You Ought to Have a Look: Climate Fretting and Why It’s Unjustified

You Ought to Have a Look is a regular feature from the Center for the Study of Science. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

While “climate fretting” has become a pastime for some—even more so now with President-elect Trump’s plans to disassemble much of President Obama’s “I’ve Got a Pen and I’ve Got a Phone”-based Climate Action Plan—climate reality tells a much different story.

For example, a new analysis by Manhattan Institute’s (and YOTHAL favorite) Oren Cass looks into the comparative costs of climate changevs. climate action. His report, “Climate Costs in Context” is concise and to-the-point, and finds that while climate change will impart an economic cost, it is manageable and small in comparison to the price of actively trying to mitigate it. Here’s Oren’s abstract:

There is a consensus among climate scientists that human activity is contributing to climate change. However, claims that rising temperatures pose an existential threat to the human race or modern civilization are not well supported by climate science or economics; to the contrary, they are every bit as far from the mainstream as claims that climate change is not occurring or that it will be beneficial. Analyses consistently show that the costs of climate change are real but manageable. For instance, the prosperity that the world might achieve in 2100 without climate change may instead be delayed until 2102. [emphasis added]

In other words, the economic impacts of climate change aren’t something worth fretting over.

Next up is a contribution (at Judith Curry’s blog, Climate Etc.) from Nic Lewis showing more evidence that the temperature response in most climate models is too sensitive to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Nic reviews a new paper that suggests the paltry increase in global average temperature in recent decades may continue for another decade or more from forces of natural variability alone, and then adds his own analysis showing that an alternative view supported by the paper is that the transitive climate sensitivity (TCS; how much the global average surface temperature rises at the time of a doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration) is rather low. Instead of the climate model average TCS of around 1.8°C, Nic finds observational support for a TCS of about 1.35°C. From this information, he concludes:

Based on these estimates, the average TCR [transient climate response] of [current climate] models likely exceeds that in the real world by about 30%…the future warming projected by [these] models is on average 65% or more above that projected by simple but physically-consistent models with a TCR of ~1.35 K.

Rather than fret about high-end climate change scenarios, folks ought embrace lukewarming as the way of the future.

And finally this week, Ron Bailey produces a dose of reality in his latest article for Reason.comEnergy Poverty Is Much Worse for the Poor Than Climate Change.” In his piece, Ron reviews a recent report, “Energy for Human Development” from The Breakthrough Institute that argues for prioritizing energy access over climate concerns. According to Ron:

[T]he Breakthrough writers call for prioritizing energy development for productive, large-scale economic enterprises. Copious and reliable energy will accelerate the creation and spread of higher-productivity factories and businesses, which then will generate the opportunities for a better life; that, in turn, will draw poor subsistence farmers into cities. They further note that energy access and electricity access are not the same thing. In fact, in 2012 electricity accounted for only about 18 percent of the energy consumed globally. “Efforts to address energy poverty must address needs for transportation fuels and infrastructure, and for fertilizer and mechanization of agriculture,” they argue.

But what about climate change? Current renewable sources of energy are not technologically capable of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty. Consequently, the Breakthrough writers see “no practical path to universal access to modern levels of energy consumption” that keeps the projected increase in global average temperature below the Paris Agreement on climate change goal of 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. This implies that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will exceed 450 parts per million.

Ron continues:

They correctly point out that forcing poor people to forego economic development in order to prevent climate change is a “morally dubious proposition.” They additionally observe that the wealth and technology produced by economic growth increases resilience to climatic extremes and other natural disasters. When bad weather encounters poverty, disaster ensues.

The overarching conclusion from all of the above is one that we have championed since the start—what’s really worth fretting about is climate policy (not climate change). To this end, the Trump Administration ought to ease such fretting.