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Lomborg Blows Whistle on False (Climate) Alarm (Again)

August 21, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #370

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Since the publication of his book The Skeptical Environmentalist (1998), Bjorn Lomborg has been a thorn in the side of climate alarmists. His new book, False Alarm, drives that thorn deeper beneath radical environmentalists’ skin.
 
Lomborg’s work is impossible for alarmists to ignore. Why? First, Lomborg agrees with them that humans are causing climate change and it will have harmful effects. Second, Lomborg cites data, assessments, and conclusions of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—which climate alarmists tout as the gold standard for understanding the threat posed by human-caused climate change—to show claims that climate change is greatest problem humanity has ever faced are unwarranted hype, not reflections of reality.
 
The message of False Alarm is clear: 1. Evidence shows humans are causing climate change; 2. Climate change, over time, will have on balance a net negative environmental impact that should be mitigated; 3. Climate change is not the greatest immediate or long-term threat society faces, nor is it even the greatest environmental or public health threat; 4. Policies proposed to sharply limit and rapidly eliminate the use of fossil fuels will cause far more harm to the peoples of the world and its environment than they will prevent, while having almost no impact on rising temperatures or associated climate changes.
 
Lomborg states the theses of his book on page 6:

The science shows us that fears of a climate apocalypse are unfounded. Global warming is real but it is not the end of the world. It is a manageable problem. Yet, we now live in a world where almost half the population believes climate change will extinguish humanity. This has profoundly altered the political reality.
 
This singular obsession with climate change means that we are now going from wasting billions of dollars on ineffective policies to wasting trillions. At the same time, we’re ignoring ever more of the world’s more urgent and much more tractable challenges.
 
If we don’t say stop, the current, false climate alarm, despite its good intentions, is likely to leave the world much worse off than it could be.
 

In chapter after chapter, Lomborg marshals data proving human-caused climate change is not pushing humanity to the brink of extinction. Instead, he finds, life on Earth is getting better and better by almost any measure, a trend that will continue regardless of climate change. The only question is how fast life will improve globally and, most especially, in the poorest developing countries.
 
Lomborg convincingly argues poorly designed climate policies, reducing fossil fuel use too fast by too great a degree, would have a devastating effect on the world’s poorest people, slowing their economic development by decades. By contrast, Lomborg argues, policies that focus, for instance, on adapting to climate change and, even more importantly, fostering rapid economic growth (which requires the continued use of fossil fuels), will deliver far more benefits and reduce far more harm, more quickly, benefiting present and future generations, than policies forcing people into energy privation.
 
Among the most insightful discussions in Lomborg’s book is his exploration of why people think natural disasters—such as floods, hurricanes, heat waves, and wildfires—are getting worse when the data shows just the opposite is true. The facts are the number and severity of extreme weather events is either trending downward or flat. (The chapter titled “Extreme Weather or Extreme Exaggeration?” covers this thoroughly.) Lives lost to natural disasters have declined dramatically over the past century-and-a-half’s warming, largely because economic growth has allowed societies to monitor disasters better and to adopt policies and adaptive technologies that reduce deaths and injuries.
 
Lomborg shows the disconnect between the reality of declining impacts from natural disasters and the unjustified fear that increasingly frequent and deadly natural disasters are occurring results from increased, more-immediate media coverage. More importantly, he shows the reason the absolute costs of these disasters have increased dramatically is the “expanding bulls-eye effect.” Communities have increasingly expanded into areas prone to natural disasters, such as flood plains, forests, and coastal areas, erecting increasingly expensive structures and infrastructure there. As a result, when extreme weather events strike, more, more expensive property is destroyed. The higher costs aren’t caused by climate change but from the rise in the number and value of assets placed in the bullseye as a result of demographic shifts in where people live and the lifestyles they pursue.
 
Even then, Lomborg shows, just as death rates have declined during the period of climate change, and should continue to do so as a percentage of gross domestic product, the cost of natural disasters is also falling over time and should continue to do so.
 
