By Bjorn Lomborg
“You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change,” reads a typical poster held by teenagers in climate rallies across the world. The media, activists and even politicians are unabashedly indulging in climate alarmism, stoking the fears of millions.
Books on the impending implosion of civilization due to climate change line shelves in bookstores across the world. Media outlets have changed the name of climate change, calling it the “climate emergency” or even “climate breakdown.” The cover of Time magazine tells us: “Be worried. Be very worried.”
Unsurprisingly, this causes most of us to brood about a future that we’re being told will be calamitous. Children are growing up terrified, with six in ten American teenagers now afraid of climate change. The scaremongering has reached such a crescendo that now half the world’s population really believes climate change will likely end the human race.
This alarmism is not only false but morally unjust. It leads us to make poor decisions based on fear, when the world not only has gotten better, but will be even better over the century.
Remember that the world today is much better in almost every measurable way. In 1900, the average life expectancy was 32. Today, it has more than doubled to 72. The disparity in health between the rich and poor has reduced, the world is much more literate, child labor has been dropping and we are living in one of the most peaceful times in history. Indoor air pollution, previously the biggest environmental killer, has halved since 1990. Four out of five people were extremely poor in 1900 and today — despite the intense impact of the coronavirus — less than one in five is.
The UN Climate Panel’s middle-of-the-road estimate for the end of the century is that we will be even better off. There will be virtually no one left in extreme poverty, everyone will be much better educated, and the average income per person in the world will be 450 percent of what it is today. Yet, because climate is a real challenge, it will leave us less well off. Based on three decades of studies, the UN and the world’s only Nobel climate economist estimate global warming will reduce the 21st century welfare increase from 450 percent to “only” 434 percent of today’s income.
Clearly, this is a problem. But a 3.6 percent reduction by the end of the century is not an existential threat. Resorting to panic and hysteria is unlikely to help. Indeed, one of the UN Climate Panel authors warned against this: “We risk turning off the public with extremist talk that is not carefully supported by the science.”
How is it possible that the media’s portrayal of the impacts of climate change are so vastly removed from reality? Because simple, moderating factors are left out. Last year, a paper generated lots of headlines and clicks claiming that future sea-level rise would flood 187 million people.
But it was spectacularly misleading. It had to assume no one would adapt over the next 80 years. Actually, the research showed that as people obviously adapt, just 0.3 million people will have to move. The scary number is 600 times too large.
This trumped-up rhetoric leads us to make unrealistic promises. We have mostly failed our climate promises for the last thirty years, and we are poised to fail our Paris climate promises by 2030 as well. It also leads nations to make exorbitantly expensive promises of carbon neutrality by 2050, something that will be more costly than permanent coronavirus shutdowns. Only New Zealand has asked for an independent assessment of the cost of its climate policy. It will cost 16 percent of its GDP each and every year by 2050, making it more costly than the entire New Zealand public expenditures for education, health, environment, police, defense, social protection, etc.
Spending 16 percent of a nation’s income to solve a smaller part of a 3.6 percent problem is bad policy. Moreover, it is unlikely to happen. We need smarter solutions.
Climate economic studies convincingly show that one of the best investments to fix climate in the medium run is to invest heavily in green R&D. Because research is cheap, we can explore many avenues, from better renewables and battery storage, to carbon capture and fusion, fission, carbon-neutral oil-producing algae, and more. If we can innovate on the price of green energy down below that of fossil fuels, everyone will switch — not just well-meaning rich people, but also most Chinese, Indians and Africans. The models show that each dollar invested in green energy R&D will avoid eleven dollars of climate damage.
It’s imperative that we shift our focus to such smart efforts — efforts that have been shown throughout history to work. We should tackle climate smartly, and also make sure that a monomaniacal focus on climate change doesn’t crowd out urgent investments in the many other, crucially important issues of health, education, jobs and nutrition.
Adapted from Bjorn Lomborg’s book, “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet” (Basic Books), out Tuesday.
This article appeared on the New York Post website at https://nypost.com/2020/07/11/how-climate-change-alarmists-are-actually-damaging-the-planet/