Even as anti-gas tax riots raged in France this week, the naturalist David Attenborough warned a crowd at a United Nations climate change summit in Poland that the “collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” UN General Assembly President Maria Espinosa told the media that “mankind” was “in danger of disappearing” if climate change is allowed to progress at its current rate.
Speakers, who flew in to swap doomsday stories and partake of the meat-heavy menu, advocated for radical changes to avoid this imminent environmental apocalypse. These days, “the point of no return” is almost always in view, yet always just out of reach.
Sorry, but by now, this rhetoric is familiar. You can go back to 1970, when Harvard biologist George Wald, riding a wave of popular environmental panic during the decade, estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
Or you can go back to 1977, when President Barack Obama’s future science “tsar” John Holdren co-authored a book with Paul R. Ehrlich predicting that global warming could lead to the deaths of 1 billion starving people by 2020. (The authors theorized that “population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution.”)
Or you can go back to 2006, when Al Gore warned in his Oscar-winning documentary that sea levels would rise by 20 feet “in the near future.” The producers even offered chilling depictions of cities underwater. Gore was only off by around 20 feet, or so. Anyway, South Beach is still with us.
The problem for alarmists is that warming is now here—allegedly, the cause of an untold number of disasters, small and large—yet somehow humanity slogs onward, living longer, safer, richer lives. People internalize this reality, no matter what they tell pollsters.
At a big 2005 conference of concerned climate scientists and politicians in London, attendees warned that the world had as little as 10 years before it reached “the point of no return on global warming.” They warned that humans would soon be grappling with “widespread agricultural failure,” “major droughts,” “increased disease,” “the death of forests,” and the “switching-off of the North Atlantic Gulf Stream,” among many other terrible calamities.
Who knows, maybe one day humanity will be ravaged by new diseases due to a rise in temperature. Right now, though, we are on the cusp of eradicated diseases like “polio, Guinea worm, yaws, Carrion’s disease, hookworm, lymphatic filariasis, measles, ovine rinderpest, pork tape worm, river blindness, rubella, syphilis.”
There is new hope that all mosquito-borne diseases might be one day be eradicated, that a cure for AIDS might be within reach, and, perhaps, a vaccine might cut Alzheimer’s disease cases in half. Cancer survival rates have soared.
So perhaps in some far-flung era, humans will be toiling in a dystopian world of “widespread agricultural failure,” as alarmists have been warning for many decades, but trends do not look promising for the Chicken Littles. Since 2005, humans have seen a spike in the use of genetically modified crops, as well as advances in heat-resistant crops, which has led to booming yields in agriculture. According to the UN, there are 200 million fewer hungry people in 2015 than there were in 1990.
Although not as big as the massive spike in climate-change hysterics since 2005, there also been a spike in fossil fuel consumption among nations that are slowly embracing the most effective poverty-killing program ever invented by man. And capitalism, even its worst iterations, runs best on cheap energy. This reality has produced a giant reduction of poverty, the extreme variety being cut in half around the world, according to the World Bank. The less poverty there is, the more cars we will see, and the less the US or Europe can do about it.
Fortunately, Attenborough, Gore, and the 22,000 delegates attending the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention can’t begin to contemplate the staggering number of advancements in productivity and science that await humans.
Of course, simply because Malthusians have been completely wrong about human ingenuity and adaptability for more than 100 years doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong now. On the other hand, at no point in history has a massive top-down social engineering project ever worked as intended. It’s worth noting, for example, that the 10 worst famines of the 20th century weren’t caused by the excesses of capitalism or by environmental disasters but by collectivists trying to control human nature (or to thin out the population).
It’s unsurprising that a recent study published in Nature Climate Change found that environmentalists would likely cause more hunger than climate change itself—which neatly sums up the problem with most of the climate change agenda (hat tip, Bjorn Lomborg.)
Tradeoffs: Ignored by doomsdayers since the beginning of history. No matter what they tell pollsters, on an intuitive level, people understand them.
Just ask former president Barack Obama. During a recent forum, he argued that the United States could use “off-the-shelf existing technologies” and “reduce carbon emissions by, let’s say, 30 percent” and “it’s not like we’d have to go back to caves and live off fire.” Yet, in the midst of all this wishful thinking, Obama bragged about his record on fossil fuel expansion. “And by the way, American energy production,” he added, “you wouldn’t always know it, but it went up every year I was president. And you know that whole suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer … that was me, people.”
It’s true that a large part of the economic growth experienced under the Obama administration was propelled by affordable fossil fuel energy — certainly not his clean energy subsides. If Democrats had their way, Americans would be living under a cap-and-trade policy scheme — a program designed to increase the cost of energy by creating false demand in a fabricated market.
It’s never really been about believing man-made global warming exists. It’s about believing that climate change will do more harm than a bunch of technocrats with coercive power trying to mitigate it.
Europeans already have to deal with many of these schemes. But if we’re really living in an age of populism and nationalism, what makes the left believe that its climate-change agenda, perhaps the most technocratic and global project ever conceived, is viable? What in the trajectory of contemporary European or American politics leads anyone to believe that the average Westerner will be interested in footing the bill for China’s or India’s complete transition into modernity over the next, at least, 30 years? How long can fearmongering keep people in check?
“Protesters,” the Associated Press reported this week, “angry about rising taxes and the high cost of living clashed with French riot police.” Although they’ve done their best, the media couldn’t conceal the fact that the violent unrest was initially sparked by people angered by Emmanuel Macron’s hike of gas taxes that were aimed to “minimize France’s reliance on fossil fuels.” Since then, various angry groups may have joined the riots, but the violence didn’t really abate until Macron lifted the gas tax (which seems like a way to incentivize people to riot in the future, but that’s another story).
At the same time this was going on, delegates are meeting in Poland—a nation where more than 85 percent of electricity is generated in coal-fired power plants—so that signees of the Paris Agreement could iron out how they would reach their own emissions-reducing pledges. The United States, which exited the deal Obama entered without congressional approval, has already matched the carbon emission reductions of the European Union since 2005. Most of it is attributable to increased natural gas use for electricity generation, not another giant gas tax or carbon scheme or any radical top-down technocracy that controls the lives of average men and women, purposefully stifles economic growth, and destroys wealth.
We didn’t even have to riot.