The chapter on “Why the Green Revolution Isn’t Here Yet” shows wind, solar, and batteries aren’t up to the task of replacing fossil fuels and probably won’t in the near future. These fuel sources remain too expensive and intermittent. Even with massive amounts of government support driving an increase in the absolute amount of energy renewables provide, they will not grow much as a percentage of overall energy used worldwide in the coming decades. Fossil fuels, for now, will still be the dominant source of energy driving economic development. Believing otherwise is extremely wishful thinking. Physics and costs, not government policies, dictate energy development except at the margin.
 
The weakest portion of Lomborg’s book is the second half, where he explores the costs of different responses to climate change. As with the general circulation models’ projections of climate change, Lomborg places a great deal of faith in the projections of econometric models and the groups of economists he has worked with on the benefits and drawbacks of responses to climate change. The fact that climate models’ projections of temperatures and other climate changes have routinely failed to match reality leads me to mistrust the economic models’ projections of the costs and climate benefits of different policy responses. In my experience, economic forecasts are about as accurate as the daily weather forecasts and often more similar to the accuracy of weather forecasts weeks out. Experience shows the farther out in time economic projections are made—and the cost and benefit estimates Lomborg cites project 500 years into the future, making them the most extended economic projections I’ve ever seen—the less likely they are to prove accurate.
 
Lomborg argues the world needs to embrace five different sets of policies to prevent the worst harms from climate change: a carbon dioxide tax; innovation; adaptation; geoengineering; and prosperity. Of those proposals, rapidly increasing prosperity is the one that will benefit the most people now and into the future, a point which False Alarm hammers home repeatedly.
 
Lomborg argues any rational person who cares about human welfare and the environment should embrace policies and technologies that increase prosperity as rapidly as possible, especially in the developing world, which is likely to suffer the greatest negative impacts of climate change. For the foreseeable future, he notes, such policies will necessarily involve the use of fossil fuels. False Alarm presents numerous case studies showing as societies have climbed the economic ladder, their people live longer and are healthier and their societies are better able to adapt and respond to the vagaries of weather, regardless of the type or cause, than those in poorer countries. Although we may never be able to control the weather or anticipate or prevent all natural disasters, industrialized nations have shown relatively wealthy societies and peoples can dramatically reduce the number of lives lost, injuries suffered, and misery experienced when natural disasters strike. In addition, when disasters occur, more-prosperous societies can get help to people faster than poorer countries with inadequate infrastructure and limited resources for emergency responses.
 
I recommend my readers get False Alarm, read it, digest it, and draw their own conclusions.

— H. Sterling Burnett 

SOURCES: National Center for Policy Analysis; American Enterprise Institute; Copenhagen Consensus; Review of Environmental Economics and Policy


IN THIS ISSUE …

CAMBODIAN, ETHIOPIAN CROP YIELDS INCREASING AMID CLIMATE CHANGE … VOTERS RANK CLIMATE CHANGE LEAST IMPORTANT ISSUE


CAMBODIAN, ETHIOPIAN CROP YIELDS INCREASING AMID CLIMATE CHANGE

In recent weeks, the news media have again been publishing stories proclaiming climate change is causing crop failures and starvation in the poorest developing countries, in this case Ethiopia and Cambodia. Once again, the data show these claims are false.
 
An article at Insider.com claims “food insecurity from climate change” is “pushing millions of people into cities.” In reality, Ethiopian crop yields are enjoying consistent, impressive gains and are setting new records virtually every year. The growth in urban populations is due to rapid economic growth driven by industrial development and construction. People are not being forced off of farms by crop failures; instead people from the farms are being enticed to cities by better-paying jobs and the cultural and social attractions of urban life.
 
