Guest “attaboy” by David Middleton
Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment” and Green Book Award Winner Michael Shellenberger slaps down the apocalyptic climate change propagandists…
Nov 25, 2019
Why Apocalyptic Claims About Climate Change Are Wrong
Environmental journalists and advocates have in recent weeks made a number of apocalyptic predictions about the impact of climate change. Bill McKibben suggested climate-driven fires in Australia had made koalas “functionally extinct.” Extinction Rebellion said “Billions will die” and “Life on Earth is dying.” Vice claimed the “collapse of civilization may have already begun.”
Few have underscored the threat more than student climate activist Greta Thunberg and Green New Deal sponsor Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The latter said, “The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.” Says Thunberg in her new book, “Around 2030 we will be in a position to set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control that will lead to the end of our civilization as we know it.”
Apocalyptic statements like these have real-world impacts. In September, a group of British psychologists said children are increasingly suffering from anxiety from the frightening discourse around climate change.
Journalists and activists alike have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public. There is good evidence that the catastrophist framing of climate change is self-defeating because it alienates and polarizes many people. And exaggerating climate change risks distracting us from other important issues including ones we might have more near-term control over.
First, no credible scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization much less the extinction of the human species.
It’s not like climate doesn’t matter. It’s that climate change is outweighed by other factors.
Last January, after climate scientists criticized Rep. Ocasio-Cortez for saying the world would end in 12 years, her spokesperson said “We can quibble about the phraseology, whether it’s existential or cataclysmic.” He added, “We’re seeing lots of [climate change-related] problems that are already impacting lives.”
That last part may be true, but it’s also true that economic development has made us less vulnerable, which is why there was a 99.7% decline in the death toll from natural disasters since its peak in 1931.
What about sea level rise? IPCC estimates sea level could rise two feet (0.6 meters) by 2100. Does that sound apocalyptic or even “unmanageable”?
What about claims of crop failure, famine, and mass death? That’s science fiction, not science.
Does this mean we shouldn’t worry about climate change? Not at all.
One of the reasons I work on climate change is because I worry about the impact it could have on endangered species.
But it’s not the case that “we’re putting our own survival in danger” through extinctions, as Elizabeth Kolbert claimed in her book, Sixth Extinction. As tragic as animal extinctions are, they do not threaten human civilization. If we want to save endangered species, we need to do so because we care about wildlife for spiritual, ethical, or aesthetic reasons, not survival ones.
And exaggerating the risk, and suggesting climate change is more important than things like habitat destruction, are counterproductive.
As for fire, one of Australia’s leading scientists on the issue says, “Bushfire losses can be explained by the increasing exposure of dwellings to fire-prone bushlands. No other influences need be invoked.
The same is true for fires in the United States. In 2017, scientists modeled 37 different regions and found “humans may not only influence fire regimes but their presence can actually override, or swamp out, the effects of climate.
Climate scientists are starting to push back against exaggerations by activists, journalists, and other scientists.
I asked the Australian climate scientist Tom Wigley what he thought of the claim that climate change threatens civilization. “It really does bother me because it’s wrong,” he said. “All these young people have been misinformed. And partly it’s Greta Thunberg’s fault. Not deliberately. But she’s wrong.”
But don’t scientists and activists need to exaggerate in order to get the public’s attention?
“I’m reminded of what [late Stanford University climate scientist] Steve Schneider used to say,” Wigley replied. “He used to say that as a scientist, we shouldn’t really be concerned about the way we slant things in communicating with people out on the street who might need a little push in a certain direction to realize that this is a serious problem. Steve didn’t have any qualms about speaking in that biased way. I don’t quite agree with that.”
(Kerry) Emanuel and Wigley say the extreme rhetoric is making political agreement on climate change harder.
“You’ve got to come up with some kind of middle ground where you do reasonable things to mitigate the risk and try at the same time to lift people out of poverty and make them more resilient,” said Emanuel. “We shouldn’t be forced to choose between lifting people out of poverty and doing something for the climate.”
Happily, there is a plenty of middle ground between climate apocalypse and climate denial.
Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment” and Green Book Award Winner. He is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and other publications. His TED talks have been viewed over four million times.Read full article at Forbes
There is a very expansive “middle ground between climate apocalypse and climate denial” . . . It’s called all of reality. Both climate apocalypse and climate denial are 100% fictional. I don’t know of anyone who denies the climate… I don’t even think that’s grammatically possible.
While I have a hunch that Mr. Shellenberger’s idea of a “middle ground” has very little overlap with my view of a “middle ground”, at least he recognizes the futility of the McKibben-AOC-Greta Axis of Mental Greentardation. My first thought was that this was a good thing. However, the fact that the Ken Caldeira was one of the scientists decrying the Apocalyptos struck me as odd. Caldeira invented the phrase “ocean acidification” out of whole cloth in 2003 for the express purpose of scaring the bejesus out of people.
This raises an important question. Which is a greater threat to liberty and prosperity: the McKibben-AOC-Greta Axis of Mental Greentardation or the Michael Shellenberger middle-ground? On paper, the McKibben-AOC-Greta Axis of Mental Greentardation is clearly an existential threat to liberty and prosperity… But, it has an ice cube’s chance in Hell of becoming reality. On the other hand, a formidable political consensus could be formed around a reasonable middle-ground. Could Mr. Shellenberger’s simply be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing“?