There’s a famous remark attributed to Albert Einstein that while he didn’t know what weapons would be used in World War III, World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones. And indeed when 2001 Nobel Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz declared that “The climate emergency is our third world war” my immediate thought was that indeed if taken seriously the climate alarmists’ remedies would leave those who survived back in the Stone Age.
It’s a pretty big “if”. With just 12 years until we all die if we don’t renounce fossil fuels, existing measures sure aren’t getting the job done and the very politicians who talk most loudly of the need for bold action seem remarkably disinclined to engage in it. Indeed, European GHG emissions are rising again, not falling dramatically and not one of the top 10 GHG emitters, including Canada, are on track to meet their Paris Accord targets. Which we at the Climate Discussion Nexus explained would necessarily happen because when you’re looking to cut emissions you start with the easy ones after which you get ever more pain for ever less gain. Especially since the alarmists’ own models say meeting the Paris targets will do virtually nothing to change the temperature trajectory they think we’re on.
Some of them see this clearly. Including, improbably, Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish student rebellion leader who also claims she can see CO2. But to give credit where credit is due, she just said (my translation) “In 2020 we’ll have to turn the emission curve steeply down, if we want to have any chance of staying below 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming.” So Stiglitz is right that we need an effort far more massive than anything that’s going on now… assuming the goal really is necessary.
Far more massive is an understatement. Most European nations aren’t even committed to phasing out coal. And if you get rid of coal but burn some other fossil fuel, the gains are minimal with modern coal technology being much cleaner than the old kind. Some people seem to be waking up to this point including Ohio state Democratic legislators who just voted to subsidize nuclear as well as coal power although ideally they wouldn’t subsidize anything and let consumers pay the full cost of whatever they consume, from water to celery to kilowatts.
Despite such feeble results you continue to get soaring rhetoric. For instance Joe Biden, or whoever’s work he “borrowed” this time, wants the U.S. to move by 2050 to net zero emissions of what the New York Times describes in a news story as “planet-warming pollution”. But Biden also said “While we’re standing around not doing much, the rest of the world is moving ahead”. Which simply isn’t true.
Over in Britain the BBC tells us “Leading climate scientists” want Theresa May, now safely beyond the reach of voters because she botched the job they did ask her to do, to commit Britain to eliminate GHG emissions by 2050 as a Parthian shot. Now, since Britain is already committed to an 80% reduction it’s less drastic, and dramatic, than it sounds. The trouble is that Britain is going to miss the existing target badly and moving it further away is unlikely to improve the aim.
On climate as in many other areas there is a certain philosophical disposition that places far more emphasis on words than deeds. In our private lives it has rather an unpleasant name. But we still hear enthusiastic proclamations that some nation or another has made even more ambitious promises on top of its failure to meet the last set.
Cynics might welcome this trend, saying let them rant provided they don’t plunge us into poverty and misery. Others might say it will at least let us get at the truth because if governments really did sharply cut emissions and the climate didn’t explode they’d claim they’d saved us from ourselves. With politicians instead flying thousands of miles to proclaim their renunciation of fossil fuels, for other people at least, while back home emissions keep rising, we will soon find out whether GHGs cause catastrophic warming or whether the Arctic ice rebounds, crops keep growing, civilization stumbles on and we keep Googling things despite the rather large energy costs of their server farms.
The reason we get this weird disconnect between words and deeds is partly the hypocrisy all too common in public affairs. But it’s partly that the alternative to current energy consumption is bleak. The apocalyptarians speak of the disastrous impact of extreme weather and disasters but in fact far fewer humans are dying from such causes than at any time for which we have decent statistics, despite there being far more of us, especially in advanced countries. And the Earth could not support anything like its current population without abundant, affordable, reliable energy.
The gains from fossil fuel use are very clear, which is why as Stiglitz’ ill-chosen metaphor accidentally underlined, heeding the zealots seriously and shutting down the oil wells, coal mines, natural gas pipelines and other things would mean those who survived leading a very simple life indeed in every area from sustenance to leisure to warfare.