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports cereal crop production and yield per hectare have grown dramatically in Ethiopia since 1993. Crop production has grown by nearly 500 percent, with the steepest growth occurring just since 2007. Crop production has doubled since 2007, from 12,235,743 metric tons in 2007 to 25,987,204 metric tons in 2017, setting and breaking records for crop yields nine of the 11 years from 2008 through 2018.
 
Data from the World Bank indicates dynamic, rapid industrial and commercial development are responsible for Ethiopia’s rapid urbanization. Per the World Bank:
 

Ethiopia’s economy experienced strong, broad-based growth averaging 9.9 percent a year from 2007/08 to 2017/18, compared to a regional average of 5.4 percent. … Industry, mainly construction, and services accounted for most of the growth. … Higher economic growth brought with it positive trends in poverty reduction in both urban and rural areas. The share of the population living below the national poverty line decreased from 30 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2016.
 
Contrary to the claims of environment and climate ministers in Cambodia, food production is growing dramatically there as well, even as the climate changes.
 
Hak Mao, the director of Cambodia’s Department of Climate Change, told Khmer Times, “[C]limate change impact has resulted in declining agricultural yields.” The opposite is true.
 
FAO data shows Cambodia’s rice production—rice being by far its biggest agricultural crop—has grown dramatically since 1979. Cambodian farmers produced 538,000 metric tons of rice in 1979. Rice yields increased to 10,647,212 metric tons in 2017, a new record. Rice production has more than doubled in Cambodia since 2004, with new records being set for rice produced in 11 of the past 13 years.
 
FAO data also shows Cambodia’s production of cassava, another major agricultural crop for the country, has increased even more dramatically than rice production. After more than 40 years of relatively flat annual production, cassava production increased more than 21-fold between 2004 and 2017, from 362,050 metric tons in 2004 to 7,646,022 metric tons in 2017.
 
However else climate change may be affecting the world, data shows what it is not doing is reducing crop yields, either in general or in the world’s poorest countries.
 

SOURCES: Climate Realism; Climate Realism


VOTERS RANK CLIMATE CHANGE LEAST IMPORTANT ISSUE

Just 1 percent of Americans surveyed identified the combined category of “Climate Change/Environment/Pollution” as “the most important problem facing this country today,” in a Gallup poll conducted in July.

The Wuhan coronavirus remained the top concern among the 1,007 adults polled by Gallup between July 1 and July 23, with 30 percent of respondents identifying it as the most important problem facing the country. “Government/Poor Leadership” came in a distant second among the list of concerns, with 23 percent of respondents listing it as the top problem facing the nation.

All economic problems combined were identified by only 9 percent of those polled as the most important problem facing the country, with 4 percent saying the “Economy in general” is the top problem for the United States.

With the BLM/Antifa riots still continuing to plague parts of the county, “Race Relations/Racism” ranked as the third most important problem, with 16 percent of respondents listing it as such. This represents a significant increase in concern about race relations since April, when only 1 percent those polled said it was the nation’s top problem.

As noted in a Breitbart News article discussing the poll, although the leadership of the Democrat Party regularly proclaims climate change is the most dangerous threat facing the United States and the world, and Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden has said, “There’s no more consequential challenge that we must meet in the next decade than the onrushing climate crisis,” only 1 percent of those polled identified all environmental issues combined, of which climate change was but one, as the most important problem facing the country.

Crime/Violence” at 5 percent, the “Judicial System/Courts/Laws” (3 percent), and “Ethics/Morals/Religious/Family Decline,” “Lack of respect for each other,” “The media,” and “Healthcare,” each of which was listed by 2 percent of respondents, all ranked higher than “Climate change/environment/pollution” as the most important problem facing the country.

The poll shows how out-of-step the Democrat Party is with the concerns of average Americans when it touts climate change as the most important issue facing the country. Most Americans rank it as among the least important problems facing the  nation, far behind the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing riots and protests wracking many American cities (run by Democrats), and the economic downturn resulting from federal COVID-19 recommendations and state governments’ coronavirus lockdowns.

SOURCES: Breitbart; Gallup

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org
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