Doubling Down on Dread

The most recent IPCC Special Report attempts to make the case—again—that mankind is running out of time to avoid an impending climate catastrophe.  The report gives us 12 years to avoid temperatures going beyond 1.5 degrees C which is a line in the sand separating survival and an environmental apocalypse.

One of the advantages of a look back is recognizing that this movie has played before.  At the time of the first Earth Day, we were warned about the exhaustion of natural resources, a population explosion that would lead to mass starvation because the food supply would not be able to keep up with demand.  At the same time, many environmentalists were claiming that the introduction of industrial chemicals in the post war period represented a cancer time bomb that would lead to a cancer epidemic.

In looking back, it is easy to find an overlap between the purveyors of dread from the first Earth Day, the Limits of Growth, the impending cancer epidemic, and the climate change catastrophe.  People like Paul Ehrlich, Stephen Schneider, Maurice Strong, and John Holdren were part of the network that saw evil in capitalism and technology.  These and the other Apocalyptics have established a spectacular record of being consistently wrong.

Instead of running out of oil by 2000, we are awash in an abundance that to technology.  Instead of mass starvation, “The world has made great progress in reducing hunger: There are 216 million fewer hungry people than in 1990-92, despite a 1.9 billion increase in the world’s population,” according to the World Food Programme.  Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution was a major reason for this progress.

The predicted cancer epidemic never arrived.  The CDC reports that between 1998 and 2017, the rate of new cancers dropped from 481 per 100,000 to 437.  The scary prediction was predicated on several important but unproven theories—the one hit theory, linear dose response, and rats are good models for humans. Now there is a recognition that genetics in addition to environmental exposures are a cause of cancer.

The predictions of an impending climate catastrophe have fared no better than all of the false ones that preceded them.

A recent paper by Judith Curry–Ms. Curry— found that the rising sea levels are not abnormal, nor are they the result of  human-caused climate change.  As Carl Wunsch of MIT has pointed out, sea level has been rising since the last Ice Age and will continue until the next one.

Extreme weather predictions continue to be pedaled in spite of data to the contrary. The number of violent tornados has dropped from a 15-year average of 13.7 in 1970 to a predicted 5.9 at the end of this decade.  Roy Spencer has shown that the number of major making landfall has been declining since 1940. Since extreme weather is supposed to be the result of unprecedented temperature increases, it should come as no surprise that those increases only come from model projections and not temperature observations which continue to show the continuing pause when the most recent El Nino is taken into account.

In spite of decades of failed predictions of doom, the Apocalyptics show no signs of quitting.  Although they have succeeded in getting climate change to be seen as one of the most important environmental issues, climate still does not rank high on the overall list of issues that concern most Americans.  Since the Apocalyptic’s agenda is political and climate change is a powerful weapon for attacking capitalism and technology, they will stay the course and probably become even more shrill.

Their rhetoric will be offset by the fact that oil, natural gas, and coal will continue to be the world’s primary sources of energy because they are abundant and affordable.  


Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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