That has not stopped some climate scientists, such as the publicity-hungry chief scientist at the U.K. Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, from telling the media that it is likely that “climate change” (by which they mean warming) is partly to blame. Usually, however, the climate scientists take refuge in the weasel words that any topical extreme weather event, whatever the extreme weather may be, whether the recent U.K. rainfall or last year’s typhoon in the Philippines, “is consistent with what we would expect from climate change.”
So what? It is also consistent with the theory that it is a punishment from the Almighty for our sins (the prevailing explanation of extreme weather events throughout most of human history). But that does not mean that there is the slightest truth in it. Indeed, it would be helpful if the climate scientists would tell us what weather pattern would not be consistent with the current climate orthodoxy. If they cannot do so, then we would do well to recall the important insight of Karl Popper — that any theory that is incapable of falsification cannot be considered scientific.
Moreover, as the latest IPCC report makes clear, careful studies have shown that, while extreme-weather events such as floods, droughts, and tropical storms have always occurred, overall there has been no increase in either their frequency or their severity. That may, of course, be because there has so far been very little global warming indeed: The fear is the possible consequences of what is projected to lie ahead of us. And even in climate science, cause has to precede effect: It is impossible for future warming to affect events in the present.
Of course, it doesn’t seem like that. Partly because of sensitivity to the climate-change doctrine, and partly simply as a result of the explosion of global communications, we are far more aware of extreme-weather events around the world than we used to be. And it is perfectly true that many more people are affected by extreme-weather events than ever before. But that is simply because of the great growth in world population: There are many more people around. It is also true, as the insurance companies like to point out, that there has been a great increase in the damage caused by extreme-weather events. But that is simply because, just as there are more people around, so there is more property around to be damaged.
The fact remains that the most careful empirical studies show that, so far at least, there has been no perceptible increase, globally, in either the number or the severity of extreme-weather events. And, as a happy coda, these studies also show that, thanks to scientific and material progress, there has been a massive reduction, worldwide, in deaths from extreme-weather events.
It is relevant to note at this point that there is an important distinction between science and scientists. I have the greatest respect for science, whose development has transformed the world for the better. But scientists are no better and no worse than anyone else. There are good scientists and there are bad scientists. Many scientists are outstanding people working long hours to produce important results. They must be frustrated that political activists then turn those results into propaganda. Yet they dare not speak out for fear of losing their funding.
Indeed, a case can be made for the proposition that today’s climate-science establishment is betraying science itself. During the period justly known as the Enlightenment, science achieved the breakthroughs that have so benefited us all by rejecting the claims of authority — which at that time largely meant the authority of the church — and adopting an overarching skepticism, insisting that our understanding of the external world must be based exclusively on observation and empirical investigation. Yet today all too many climate scientists, in particular in the U.K., come close to claiming that they need to be respected as the voice of authority on the subject — the very claim that was once the province of the church.
If I have been critical of the latest IPCC report, let me add that it is many respects a significant improvement on its predecessors. It explicitly concedes, for example, that “climate change may be beneficial for moderate climate change” — and moderate climate change is all that it expects to see for the rest of this century — and that “estimates for the aggregate economic impact of climate change are relatively small. . . . For most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small relative to the impacts of other drivers.” So much for the unique existential planetary threat.
What it conspicuously fails to do, however, is to make any assessment of the unequivocally adverse economic impact of the decarbonization policy it continues to advocate, which (if implemented) would be far worse than any adverse impact from global warming.
Even here, however, the new report concedes for the first time that the most important response to the threat of climate change must be how mankind has always responded, throughout the ages: namely, intelligent adaptation. Indeed, the “impacts” section of the latest report is explicitly entitled “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.” In previous IPCC reports adaptation was scarcely referred to at all, and then only dismissively.
This leads directly to the last of my four questions. To the extent that there is a problem, what should we, calmly and rationally, do about it?
The answer is — or should be — a no-brainer: Adapt. I mentioned earlier that a resumption of global warming, should it occur (and of course it might) would bring both benefits and costs. The sensible course is clearly to pocket the benefits while seeking to minimize the costs. And that is all the more so since the costs, should they arise, will not be anything new: They will merely be the slight exacerbation of problems that have always afflicted mankind.
Like the weather, for example — whether we are talking about rainfall and flooding (or droughts for that matter) in the U.K., or hurricanes and typhoons in the tropics. The weather has always varied, and it always will. There have always been extremes, and there always will be. That being so, it clearly makes sense to make ourselves more resilient and robust in the face of extreme-weather events, whether or not there is a slight increase in the frequency or severity of such events.
This means measures such as flood defenses and sea defenses, together with water storage to minimize the adverse effects of drought, in the U.K.; and better storm warnings, the building of levees, and more robust construction in the tropics.
The same is equally true in the field of health. Tropical diseases — and malaria is frequently (if inaccurately) mentioned in this context — are a mortal menace in much of the developing world. It clearly makes sense to seek to eradicate these diseases — and in the case of malaria (which used to be endemic in Europe) we know perfectly well how to do it — whether or not warming might lead to an increase in the incidence of such diseases.