Last week the U.S. Senate properly killed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal 57–0.
Jonah Goldberg writes:
Imagine there’s a movie about a meteor heading toward Earth. It will be here in twelve years. Following Hollywood convention, once you got past the part where the maverick scientist or precocious kid discovering it struggles to convince the world about the threat, you’d expect the president or the military to leap into action.
Congress is usually left out of such plots, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that Congress would race to authorize a plan to send astronauts into space to prevent Armageddon or a planetary deep impact. (If you don’t believe me, I refer you to the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact.)
The initial rollout of the Green New Deal, a sweeping proposal to overhaul the U.S. economy and, taken seriously, society itself, was supposed to follow a script like this. The United Nations opened the bidding by announcing last year that we had twelve years to keep the pace of climate change from accelerating too fast to contain the damage. Like a high school game of telephone, this quickly became a blanket statement that we have “twelve years to save the planet.”
Climate change is a real concern, but if we did absolutely nothing to stop it, the planet would still be here in a dozen years. So would the human race and many other living things. In fact, if America did virtually everything the Green New Dealers propose, global emissions of greenhouse gases wouldn’t change that much unless China, India, Russia, and all the African nations followed suit.
There are people who nonetheless believe that climate change is a world-threatening calamity and that exaggeration is a necessary tool to galvanize public opinion. If you Google the phrase “twelve years to save the planet,” you’ll find people who think it’s literally true.
The problem is that we’ve heard these things before. In 1989, a U.N. official predicted “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.” In 2008, Al Gore warned that the northern polar ice cap could be gone in five years.
Melting polar ice is something to worry about, but it’s not gone.
The reasons this is a political problem for climate-change warriors should be obvious. First, they are their own worst enemy when it comes to maintaining credibility. By working on the theory that they have to scare the bejeebus out of the public, they made it easy for people to dismiss them when their Chicken Little prophecies didn’t materialize.
Another problem, which compounds the first, is that they get greedy. Working on the premise that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, progressives have a long record of trying to throw other items on their wish list into the anti-climate-change shopping cart. The Green New Deal, as presented by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), includes high-quality health care for everyone, guaranteed jobs, paid vacations, a living wage, and retirement security.
Indeed, it’s worth remembering that environmentalists targeted the fossil-fuel industry for early retirement long before concerns about global warming were on the agenda. The anti-oil campaign began with the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, back when concerns about another ice age were still taken seriously.
You can believe that climate change is a real problem and also be forgiven for thinking progressives are trying to pull a fast one. This is especially so when you consider that proponents of the GND also favor phasing out nuclear power, which could provide vastly more electricity than wind or solar (and more efficiently).
Which gets me back to where I started. Imagine there was a movie about an incoming meteor that could be stopped only with a nuclear warhead, and the heroes insisted that nuclear weapons are just too icky to use, even to save the planet. Audiences would scratch their heads.
They might also think they missed a crucial plot point if the protagonists proposed a sweeping government effort to stop the meteor and then, when given the opportunity to vote for it, voted “present” in protest. That’s similar to what happened this week. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell brought the Green New Deal to the floor for a vote, and Democrats refused to vote for it. Instead, they harangued McConnell for pulling a stunt.
Goldberg is too kind. Where, you might ask, did Ocasio-Cortez and her useful idiots (unless Ocasio-Cortez is herself a useful idiot) get this idea that would destroy this country’s economy, with Wisconsin’s economy collapsing first?
CFACT has the answer:
Did Obama science advisor Dr. John Holdren actually call for the American government to “de-develop” the U.S. and “reduce” its population?
Yes, he did. …
Holdren has tried to deny what he wrote, which has caused controversy and an ongoing war of words between the left-wing Media Matters and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. They call it a myth, but reading Holdren’s words in their full context, what does Media Matters think Holdren’s call for government to reduce population and de-develop means? It certainly smacks more of authoritarianism than voluntarism.
