BY MARK W. HENDRICKSON
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in TheEpochTimes.com on October 17, 2018
On Oct. 18, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a project of the United Nations, published a report that warns of multiple dire consequences if the average global temperature rises by more than a half-degree Celsius from current levels.
The IPCC report asserts, “Limiting global warming to 1.5 C [one degree already having occurred over the past 150 years] would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
Oh, brother, here we go again: Another scare story about climate disaster—and just in time for Halloween. Like the boy who cried “wolf,” the global-warming crowd keeps proclaiming points of no return that come and go, while life on Earth goes chugging along as before.
We’ve heard such hysterical projections before. One infamous jeremiad happened in 2006, when Al Gore stated that the world “would reach a point of no return within 10 years” if man-made CO2 emissions weren’t slashed dramatically.
Another came in 2007 when Rajendra Pachauri, former head of the IPCC, declared, if “there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late.”
These bold but spectacularly wrong predictions continued a well-established tradition of erroneous prognostications by celebrity environmentalists, dating back to Paul Ehrlich’s laughably wrong predictions of gloom and doom in his 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb.”
Facts and Problems
Here are the facts upon which we can agree (no denial here): CO2 helps to “trap” or absorb heat in our atmosphere. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly. Human consumption of fossil fuel is partly responsible for that increase. Earth’s atmosphere has been getting warmer over the past 100 to 150 years.
What is in dispute is the prediction that disaster is assured if humans don’t drastically curtail their consumption of fossil fuels.
There are at least three fundamental problems with the global-warming alarm: 1) Nobody can predict the future; 2) Nobody knows what the “right” or optimal global temperature is; and 3) Nobody knows what the “right” amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is.
First, predictions: Because Earth’s climate is so enormously complex, accurate predictions are impossible. Don’t take my word for it. An earlier IPCC report contained this nugget of truth: “The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore, the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” For anyone to claim certainty about future climate conditions is unjustified and irresponsible.
Second, warmer temperatures: Not only don’t we know if, and to what extent, Earth’s atmosphere will warm or cool in the coming decades, centuries, and millennia, but the basic question of whether warmer is better or worse also hasn’t been settled. Anthropologists have found that human civilization seems to thrive better under warmer conditions than colder ones.
It’s totally arbitrary for the IPCC report to try to scare us with a story that a temperature a mere half a degree Celsius warmer than the present constitutes a threshold that, once crossed, will cause all heck to break loose.
Yes, Earth has warmed approximately one degree since “pre-industrial times,” i.e., over the last two centuries. So what? That is hardly remarkable, since Earth emerged from the frigid Little Ice Age in the 19th century.
We highly recommend Mark Hendrickson’s The Big Picture: The Science, Politics, and Economics of Climate Change (2018)
Statements like “last year was the warmest year in history” are misleading. They are only true if one defines climate “history” as having begun in the 1870s, when the federal government began to record temperatures.
Today’s temperature still hasn’t recovered to the heights of the Medieval Warm Period, during which the Vikings grew barley (not grapes) in Greenland 1,000 years ago.
If you read geologist Gregory Wrightstone’s fact-filled book “Inconvenient Facts: The Science Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know,” you can see that Earth has periodically gotten much warmer than current conditions, and completely without human influence.
The four previous interglacial periods were all significantly warmer than the current interglacial. The previous interglacial was 8 degrees Celsius warmer than today, but the polar bear survived and only 25 percent of Greenland’s ice mass melted (quite different from some of today’s climate zealots telling us that a five-degree increase would melt all of Greenland’s ice).
Maybe Earth is supposed to warm over the coming centuries. If so, how could puny humankind prevent it?
Third, why make CO2 the culprit? Those warning of catastrophic human-caused climate change have embraced a reductio ad absurdum: the notion that CO2 is the thermostat regulating Earth’s temperature and that humans can dial the temperature up or down by increasing or decreasing the quantity of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere. That is both arrogant and ludicrous.
Not only does CO2 have relatively little potential left to “trap” additional heat (it absorbs heat on a diminishing logarithmic scale), but there is very little correlation between atmospheric CO2 and global temperatures over the course of Earth’s geological history.
The greenhouse effect (for which water vapor, and not CO2, is by far the dominant factor) is far from the only factor that affects Earth’s climate. Other factors that have been identified to date include changes in solar activity, volcanic activity, cloud cover, cosmic rays, and orbital shifts.
Having written above that it is impossible for humans to predict, much less control, Earth’s climate, I will nonetheless make one climate-related prediction: Whether Earth warms or cools, Mother Nature’s awesome might and fury will periodically assault us. We can’t prevent those onslaughts, but we can take measures to defend ourselves against them.
In fact, one of the good-news stories of the present is that, despite there being many more people in the world than there were a century ago, the death rate from natural disasters has plummeted. (Note, too, that the number of reported natural disasters began to accelerate in the 1960s and skyrocketed for the next 40 years—a function of more media attention being focused on such incidents—even as resulting deaths continued to trend downward.)
This fantastic news has happened because humans have had the wealth to build safer homes and buildings and to monitor and broadcast the approach of dangerous weather so that people have time to escape to safety.
It is undeniable that natural disasters will continue to occur with lethal force. The proper policy response isn’t to cripple ourselves economically by forsaking the cheap energy on which human prosperity has been built, but by implementing pro-growth policies so that future generations of humans have the wherewithal to survive natural disasters.
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, Mark Hendrickson, is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Grove City College and Fellow for Economic and Social Policy at The Center for Vision & Values. He is also a contributing editor of The St. Croix Review, sits on the Council of Scholars of the Commonwealth Foundation, and is a columnist at TheEpochTimes.com
Dr. Hendrickson’s most recent books include: The Big Picture: The Science, Politics, and Economics of Climate Change (2018), Problems with Picketty: Flaws and Fallacies in Capital in the 21st Century (2015), Famous But Nameless: Inspiration and Lessons from the Bible’s Anonymous Characters (2011); and God and Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism (with Craig Columbus, 2012).