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Happy Earth Day

What is most striking about the “E”nvironmental “movement” is the reaction of members to good news. I’ve never, ever, ever, ever been around someone who responds to good news with such … anger … and disappointment. Seriously, show an “E”nvironmentalist something like these, and the tendency is to say the data are cooked, or to say, “well, that’s just air quality, we’re going to boil the planet anyway.” It’s not even ironic, but disappointing, that the community of “E”nvironmentalists has coined the term “denier” to describe Global Warming skeptics (ironically without understanding what people are skeptical about), but are almost religiously unable to examine data on life expectancy, calories consumed, quality of air and water, resource availability and at least recognize that there is a little disconnect between their rhetoric and reality.  

In any event, since it is a requirement to talk about Global Warming on this holiest of holy days, let me make one of my positions on the topic very clear. In my reading of the science and economics, global warming is very real and has some very serious tail risk. But it is just not the case that global warming is an environmental economic problem that is particularly worth worrying about.

One way to think of this is to actually ask about all of the risks that global warming is thought to exacerbate, and ask the following question (and demand that “E”nvironmentalists answer it, and you will get our favorite animal): “yes,I absolutely understand that global warming is thought to do ______, but then please tell me, where on the list of threats to ______ does global warming rank? I ask this all the time when it comes to groundwater and fracking and get crickets time and time again. Sure, fracking is thought to contaminate water sources, but where on the list of threats to water sources does fracking rank, and how does “banning fracking” place with other solutions to cleaning up the water? Similarly, suppose you are supremely concerned about species extinction (and can clarify for us why, exactly, you are concerned, do you know how land use has changed over time? Will you tell us about how land conversion for agriculture has an impact on species extinctions as compared to the hypothetical impact global warming is supposed to have on it? This says NOTHING AT ALL about whether you believe in or do not believe in global warming. Despite this fact, yes fact, merely asking such questions gets one labeled a “denier.” All serious “science” is asking here is to consider the important factors that contribute to extinctions, and then rank where global warming falls with the others. Is it even possible that global warming is not at the top of the list? 

Here is an example of what I mean, from a paper I am perusing for my Environmental Economics class prep:

The demand for accurate forecasting of the effects of global warming on biodiversity is growing, but current methods for forecasting have limitations. In this article, we compare and discuss the different uses of four forecasting methods: (1) models that consider species individually, (2) niche-theory models that group species by habitat (more specifically, by environmental conditions under which a species can persist or does persist), (3) general circulation models and coupled ocean–atmosphere–biosphere models, and (4) species–area curve models that consider all species or large aggregates of species. After outlining the different uses and limitations of these methods, we make eight primary suggestions for improving forecasts. We find that greater use of the fossil record and of modern genetic studies would improve forecasting methods. We note a Quaternary conundrum: While current empirical and theoretical ecological results suggest that many species could be at risk from global warming, during the recent ice ages surprisingly few species became extinct. The potential resolution of this conundrum gives insights into the requirements for more accurate and reliable forecasting. Our eight suggestions also point to constructive synergies in the solution to the different problems.

In the paper you will see that in North America, only a SINGLE tree species is thought to have gone extinct during the last Ice Age (see Plumer below indicating how hard it is going to be to adapt) … though large mammals did face more serious extinction pressures (I suppose we are among them),

The economic impacts of “doing nothing” are not going to be very serious or all that hard to deal with, and totally irrespective of the benefits and costs of “doing something” about it now, if you think about doing triage about the kinds of “tail risk” we ought to be really paying attention to, I am not at all convinced that “global climate change” makes it anywhere near the top of the list. There is certainly going to be a very hard case to be made that nuclear proliferation, the prospect of world war and civil wars, for example, are even in the same league as global warming. Indeed, take the global warming reports from the IPCC seriously and make a list of the things people expect will happen. Ask how hard it really is to deal with those things. Ask how scary and problematic those things are to the prospect of world war, to the amount of people who die because of antibiotic resistance, or who are victims of political crises in country after country after country. Not … in … the … same … league. 

If people were truly going to use Earth Day to “raise awareness” of things that threaten Mother Earth, you’d think there would be some actual triage on the things that really, really, really threaten the Earth. But no such thing is coming. 

UPDATE: here is the treat Vox has prepared for us today.

5 Responses to “Happy Earth Day”

  1. Alex says:

    “While current empirical and theoretical ecological results suggest that many species could be at risk from global warming, during the recent ice ages surprisingly few species became extinct.”
    Is it over-cynical to suggest that the answer to this ‘conundrum’ is that many of those who have produced the results are only too aware that there is a ‘right result’ and a ‘wrong result’ in career terms?

    • wintercow20 says:

      Yes, I think that is TOO cynical … I don’t believe there is a massive climate conspiracy, and I do think that popular writing on the science ought to be thought of separately from the actual science …

  2. Gabriel Wittenberg says:

    I will never get over the fact that these are almost always the same folks quoting Keynes, telling us that in the long run, we’re all dead. Not to mention the anti-humanistic element of these campaigns, realizing that the biggest emitters are third world countries that would have massive famines if energy prices were increased by wealthy, guilty “progressives” living in the upper east side of Manhattan. And if the poor starve, then I’m sure it’s because the capitalists were keeping prices artificially high, to say nothing of the impact taxes have on the price of goods!

  3. Harry says:

    Calling people Deniers is a dirty way to characterize skeptics, associating them with Holocaust Deniers. A recent Holocaust Denier is the former president of Iran, who welcomes the End of Days, as does his boss Ayatollah Kahmeni. Now there is a real environmental problem that will spin those wind turbines.

    Regarding Alex’s suggestion of a conspiracy, it has been there in front of us in the form of the Kyoto Treaty, put forth by the UN to transfer wealth from the US to more deserving Member Nations. Sure, not everyone employed by the IPCC has base motives, and some people believe that the system of baselines and a “market” for carbon credits will lead the world to the correct average temperature. However, the movers and shakers are after the money and the territory.

  4. Harry says:

    I would add that we skeptics call the enviro loonies “alarmists”, but we never say they are loony, or Holocaust Deniers. Maybe tree huggers.

    BTW, Steve Jobs’ software engineers substitutes jiggers for huggers when describing what one would do when hugging a tree.

    Readers should check out Speedmaster’s link to George Carlin, assuming they can take the off-color language, on the link on The Pretense of Knowledge.

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