Humanity’s ability to forestall radical warming

Good piece by Oren Cass, Truth is Just a Detail, at City Journal:

Wallace-Wells’s article is a quintessential illustration of what I have described in Foreign Affairs as “climate catastrophism.” He ignores humanity’s capacity for adapting to changes that will occur slowly over decades or centuries, inserting the classic catastrophist disclaimer in his introduction: “absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives . . .” But humanity will obviously make significant adjustments in the coming century, especially if faced with the catastrophes he posits. The qualifier undermines everything that follows, just as it did the Population Bomb and Peak Oil prognosticators of the past.

Likewise, Wallace-Wells seems not to understand that the world of future centuries will look vastly different from today’s, and that climate impacts must be understood in this context. Thus, he takes a particularly extreme warning that climate change might reduce global output 50 percent by 2100 and invites readers to “imagin[e] what the world would look like today with an economy half as big.” But the study in question is producing estimates for the world of 2100, not 2017—the loss is “relative to scenarios without climate change.” Even growing at only 2.5% annually, the global economy of 2100 would be seven times larger than today’s. Cutting that in half is a catastrophe, comparatively speaking—but still yields a dramatically wealthier world than we have today. Wallace-Wells claims to have conducted “dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields,” but he seemingly could not find any to go on the record validating any of his claims. He even acknowledges that the three whom he does quote—one on mitigating climate impacts, one on the history of climate science, and one on past extinctions—are all optimists about humanity’s ability to “forestall radical warming.”

Related:  Jonah Goldberg on the use of “scare tactics” in the AGW debate:

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.

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