Defend Truth


The true purpose of alarming climate predictions

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

Dire predictions about the consequences of climate change are a staple of the sensationalist media, but a lot of past predictions have failed to come even remotely true. Yet climate change activists want to dismantle the world’s capitalist economy by whipping up fear.

This is now the Best Case (sic) scenario for our future as politicians ignore #climatechange. And even this is looking increasingly unlikely.”

So tweeted Sipho Kings, the Mail & Guardian’s environment reporter. He was referring to a passage from an article published on 12 October 2018, dramatically headlined: “Earth faces climactic moment.”

Based on the second, “most likely”, scenario put forward in the recent special report (SR15) on what a world that is 1.5°C warmer would look like, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the passage reads:

The scale of transformation required means large tracts of farmland are turned over to biofuels. Food prices rise, ‘driving elevated levels of food insecurity, hunger and poverty’. Crop yields decline ‘significantly’ in the tropics, leading to ‘prolonged famines in some African countries’. In response, people decide that food is more important than biodiversity. Game reserves and wild areas are turned into farms and animal ‘extinction rates increase greatly’.

By 2100, warming is brought back to 1.5°C. The cost has been high and the world is now dominated by humans because of species reduction. Nation states are only just hanging on; ‘migration, forced displacement and loss of identity are ‘extensive in some countries’.

“‘The health and well-being of people generally decreases from 2020, while the levels of poverty and disadvantage increase significantly.’”

The beauty of predictions like these is that they cannot be verified. Certainly, current trends, of consistently rising health and well-being and relentlessly declining levels of poverty and disadvantage, will have to be reversed in dramatic fashion in the next 18 to 24 months to make the concluding prediction true. However, it will be much harder, and take much longer, to isolate confounding factors such as business cycles, economic policy, from the impacts of climate change. Chances are, we’ll never be able to say for sure.

It is notable, however, that the passage is premised on the large-scale production of biofuels. It isn’t as if biofuels will significantly reduce human carbon dioxide production, which the IPCC claims is primary responsible for climate change. In fact, some research shows that it could double greenhouse gas emissions, compared to ordinary petrol.

It is entirely reasonable to suppose that greatly increasing biofuel production will cause rising food prices, and consequently, “food insecurity, hunger and poverty”. And it is also reasonable to suppose that food is more important to people for whom food is a major part of their household budget than biodiversity.

As for crop yields declining in tropical regions, that would be astonishing. Crop yields have consistently and strongly risen since Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution 50 years ago. A major reason for this is that crops have been bred – or genetically modified – to withstand higher temperatures and more severe droughts.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where per-capita crop production has been stagnant during this time, fertiliser use has been less than 10% of the global average, and as a consequence, yields of cereal crops are at 25% of their potential. If climate change wants to have an impact on crop production in tropical Africa, it will first have to overcome the continent’s ability to increase yield by using more fertiliser.

As always, this time the climate danger is for real. Things will get worse no matter what we do, according to the IPCC’s best case scenario (which is better than the scenario Kings reckons is the best case scenario). This is our last chance to act to avert total catastrophe.

Just like it was in 2016, when we had three years in which to act. And Paris was the last chance in 2015. And Lima in 2014. And Warsaw in 2013. And Doha in 2012. And Durban in 2011. And Cancun in 2010. Not to mention Copenhagen in 2009, when the WWF said we have just five years to save the world, Prince Charles told us we have 96 months, Gordon Brown said we had just 50 days, and Elizabeth May of the Canadian Green Party said we had only hours.

It was our last chance in Poznan in 2008. And in Bali in 2007, when Rajendra Pachauri, then chairman of the IPCC, said if there was no action by 2012 it would be too late. When Al Gore released An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, he said we had 10 years to take drastic action, or we’d reach a point of no return. That was after our last chance in Montreal in 2005. And in Bonn in 2001.

Then there’s this, from 1989: “A senior environmental official at the United Nations, Noel Brown, says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos, said Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program. He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect…”

In 2005, the UN predicted that by the end of the decade, there would be 50 million “climate refugees”, because of rising sea levels, desertification and shrinking freshwater supplies. They never turned up. A map illustrating the problem was helpfully published on the website of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).

When major newspapers began calling out the UN, wondering where all those climate refugees were, the map quietly disappeared, first with the claim that it was not produced by the UN or UNEP, and then with the explanation that it had been “confusing”. My thesaurus does not suggest this term as a synonym for “wrong”.

The underlying causes for the migration also have not happened. Many low-lying tropical islands in the western Pacific, believed to be the most vulnerable to sea level rise, have been growing, not shrinking.

Although desertification does happen locally, mostly as a result of agriculture, the world is on average getting greener, not browner.

The global supply of fresh water is being threatened much less by climate change than by rising populations, which is as one would expect.

In 2004, a Pentagon report warned that “climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters”.

The report warns of rioting and nuclear war, says Britain might become Siberia in less than 20 years, and the threat to the world is greater than terrorism.

By 2020 ‘catastrophic’ shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war,” the authors warn.

We still have two (or four) years to go on those predictions, but they aren’t even close to coming true yet.

Admittedly, the threat of climate change might well be greater than that of terrorism, but only because terrorism is such a very small risk to the vast majority of people on the planet.

