At his recent World Leaders Climate Summit, President Biden repeated his claim that climate change presents an “existential threat.”
This pervasive climate alarmism is the culmination of persistent eco-anxiety over the past decades. Already in 1982, the United Nations was predicting that climate change along with other environmental concerns could cause a worldwide “devastation as complete, as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust” by the year 2000. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
Today, almost every catastrophe is blamed on global warming, and we are being told that we must radically change the entire world until 2030 to avoid the apocalypse.
Such irresponsible exaggerations are destroying our ability to make sensible decisions for the future. The evidence actually shows that climate-related disasters are killing far fewer than ever before. Over the past century, the number of dead from floods, droughts, storms, wildfire and extreme temperatures have dropped by an incredible 98 percent.
And the much-discussed 2030 deadline to fix climate change is wrong, too. It relies on an arbitrary policy that no major nation is actually pursuing. Moreover, the claim of apocalypse is vastly exaggerated. The U.N. Climate Panel estimates that the average person in half a century will be 363 percent as rich as today. When they include all the impacts of climate change, the increase in well-being will instead be equivalent to 356 percent of today’s incomes. That is a problem, not the end of the world.
Climate change is real and human-caused, and it is a problem we should tackle smartly. But rabid hyperbole scares us witless and in our panic we make expensive but poor policy choices, leaving the world much worse off.
The Paris Agreement which President Biden just rejoined has been marketed as the solution to climate yet, by the United Nation’s own reckoning, it will accomplish almost nothing. In a best-case scenario, it will achieve just 1 percent of what political leaders have promised. And no major nation is on-track to actually deliver on their promises.
The Paris agreement is phenomenally expensive, costing $1-2 trillion every year by 2030. Yet, even if all nations actually kept their promises, including Obama’s for the US, and also stuck to them through the rest of the century, the impact would be an almost immeasurable 0.3°F reduction in temperatures by the end of the century. The cost would vastly outweigh the benefit to the extent that each dollar spent will avoid just 11¢ of global climate damage.
But there is another cost to excessively focusing on the climate problem in a world full of problems. COVID-19 showed us how worrying mostly about climate leaves us poorly prepared for all the other global challenges. The World Health Organization itself had repeatedly emphasized throughout the last decade how climate is one of the world’s leading health challenges, which is perhaps one of the reasons the group seemed to be blindsided by corona.
When Biden’s National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy warns us that climate is the “most significant public health challenge of our time” she ignores much bigger health problems. A third of all US deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease, and more than a quarter by cancer. In comparison, just a third of one percent is caused by heat deaths, outweighed even by the almost seven percent that die from cold each year. And extreme weather kills just 0.015%.
The world’s poor battle with much greater challenges like starvation, poverty, dying from easily curable diseases and lack of education. And these challenges have solutions where each dollar can help much more. Spending just a thousandths of the cost of the Paris agreement could save more than a million people from dying of tuberculosis today. Each dollar would do more than a thousand times more good than spent poorly on climate.
Similarly, we could do phenomenally much better at much lower cost helping children out of malnutrition or improving learning in schools. We could address most of the world’s top issues with a fraction of what we’re spending on climate.
This does not mean we shouldn’t also tackle climate, only. But we need to do so smarter and more effectively. We shouldn’t continue and certainly not ramp up our massive subsidies to inefficient solar, wind and electric cars. Unfortunately, this constitutes much of Biden’s unaffordable $500 billion per year climate promise. Instead, we need to spend much more on green innovation — this is by far the smart part of Biden’s plan. If we can innovate the price of future green energy down below fossil fuels, not just rich Americans, but everyone — in China, India and Africa — will switch to green energy.
To a man with a hammer, they say, every problem looks like a nail. But despite the shrill alarms, not all of society’s problems are caused by climate change – and the current climate change hammer costs a fortune but doesn’t pack much of a wallop. If we’re careful to select the right tools, we’re far more likely to solve a broad range of problems including climate change – and build a much better world along the way.
I want us to get a sense of proportion to our worries.
That sometime means challenging your biggest concerns, while pointing out that things you may never have heard about are much more important.
I also try to get us to focus on the most cost-effective solutions.
We can only spend our money once, so we should make sure to do the most good with every dollar.
With the Copenhagen Consensus Center I help bring together more than a hundred of the world’s top economists and 7 Nobel Laureates to give us guidance on where we can do the most good for the world.
I’ve written “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, “Cool It” and many other books, and I’m grateful that Foreign Policy has repeatedly listed me among their “Top 100 Global Thinkers”, and TIME Magazine included me in their “100 most influential people in the world” list.
via Bjorn Lomborg
June 9, 2021