The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
The politics of climate change is shot through with alarmism and millenarianism, writes Ivo Vegter on the Daily Friend. He claims there have been incomplete temperature records from poorly sited weather stations, evidence of scientific malfeasance, suggestions of data manipulation, and explicit manipulation of the political narrative. Scientists are now warning against both understating and overstating climate risks, with rafts of past climate predictions turning out to be false or exaggerated. None of that means climate change isn’t real, however; isn’t a problem, or isn’t in part caused by human activity. But it does suggest great caution in how we interpret the claims made by activists, politicians, the media, and climate scientists. Read more on this fascinating debate below. – Sandra Laurence
Radical change needed at climate summit
By Ivo Vegter*
This week and next, tens of thousands of climate blowhards are gathering in a luxury coastal resort town, to make more promises they’ll never keep. Instead of demanding action, it is time to demand inaction.
It has never been clear exactly what is truth and what is exaggeration in the politics of climate change. That it’s real, related to human activity and a potential threat enjoys a fairly widespread consensus among scientists (although not as broad as they’d have you believe).
However, activist claims and the political narrative are far more questionable.
They are shot through with a drumbeat of alarmism and millenarianism. Every time there’s notable weather of any kind, the media eagerly and uncritically blames it on climate change, warning that soon, the Earth will be uninhabitable.
Children are being indoctrinated with terrifying propaganda, up to and including that they don’t have a future at all. Weather disasters will become a permanent feature of their lives, civilisation will collapse, and many of them will die before their time. And their parents are to blame. This is turning them into neurotic wrecks.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the emphasis showing that this is a political organisation, not a neutral scientific one) relies on many different climate models, started with different initial conditions, to arrive at a probabilistic climate forecast.
This year, it turned out that a preponderance of those models, especially more recent ones, have been running too hot.
For more than 40 years, climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide was assumed to be between 1.5°C and 4.5°C (Charney, 1979). In its most recent assessment report, the IPCC narrowed that range for the first time, to between 2.5°C and 4°C. The models it relies on still gives wildly varying sensitivity estimates, however, ranging between 1.8°C and 5.6°C.
If your upper bound is more than three times your lower bound, chances are you don’t know as much as you’d like to think.
Which is okay. Climate is a complex, chaotic, non-linear beast, and understanding it is a hard problem. Modelling climate is perhaps the most difficult task to which we have ever set computers.
How those models are made is a bit like sausage. You really don’t want to know. There are incomplete temperature records from poorly sited weather stations. There has been evidence of scientific malfeasance, suggestions of data manipulation, and explicit manipulation of the political narrative, all duly whitewashed.
We’ve seen ‘fudge factors’ and other convenient adjustments, which may or may not have been justified. We’ve seen terribly hacky code and coders exasperated with the poor quality of the data. We’ve seen serious efforts to suppress scientific work critical of the mainstream climate change narrative.
A ‘representative concentration pathway’, or RCP, is an estimate of the radiative forcing, in Watts per square metre, given certain assumptions about carbon dioxide emissions over time. It measures how much net energy will be added to the climate system due to the greenhouse effect.
The IPCC developed four such scenarios: RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0 and RCP8.5. The last of these four is supposed to represent ‘business as usual’, and poses the most extreme risks.
One might attribute that to the success of climate mitigation policies, but it turns out it is limited by physical reality instead.
One of its key assumptions is that the world by 2100 will vastly expand its coal production, and continue to rely on coal for the majority of its energy.
That cannot happen, even if there wasn’t a growing bias against coal, because it is ‘inconsistent with the current state of coal markets, technology, and reserve estimates’.
We couldn’t burn that much coal even if we wanted to.
Despite the implausibility of RCP8.5, more than half the RCP mentions in the IPCC’s latest climate impacts report refer to this worst-case scenario, and only 20% refer to the impacts related to the RCP4.5 pathway which is now widely seen as the most likely.
Yet in the 8 500 pages of the IPCC’s climate reports, all we read is: ‘The feasibility or likelihood of individual scenarios is not part of this assessment.’
‘We own the science’
Scenarios of catastrophic climate change are highly unlikely. They are not science. They are dystopian science fiction.
Scientists are now warning against both understating and overstating climate risks. We’ve seen rafts of past climate predictions by activists, journalists and climate scientists turn out to be false or exaggerated.
But nobody is allowed to discuss this. Melissa Fleming, under-secretary for global communication at the United Nations told a World Economic Forum panel that ‘we own the science’.
‘We partnered with Google,’ she said. ‘For example, if you Google “climate change,” you will, at the top of your search, get all kinds of UN resources. We started this partnership when we were shocked to see that when we Googled “climate change,” we were getting incredibly distorted information right at the top. So we’re becoming much more proactive. We own the science, and we think that the world should know it, and the platforms themselves also do.’
