Who is really being alarmist?

People who accept what the scientists are saying which is that human carbon emissions are causing global warming are often called alarmist. But I think it is the people who protest the shift towards a low carbon economy who are being alarmist.

I read a very biased article in the Washington Times this week – Climate alarmism’s 10,000 commandments – in which the author claims that Obama’s recent climate change policy announcement will result in “sleep deprivation, lower economic and education status and soaring anxiety and stress.” Really? I mean, really? This is surely an alarmist statement if ever there was one.

A report from The Lancet – The health benefits of tackling climate change – found that “action to combat climate change can, of itself, lead to improvements in health.” These benefits are in addition to the benefits gained from avoiding the harmful impacts of climate change. So even if people do not accept that there will be any harmful effects from climate change – and I would suggest they read a recent World Bank report which says there will be – a low-carbon economy will still bring health benefits.

In poorer countries, indoor air pollution from inefficient cookstoves leads to respiratory illnesses in young children and heart disease in adults. Almost 1 million children around the world currently die from respiratory infections through the burning of solid fuels. An Indian stove programme aims, by 2020, to lower the cost of health care associated with these diseases by about one sixth.

The transport sector accounts for about a quarter of all fossil fuel use. A shift from motor vehicle use to walking and cycling not only reduces carbon emissions but promises large reductions in the cost of health care by lowering rates of chronic disease caused by inactivity. The report uses London and India as examples and estimates that for London, heart disease and stroke could fall by 10-20%, breast cancer by 12-13%, dementia by 8% and depression by 5%. For India, falls of 10-25% for heart disease and stroke and 6-17% for diabetes are projected.

A shift away from polluting coal-powered electricity also sees gains in health because the airborne particles that these power plants emit, cause respiratory and cardiovascular damage. For China, the gains are estimated at an extra 500 life-years per million people in one year. The benefits are even greater for India.

The study also addresses livestock farming, which accounts for 8-9% of greenhouse-gas emissions. The benefits here occur through a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy and therefore a reduction in livestock farming. The health benefits from eating less meat and dairy are a lowered risk of heart disease, obesity and diet-related cancers. In the UK, a 30% fall in the consumption of animal-sourced saturated fat by adults would reduce heart disease by 15%.

The Lancet study shows that there are real health benefits to be gained from reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and these benefits will lower the cost of public health care and therefore go some way to offsetting the costs of mitigating climate change. This is all good news.

Who is really being alarmist here?


  1. The Washington Times has a complicated history. It was founded in 1982 by Korean Sun Myung Moon, also founder of the Unification Church. While, according to its Wikipedia entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Times, Ronald Reagan read it every day, I don’t think it has much influence at all except with people who already agree with it.

    Personally, I’d be inclined to let it go through to the keeper.

  2. While the paper was founded in 1982 as MikeM states, it was a successor to a much older newspaper, The Washington Star, which went out of business (after more than 100 years) the year before and a large proportion of its well credentialed staff (such as David Brookes) went over to The Times.
    If it continues to give an unbalanced view, as you state, Rachel, then it’s circulation will dramatically decline as is happening here with The Age and SMH in Australia.
    The readers will also decide the fate of The U.K. Telegraph should its reporting be biased and sub-standard as you infer.

  3. Rachel,
    The reason some climate scientists are called alarmists is not because they are saying that human carbon dioxide is causing( some ) warming, which is trivially true, but rather because they keep predicting apocalyptic outcomes for humanity on feeble scientific grounds such as ” the ten fingerprints of man made global warming” etc.
    Example one from the” father of climate change “, James Hansen-
    “Barack Obama has only four years to save the world .” Guardian ,Jan 18, 2009.
    Or more recently his ridiculous threats that if Obama approves the Keystone XL Pipeline ,”It’s game over for the planet” etc.
    Then there is our own resident ratbag ,Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery ,famous for outrageous predictions that ” even the rains that fall ( in future ) won’t fill our dams or river systems”.Or perhaps his call that Perth will become Australia’ s first ghost city of the twenty-first century because of extreme water shortages.Or talking up the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock,the “earth feedback hypothesis ” that the entire planet is one giant living organism whose various constituents – biosphere,atmosphere oceans and soil- constitute a ” feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life.”
    Guess who is the odd man out in the Gaia hypothesis ? A filthy blight on Mother Gaia’s balanced ecosystem.You and me and the rest of humanity.Lovelock spells it out in his book “The Revenge of Gaia”.
    Is that alarmist enough for you?
    But no, it is the people who want to pocket the $ 76 trillion dollars the UN proposes be spent by 2050 on combatting climate change (Source UN World Economic Summary 2011) and adapt to future climate change, who are “alarmist”.