Do John Holdren and Barack Obama actually believe that other nations will throttle their economies to fall in line with the American example? If the lessons of the past are too remote for them to absorb, they can look to recent history. Everywhere that the Obama foreign and military policies have adopted weakness, other nations have seen not inspiration, but opportunity. If you don’t want to take our word for it, in today’s information age the people of Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria are but a phone call or email way.
A U.S. energy policy designed to replace efficient, affordable, abundant electricity with expensive alternatives incapable of providing for the needs of the American economy is foolish and self-destructive. It defies any rational cost-benefit analysis even when factored through the climate computer models which the administration wants us to accept on faith, and which so far have proved inaccurate. …
Read what John Holdren recommended as the “responsible” course for America’s future in his own words.
Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions includes this:
To recapitulate, we would outline the present world situation as follows:
1. Considering present technology and patterns of human behavior, our planet is grossly overpopulated. Between 2 and 3 billion people are not being properly cared for now. Under such circumstances, the contention of some that many more people can be easily and properly cared for in the near future is preposterous. When every human being has abundant and varied food, adequate clothing and shelter, first-rate medical care, ample educational opportunity, and freedom from war and tyranny, then perhaps consideration of whether more people can be given first-class accommodation on Spaceship Earth will be appropriate.
2. The large absolute number of people and the rate of population growth are themselves major hindrances to fulfilling the above-named needs of all of mankind.
3. The limits of human capability to produce food by conventional means have very nearly been reached. Problems of supply and distribution already have resulted in roughly half of humanity being undernourished or malnourished. As many as 10-20 million people are starving to death annually.
4. Attempts to increase food production further will tend to accelerate the deterioration of our environment, which in turn may eventually reduce the capacity of the Earth to produce food. It is not clear whether environmental decay has now gone so far as to be essentially irreversible; it is possible that [Page 278] the capacity of the planet to support human beings has been permanently impaired.
5. There is good reason to believe that population growth increases the probability of a lethalworldwide plague and of a thermonuclear war. Either could provide a catastrophic “death-rate solution” to the population problem; each is potentially capable of destroying civilization and even of driving Homo sapiens to extinction.
6. Perhaps more likely than extinction is the possibility that man will survive only to endure an existence barely recognizable as human-malnourished, beset by chronic disease, physically and emotionally impoverished, surrounded by the devastation wrought by an industrial civilization that could not cope with the results of its own biological and social folly.
7. There are no simple answers to these threats, no technological panaceas for the complex of problems comprising the population-food-environment crisis. Of course, technology, properly applied in such areas as pollution abatement, communications, and fertility control, can provide valuable assistance. But the essential solutions entail dramatic and rapid changes in human attitudes, especially those relating to reproductive behavior, economic growth, technology, the environment, and resolution of conflicts.
Recommendations: A Positive Program
Although our conclusions are necessarily rather pessimistic, we wish to emphasize our belief that the problems can be solved. Whether they will be solved is another question. A general course of action that we feel will have some chance of ameliorating the results of the current crisis is outlined below. Many of the suggestions will seem “unrealistic,” and indeed that is how we view them. But the world has been allowed to run downhill for so long that only idealistic and very far-reaching programs offer any hope for the future.
1 Population control is absolutely essential if the problems now facing mankind are to be solved. It is not, however, a panacea. If population growth were halted immediately, virtually all other human problems–poverty, racial tensions, urban blight, environmental decay, warfare-would remain. On the other hand, direct attacks on these problems will ultimately fail if the human population continues to grow. The situation is best summarized in the statement: “Whatever your cause, it’s a lost cause without population control.”
2 Political pressure must be applied immediately to induce the United States government to assume its responsibility to halt the growth of the American population. Once growth is halted,the government should undertake to influence the birth rate so that the population is reduced to an optimum size and maintained there. It is essential that a grassroots political movement be [Page 279]generated to convince our legislators and the executive branch of the government that they must act promptly. The program should be based on what politicians understand best-votes. Presidents, Congressmen, Senators, and other elected officials who do not deal effectively with the crisis must be defeated at the polls, and more intelligent and responsible candidates must be elected. It is unfortunate that at the time of the greatest crisis the United States and the world have ever faced, many Americans, especially the young, have given up hope that the government can be modernized and changed in direction through the functioning of the elective process. Their despair may have some foundation, but we see no choice but to launch a prolonged and determined attempt to wrest control of the political system from the special interests which now run it and to turn it over to the people.