The UN is a political body, ultimately paid for by taxpayers. It certainly does not ‘own the science’. Nobody can make that claim.
Apocalyptic predictions, however, suit activism very well.
Older generations were indoctrinated during the Cold War to fear nuclear winter and the destruction of human civilisation, turning us all into angry punks and metalheads.
The modern environmental movement likewise requires increasingly catastrophic imagery to raise funds, to win converts, and to promote its eco-socialist ideology. No wonder nihilistic Extinction Rebellionists are roaming the cities destroying property.
There simply is no space in the misanthropic world of environmentalists for problems that aren’t our fault, for rational trade-offs, or for a humanity that is resourceful, adaptable, and capable of responsible management of environmental resources.
For them, it’s a religion, and there’s no arguing against faith.
There’s no space for the news that, actually, the world is getting better. Deaths from natural disasters are at an all-time low. Damage from natural disasters, despite increased exposure because of growing prosperity and increased building in vulnerable areas, is decreasing as a share of GDP.
Global trends in extreme weather are hard to detect, and are disputed in the scientific literature. Some, like global wildfires, have been declining sharply, despite what the popular media would have you believe. Other popular indicators of ecosystem health, like polar bears and coral reefs, are also not pointing to collapse.
Human life, too, by almost any measure you care to construct, has dramatically improved by comparison to 50 or 100 years ago, including for the rapidly dwindling number of poor people.
None of that means climate change isn’t real, isn’t a problem, or isn’t in part caused by human activity. All of it suggests great caution in how we interpret the claims made by activists, IPCC politicians, the media, and climate scientists, however.
It may be futile to attempt to shift the narrative. Any attempt at a balanced perspective, once held so dear among journalists, is now met with the abrasive and dismissive chant of ‘denier’. (Down, anti-vaxxers. This isn’t about you.)
Lap of luxury
Yet here we are again. For the 27th Conference of the Parties (CoP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all the hotels in the glorious resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt are booked full with tens of thousands of one-percenters who have taken it upon themselves to “save the planet”.
Here are a few of those hotels:
Nice gig if you can get it, and climate jobs pay just as well as senior political posts, too.
This is the same 1% that emits as much carbon dioxide in one year as the world’s poorest 10% emit in two decades.
None of these extravagant talk shops, where unqualified celebrities with carbon footprints the size of small cities arrive in private jets to preach to the rest of us that we’re living too large, achieve anything.
Nothing to show
The UNFCCC was established 30 years ago. Here is its impact to date:
Bupkes. Squat. Absolutely nothing to show for who knows how many trillions of dollars spent to date on climate mitigation.
‘In 2019, the IPCC indicated that to curb global warming, CO2 emissions needed to be cut by 43 per cent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, but current climate plans show a 10.6 per cent increase instead,’ said the UN two weeks ago.
Only 24 out of 193 countries have delivered on their commitment at last year’s CoP26 in Glasgow to make plans with more ambitious targets.
Why they think more ambitious targets would work is anyone’s guess. To date, not a single country has met its original targets under the Paris Agreement goal to limit warming to 1.5°C.
In fact, there is no chance at all that the world will reach the vaunted 1.5°C target, no matter what it does.
That’s why CoP27’s official slogan is an embarrassing admission of failure: ‘Delivering for people and the planet’. They sure haven’t delivered anything in the past. We’ve heard it all before, 26 times in 30 years.
The rich world has recently increased its use of coal and other fossil fuels, because its reckless choice to bet everything on renewable energy, even to the exclusion of nuclear power, has rendered it impotent in the face of supply or demand shocks.
Meanwhile, in patronising ‘do as I say, not as I do’ style, they lecture poor countries about their failure to get off fossil fuels. Rich countries are proposing to pay South Africa $8.5 billion (which isn’t as much as it sounds, unless you’re planning to embezzle it) to transition away from coal, while at the same time they’ve increased their imports of coal from South Africa eight-fold.
Poor countries only tolerate this state of affairs because climate conferences have become political forums for redistribution. Poor countries go there to beg rich countries to pay massive dollar-denominated bribes so the rich countries can take credit for what the poor countries do to help them meet their own mitigation targets.
Here’s an example: Africa is being devastated by a climate crisis it didn’t cause. Cop27 must help, written by Amina J Mohammed, the deputy secretary-general of the UN.
It’s a blatant money-grab on the part of African countries.
In reality, Africa is not being devastated by climate. At least, not any more than it used to be when droughts routinely caused large-scale famines in the 20th century.
