By Jonah Goldberg
Friday, July 14, 2017
One of the hallmarks of the “Ugly American” is the habit of thinking foreigners will understand what you’re saying if just shout it louder and louder.
The Ugly Environmentalist does something similar. He exaggerates the challenge of global warming by using ever more hysterical rhetoric, thinking that if the last doomsday prediction didn’t work, this one will.
For instance, Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist, recently said that the consequences of Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord were monumental: “Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees (Celsius), and raining sulfuric acid.”
As Nathan Cofnas notes in the Weekly Standard, this is nuts. The share of the atmosphere taken up by that vile gas carbon dioxide (which just happens to sustain all plant life) is 400 parts per million. It’s been much higher than that in the past without boiling the oceans or raining acid from the sky. Cofnas also mentions that Venus is nearly 26 million miles closer to the sun, and that the share of carbon dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere is 965,000 parts per million, or about 2,412 times greater than Earth’s.
And that’s Hawking, a serious scientist (at least in his own field). Journalists, always looking for novelty and drama, can be worse. A recent New York magazine cover story on climate change assured readers that all of the previous climate-change alarmism was too tepid. Basically, by the end of the century, the living will envy the dead and much of the planet will be uninhabitable or a reenactment of a Mad Max movie.
To the credit of some journalists and climate scientists, the New York magazine article got considerable pushback, even from normally alarmist Penn State professor Michael Mann.
Rachel Becker, a science writer, had a good take as well. Research shows that “scare tactics can backfire when people put up their psychological defenses against the threatening information,” Becker wrote at The Verge, “rather than defending against the threat itself.”
That’s true. The more you sound like some cowbell-wielding street preacher wearing a sandwich board that says “The End Is Nigh!” the more likely it is that people will ignore you. Particularly if your last few terrifying predictions didn’t pan out.
But this focus on how using scare tactics doesn’t persuade skeptics overlooks another problem. What about the people it does persuade? If you honestly believe that climate change will end all life on earth (it won’t) or lead to some dystopian hell where we use the skulls of our former friends and neighbors to collect water droplets from cacti, what policies wouldn’t you endorse to stop it?
There’s a rich school of journalistic and academic nonsense out there about how democracy may not be up to the job of fighting climate change, and why people who question climate change must be silenced by the state. It’s remarkable how many of the people who rightly recoil in horror at the idea of using, say, the war on terror to justify curtailing civil liberties have no such response when someone floats similar ideas for the war on climate change.
The environment editor for the left-wing British newspaper the Guardian, Damian Carrington, recently wrote a piece fretting about how having kids doesn’t help fight climate change. Jill Filipovic, a feminist writer, endorsed the article. “Having children is one of the worst things you can do for the planet,” she wrote on Twitter. “Have one less and conserve resources.”
I found this interestingly dumb. Filipovic is precisely one of those writers you’d expect to go ballistic if some conservative Christian opined about the reproductive choices women should make. But if it’s in the name of the environment? Let’s wag those fingers, everybody!
I believe, along with the late economist Julian Simon, that humans are the ultimate resource. We solve problems, and I think we’ll solve climate change too.
But if you really want to yoke your reproductive choices to the issue of climate change (a bizarre desire if you ask me), maybe you should have as many kids as possible and educate them in science and engineering so they can come up with a solution.
For instance, did you know America may end up complying with our Paris-accord obligations despite our withdrawal? It’s all thanks to breakthroughs in natural gas, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. Thank goodness the people who came up with that stuff didn’t have parents who believed all the hype.