3 A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States. De-development means bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with the realities of ecology and the global resource situation. Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses in overdeveloped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries. This effort must be largely political, especially with regard to our overexploitation of world resources, but the campaign should be strongly supplemented by legal and boycott action against polluters and others whose activities damage the environment. The need for de–development presents our economists with a major challenge. They must design a stable, low–consumption economy in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth than in the present one. Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being.
4 Once the United States has clearly started on the path of cleaning up its own mess, it can then turn its attention to the problems of the de–development of the other DCs, population control, and ecologically feasible development of the UDCs. It must use every peaceful means at its disposal to persuade the Soviet Union and other DCs to join the effort, in line with the general proposals of Lord Snow and Academician Sakharov.
5 Perhaps the major necessary ingredient that has been missing from a solution to the problems of both the United States and the rest of the world is a goal, a vision of the kind of Spaceship Earth that ought to be and the kind of crew that should man her. Society has always had its visionaries who talked of love, beauty, peace, and plenty. But somehow the “practical” men have always been there to praise smog as a sign of progress, to preach “just” wars, and to restrict love while giving hate free rein. It must be one of the greatest ironies of the history of the human species that the only salvation for the practical men now lies in what they think of as the dreams of idealists. The question now is: can the self-proclaimed “realists” be persuaded to face reality in time?
“What if I told you there was a paper on climate change that was so uniquely catastrophic, so perspective-altering, and so absolutely depressing that it’s sent people to support groups and encouraged them to quit their jobs and move to the countryside?” asks reporter Zing Tsjeng over at Vice. She is citing Cumbria University Professor of Sustainability Leadership Jem Bendell’s “Deep Adaptation” paper, which asserts that man-made climate change will result in “a near-term collapse in society with serious ramifications for the lives of readers.” How near-term? In about 10 years or so.
Bendell says that he came to his dire prediction while on a recent unpaid sabbatical during which he “reviewed the scientific literature from the past few years.” He asserts that “the summary of science is the core of the paper as everything then flows from the conclusion of that analysis.” As a consequence, he claims to have discerned from his reading of recent climate science the initiation of drastic non-linear effects that are quickly leading to “runaway climate change.” Therefore, his review forced him to “establish the premise that it is time we consider the implications of it being too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe in the lifetimes of people alive today.” Bendell seems now to be grappling with a kind of spiritual crisis as a result of his melancholy study.
How catastrophic? “When I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life,” he writes. “With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.”
Bendell decries “professional environmentalists [for] their denial that our societies will collapse in the near-term” and invites readers “to consider the value of leaving mainstream views behind.” But is Bendell’s reading of the recent climate science accurate? My own review of the literature suggests that he has essentially constructed a “parade of horribles” argument that falls apart under a more dispassionate analysis. Bendell anticipates that some critics will reject his grim conclusions by resorting to what he calls unwarranted and psychologically protective “collapse-denial.”
While trying to avoid the “collapse-denial” pitfall, a review of the most recent scientific literature suggests that while climate change will pose significant problems for humanity over the remainder of this century, near-term social collapse due to runaway climate change is unlikely.
Bendell does report the relatively uncontroversial data that average global surface temperatures have increased by 0.9°C since 1880 and that 17 of the 18 warmest years in that record have all occurred since 2001. The State of the Climate in 2017 report issued last year by the American Meteorological Society cites weather balloon and satellite datasets indicating that, since 1979, the increase of global average temperature in the lower troposphere is proceeding at the rate of between 0.13°C and 0.19°C per decade. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, the rate of temperature increase since 1975 as measured by thermometers at the surface is roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade. The State of the Climate in 2017 report also notes that climate models assessed by Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) projected that the lower troposphere should be warming at the rate of 0.27°C per decade.
