Time magazine recently designated Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage wokescold, their Person of the Year for 2019. It really isn’t surprising: the title seems to have always been based on notoriety rather than merit: past designees have included Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Watching Greta’s speech at the United Nations, I could barely get through twenty seconds without bursting out in laughter. Perhaps she meant to be deadly serious, but it came across as overwrought and silly.
I’ve always been a bit skeptical about global warming, or climate change, or whatever they’re calling it this week. The basic premise—that human activity is putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural systems can take out—is beyond controversy.
But I’m skeptical about the effects. I can’t observe climate around the world, but I am aware of long-term trends where I live. I’m writing this on Christmas week, in New York City. The temperature outside is 48 degrees Fahrenheit, a little warmer than it has been in the past few days. Last week was right around freezing. About 15-20 years ago, it was warmer, with milder winters and several days each summer with high temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But in more recent years, the weather has become more like I remember it, with over-100-degree days being genuinely rare, every winter bringing snow and at least a week or two of temperatures close to zero, and mid- to late-December being right around freezing, like it is this month.
Nevertheless, it’s always fair to check one’s premises, and when my professional society made a presentation on the subject available, I checked it out. You can review it for yourself here.
My essential question for Greta Thunberg and all those who go around screaming about the ‘climate emergency’ is: what do you propose to do about it? Part of my skepticism is that climate change seems to be a pretext for Draconian government control of our lives.
The presentation had some useful insights, but they were very grim.
- Exxon, in the early 1980s, had endeavored to project future levels of carbon dioxide and global temperatures. Their projections have turned out to be accurate, nearly 40 years later. This answers another of my points of skepticism: there were many predictions in the 1980s that low-lying Pacific islands would be underwater today, but that hasn’t happened. But here is a prediction from the 1980s, by an entity with a business interest in accurate results (what will be the future market for their product?), that is coming to pass.
- Carbon emissions and global GDP (is it really a ‘domestic’ product when one is considering the entire world?) have moved in lock step for the last 50 years.
- Even on the level of households, there is a strong relationship between energy consumption and income.
- To meet the goals of the Paris climate accords, the world will have to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 7.6% per year in the short term.
- Doing so will mean that global GDP will have to necessarily shrink.
My wife and I could reasonably reduce our household’s emissions by 7.6%. This would mean (as a quick approximation) not only using 7.6% less energy at home, but traveling 7.6% fewer miles and eating 7.6% less. But if we must do it again and again over successive years, we will ultimately be starving in the dark!
And we’re doing pretty well in the world: for many, even a slight reduction in consumption would be a real hardship. Some countries and peoples simply can’t reduce consumption; others won’t.
It would be simpler if we would all just die.
In the recent Democratic debate, the candidates all insisted they would do something about climate change, although exactly what was still very fuzzy. But what will they do, if elected? What can they do?
Remediating the effects of climate change will be a vast project: it will entail implementing new sources of energy, building infrastructure to hold off flooding, and possibly relocating whole populations. Can our government do those things competently and even-handedly?
And if not, as seems likely, what would they do instead?