Africa is being devastated by its poverty and its lack of resilience to bad weather, which in turn is caused by war (23 of Africa’s 54 countries are currently at war), authoritarian governments, socialist economic policies, and widespread corruption.
Climate is, quite literally, the least of Africa’s problems.
And while it sounds nice to be given a few billion dollars, chances are that most of it will be misspent, either by malice or by incompetence, anyway.
All the rich world does by funding climate mitigation in the poor world is prop up inefficient, corrupt and socialist governments that perpetuate very real problems, like poverty, hunger, shanty towns, crime, poor education, and poor civil rights.
Africa not the problem
It won’t achieve much, anyway. Africa is the least of the world’s climate problems, too:
That’s where South Africa falls. Here’s how the rest of Africa compares with South Africa:
Even if Africa could afford to prioritise clean energy the way the rich world can, even major cuts in its emissions would make a negligible difference in global targets.
But they would come at tremendous costs.
South Africa’s biggest air pollution problem is not outdoor air quality, but indoor smoke from wood, paraffin and coal burners, caused by a lack of affordable access to electricity. The situation is even worse in the rest of Africa, where almost half the population does not have access to electricity at all.
South Africans experience the grave consequences of insufficient electricity daily. Factories and mines run at reduced capacity. Workers sit idle on paid time. Companies and individuals are forced to invest thousands, or millions, to mitigate the unreliability of utility power. Everyone, from Eskom to the corner mall to the neighbour, is burning diesel.
One estimate said blackouts have cost the South African economy over R1 trillion, and GDP might have been 25% higher than it is, if it weren’t for years of load-shedding. And that was 18 months ago.
And here’s the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, promising to spend R1.5 trillion the country doesn’t have on ‘a just energy transition’, instead of on securing the abundant and inexpensive energy the country needs to lift its moribund economy out of the gutter.
All forms of energy
The African Union’s official position is that universal access to energy and catalysing socio-economic development are its first priority, and that this requires exploiting ‘all forms of its abundant energy resources’.
Right they are. Africa wants to exploit its own low-cost natural resources, particularly in oil and gas, and to transition to renewables only once universal energy access is a reality. That is rational, human-centred policy.
Preventing it from doing so by bribing its government officials with lavish funding packages to stimulate renewable energy development or merely compensate for ‘loss and damage’ (a major focus of CoP27), would be a grave crime against Africa’s people.
‘Energy Apartheid’, is what veteran climate reporter Lisa Friedman called it in a 2014 Scientific American article that argues Africa needs its fossil fuels to enable socio-economic development.
The global conceit that we can control the climate by reducing emissions and raising the price of energy, without reducing living standards, is failing. Pushing this ideology onto developing countries is unconscionable.
The best thing CoP27 could decide is to stop talking and disband the UNFCCC altogether. It is a gross waste of money, good only for an annual two-week luxury getaway for its tens of thousands of delegates.
Let countries set their own development priorities and take their own decisions about their energy needs. Allow them to put human development and the eradication of poverty first.
That way, when bad weather comes along, they can afford to invest in climate resilience. There’s a reason why the same hurricane kills far fewer people in the US than on Caribbean island nations, and that reason is that the US is far more prosperous.
Let rich countries take responsibility for their own historic emissions, instead of placing burdens on poor countries that are already developing by far cleaner and more efficient means than the rich world did a century ago.
To quote Bjørn Lomborg (which more journalists should, far more often): ‘The United Nations estimates that without global warming, the average person in 2100 would be 450% better-off than today. Global warming means people will only be 434% richer, instead. That is not a disaster.’
Cleaner energy will happen, inevitably, but it needs to be subject to ordinary market forces. If the environmentalists are right, and renewable electricity really is cost-competitive with fossil fuels, the transition is just a matter of time.
The more prosperous people get, the more they care about the environment, and the more they will demand eco-friendly products and services, including energy. But the prosperity must come first. That prosperity will buy us options for adaptation, mitigation, and even reversing global warming, should that be necessary.
Pretending we can even conceive of the technical capabilities of a world 80 years hence, in which everyone is more than four times as rich as today, is pure hubris. Eighty years ago, we didn’t have integrated circuits. We didn’t even have working transistors yet. Imagine trying to explain a smartphone, or a Mars rover, or scanning tunnelling microscopes, to a World War II soldier.
The proposals on the table at CoP27 would reward poor governments for poor decisions that will cause more harm than good in the long run.
At least the cocktails at the swim-up bars will be spectacular.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR. If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend.
- Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. Follow him on Twitter, @IvoVegter.
- Landmark $8.5 billion climate finance deal hangs in the balance
- Climate change – how not to be the change you advocate for
- The WHO’s climate change hysterics are harming young people’s mental health
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.