Facts help counter expected climate spin
As temperatures warm and the annual Atlantic hurricane season approaches, you’re bound to be bombarded with reports about the dangers of climate change.
When you see, hear, or read these doom-and-gloom accounts in the weeks and months ahead, a recent analysis from Bjorn Lomborg might offer you comfort.
President of a European think tank known as the Copenhagen Consensus Center and former director of Denmark’s official Environmental Assessment Institute, Lomborg has made waves in the environmental movement for more than two decades. His 2001 book “The Skeptical Environmentalist” argued that many of the world’s most feared environmental challenges had been overhyped.
Now, 22 years later, Lomborg is conveying a similar message. “The global discussion about climate change has become quite hysterical,” Lomborg writes in the opening line of a 3,300-word article for the National Review Institute. It appears in NR’s April 17 issue.
A substantial majority of people in the developed world fear climate change. “Some 60% of people living in the rich world think it is likely to bring an end to humanity,” Lomborg explains. “This is not only untrue; it is also harmful, because fear makes people embrace bad policies and ignore many other urgent challenges facing the world.”
It would be hard for those on the alarmist end of the climate debate to label Lomborg a “denier.” He states near the beginning of his latest work that climate change is both real and a “man-made phenomenon.” He concedes “it will have negative impacts overall.” He asserts boldly, “That’s a fact.”
Yet it doesn’t follow for Lomborg that climate change’s negative impact supports what he labels a “catastrophe narrative.” That narrative ignores another key fact: “98% percent fewer people are dying from climate-related disasters today than did a century ago.”
Lomborg goes on to rebut key misleading arguments about the changing climate. Among them is the notion that almost any unusual piece of weather news must result from climate change.
“Hurricanes are a key part of this narrative,” he writes. “But that does not mean hurricanes are actually battering our coasts any more frequently than before, as is often implied or stated outright.”
“Indeed, the hurricanes of 2022 were close to unprecedented — but only in their weakness,” Lomborg explains. “Globally, 2022 had the second-weakest batch of hurricanes in the era of satellite data (beginning in 1980). It also had the fourth-fewest strong hurricanes (category 3 and above) in the same period and the eighth-fewest hurricanes overall.”
Hurricanes aren’t getting stronger, Lomborg adds, citing the fact that the “average energy per hurricane” has remained constant for at least the past 40 years.
Focus attention only on the United States, and the situation doesn’t appear any worse. Looking back to 1900, the frequency of hurricanes hitting our coastlines has not increased. “The best-fit line actually trends slightly downward.” Why do we seem to see more named storms in recent years? Lomborg cites improved technology that can detect even short-lived hurricanes that cause no damage.
Unlike many of his critics, Lomborg focuses on keeping a “sense of proportion” about the changing climate.
He accepts the United Nations Climate Panel’s prediction that the global proportion of strong hurricanes could double — from 10% to 20%. He also concedes that a richer world will have more property to damage in the future. “But richer societies are also more resilient and better able to protect lives and assets,” Lomborg writes.
So while hurricanes worldwide cause damage worth 0.04% of global GDP today, that percentage is likely to drop to 0.02% without any drastic action.
Speaking of drastic, Lomborg pokes holes in popular arguments about fighting climate change through renewable energy. Solar and wind power together account for less than 2% of the global energy supply. Plus, they are limited to electricity generation. Implementing all current political promises “will make the world only about 30% renewable by 2050.” Lomborg estimates that a 100% renewable energy scenario would have to wait for the latter part of the next century.
To meet current political goals for eliminating fossil fuels, “annual reduction by 2030 would have to be 11 times what we managed to achieve when the world ground to a halt during the Covid lockdowns. That is hardly realistic,” Lomborg concludes.
Much more realistic, in Lomborg’s view, is innovation. His think tank recommends spending $100 billion a year, a fivefold increase, on “green-R&D spending.” Such an investment could counteract the current neglect in that area “as campaigners and ‘green’ corporations have rushed to roll out inefficient technology — and get it subsidized by taxpayers,” he writes.
No one expects you to remember all this information as you hear the local weather forecaster or read the next newspaper op-ed linking a hurricane threat to dangerous climate change.
It’s enough to know that the doom-and-gloom narrative fails to tell the whole story.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.