Reconciling the discrepancy between the rates of empirical and modeled temperature increase will depend on what equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) turns out to be. ECS is conventionally defined as how much warming can be expected to result from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. There is still considerable debate among climate researchers about the magnitude of this figure.
A 2018 article in Climate Dynamics calculated a relatively low climate sensitivity of range of between 1.1°C and 4.05°C (median 1.87°C). Another 2018 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres estimated a higher ECS that is likely between 2.4°C and 4.6°C (median 3.3°C). The study noted that its analysis “provides no support for low values of ECS (below 2°C)” suggested by other analyses such as the one in Climate Dynamics. The higher that ECS is, the more likely the models’ rate of increase is right and the worse the effects of climate change are liable to be.
Bendell is particularly concerned about the rate of warming in the Arctic. He correctly observes that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average. Between the 1920s and the 1940s, a large warming event occurred in the Arctic. Researchers have concluded that that increase was most likely the result of natural internal atmospheric variability. While early 20th century Arctic warming was comparable to the recent 30-year warming, the temperature levels during the past five years (2014–18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900.
As a result of warming temperatures, the extent of arctic sea ice has been falling since 1980 at the rate of 12.8 percent per decade. Some recent research suggests that Arctic warming is affecting weather patterns in the northern hemisphere such as polar vortex outbreaks in the mid-latitudes.
Bendell chiefly hangs his prognostication of “our near-term extinction” on the “permafrost carbon bomb” hypothesis. The idea is that lots of carbon is trapped in the Arctic permafrost and in subsea methane hydrates, and that warming will produce a feedback loop in which carbon will be exponentially released into the atmosphere. Adding Arctic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is bad enough, but rising temperatures will purportedly cause the non-linear release of vast amounts of methane which has a global warming potential that is 28 to 36 times greater than carbon dioxide.
In support of this dire scenario, Bendell points to a 2013 report in Nature that conjectured that warming could lead to a burp of 50-gigatons of methane over less than 10 years out of the Arctic Ocean. The result would be an immediate increase of global temperatures by about 5°C at a cost to the global economy of $60 trillion. The size of the global economy was then about $70 trillion. Rather than merely cratering the global economy, such a methane burp might also result in our extinction.
So how worried should we be? Bendell handwaves aside numerous more current scientific reviews and studies that conclude that a permafrost carbon bomb is implausible. One comprehensive 2017 review of sources and sinks of methane reported that “atmospheric measurements at long-term monitoring stations show no significant increase of Arctic methane emissions. This suggests that at present, Arctic emission increases are negligible or small in absolute terms.”
Bendell instead speculates that recent increases in atmospheric methane indicate that a nonlinear Arctic methane catastrophe that could result in “our near-term extinction” is in the offing. As evidence, he cites a recent experiment in which German researchers monitored chunks of melting permafrost for seven years and found that they did emit more than expected amounts of methane. Based on this experiment, the researchers calculate that “the permafrost soils of Northern Europe, Northern Asia and North America could produce up to 1 gigaton of methane and 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2100.” That’s 1 gigaton of methane over 80 years, not 50 gigatons in 10 years. And as it happens, human activity emitted 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2018, which means that Arctic permafrost thawing would add just a bit over 1 percent to annual carbon dioxide emissions between now and 2100.
In addition, a 2017 Nature Communications study traces the increases in atmospheric levels of methane that Bendell references not to permafrost, but instead to a combination of leaks from fossil fuel production and higher emissions from agriculture and wetlands. A 2019 Scientific Reports modeling study finds that abating man-made methane emissions would “limit methane-caused climate warming by 2100 even in the case of an uncontrolled natural Arctic methane emission feedback.” It appears that “our near-term extinction” from a detonating permafrost carbon bomb is highly unlikely.
