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Death Spiral for Climate Alarmism Continues (A Year Later)

By Kenneth P. Green -- May 4, 2011

For two years now, I’ve made a case that climate alarmism – which I define as the reflexive tendency to assume worst-case scenarios generated by climate models are true (and warrant public policy based on that belief) – is in a death spiral.

Climate alarmists, I documented, were losing their fight for legislation, regulation, and public opinion. It’s clear that I was right on at least two counts: nobody thinks legislation to control greenhouse gases is on the horizon, and President Obama won’t even talk about climate change, preferring to hide the ball in talk about “clean energy,” instead.

The public is also turning away: a new Gallup poll, conducted in 111 countries, found that fewer Europeans and Americans consider climate change a serious threat than they did before. In the US, 53% of people feared climate change, down from 63% in ‘07/’08. In the UK, 57% feared climate change, down from 69% in ‘07/’08.

Signals are more mixed on the regulatory front, but Republican efforts to push EPA off the greenhouse-gas-control ball continue. And given our anemic economic recovery, the odds are looking better all the time. The Supreme Court, too, seems poised to reject the idea that states can use the courts to impose greenhouse gas controls on power producers.

Unfortunately, I was also right in another prediction: “the entire issue of climate change will go sub rosa, and be embedded in discussions of energy, sustainability, energy security, renewable energy, protecting biodiversity, or anything that lacks the words “climate change” in the title.”

This is exactly what’s happening under the banner of “clean energy” and “green energy.” But it is unclear how long the public will buy this subterfuge. In Europe, as I have written, the bloom is coming off the “green/clean energy” rose. In the U.S., however, the phrase still polls well with the public. But with the grassroots rebellion against industrial wind turbines growing, the worm may be turning here as well.

Here is my MasterResource post from one year ago. I invite comments on how well some of my predictions and trend analysis have held up. And are there other factors worth adding to the conversation?


The Death Spiral for Climate Alarmism Continues

by Kenneth P. Green
June 2, 2010

“We have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.”

– James Hansen, “The Threat to the Planet,” New York Review of Books, July 13, 2006.

“Desperation is setting in among climate alarmists who by their own math can see that the window is rapidly closing on ’saving the planet’.”

– Kenneth Green, ”A Death Spiral for Climate Alarmism, Redux?” MasterResource, September 30, 2009.

As I have written in a previous post, the trend toward abject panic over climate change seems to have reversed course. For all intents and purposes, climate alarmism – which I define as the reflexive tendency to assume worst-case scenarios generated by climate models are automatically true (and to enact public policy based on that belief) – is locked into a death spiral. The public policy implication is profound: substituting adaptation and wealth creating strategies for tears-in-the-ocean mitigation policies in the U.S. and abroad.

On the political front:

The IPCC’s reputation as a serious scientific institution continues to hemorrhage as a nearly endless string of errors and/or bad practices relating to the Fourth Assessment Report come to light.

As Newsweek put it recently,

Some of the IPCC’s most-quoted data and recommendations were taken straight out of unchecked activist brochures, newspaper articles, and corporate reports—including claims of plummeting crop yields in Africa and the rising costs of warming-related natural disasters, both of which have been refuted by academic studies.

Further, Newsweek opines, the case for policy-development based on climate alarmism is also off the rails,

There are excellent reasons to limit emissions and switch to cleaner fuels—including an estimated 750,000 annual pollution deaths in China, the potential to create jobs at home instead of enriching nasty regimes sitting on oil wells, the need to provide cheap sources of power to the world’s poorest regions, and the still-probable threat that global warming is underway. At the moment, however, certainty about how fast—and how much—global warming changes the earth’s climate does not appear to be one of those reasons.

Internationally, things are not much better for the alarmists. The negotiations in Copenhagen were a complete shambles, resulting only in a non-binding, let’s-meet-again memorandum that the various participating countries “recognized” having seen.

Greenpeace activist, and Independent Commentator Joss Garman characterized the “Copenhagen Accord” thus:

This “deal” is beyond bad. It contains no legally binding targets and no indication of when or how they will come about. There is not even a declaration that the world will aim to keep global temperature rises below 2 C. Instead, leaders merely recognise the science behind that vital threshold, as if that were enough to prevent us crossing it.

The only part of this deal that anyone sane came close to welcoming was the $100bn global climate fund, but it’s now apparent that even this is largely made up of existing budgets, with no indication of how new money will be raised and distributed so that poorer countries can go green and adapt to climate change.

In the EU, the vaunted European Trading System continues to come apart at the seams. According to James Kanter at the NYT:

Carbon traders, for example, have been arrested for tax fraud; evidence has emerged of lucrative projects that may do nothing to curb climate change; and steel and cement companies have booked huge profits selling surplus permits they received for free.

And the EU is backing away from previous plans to tighten its carbon reduction targets. According to Greenwire,

For months, Europe has mulled whether to increase to 30 percent its current commitment to reduce CO2 emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. E.U. leaders in Brussels, including the bloc’s climate chief, Connie Hedegaard, have seemed to favor such a commitment, while influential member states like Germany and France have expressed skepticism of such a pledge without binding support from other major industrial powers like the United States.

A study, released today by the European Commission, expresses concern that Europe’s trading system for limiting emissions will remain less effective than planned without reductions in carbon allowances over the next decade. But addressing that problem may have to take a back seat for now, Hedegaard said.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., climate alarmism has sunk so low that Senator John Kerry risks choking himself to death as he ties his tongue into knots to pretend that his climate bill, the misleadingly named “American Power Act,” is not a climate bill. Depending on the date, Senator Kerry disingenuously characterizes as a job creation bill, or a bill to end dependency on foreign oil, or as a bill to rejuvenate the moribund US nuclear energy sector…or anything but what it is, which is a bill full of direct and indirect taxes on carbon: that is, on coal, natural gas, oil, and gasoline.

