We bring our Everybody knows series to a close by focusing on the biggest claim of the modern age, namely that climate change is an emergency, crisis, catastrophe or worse. Use your imagination, or thesaurus. While for our part we use a brilliant new essay by climatologist Judith Curry on her Climate Etc. blog in which she reframes the whole concept of risk by asking a simple question: “Consider this counterfactual scenario, whereby 1°C of warming has occurred over the past 100 years owing to natural processes (such a rate of warming is far from unprecedented in the Holocene; notably the period following the Younger Dryas). Would people necessarily think that warming was “bad”?” Of course not, she argues. The real crisis is the trauma being inflicted on people, especially children, by this movement. And it’s something Curry admits to being partially to blame for.
Curry notes that people would neither notice nor care about global warming if they didn’t hear about scientific research because we “experience a great deal of weather and climate variability over the seasonal cycle and from year to year.” And we wouldn’t hear about scientific research on climate if the UN hadn’t cobbled together a treaty to prevent “dangerous” climate change, and if people like Al Gore hadn’t come along to peddle an alarmist angle on it.
Even so a mild warming isn’t something people worry about. Curry notes that “The actual experience of 1°C warming over the past century hasn’t been bad at all: life expectancy has increased substantially, economies have prospered, and loss of life from weather catastrophes has been greatly reduced.” So why the alarm? Because unscrupulous actors have moved in to exploit the uncertainties to promote the alarmist cause.
The thing that helped shape the catastrophist message was the claim that warming would bring more extreme weather. And it’s a message Curry confesses to having helped promote herself twenty years ago, before she shifted into a contrarian stance:
“People really weren’t caring so much about all this; after all what harm could a few degrees of warming actually cause? Well, I was an inadvertent contributor to explaining the potential harm of 1 degree of warming, with the now famous Webster et al. 2005 paper that identified a doubling in the proportion of Category 4/5 hurricanes since 1970... Climate activists, the media and even scientists seized on the ‘extreme weather event caused by climate change’ narrative as being the ideal vehicle for ramping up the alarm about human-caused global warming.”
But this scare campaign comes at a cost in terms of scientific integrity:
“Every extreme weather event is now attributed to global warming, even extreme cold outbreaks and heavy snow. Scientists who should know better just can’t resist the opportunities for media attention and enthusiastically place blame on human-caused global warming. In spite of the fact that IPCC assessment reports find very little in the way of any contribution of human-caused global warming to extreme weather events.”
And the exploitation of these alarms to create what she terms “pre-traumatic stress” is responsible for the one true harm of climate change: irrational anxiety.
“Congratulations to all the proselytizers of climate doom, you have finally demonstrated an actual adverse impact of climate change that is actually caused by humans – psychological distress. This psychological distress is directly caused by you: the mistaken, irrational, politically motivated people that have created effective propaganda that is creating negative stress reactions particularly among children who have yet to develop a clear sense of self and lack a context for being able to filter the [baloney].”
We encourage you to read the whole essay. And since it will soon be the time of year to make lists of New Year’s resolutions, let’s all add a determination to keep pushing back against climate alarmism wherever we see it, and the irrational stress and policy catastrophes it causes. Because not everybody knows (yet) that the problem isn’t climate change, it’s climate alarmism.