Other than the trends in the Arctic region, Bendell asserts that humanity is already seeing the impacts of global warming on storms, drought, and flood frequencies. Climate change is also set to dramatically reduce harvests resulting in global famines. He further asserts that half of the world’s coral reefs have died in the past 30 years and that rising temperature is causing an exponential rise in mosquito and tickborne illnesses.
Let’s take storms first. In a 2018 study, researchers associated with the Global Precipitation Climatology Project reported that global precipitation increased between 1979 and 2017 by 0.33 percent per decade, for an overall increase of about 1 percent. Interestingly another 2018 study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) reported, “The take-home message from our study using the new 33+ years of high-resolution global precipitation dataset is that there seems not to be any detectable and significant positive trends in the amount of global precipitation due to the now well-established increasing global temperature. While there are regional trends, there is no evidence of increase in precipitation at the global scale in response to the observed global warming.”
While the global trend toward more precipitation is small, meteorologists have found that there has been a significant increase in the frequency of more intense rainstorms. “On a global scale, the observational annual-maximum daily precipitation has increased by an average of 5.73 millimeters (0.23 inch) over the last 110 years, or 8.5 percent in relative terms,” reported a 2015 study.
Tropical cyclones are the most damaging type of storms. Most climate models project that as temperatures rise there will be fewer but bigger hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones. The MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel reports a significant global increase since 1980 in all storms with maximum wind speeds above 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles per hour). Storms of 200 km/h (125 mph) and more have doubled in number, and those of 250 km/h (155 mph) and more have tripled. Climatologist Ryan Maue tracks global tropical cyclone activity and he also finds that while the number of cyclones has been declining since 1980, the trend toward bigger storms has been slightly increasing. While cyclones generate dangerous coastal storm surges, the good news is that global mortality from storm surges has been decreasing since the 1960s.
Storm surges from cyclones will likely become more damaging as water from melting glaciers and ice caps on land drains into the oceans and increase average sea level. A 2018 BAMS article notes that sea level rise is accelerating at 0.084 millimeters per year. On top of the current rate of 3 millimeters per year, this implies an average rise of about 20 inches by 2100. Between 1880 and 2015, sea level rose by almost 9 inches.
Using a worst-case climate scenario in which no efforts were made to reduce future warming, a 2018 study in Earth’s Future projected that sea level would rise by 2 and half feet by 2100. The researchers estimated that that increase would globally expand the area of land located in the 1-in-100 year coastal flood plain from its current area of about 210,000 square miles, to 290,000 square miles in 2100. The percent of the global population threatened by coastal flooding would rise (in the worst case scenario) from 3.6 percent now to about 5.4 percent by 2100.
A 2018 study in Global Environmental Change, this one also evaluating the economic effects of projected sea level increases ranging from 1 to 6 feet by 2100, concluded that it would be cost effective to invest in the protection of just 13 percent of the global coastline, thus safeguarding 90 percent of the global coastal floodplain population and 96 percent of assets in the global coastal floodplain. If these projections are approximately correct, addressing sea level rise will be costly, but it does not portend near-term societal collapse.
One might expect that more intense rainstorms should result in more flooding, but a 2017 study investigating maximum streamflow trends around the globe in the Journal of Hydrology found that there were more streamflow measuring “stations with significant decreasing trends than significant increasing trends across all the datasets analysed, indicating that limited evidence exists for the hypothesis that flood hazard is increasing.”
Another 2018 study in Water Resource Research reported that “flood magnitudes are decreasing despite widespread claims by the climate community that if precipitation extremes increase, floods must also.” The explanations for declining flood magnitudes include the possibility that soils now tend to be drier and so absorb more water, and that intense rainstorms–while more frequent–are geographically smaller, thus inundating less area. On the other hand, the Dartmouth Flood Observatory reports that the annual number of large floods increased from about 50 in the mid-1980s to around 200 in the early 2000s, and have fallen a bit since.
