of fact Lomborg is not keen on “deniers”. He writes that one reason the media are now so unbalanced is that “over the past several decades, in an effort to seem balanced, many media outlets gave space to climate change deniers long after their arguments have been debunked. More recently, deniers are not given space, and this is for the better. But some of the alarmist coverage now may represent an effort to compensate for past sins… they are failing to hold climate alarmists to account for their exaggerated claims.”
We feel a bit hurt there. But when Lomborg says “The rhetoric on climate change has become ever more extreme and less moored to the actual science” we don’t just cheer. (And add that the computer models seem to be tearing loose from “the actual science” rather than comprising it.) We urge everyone who agrees with what he said earlier to read the book and see why he thinks the solutions being put forward are worse than useless and impede effective action and why he considers scaring young people into what often appear to be significant psychological problems is cruel as well as irrational.
Lomborg is just warming up. In his book, and his other writings, he insists on the need to engage in cost-benefit analysis, to weigh alternatives and make sensible tradeoffs and discard the childish notion that some courses of action bring all gain and no pain and others do the opposite. And he then challenges people to understand that the economic cost of dramatic cuts in GHGs far outweighs the benefits.
Here let us repeat that Lomborg is not any sort of “denier”. He makes rational points about supposed increases in extreme weather, the comparative deadliness of cold v heat and so on. But he actually thinks that without drastic cuts in GHGs we are likely to see a temperature increase of around 7°F by 2100.
Again we beg to differ. But it’s not the point. The point is that normally such a claim would be his cue to blast the trumpets and rally everyone for a last stand in the Paris ditch. Instead he says that while this temperature increase would bring some negative consequences (and some positive ones) it is far better to allow the enormous increase in human well-being that results from robust economic growth, and use some of the increased wealth to cope with the negative consequences of warming, than it would be to crush the economy to try to avoid them. Especially since meeting Paris would do almost literally nothing to change the temperature so it’s all pain for no gain.
Lomborg’s book should be pondered carefully not insulted unread or burned unopened. We’re less impressed by Michael Moore’s belief that alternative energy is a capitalist plot, which is paranoid and absurd. But people should nevertheless consider his claim that wind and solar are not effective or efficient. Which brings us to the implausibly named Zion Lights.
Ms. Lights quit Extinction Rebellion to become a spokesperson for nuclear energy. But she didn’t do it because she decided CO2 wasn’t a problem or that warming wasn’t. On the contrary, she got fed up with counterproductive hysteria and, as someone who is relentless in making sure her own lifestyle addresses the problems she is convinced are real, wanted to make sure public policy did the same. And nuclear power actually works.
The very public emergence of such people is a problem for the shut-down-debate crowd. Zion Lights, profiled in the Telegraph in 2015 as “Britain’s greenest mother”, can be described in many ways. But a “venal hypocrite” is not one of them, nor is “someone who doesn’t care about the planet”. Whatever she’s doing, including feeding her kids vegan pancakes for breakfast, comes from deep, even annoying conviction. For instance the Telegraph story said “The children don’t miss out on anything. They are permitted ‘junk’ food in the form of chips made from organic potatoes and, occasionally, a low-sugar, vegan ice cream with real chocolate chunks.” Frankly that sounds like something we’d like to miss out on. But there’s no questioning the sincerity.
It would also be inaccurate to the point of absurdity to suggest that she agrees with CDN on everything. Or with Michael Shellenberger. Or with Bjorn Lomborg. Or that she should. It is the other side that insists that there is only one view, held by all reputable people and disputed only by those with something wrong with their brains or in the pay of big oil, and that wages increasingly vicious war on dissent of any sort.
Now contrast these voices of reason with the way, back in December, the New York Times threw every clichéd alarmist trope into the blender: “More devastating fires in California. Persistent drought in the Southwest. Record flooding in Europe and Africa. A heat wave, of all things, in Greenland. Climate change and its effects are accelerating, with climate related disasters piling up, season after season.”
This piece quoted “Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization” that “The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry and transportation”. Or else, because “Seas are warming and rising faster, putting more cities at risk of tidal flooding or worse. Glaciers are melting at a pace many researchers did not expect for decades. The amount of Arctic sea ice has declined so rapidly that the region may see ice-free summers by the 2030s. Even the ground itself is warming faster. Permanently frozen ground, or permafrost, is thawing more rapidly, threatening the release of large amounts of long-stored carbon that could in turn make warming even worse, in what scientists call a climate feedback loop.” Actually the rest of us know that term too. Even the historians among us.
How bad is it? Worse than the worst word salad ever. “In a recent commentary in the journal Nature, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and other institutions warned that the acceleration of ice loss and other effects of climate change have brought the world “dangerously close” to abrupt and irreversible changes, or tipping points… ‘In our view, the consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency,’ they wrote.” And in barges the UN: “The societal toll is accelerating, too, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said in Madrid before the opening this week of the U.N.’s annual climate conference. ‘Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive, with growing human and financial costs,’ he said.”
As Lomborg says, no wonder young people are scared silly or very sad. But this view is increasingly under attack not just from groups like ours. It is under rational, sustained attack from people who once believed it and still share many of its motivating concerns (like this piece in Vox warning that “Many technologies needed to solve the climate crisis are nowhere near ready”) and find it unhelpful, even poisonous, to keep yelling this stuff at anyone who raises questions.
Lomborg also observes that books touting imminent catastrophe are hot sellers. Indeed, here’s another one depicting waves sweeping through the streets of Miami, predictably hyped by the Times’ Climate Fwd. newsletter. But sooner or later truth catches up.
Here at CDN we want rational discussion. We’re not after a party line so much as enlightenment. If everyone ends up agreeing, really agreeing, it’s probably a good thing. For instance if temperatures are no higher on average in 30 years than they were 30 years ago, it’s likely that the panic over man-made global warming will be in the museum next to Piltdown Man. But in the meantime, what we really want to foster is the idea that there’s a lot to talk about. And on that, at least, we are confident Lomborg would agree.