    1. Let’s just get one thing straight here. The CEO of Exxon Mobil took home $34.9 million in 2011 (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/12/us-exxon-proxy-idUSBRE83B1ME20120412). Compare that with the median income for a full professor in the United States of $98,974. Academics are not in it for the money.

      Having been through a natural disaster, I can say with confidence that it was catastrophic. Scientists are predicting a rise in sea level, flooding, more frequent heat waves and a changing climate. I define these things as catastrophic. A flood is a catastrophe. A permanent rise in sea level of just 1m is a catastrophe if you live less than 1m above sea level.

      People who suggest that shifting from fossil fuels to other forms of power will be bad for our health, jobs and the economy are being alarmist. Scientists are not being alarmist when they forecast what will happen with a rise of 2 degrees or 4 degrees and so on. They are just doing their job.

  4. Rachel,
    Academia is in it for the money, notwithstanding the undoubtedly modest average salaries of professors compared to Exxon CEOs.You can test your proposition by imagining the East Anglia University without the Climate Research Unit ,or the countless universities around the world absent their climate science faculties.
    Anthropogenic Global Warming has become an industry on which the livelihood of millions now depend.Climate scientists ,carbon traders,solar panel manufacturers and installers,renewable energy investors,insurance and re-insurance companies,ethical fund managers,newspaper and TV environment correspondents,local government environment officers,carbon offset sellers,green rebranding consultants,ethical PR specialists,Green politicians,electrical car manufacturers ,wind farm engineers,copywriters putting the green blurb on cereal packages,ABC documentary makers,Prius and Tesla salesmen,UN technocrats administrators and secretaries,ditto the EU,and Al Gore and Rajendra Pachauri ! ( Hey,this is fun -why if global warming didn’t exist , it would be a great idea to invent it !)
    Now being serious again,natural disasters like the Christchurch earthquake are of course a catastrophe for the victims.But the point is they are natural disasters,which are in most instances not predictable, and for which mankind will hopefully prepare and deal with in decades ahead.
    The iniquitous aspect of the predictions ,or scenarios ,of the UN IPCC and the World Bank 4 Degrees Report,are that they ascribe to humanity the cause of the catastrophes based on an unproven scientific hypothesis ,and then demand urgent but often unspecified action,at eye watering cost.
    Bjorn Lomborg has a commentary on the World Bank Report,in the Australian on 29 June , 2013-“World Bank goes to unreal extremes – A climate report is ridiculously pessimistic.”
    “The World Bank offers a shoddy climate catastrophe in its latest report.It is depressing the World Bank has embraced this worst case thinking in a series of highly tendentious reports ,co-written by Germany’s leading doomsayers Hansen Joachim Schnellnhuber and Bill Hare ,long term policy director for Greenpeace.”
    In point after point Lomberg lays out out the silly forecasts of this alarmist drivel,e.g.a 0.5 degree C temperature rise per decade for the rest of the century.Do the great majority of scientists confidently expect a 4 degrees C rise this century? Not on the temperature standstill thus far this century.
    Amazingly it assumes a worse outcome than the UN’s worst case scenarios.
    Even the forecast of more heatwaves fails to consider many fewer cold waves,which kill many more almost everywhere in the world.The biased scenarios are pathetically transparent.
    Perhaps the next installment will be the 6 Degrees Report.

    1. Academics are in it for their modest salary are they? They’d be better off coaching football:

      Let’s test your East Anglia climatic research unit hypothesis. According to their website, the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was established in 1972, long before Al Gore or the IPCC. From 1972 all the way up until 1994, only one scientist at the unit received a guaranteed salary.

      Your comment about solar panel manufacturers, wind turbine engineers and so on is precisely my point. There are lots of business opportunities in an emerging industry. The only industry that will suffer is coal and oil, but even they may be able to diversify or adapt with carbon capture technology.

      The focus on 4 degrees is nit-picking. The argument being made is that while estimates for temperature are made for a doubling of CO2, we’re in for a lot more than just a doubling. By 2100, CO2 will be more than 4 times preindustrial if we don’t change our ways before then. This is the important point.

      According to the University of Oxford TrillionthTonne counter, we’ll have reached the 2degree point by 5th March, 2041. They’re not saying we’ll be at 2 degrees on that day, because it takes a little while for the climate to catch up. But that’s where we’re headed and we may not be able to turn back.

    2. “Academia is in it for the money, notwithstanding the undoubtedly modest average salaries of professors compared to Exxon CEOs.You can test your proposition by imagining the East Anglia University without the Climate Research Unit ,or the countless universities around the world absent their climate science faculties.”

      Is that right?

      The University of East Anglia has 2700 staff, 14,000 students and total annual income of just under $200 million. Its Climate Research Unit has approximately 20 staff and senior research students. It is renown for its research reputation in a wide range of disciplines, of which climate science is only one.

