The end of the world is always big news, no matter how often doomsayers are proven wrong. And nothing illustrates better the media’s appetite for gloomy environmental speculation than the coverage lavished on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.
No matter how many times the IPCC recycles itself, it’s always news. Its recently published “Synthesis Report” was a media hit, even though the 40-page document merely summarizes findings already condensed in the summaries for policy makers of three previous telephone book-sized “assessment reports” published during 2013-2014. Nothing, therefore, is more predictable than the Synthesis Report’s conclusion: The IPCC is increasingly confident the end is nigh unless mankind repents of its fuelish ways.
The IPCC claims to be an honest broker presenting the “state of the science.” In fact, it embodies a fundamental conflict of interest. The IPCC exists to build the scientific case for global climate treaties dramatically expanding governments’ control over energy-related investments and assets. The IPCC owes its prestige, budget and influence not only to the perception of a “climate crisis” that its reports help to foster, but also to the climate treaty negotiations its reports guide and justify.
Far from being above the fray, the IPCC is a key stakeholder in climate science and policy debates. As such, it has strong incentives to interpret science to fit a pre-determined agenda. A glaring example of IPCC cherry-picking is the Synthesis Report’s dodging of three basic challenges to consensus climatology: the “pause” in global warming, the increasing divergence between warming predictions and observations, and numerous studies indicating that IPCC climate models are tuned too hot.
Last month, the “pause”—a period of no net warming in the bulk atmosphere—reached its 18th year. Roughly 36 percent of all fossil-fuel CO2 emissions since industrialization began occurred during that 18-year period. Yet, atmospheric warming was conspicuous by its absence. Now that is news!
IPCC-affiliated scientists did not forecast the pause, and still struggle to explain it. The Synthesis Report, however, treats it as confirmation of the IPCC’s view that global temperatures exhibit “substantial decadal and inter-annual variability.” Move along, nothing to see here.
The divergence between warming predictions and observations has increased to the point where 95 percent of all climate models overshoot observations. At least 20 peer-reviewed studies have been published since 2011 finding lower climate sensitivity—an estimate of how much warming results from a doubling of CO2 concentrations—than the IPCC’s best estimate. The Synthesis Report says nary a word about those issues.
The pause, divergence and recent sensitivity studies undermine the claim, tirelessly repeated by the IPCC and others, that the urgency for “action”—that is, political suppression of fossil energy use—is greater than ever.
What is newsworthy is that many experts agree on three big-picture points that conflict with the IPCC’s agenda.
First, climate change is not a crisis. In fact, the IPCC’s 2013 science assessment report quietly nixed the scariest parts of the alarm narrative. Even using overheated models, the IPCC projects that in the 21st Century, Arctic ice melt-induced Atlantic Ocean circulation collapse is “very unlikely,” collapse of the great ice sheets is “exceptionally unlikely,” and runaway climate change from methane released by melting permafrost is “very unlikely.”
The only card left in the alarm deck is extreme weather. However, there has been no long term trend in the strength or frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, U.S. floods or drought. Heat waves have become more frequent, but paradoxically, the more common hot weather becomes, the more heat-related mortality declines: People adapt!
Globally, mortality rates and aggregate mortality related to extreme weather have declined by 98 percent and 93 percent, respectively, since the 1920s. As energy expert Alex Epstein observes, the wealth and technology supported by fossil fuels make the climate more “livable”—in other words, less dangerous to human beings.
Second, the costs of CO2 reduction policies almost always exceed their benefits. Even if we were to shut down all U.S. power plants, factories and automobiles tomorrow—dealing a crippling multi-trillion dollar blow to the economy—that would avert only a hypothetical 0.2°C of warming by 2100. Other climate policies that would accomplish far less would still cost billions.
Third, forcing nations to abandon affordable, plentiful, reliable fossil energy before inexpensive substitutes are available is economically unsustainable. Hence, it is also politically unsustainable.
The IPCC claims the only thing lacking to reduce global CO2 emissions 70 percent by 2050 is political will. That is either a form of self-delusion or rhetoric to hoodwink people into accepting a future of decreased economic opportunity and increased government control.
Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow specializing in energy and environment issues at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, DC.