In a recent article appearing in Wired.com, radical anti-fossil-fuel activist Bill McKibben claimed human actions are putting civilization at risk. He’s right, but the source of the risk is not the one McKibben warns of; civilization is not in danger because of the alleged human-caused climate change, but rather because McKibben and his ilk propose to end fossil-fuel use as part of their efforts to control the weather 100 years from now.
McKibben’s article is a careful blend of truth, misdirection, and fiction, intended to convince Wired’s readers to believe the science is clear humans are causing catastrophic global warming. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the 1890s, Nobel Prize winning Swedish physicist and chemist Svante Arrhenius did the first calculations linking increased carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere to warming. Arrhenius is a hero to climate alarmists like McKibben. What McKibben fails to mention is Arrhenius, rather than thinking rising greenhouse gas levels posed a threat to mankind, looked forward to the warmer world he thought they would bring. Arrhenius argued the warming from human-created carbon-dioxide emissions were necessary to feed a rapidly growing population and would help stave off the next ice age.
McKibben also lionizes U.S. oceanographer Roger Revelle, the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for his early work on global warming. In a 1957 paper Revelle co-authored with Hans Suess, the researchers claimed the world’s oceans couldn’t absorb all the excess carbon dioxide from the fossil-fuel emissions human were pumping into the atmosphere, as previous researchers had believed. As a result, Revelle said humans were causing a “greenhouse effect” that would cause “global warming.” In his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, failed presidential candidate Al Gore credits Revelle, who taught Gore at Harvard, with making him aware of the dangers of human-caused global warming in the 1970s.
In the words of the immortal broadcaster Paul Harvey, here’s “the rest of the story.” Alarmed his work on climate was being used in an effort to coerce legislators into taking dramatic actions to fight global warming, in 1991, the last year of his life, Revelle co-authored an article in which he wrote, “The scientific base for a greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at this time. There is little risk in delaying policy responses.” Revelle and his colleagues went further, stating, “Drastic, precipitous — and, especially, unilateral — steps to delay the putative greenhouse impacts can cost jobs and prosperity and increase the human costs of global poverty, without being effective. Stringent economic controls now would be economically devastating particularly for developing countries …”
What about the Paris climate agreement McKibben is so worried President Donald Trump will scrap? While it’s true 195 nations agreed to take action to limit their carbon-dioxide output (to keep the rise in average global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius this century), under scrutiny, the details of the plan tell a far different story.
The Paris climate agreement is a paper tiger. The emissions cuts it promises are not binding on the countries who signed it, and the agreement carries no penalties for countries failing to meet their voluntary goals.
After the agreement was signed, U.N. Environment Programme acknowledged even if all the parties to the agreement meet their promised emissions targets, the plans submitted by the governments involved will result in less than half the greenhouse-gas cuts required to halt temperatures at an upper limit of 2 degrees C, a fact which prompted James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to offer this scathing assessment of the agreement to the Guardian, “It’s a fraud really, a fake.… There’s no action, just promises.”
Since the agreement is nothing more than a feel-good measure that’s true purpose was to provide a photo-op for world leaders, if Trump keeps his word and withdraws from the agreement, it will have no measureable impact on future climate.
Fossil fuels are the lifeblood of modern civilization. As Alex Epstein demonstrates in his brilliant book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, they make possible modern agriculture, necessary to feed the planet’s billions of people, and modern medicine, which has reduced infant mortality and lengthened lifespans. You can’t run hospitals, ambulances, operating rooms, emergency rooms, and clinics 24 hours per day, seven days per week if you don’t burn coal, natural gas, and oil.
As Epstein wrote, “Climate is no longer a major cause of death, thanks in large part to fossil fuels.… Not only are we ignoring the big picture by making the fight against climate danger the fixation of our culture, we are ‘fighting’ climate change by opposing the weapon that has made it dozens of times less dangerous. The popular climate discussion has the issue backward. It looks at man as a destructive force for climate livability, one who makes the climate dangerous because we use fossil fuels. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite; we don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe.”
That’s the real story of the relation between fossil fuels and civilization, a story a misanthrope like McKibben just doesn’t get.