Guest essay by — H. Sterling Burnett
Dishonesty has seemingly become the hallmark of reporting on climate research. In 2020, the dishonesty reached new heights as multiple studies which actually presented (or that could have presented) good news, were portrayed by the researchers involved and media hacks covering them as if they showed purported human-caused climate change was causing various disasters. The truth is, time and again, the data—often including data provided by the studies—refutes the claimed climate disaster, instead showing the environment getting better. Below I’ll deconstruct a few examples of this fearmongering habit.
Recently, The Guardian and other media outlets have claimed an updated atlas of bird habitats shows global warming is “pushing” birds further north. The Guardian’s story would lead one to believe birds en masse are being forced out of shrinking natural habitats into unsuitable locations by climate change. This is not true. As The Heartland Institute’s President James Taylor wrote in a Climate Realism post responding to The Guardian’s article, the atlas itself tells a completely different story.
“Rather than ‘pushing’ birds out of their normal ranges and forcing them north, birds are benefiting from a warming climate by expanding their overall ranges—thriving in new, northern regions while still flourishing in southern regions as well. The result of climate change is not a negative ‘pushing’ of birds out of their habitat, but rather birds enjoying larger habitat ranges, while adding to biological diversity in their new ranges.”
Indeed, despite the misleading, alarm-raising, title of the story, “Atlas reveals birds pushed further north amid climate crisis,” if you dig deeper into the story, The Guardian admitted the atlas records: “Overall, 35 percent of birds increased their breeding range, 25 percent contracted their breeding range and the rest did not show any change, or the trend is unknown.” This is good news since, as the newspaper acknowledged, according to the atlas, “Generally, if a species is present in more areas it is less likely to go extinct.”
Another scary, but demonstrably untrue, climate-alarm narrative pushed this year came in the form of dozens, if not hundreds, of stories asserting climate change (supposedly of human origin) is responsible for an increase in the number and severity of both hurricanes and wildfires. An example of this flawed analysis/bad-reporting combo can be seen in a story published by Bloomberg titled, “Climate Change Led to Record Insurance Payouts in 2020.”
Bloomberg writes, “Christian Aid, the relief arm of 41 churches in the U.K. and Ireland, ranked the 15 most destructive climate disasters of the year based on insurance losses.” Christian Aid’s study, which The Guardian also covered as if it were divinely inspired revealed truth, claims the world’s 10 costliest weather disasters of 2020 alone accrued $150 billion in damages, with the total figure for all climate change related disasters setting new records in 2020. In particular, Christian Aid’s study blamed climate-change-exacerbated wildfires and hurricanes for the increased damages and higher insurance payouts. Lo and behold, once again, real-world data on wildfires and hurricanes tells a different story, but the good news was ignored.
Concerning wildfires, long-term data show the number of and acreage consumed by wildfires has declined dramatically over the past century. Just looking at 2020, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reports “that 2020 was one of the lowest years for active fires globally.”
Indeed, NASA reports on a recent study in Science which found, “[g]lobally, the total acreage burned by fires each year declined by 24 percent between 1998 and 2015. In total, the global amount of area burned annually has declined by more than 540,000 square miles, from 1.9 million square miles in the early part of last century to 1.4 million square miles today.”
Wildfires have declined sharply over the course of the past century in the United States, as well. As reported in Climate at a Glance: Wildfires, long-term data from the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) show wildfires have declined in number and severity since the early 1900s. Assessing data on U.S. wildfires from as far back as 1926, NIFC reports the numbers of acres burned is far less now than it was throughout the early 20th century, with the current acres burned running just one-fourth to one-fifth of the amount of land that typically burned in the 1930s.
Data on hurricanes is equally clear and compelling: Despite 2020’s busy hurricane season, contrary to The Guardian’s claims—and as reported in an earlier Climate Realism article—it is quite possible 2020 did not set a record for Atlantic hurricanes. Before 1950, hurricane tracking was relatively primitive and sparse and it was uncommon to name a storm unless it made landfall somewhere.
In addition, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports there is, “only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences.” And data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), as Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes notes, show that “The United States recently went more than a decade (2005 through 2017) without a major hurricane measuring Category 3 or higher, which is the longest such period in recorded history. The United States also recently experienced the fewest number of hurricane strikes in any eight-year period (2009 through 2017) in recorded history.”
The Christian Aid study focuses on the possibly record-breaking costs of 2020’s weather related natural disasters. But in doing so it ignores what Bjorn Lomborg refers to in his book, False Alarm, as the “expanding bulls-eye effect.” The increased costs of natural disasters in recent decades is due to communities increasingly expanding into areas historically prone to natural disasters—such as flood plains, forests, and coastal areas, erecting increasingly expensive structures and infrastructure there. As a result, when extreme weather events strike, more and more expensive property is destroyed. Accordingly, the increasing costs of natural disasters stem not from human-caused climate change, but is rather a directly measurable anthropogenic factor: the rise in the number and value of assets placed in the bullseye as a result of demographic shifts in where people live and the lifestyles they pursue.
Another important “good news” story, climate alarmists tried to portray as a tragedy in 2020 can be found in the numerous news stories covering a World Bank report which claims water scarcity in the Middle East—caused by human induced climate change—threatens crop production. Once again, the authors of the World Bank report and the leftist media outlets publicizing it couldn’t be bothered to check the actual data. If they had done so, they would have found crop production in the Middle Eastern countries discussed in the report was booming, in large part due to the carbon dioxide fertilization effect.
The World Bank asserts water scarcity caused by climate change will reduce farm production in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, in particular. In point of fact, data show that, despite considerable political turmoil and ongoing conflicts in the region, the naturally arid Middle East has seen its crop production grow as the earth has modestly warmed.
Data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization show during the period of modest warming since 1989:
· Cereal crop production in Iraq increased 91 percent, even as the acreage being harvested fell 5 percent.
· Cereal crop production in Iran increased 187 percent, while the acreage harvested increased by just 2.6 percent.
· Cereal Crop production in Jordan increased 15 percent, even as the acreage harvested declined 30 percent.
· Cereal Crop production in Lebanon increased 115 percent, while acreage harvested increased 30 percent.
· Cereal Crop production in Syria increased 22 percent, even as acreage harvested declined 66 percent.
· Cereal Crop production in Turkey increased 46 percent, even though acreage harvested declined 19 percent.
That Middle Eastern countries have increased crop production—even as many of them have been embroiled in internal political strife, outright civil warfare, and external conflicts—is clearly good news. It is not evidence of a climate crisis.
Global warming lengthens growing seasons, reduces frost events, and makes more land suitable for crop production. Also, carbon dioxide is an aerial fertilizer for plant life. In addition, crops use water more efficiently under conditions of higher carbon dioxide, losing less water through transpiration. The latter fact should have allayed the World Bank’s concern about climate change-induced water shortages leading to crop failure.
Sadly, for claim after claim, power hungry bureaucrats and leftist mainstream media organizations embrace unsubstantiated speculations that various climate disasters are occurring—while ignoring facts indicating no such climate catastrophes are in the offing. I can only speculate they do this because good news does not encourage a stampede towards authoritarian climate change policies giving elites control over businesses and peoples’ lives.