The opposite of flooding is drought. Is man-made global warming having an effect on the global prevalence of drought? A 2012 study in Nature concluded that “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.” A 2014 study in Nature Climate Change, however, suggested that “increased heating from global warming may not cause droughts but it is expected that when droughts occur they are likely to set in quicker and be more intense.” A 2015 study in Earth and Space Science found that the percent of global land area subject to drought has not changed since 1901, even though global evaporation rates and temperatures have increased. The authors suggest that increased precipitation may have counteracted a global trend toward more drought.
Whatever the trend in floods, droughts, and storms, the fact is that the global death rate due to natural disasters has fallen steeply over the past century, from about 24 per 100,000 annually in the 1920s to below 1 per year in the 2010s. This is remarkable considering that world population has quadrupled over that period, and it obviously cuts against Bendell’s dismal prognostications that humanity will be unable to successfully adapt to climate change.
Bendell asserts that “we are already in the midst of dramatic changes that will impact massively and negatively on agriculture within the next twenty years.” These impacts are supposedly already inducing the “sense of near-term disruption to our ability to feed ourselves and our families.” When contemplating Bendell’s prophecies of imminent agricultural collapse, everyone should keep in mind that cereal and livestock production have both nearly quadrupled since 1961 even as average global temperatures have risen.
In support of his claims that global famine triggered by climate change looms, Bendell references a couple of modeling studies that condescendingly suggest that farmers will essentially do nothing to adapt to climate change. But that’s not correct. For example, farmers in the U.S. and Canada are now taking advantage of the fact that the cornbelt is shifting northward due to warming temperatures.
Oddly, as evidence of impending famine, Bendell cites a 2015 Environmental Research Letter socioeconomic modeling study that actually finds that without climate change grain yields in 2050 would be between 65 and 55 percent higher than they were in 2005. With climate change, depending on the scenario, yields would be only be 45 to 60 percent greater. This is well within a 2017 BioScience study’s projection of a global food demand increase by 2050 that ranges between 25 to 70 percent above current global production.
In any case, many researchers find that agriculture can continue to produce more food while simultaneously adapting to future climate change. For example, a 2017 policy report for the European Commission found that “the impact of climate change on agricultural production in 2050 is negative but relatively small at the aggregated global level.” Remarkably, that study reported that efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector by, for example, increasing the prices of fuel and fertilizer, would have a bigger negative impact on agricultural production than would climate change.
Coral reefs occupy less than one quarter of one percent of our oceans, but they’re home to an estimated 25 percent of all marine species. Bendell correctly observes that coral bleaching due to rising average temperatures in the tropical oceans is increasing. When water temperatures get too hot, corals expel their symbiotic algae and that deprives them of nourishment. The BAMS State of the Climate 2017 report noted that mass coral bleaching has historically occurred when ocean temperatures rose during El Niño events in 1983, 1998, and 2010. However, an unprecedented 36-month ocean heatwave in 2014 to 2017 affected 75 percent of Earth’s tropical reefs, and at nearly 30 percent of reefs, it reached mortality level. Mass bleaching used to occur once every 25–30 years in the 1980s, but now mass bleaching returns about every six years and is expected to further accelerate.
Clearly reefs are suffering from the heat, but some recent research hints that they are adapting to cope with rising temperatures. A 2019 global analysis of coral bleaching over the past two decades in Nature Communications reports that “in the last decade, the onset of coral bleaching has occurred at significantly higher sea surface temperatures (∼0.5 °C) than in the previous decade.” The researchers suggest that individuals of various coral species that are especially liable to bleach when temperatures warm “may have declined and/or adapted such that the remaining coral populations now have a higher thermal threshold for bleaching.” In other words, corals appear to be evolving to withstand higher temperatures.
