Harbingers of Climate Doom Gear Up Over Storm

Nicholas Stern

Nicholas Stern

Extreme weather events such as prolonged heat waves in Argentina, killer typhoons in the Pacific and violent storms lashing the UK are a godsend for doom-and-gloom scientists banging the climate change drum. Nicholas Stern, author of a 2006 report on the economics of climate change, is one of the alarmists. Lord Stern is a highly respected academic and president of the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

This makes it just so much worse. In a recent op-ed piece for the Guardian, Lord Stern argues that we should cut emissions of greenhouse gases immediately lest extreme weather events, such as the storms now lashing the UK, become the norm rather than the exception.

Lord Stern lists a long series of weather events that caused mayhem and then jumps to the conclusion that these are caused by global warming due to human activities. This is precisely what the data-juggling Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds every so often. That IPCC scientists have been found to massage the numbers to fit the politically expedient outcome they desire is – rather conveniently – forgotten.

“However, to suggest, as Lord Stern does, that we can alter the grand course of global climatic events might attribute humanity a power it does not yet possess.”

So are the well-documented Little Ice Age that changed the global climate between the 16th and 19th centuries, and the Medieval Climate Optimum that preceded it. The latter anomaly warmed up the globe to average temperatures similar to those measured now.

The Little Ice Age, which IPCC scientists persistently try to downplay to an astonishing degree, cooled the earth by as much as 1.2 degrees Celsius. It left a heritage of breathtakingly beautiful paintings of wintery scenes by masters like Pieter Brueghel (Hunters in the Snow, 1565), Abraham Hondius (The Frozen Thames, 1677) and Bartholomeus Johannes van Hove (Pompenburg met Hofpoort in de winter, 1825). The icy landscapes depicted have been absent from contemporary life on like latitudes since the early 1900s.

This would indicate that the earth is warming up: A process not entirely unexpected at the close of a mini ice age. What’s more, scientists know such a change to have occurred within human memory. The Medieval Climate Optimum, a pronounced warming of the earth, also lasted for about three centuries (AD 950-1250). At that time average temperatures were but 0.03 degrees Celsius cooler than they are now. In other words: About a thousand years back the earth went through a warming cycle that produced average temperatures roughly equal to those experienced today.

This would seem to indicate that the alarm insistently sounded by Lord Stern and his colleagues is a typical case of much ado about nothing. The notion that by drastically cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, humanity may actually revert global warming bespeaks of supreme arrogance.

Through invention, resourcefulness and sheer genius, humanity has gathered a power over nature that is quite impressive. Collectively we obliterate entire ecosystems, contribute to the extinction of countless life forms and habitually mould nature to suit our needs. Sometimes we even get together in order to undo the damage done. Such was the case with the acid rain of the 1970s and with the worryingly large hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica in the 1980s. We also seem to have rescued whales from extinction.

However, to suggest, as Lord Stern does, that we can alter the grand course of global climatic events might attribute humanity a power it does not yet possess.

While the scientists’ near unanimity on climate change and its causes cannot be discarded, it does them, and their cause, no favour to argue that each and every freak weather event constitutes irrefutable proof of their theories. Donning the robes of prophets of doom who cajole humanity into obedience and compliance with fire and brimstone preaching does not suit them all that well either.

Fact is that carbon emissions at fairly elevated levels are here to stay. A green economy is not going to be legislated into existence and certainly not on a global level. China, India, and the nascent powerhouses of Africa will not boast economies run on eco-friendly principles. Imposing levies, fees and other financially punitive regulation on non-green economic activities will accomplish little else than condemning untold millions to continued poverty and deprive the up-and-coming generations of Europe and North America a fair shot at attaining a level of comfort similar to the one taken for granted by their parents.

This most definitely does not equal a conundrum. Far from it: Accept extreme weather phenomena for what they are – freak events that have occurred, one way or another, throughout history. They prove nothing other than that nature is a force to be reckoned with. Also, stop sounding the alarm as if there were, quite literally, no tomorrow. There is.

Instead, let’s collectively pursue a set of sensible policies aimed at eliminating the blight of poverty from the face of the earth without attempting to reinvent the wheel in the process. By now, we have discovered, mostly through trial and error, which economic policies deliver the goods and which ones do not. Let’s also try to cope with whatever global warming nature dishes out. We cannot possibly stop this warming trend, let alone revert it; we can, however, manage it quite well.

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