      It is fantasy to imagine that the university would collapse if the Climate Research Unit somehow disappeared.

      Closer to home, Doug might like to check with Andrew Griffiths at University of Queensland to see whether he is “in it for the money”. Professor Grffiths’s current research project, “Defend or retreat? Adapting to the impacts of sea level rise as a result of rapid climate change”, has $832,200 funding provided by the Australian Research Council.

      I suspect that Prof Griffiths might be offended by the question.

      1. > CFACT’s 2011 financial disclosure form reveals that it received over $300,000 from Donor’s Trust, an anonymously funded group that PBS called the “number one supporter of the groups” that deny climate change. It lists Morano as the highest paid member of its staff at a salary of over $150,000 a year.


        Not bad for a BA in political sciences (!) from George Mason (!!).

        It might be interesting to count Morano’s media appearances per year.

  5. Bjorn Lomborg’s piece also appears in The Huffington Post, http://lomborg.com/news/201372_alarmism-world-bank-endangers-poverty-reduction, with a title that actually conveys Lomborg’s issue. Lomborg accepts the science of climate change, although he thinks that many proponents present it in an unnecessarily exaggerated and alarming way.

    However his main complaint is that he thinks it is more important to do something about alleviating global poverty. He takes a figure, say, $75 billion, as a plausible estimate of the cost of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to a sustainable level. Then he asks, if you had that money to spend, are there better things to spend it on to benefit humanity?

    His Copenhagen Consensus conferences every four years assemble panels of experts to address this question. The latest conference, last year, nominated 16 projects that fitted the bill. The top three are micronutrient supplements for children living in poverty to fight hunger and improve education, further subsidy for malaria combination drug treatment and expanded childhood immunisation.

    In a nut shell, Lomborg believes that measures like these to address global poverty are more important than combating climate change. That is an interesting debate to have, but it has nothing to do with the question of whether or not anthropogenic climate change is occurring.

    1. Mike,
      I entirely agree with you that Lomborg’ s stance is important .In “The Sceptical Environmentalist ” and ever since ,Lomborg ,a former member of Greenpeace , has upset the green movement by attacking the 1997 Kyoto Protocol,and maintaining that even if all of its signatories were to implement its proposals, the effect would be to reduce the worlds surface temperature by a derisory amount over the century, at a cost to the global economy of some $150 billion per annum.
      He advocates directing money to R and D.,and believes mankind has a better chance of adapting to climate change through that avenue.
      A comment on ” nothing to do with the question of whether or not anthropogenic climate change is occurring “-
      Lomborg believes that mankind is contributing to (even causing )climate change .However the crucial issue is whether climate science can prove that man carbon dioxide emissions are causing DANGEROUS climate change .

    2. Lomborg, when not caught lying to Congress, is basically trying to sell the idea that we could solve most of humanity with small change, therefore we should do that first.

      Suppose we could solve all of these problems with 75 B, which is after all a small fraction of Occupy Irak. What would then prevent humanity to tackle climate change?

      One does not simply present a dilemma by trivializing one of the horns.

      1. Lomborg did some excellent work with “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, calling out exaggerations and plain half-truths that some in the environmental movement had been espousing. When Scientific American published “Science Defends itself Against the Skeptical Environmentalist”, I cancelled my subscription. You’d think from the way the magazine carried on that Science was a fair maiden who had had her features cruelly disfigured by an acid attack. All Lomborg did was to point out that she was not as pretty as she thought.

        Fortunately everyone has moved on. Like the scientists that he attacked, Lomborg had his own exaggerations and half-truths, as willard notes.

        Anyway, the fact of the matter is that, regardless of Lomborg’s logic, he has no chance of receiving $75 billion from anyone, whereas substantial international funding is now being devoted to addressing climate change.

        Therefore his argument, which might be sound in theory, falls down in practice. In an obscure branch of the entertainment industry it might be said that Lomborg’s dilemma fails because it can’t raise the necessary horn.

      2. Lomborg’s analysis rests, for the most part, on an interpretation of the DICE model that Nordhaus rejected:


        Note also how Nordhaus shows how elementary a mistake it is to use CBA in the context in which Lomborg tries to apply it.

        Lomborg repeated this mistake under oath, an important detail for those who followed l’affaire Wegman. I usually say the Wegman affair:


        But I thought Eve might appreciate.


        Also note that Lomborg’s Consensus (a name that would deserve due diligence) organization (401 in US, no less) mainly series to orient eventual donations toward charities which offer the solutions it suggests.

      3. That’s an excellent article by William Nordhaus, thanks, Willard. I haven’t seen it before. He addresses each argument skeptics raise time and time again and he does so clearly and in my view, compellingly.

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