Energy & Environment

Heavy Weather

People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

There were no real surprises in the latest (the sixth) assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, other, perhaps, than that the U.N. body slightly toned down its worst-case scenario (while increasing the lower end of the likely temperature range) and took the trouble to spell out what the faithful have long believed, and which the IPCC had long implied — that it was “unequivocal” that mankind had contributed to climate change. The IPCC’s numerous evangelists, not dwelling overmuch on the prospect of a slightly milder apocalypse or other small reliefs scattered through the report, focused on the admission of our species’ guilt and, yet again, talked of the end times: “Hell on Earth”!  The U.N.’s secretary-general declared that the report was a “code red for humanity.” That the release of the IPCC report followed severe flooding in Europe and a wave of forest fires worldwide was convenient, but not particularly convincing one way or another. Portents, however dramatic, are not proof. Even the IPCC has only “low confidence” in the connection between river flooding and human impact on the climate. So far as forest fires are concerned, it is reasonable to assume that what used to be known as global warming has contributed to the problem, but so have decades of neglect of basic techniques of forest management. The latter is something we can, and should, put right.

While there can be little doubt that we are affecting the climate — with close to 8 billion of us on the planet, it would be astonishing if we were not — the extent, nature, and consequences of that fact are by no means, to use a familiar word, “settled.” With a system as complex as the climate, affected as it is by many enormous natural factors, there is a limit to how much faith we can put in the predictive powers of computer models, as we are reminded whenever the IPCC comes out with a new report adjusting its predictions.

It is also quite possible to be cognizant of some of the downside risks potentially posed by climate change while disagreeing about what should be done about them. The hair-shirt approach advocated by progressive opinion in the advanced world reflects the quasi-millenarian thinking so characteristic of many climate warriors and the command-and-control instincts of the modern governing class. That going down this route will severely hamper the West’s growth and almost certainly much of its liberty, while handing immense strategic advantages to our enemies, obviously does not add to its appeal. On top of this, it is highly unlikely that the resulting self-flagellating austerity will have a material impact on the global temperature over time (even adopting the full Green New Deal would barely move the needle).

This inconvenient truth and, for that matter, the suggestions by the IPCC that some of manmade changes to the climate are either inevitable, irreversible, or both, point to a better course of action. As the presence of that nearly 8 billion testifies, man is an adaptable creature. Rather than devoting most of our efforts now to try to influence the future course of the climate at great present cost, we should focus on increasing our resilience to whatever the weather may bring.

Taking such a tack would leave us less reliant on the promises of emissions reductions from countries that do not wish us well. And the engines of our prosperity would be left untouched. The additional wealth that would thus be created in the decades to come ought to provide the means and the opportunity to adapt to any problematic changes in the climate in those decades. We would also have the time and the resources to develop new cost-effective methods to reduce our climate footprint rather than, as we are now doing, rushing headlong into unproven and unreliable technologies that will be as inefficient as they are expensive.

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