Of course, terrorism is blown up into a matter of great alarm by the military-industrial complex, politicians and the media, for the purpose of making vast profits, claiming new powers, and selling more copies with sensational headlines, respectively. Not unlike how climate change is exploited by the green industry, governments and the media, come to think of it.

In 2000, Dr David Viner, of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which manages one of the world’s three major temperature records (and perhaps its most dodgy), told the UK Independent that within a few years, winter snowfalls (in the UK) will become a “very rare and exciting event”, and, “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is.”

Three years ago, in 2015, the article was removed from the internet, perhaps because the UK had seen several winters with record-breaking or near-record snowfalls since then.

In 2004, the Guardian reported that “Global warming forces sale of Scottish winter sports resorts”. The same Dr Viner commented: “Unfortunately, it’s just getting too hot for the Scottish ski industry.”

Ten years later, the BBC reported that Scottish ski resorts were closed because of the heaviest snowfall in 69 years. Of course, like the melting snow, this was also evidence for climate change. That was the same year the New York Times ran an opinion headlined, “The End of Snow?

The IPCC’s Third Assessment report in 2001 predicted that winters in northern latitudes would warm by more than the global average, and snow cover in the northern hemisphere would decline. In reality, snow cover has held up pretty well, although the climate alarmists have been scrambling to explain how record snowfalls and global warming can coexist.

In 2014, the Obama Administration’s science czar, John Holdren, said that “a growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern we can expect to see with increasing frequency, as global warming continues”.

Predicting both warmer and colder winters as a consequence of global warming is a pretty transparent way of hedging your bets. The only way to falsify such contradictory predictions would be if winter temperatures stayed exactly the same.

In 2007, they predicted that the Earth would spin faster as a result of global warming. In 2015, they predicted that the Earth would spin slower as a result of global warming.

In 1988, James Hansen, the then head of Nasa’s GISS, custodian of another major temperature record, went before the US Congress to raise the alarm about global warming. At the time, he told a journalist that in the next 20 years, he’d expect the West Side Highway in New York to be underwater. Both that journalist and Hansen now claim that he said 40 years. But it’s 30 years later, so let’s see how he’s doing.

For the sea to submerge the highway in question would require about 10 feet of sea level rise. Since 1988, New York’s sea level has risen by 5.1 inches. At the present rate, it will have risen by 6.8 inches by 2028, 40 years after Hansen’s prediction. That is nine feet and 6.2 inches short of the 10 feet needed for the West Side Highway to be underwater.

In 2007, professor Wieslaw Maslowski predicted that the Arctic could be ice-free by 2013. Al Gore made that prediction famous in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that same year. In 2012, professor Peter Wadhams said the “final collapse” of Arctic sea ice in summer would happen within four years.

In reality, Arctic sea ice in summer has been significantly higher than in 2012 for every year since. In fact, other than in 2012, it hasn’t been below 65% of the 1981-2010 median, with more than 4 million km2 of ice extent remaining. The Arctic has never been even close to ice-free in summer.

Arctic sea ice levels in the last decade have been at levels at which polar bear experts predicted two thirds of the population would die. Instead, the polar bear population has grown by 16%.

In 2010, Morris Bender, a research scientist, predicted that strong hurricanes would double in frequency as a result of global warming. An examination by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration of the historical record in the Atlantic basin suggests that if there is a trend, “this trend is so small, relative to the variability in the series, that it is not significantly distinguishable from zero”. Moreover, the US experienced no strong hurricane landfalls at all for a record 11-year period from 2005 to 2016.

In 2001, the IPCC predicted that wildfires would get worse with global warming. In 2012, an IPCC scientist explained exactly how climate change is making wildfires worse. By 2017, however, NASA had detected a 24% decline in global fires between 1998 and 2015.

Many alarmist predictions about global climate have failed to come true. But as with terrorism, there are strong motives to keep the populace alarmed.

The massive green industry requires it to keep making profits. Al Gore increased his net worth from $1.7-million when he left office in 2000, to $300-million today, largely on the back of climate alarmism.

Scientists deliberately exaggerate to get their papers published, get media coverage, and motivate activism, as Stephen Schneider eloquently put it:

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. … So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.”

Government uses public fear to increase its own powers and swell its tax coffers.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary,” wrote Henry Louis Mencken.

The IPCC SR15 report of 2018 says that “limiting global warming to 1.5°C … would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, … and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options”.

Top UN climate officials, such as Christina Fugueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, are quite open about the real objective.

This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history.”

She explains: “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the industrial revolution.”

Ottmar Edenhofer, another UN climate official, who co-chaired the UN IPCC working group on Mitigation of Climate Change from 2008 to 2015, was even more explicit.

One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with the environmental policy any more, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole. We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.”

The purpose of climate activists is to dismantle the economic system that has doubled our lifespans, pulled billions out of poverty, cured or curbed many infectious diseases, reduced our working hours, brought democracy to more than half the world’s people, slashed child mortality, turned literacy and basic education from a rarity into the norm, reduced the proportion of people living in extreme poverty from 94% in 1800 to fewer than 10% today, fed more people with more and healthier food than ever before in history, and increased environmental sustainability in line with rising prosperity.

Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone make alarming predictions on how awful things will get unless we change our society on a scale with no historical precedent. The change might have no precedent, probably because it is insanely stupid, but the consequent poverty and misery certainly does. DM

In an earlier version of this story, we described Sipho Kings as the environmental reporter,  he is in fact the environment reporter.