A Free-Market Energy Blog

More Alarmism from Alarmists

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 11, 2021

“Donald Trump has been to climate regulation as General Sherman was to Atlanta,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School, referring to the Union general who razed the city during the Civil War. “Hopefully it won’t take as long to rebuild.”

“We’ve lost very important time on climate change, which we can ill afford,” said Richard Newell, president of Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan energy and environment-focused research organization in Washington. “There is severe damage. To ignore climate for four years, you can’t put a price on that. It’s a huge issue that needs to be confronted with long-term momentum and extreme dedication, and we have lost that.”

Quoted in Coral Davenport, “What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage” NYT , 11-9-2020.

“In the years after Hurricane Katrina and An Inconvenient Truth, niche climate alarmism matured into a central tenet of the American Left.”

“According to both Shellenberger and Lomborg, the catastrophism that dominates the climate discourse overstates the problem, offers false solutions, and directs our gaze away from more pressing human and environmental challenges.”

– Alex Trembath, “Alternatives to Climate Alarmism.” National Review, July 23, 2020.

At Climate Feedback, the authors state in “Article by Michael Shellenberger mixes accurate and inaccurate claims in support of a misleading and overly simplistic argumentation about climate change.”

Shellenberger also claims that “Humans are not causing a ‘sixth mass extinction’”. This categorical statement misrepresents the discussion happening in the scientific community. Scientific evidence clearly shows that human activities are driving global species extinctions, and these extinctions are expected to accelerate with continued global warming. According to the IPBES, “degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is negatively impacting the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction.”

The IPBES 2018 report also states, “It has been proposed that we are in a sixth mass extinction of the Earth’s species, following five others in the past 540 million years. There are an accumulating number of studies that almost universally support this conclusion, although often with caveats owing to the paucity of data.” As described in Ceballos et al. (2015), “conservatively almost 200 species of vertebrates have gone extinct in the last 100 years.”

This result contrasts with the estimated background extinction rate, which would take approximately 10,000 years for 200 vertebrate species to go extinct. So clearly, the possibility that human activities are causing a mass extinction is being actively discussed by scientists, both with regards to current conditions and future trends, including global warming that is expected to accelerate species extinction rates.

A second alarmist reviewer, Professor Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico:

The 543 species of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes) that were lost over the last 120 years would have become extinct in 10,000 years under the background extinction rates prevailing in the last million years. In other words, in the last century we lost in one year the same number of species that would have been lost in 100 years!

We and other scientific groups have also shown that the extinction crisis is more severe because hundreds of millions of populations of animals and plants have disappeared in the last 40 years.

Those extinctions are accelerating, threatening the ecosystems that support life on Earth. If the current extinction crisis continues unchecked, we will lose entire ecosystems and the critical services they provide, including the proper combination of the gases of the atmosphere that make life on Earth possible, provision of fresh water, pollination and pest and disease control.

A third alarmist is Jennifer Francis, Woods Hole Research Center:

“Humans are not causing a ‘sixth mass extinction’”

An exceptionally rapid loss of species is occurring and expected to continue. Climate change is not the only factor responsible—pollution, habitat deterioration, over fishing and hunting, and invasive species are also contributing. Human fingerprints are all over these factors[5-14].

Back Door Compliments

One of the reviewers, Zeke Hausfather (Breakthrough Institute) , however, gave a back door compliment to Schellenberger:

While it is useful to push back against claims that climate change will lead to the end of the world or human extinction, to do so by inaccurately downplaying real climate risks is deeply problematic and counterproductive.

And a thumbs up for Schellenberger’s argument that wood fuel (“modern biomass”) is the most polluting of all:

Shellenberger is correct here that burning wood in cookstoves in the developing world is terrible for the climate, human health, and nature. Replacing it with fossil fuels – or even better, grid-connected electricity – is an important step in reducing indoor air pollution and black carbon emissions.

To the extent that modern biomass is used to replace fossil fuels for electricity generation, it is quite controversial and opposed by most environmental advocates. It also represents only a small fraction of the clean energy added globally each year – the vast majority of which is from solar, wind, and nuclear.

And a wishy-washy comment from another reviewer, Professor Stefan Doerr, of Swansea University:

The article argues that society has been misled about causes and consequences of climate change, which has led to “climate alarmism.” The author advocates that we should be less concerned about climate change than many environmentalists argue. Whilst the latter is relative depending on how concerned an individual is and which specific (and perhaps extreme) view this aligns with….

And adaptation from human progress, the classic wealth-is-health argument. Kerry Emanuel of MIT argues:

In the period between 1900 and 2020, global deaths from these disasters have declined steeply. There is little question about why this has happened, and it is the immensely gratifying effects of greatly improved warnings, evacuations, and resilience. For example, in Bangladesh, where a single storm killed as many as 500,000 people in 1970, the government and non-governmental organizations have built many emergency evacuations shelters that have saved arguably millions of people in subsequent cyclones that have been meteorologically as bad or worse.

If there is a climate change signal, it would appear as a lessening of this happy trend toward decreased fatalities, but it would be very difficult if not impossible to extract such a signal. We do not know from this data whether climate change is decreasing the rate of decline of deaths from natural disasters or not.

If, on the other hand, we look at economic damage, normalized by world domestic product, the signal is equally clear but in the other direction….damages from weather-related natural disasters have been increasing greatly. One could plausibly argue that this is because of a global migration toward risky coastal regions, and so it is not unequivocal that this increase is owing to climate change.

The cleanest way to look at climate effects on natural phenomena is to look at the phenomena themselves. Here there is strong and mounting evidence that climate change is increasing precipitation extremes (floods and droughts), conditions for wildfires, and the incidence of strong hurricanes.

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