The International Panel on Climate Change released its sixth assessment report this month. While there are reasons to be concerned with what’s in the report, the national media is breathlessly reporting the IPCC’s findings absent important context.
For example, the Washington Post reported, “If the headlines don’t already feel rather apocalyptic, they are about to get worse.”
The Post article is likely making an accurate prediction. Headlines are notoriously sensational and it would be no surprise if that gets worse. But that has nothing to do with what’s happening with global warming.
Multiple articles have screamed about increases in heat-related deaths, which made for some scary headlines during this inferno of a summer. What you won’t hear about is that the IPCC report also found “the frequency and intensity of cold extremes have decreased.”
A recent study in the journal, The Lancet, found that about 500,000 people die from heat every year, whereas cold kills about 4.5 million. Global warming, on the whole, may be decreasing deaths from temperature extremes. Also important to note, according to the International Disaster Database, deaths from all climate-related natural disasters are at historic lows.
The Guardian newspaper characterized the IPCC report as judging the human race to be full of carbon-spewing sinners who are “guilty as hell” of committing “climate crimes of humanity.” There’s absolutely no such language anywhere in the report.
The IPCC’s latest report blames about 1.1 degrees Celsius of global surface temperature increases on CO2 emissions. The report expresses a high degree of confidence that the increase in temperatures is faster in the past 50 years than the planet has seen at any period in the previous 2,000 years.
Global warming is real, and it’s a problem. Nothing in the report disputes this, and it’s confirmed with more certainty than ever. However, contrary to alarmists’ claims, nothing in the report suggests the world is coming to an end.
The report lays out five different scenarios for the future, which it calls “shared socioeconomic pathways.” These involve assumptions about economic and population growth, as well as how much CO2 we’ll put into the atmosphere over the next century.
Much of the reporting in the national media focuses on two scenarios that show temperatures rising 3.5 to 4.5 degrees by 2101. Warming of that level would be a gargantuan problem, but it’s important to understand these two scenarios — which the IPCC refers to as “business as usual” models — are also the most implausible of the five.
Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, and Glen P. Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research, argued in an article in Nature that these “business as usual” scenarios should be labeled unlikely, worst-case scenarios. The authors warn that overstating the likelihood of extreme climate impacts makes mitigation seem harder than it actually is, which undermines our ability to address the problem effectively.
These scenarios are implausible because they assume an increase in CO2 emissions that doesn’t reflect current trends. For example, this pathway in the latest IPCC report predicts the human race in 100 years will be burning five times more coal than we are today. We saw coal production peak eight years ago, and these worse-case scenarios are based on older trends.
Environmental researchers Roger Pielke Jr., Matthew Burgess and Justin Ritchie analyzed the IPCC’s emission scenarios and found that 71% of the most plausible scenarios estimate warming between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. The median was 2.2 degrees.
In July, Pielke and Ritchie wrote in Issues in Science and Technology of a trend in climate science to use distorted scenarios, which they argue undermines properly informed policymaking. It leads to the kind of thinking seen in the highly misguided Green New Deal, which aims to force everyone to rely on weather-dependent energy sources, such as wind and solar, almost entirely for their energy. As any farmer will tell you, weather is not something you want to place bets on. When your energy depends on the weather, you can expect to be without it when you need it the most. Ultimately, such an approach to addressing climate change will necessitate enormous sacrifices.
Consider proposals by a team of European researchers led by University of Leeds sustainability researcher Jefim Vogel. In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — 0.4 more degrees above the current level — the researchers estimate that Americans will have to use 90% less energy and families of four will have to live in houses no larger than 640 square feet.
Each person would have an allotment of no more than 7,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which is about the same amount the average citizen of Bolivia uses. Currently, the average American consumption is about 80,000 kilowatt hours annually, and no developed country has energy use rates close to what the authors propose.
Surprisingly, these findings don’t lead them to reconsider if limiting energy consumption is a feasible solution to climate change. Spurred on by the need to avoid a climate apocalypse, the authors argue that we need a “more fundamental transformation of the political-economic regime” to achieve these goals.
When policymakers are informed primarily by unrealistic worst-case scenarios, to the exclusion of any data that challenges them, you end up with panicked, unworkable, unrealistic and financially infeasible proposals. They’re really good at generating debates and political stalemates, but terrible at solving problems. This kind of unmitigated alarm has far more influence over policy making than those who believe climate change is a hoax, which is simply not true, and so it’s really the alarmists who are preventing us from finding real solutions to the problem.
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