Review of

PragerU Video: Climate Change: What's So Alarming?

Our summary: Bjorn Lomborg criticizes climate change alarmists who claim that all things are getting worse, when the facts do not support it. He reports that the number of natural-disaster deaths per million has dropped in the past century, and that the trend for strong typhoons around the Philippines have declined since 1950. Solar and wind energy are simply expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact.

Dodginess betrays ulterior intent

Jean Smythe Tulsa, OK Published 06 Dec 2019

After multiple viewings, I’m still uncertain what Lomborg’s aim is here. His most substantive suggestion is to protect the poor from natural disasters.

His larger narrative, clearly, is that the climate-change “alarmists” are maniacal. But if you look carefully at each of his supporting arguments, little deceptions are discernable. Some examples:

Yes, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than the models expected. But models also predicted that Antarctic sea ice would decrease, yet Antarctic sea ice is increasing.

The point about Antarctic sea ice would probably startle most of us. If it’s true, why doesn’t Lomborg say more about it? Does it mean ocean levels will not rise? And if so, why is this fact not being trumpeted to counter all the climate-change hype?

It’s because it doesn’t affect the larger global-warming reality. (Check out this article.) Rising average global temperatures do not have a uniform effect across every location, and Lomborg knows this. But if he only says that ice is decreasing in the Arctic and increasing in the Antarctic, then it sounds like a self-correcting system and presumably sea levels will not rise.

Yes, sea levels are rising, but the rise is not accelerating—if anything, two recent papers, one by Chinese scientists published in January 2014, and the other by U.S. scientists published in May 2013, have shown a small decline in the rate of sea-level increase.

For those of us not too good at calculus, the above statements might be easy to interpret as “the sea-rising nightmare is starting to end.” But, no. First, the rise doesn’t have to be accelerating for it to be disastrous. If it rises at a constant, non-accelerating rate each decade, that means it will keep rising—ten feet, then twenty, then etc. Second, even the “decline in the rate” cited in two cherry-picked papers wouldn’t mean the rise is reversing—the sea would still be rising.

Maybe Lomborg thinks the number of people who could be confused by that math is miniscule.

Hurricanes are likewise used as an example of things getting worse. But look at the U.S., where we have the best statistics: if we adjust for population and wealth, hurricane damage during the period of 1900-2013 actually decreased slightly.

“Adjust for population and wealth”? What possible relevance does that have to changes in hurricane characteristics? Does increasing hurricane severity not matter, as long as the financial costs are contained?

Baloney—the severity is what’s relevant to the discussion about climate change. Lomborg has cleverly switched over to an irrelevant metric. He continues with this misdirection later:

If we want to help the world’s poor, who are the most threatened by natural disasters, it’s less about cutting carbon emissions than it is about pulling them out of poverty.

Wait, what? “The poor” normally brought up in in the context of climate change are in places such as Bangladesh… what good is increasing their incomes if their land completely disappears?

This isn’t of course to say that helping the poor is a bad thing; it’s just, wasn’t this presentation supposed to be about climate change?

Facts like these are important because a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies.

Finally, something we can all agree about: a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies. But—wait, did Lomborg establish that people are promoting a one-sided focus on worst-case stories?

He hasn’t in this video, for sure. That doesn’t mean, of course, that no one focuses on worst-case stories. How likely is it, though, that most writers or policymakers are doing so? You’d think there are enough eyes on the science that the view getting communicated to the public is relatively balanced. Lomborg hasn’t given us any reason to think otherwise.

At any rate, on to what we as a society should (or should not) do about climate change…

…for at least the next two decades, solar and wind energy are simply expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact. Instead, we should focus on investing in research and development of green energy to lower its costs, so everyone will want it, including China and India.

Totally confusing: is Lomborg arguing for or against investing in solar and wind energy? If against, then what other “green energy” is he advocating? Nuclear energy? If so, why doesn’t he come out and say that? So, again, it’s really unclear what action he advocates, aside from helping the poor.

Admittedly, it still is possible that climate activists are hyping things way too much. But the way in which Lomborg grasps at straws here, he only weakens that case. If these flimsy arguments are the only ones he can come up with, maybe greater alarm really is called for!

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