Pundits give the bill little chance of passage in this Congress, and if Democrats take anything like the whuppin’ they’re expected to get in November, I wouldn’t look for a reprise of the “American Power Act” any time soon. [Personal note to Senator Kerry: Dear Senator, will you please stop perpetuating the fiction that you can create jobs by forcing up the cost of power (and making it less reliable) in the United States. All you’re going to do with your fraudulently titled climate bill is kill jobs, reduce economic growth, export more of America’s industrial base to other countries, and perpetuate the misery of this lackluster economy. Even worse, you’ll hurt the people you claim as your primary constituency – the poor – more than the wealthy, as the poor spend more of their budget on energy than those with greater wealth.]

On the regulatory front,

EPA continues to face opposition to regulation of the greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. On June 10, a resolution authored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (and co-sponsored by 38 others including 3 Democrats) will be voted on. The resolution concludes that it is:

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the endangerment finding and the cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (published at 74 Fed. Reg. 66496 (December 15, 2009)), and such rule shall have no force or effect.

Finally, on the public opinion front,

Poll numbers continue to decline when it comes to people expressing serious concern about climate change, or willingness to pay anything to remedy it.

The New York Times points out that public belief levels are plummeting even in Jolly Old Britain, (and not-so-jolly old Germany) both of which have been, until recently, seething hotbeds of climate alarmism:

Nowhere has this shift in public opinion been more striking than in Britain, where climate change was until this year such a popular priority that in 2008 Parliament enshrined targets for emissions cuts as national law. But since then, the country has evolved into a home base for a thriving group of climate skeptics who have dominated news reports in recent months, apparently convincing many that the threat of warming is vastly exaggerated.

A survey in February by the BBC found that only 26 percent of Britons believed that “climate change is happening and is now established as largely manmade,” down from 41 percent in November 2009. A poll conducted for the German magazine Der Spiegel found that 42 percent of Germans feared global warming, down from 62 percent four years earlier.

Our “paper of record,” also observes that

The lack of fervor about climate change is also true of the United States, where action on climate and emissions reduction is still very much a work in progress, and concern about global warming was never as strong as in Europe. A March Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans believed that the seriousness of global warming was “generally exaggerated,” up from 41 percent a year ago.


My colleague, Steve Hayward, thinks that future historians will peg 2008 as the year that climate alarmism jumped the shark. If so, it’s clear that in 2010, the Fonz is on the sharp declining phase of the jump, headed back down to the water. On every front, climate alarmists are losing, from international negotiations, to domestic legislation, to public opinion. Even the UK’s Royal Society is being forced to reconsider their position on climate change.

We can hope that climate alarmism will be replaced by a new era of climate realism, where the focus is on fostering resilience: building institutions, and helping other countries build institutions that would give them resilience in the face of any sort of climate change, manmade or natural, modest or major. Instead, however, my guess is this won’t happen. The alarmists are unable to give up the sense of panic they need to preserve to promote radical policies. And, to be fair, there is such polarization on the part of climate skeptics that even we climate moderates come in for some slapping around when we admit a vague possibility that humans could cause even modest harm via our influence on the climate. There is little appetite on either side for moderation or realism.

Instead, what I suspect will happen is that the entire issue of climate change will go sub rosa, and be embedded in discussions of energy, sustainability, energy security, renewable energy, protecting biodiversity, or anything that lacks the words “climate change” in the title.


  1. rbradley  

    Shale gas also changes the equation on the emissions front (less emissions from fossil-fuel reliance) and policy front (renewables now worse).

    “Abundant and relatively cheap shale gas promises to lower the cost of gas relative to oil, coal and renewables. It indefinitely postpones the exhaustion of fossil fuels and makes reducing emissions of carbon dioxide possible without raising energy prices.” -–Matt Ridley, The Shale Gas Shock, 4 May 2011


  2. Energy and Environment News  

    […] Death Spiral for Alarmism Continues (a year later) Kenneth Green, MaterResource.org, 4 May 2011 […]


  3. rbradley  

    Here is how the 6th Annual Heartland Climate Conference is styling itself:

    End of the Delusion

    The Heartland Institute will host its sixth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC-6) on June 30 and July 1 in Washington, DC at the Marriott Wardman Park. Heartland will be joined in Washington by dozens of think tank cosponsors and hundreds of scientists who dispute the claim that “the science is settled” on the causes, consequences, and policy implications of climate change.

    The theme of the conference is “End of the Delusion,” reflecting the fact that a majority of scientists and the general public now realize past claims of scientific consensus and predictions of climate catastrophes were simply wrong. The change in opinion arose from scientific scandals such as “Climategate,” admissions of errors and abuses of peer review in the research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and new scientific discoveries related to the role of clouds and carbon dioxide in climate.



  4. Jon Boone  

    Now if the Heartland Institute would step up, as it should have years ago, to expose the worms at the core of renewables, clean energy (when what is actually meant is clean power, which is its own can of worms), energy security, and sustainability, it would help educate the public about the under the table means of providing even more low hanging fruit for the pandering profiteers of climate alarmism. That the Institute has ducked these issues for much of the last decade, in the process allowing nutsy technologies like wind to bilk the public out of billions of dollars annually, has undermined the organization’s mission, which, as stated, is to “promote… public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom…–building a society where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.”

    The theme of this year’s Heritage conference–End of the Delusion–would be subverted if it only engaged climate alarmism, and did not include a major effort to engage the surrogate backdoor delusions regarding renewables and clean energy.


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