“In some regions we are witnessing an exponential rise in the spread of mosquito and tick-borne viruses as temperatures become more conducive to them,” writes Bendell. He cites a 2018 European Commission report evaluating the impact of climate change on the rates of viral disease chiefly spread by mosquitoes. All things being equal, the report notes that the range of two disease carrying mosquito species—Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus—are likely to expand as the global temperatures rise. These two especially vexatious species transmit Zika, dengue, and Chikungunya viruses. Climate change will eventually enable these species to expand their ranges, concurred a 2019 modeling study in Nature Microbiology, but “in the next 5 to 15 years, the models predict that spread of both species will be driven by human movement, rather than environmental changes.”
While certainly burdensome, the mortality rates for Zika, dengue, and chikungunya are low. So even implausibly assuming that no progress at all is made in controlling these pests and the diseases they transmit, their spread does not threaten near-term human extinction.
Fortunately, progress is being made on vaccines for each of these (and many other) vector-borne illnesses. In addition, biotechnologists are developing techniques that can either prevent mosquitoes from carrying pathogens or eliminate the pests from the landscape altogether. Similar biotech interventions are being developed to control diseases spread by other vectors as well. As a result, the role of climate change will decreasingly figure as a factor in determining human exposure to vector-borne illnesses.
Bendell acknowledges that some researchers have suggested developing geoengineering as an emergency backup plan for cooling down the planet in case global warming runs faster than current projections suggest. But he dismisses it as a potential way to ameliorate climate change because he thinks that its unpredictability will prevent its deployment. This objection will not hold if most people think that rapidly rising temperatures is about to cause global social collapse. As it happens, a 2019 Nature Climate Change study, “Halving warming with idealized solar geoengineering moderates key climate hazards,” by Harvard engineer Peter Irvine and colleagues, finds that spreading sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to reduce average temperatures by about half the amount temperatures would increase if atmospheric carbon doubled would not likely destabilize current weather patterns.
“It would not be unusual to feel a bit affronted, disturbed, or saddened by the information and arguments I have just shared,” observes Bendell in his discussion of “systems of denial.” Such climate collapse denialism, he argues, is rooted in mixture of wishful thinking, paternalistic efforts to protect the public from despairing, and the refusal to accept our powerlessness to stop climate doom. Collapse denialism is further buttressed by the norms of scientific understatement, the natural psychological resistance to thinking about death, and the institutional positive problem-solving emphases of non-profit, private, and governmental organizations.
Bendell suggests that many people accept much of the data about climate change that he reports, but choose to interpret them in a way that makes them ‘safer’ to their personal psychologies. This, he asserts, amounts to a form of “interpretative denial.” On the other hand, Bendell admits he has “chosen to interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction.” Thus it would seem that his predictions of imminent civilizational collapse are the consequence of a form of “interpretative confirmation.”
Recall that Bendell asserts that “the summary of science is the core of the paper as everything then flows from the conclusion of that analysis.” If his reading of current climate science is faulty or biased, then, so too, are his arguments. My reading of the recent scientific literature finds that while man-made climate change is a significant and growing problem, it does not portend, as argued by Bendell, imminent massive social collapse and the possibility of near-term human extinction.
That being the case, I must conclude, that as well-meaning as he may be, Bendell is engaging in “apocalypse abuse.” Like earlier practitioners of that suspect craft, Bendell operates chiefly by extrapolating only the most horrendous trends, while systematically ignoring any ameliorating or optimistic ones, offering worst-case scenarios in the guise of balanced presentations.
Bendell writes that the impending end of the world has caused him to reevaluate his work choices. He muses that “in order to let oneself evolve in response to the climate tragedy one may have to quit a job—and even a career.” Way back in 1971, overpopulation doomster Paul Ehrlich similarly told Look magazine, “When you reach a point where you realize further efforts will be futile, you may as well look after yourself and your friends and enjoy what little time you have left. That point for me is 1972.” Forty-eight years later, Ehrlich is still predicting an imminent ecological apocalypse and I suspect that Bendell will be doing the same thing in the year 2065.
In his paper Bendell does lamely observe, “We do not know if the power of human ingenuity will help sufficiently to change the environmental trajectory we are on.” Maybe not, but it’s a far better bet than is his concocted case for collapse fatalism.