Data deflates threat-multiplier hype

by Marlo Lewis on October 21, 2009

in Blog

“Climate change is a threat multiplier” is the new trendy rationale for Kyoto-style energy rationing. One hears little these days about Al Gore’s nightmare vision of death and destruction from ever more powerful and frequent hurricanes, catastrophic sea-level rise, or a warming-induced climate shift into a new ice age. This story line is too implausible for most grownups to swallow or patronize, no matter how desperate they are to look green.

The new, more ‘nuanced’ rationale for energy rationing is that global warming will aggravate several pre-existing environmental and health threats that cause or contribute to instability and conflict. We’re supposed to fear that a warming world will be much more violent and dangerous. Supposedly, “even the generals are worried” that U.S. security forces will be overstretched, even overwhelmed, by crisis after crisis after crisis. Unless, of course, Congress comes through with bigger and bigger appropriations for DOD! 

This is bunkum, as I discuss here, here, and here. Today, I want to pour more cold water on threat-multiplier hype, courtesy of my colleague, environmental researcher Indur Goklany.

Goklany (”Goks” to his friends) recently responded to an article in the Economist arguing that global warming exacerbates conditions (drought, flooding, hunger, insect-borne disease) in poor countries that already impede their development. From which it follows (although the article doesn’t spell it out) that climate change increases the likelihood of state failure, violence, and war.

Chief among the conditions that will allegedly become worse in a warming world are drought and flooding. ”Regardless of whether this is the case,”  Goks writes in his letter to the Economist, “deaths from droughts have declined 99.9% since the 1920s, and 99% from floods since the 1930s” [1]. Yet alarmists tell us that the warming of the latter half of the 20th century was unprecedented in the past 1300 years.

In view of the long-established and overwhelming trends towards greater safety, despite allegedly unprecedented warming, it is difficult to believe that droughts and floods will be a major cause of violent conflict in coming decades. That is especially the case when, as noted previously, nations faced with water shortages typically cooperate and trade, not come to blows.

More broadly, Goks points out, all the long-term trends in environmental factors affecting development are positive:

In fact, access to safe water, improved sanitation, crop yields, and life expectancy has never been higher in the history of mankind.[2] This is true for both the developing and developed worlds. Much of this has been enabled, directly or indirectly, by economic surpluses generated by the use of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas generating activities such as fertilizer usage, pumping water for irrigation, and use of farm machinery. And crop yields, in particular, are also higher today than ever partly because of higher concentrations of CO2, without which yields would be zero.

Some day — who knows when?– “even the generals” will outgrow climate hysteria and get back to worrying about threats they actually know how to do something about.

allison October 22, 2009 at 4:18 pm

thanks, this helped me a lot on my geography essay, especially since we watched the inconvenient truth and the day after tomorrow


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