The Economist has a climate change of heart

The Economist has been pretty reliable about beating the climate-alarmist drum for years on end now, often peddling the urgent need for an overarching global climate treaty to combat the threat. In a piece this week, however, the British publication took a much more moderate approach and hashed out some of the different studies suggesting that the planet actually might not be quite as sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide levels as the global-warming scaremongers have long been insisting.

OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models (see chart 1). If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years. …

If, however, temperatures are likely to rise by only 2°C in response to a doubling of carbon emissions (and if the likelihood of a 6°C increase is trivial), the calculation might change. Perhaps the world should seek to adjust to (rather than stop) the greenhouse-gas splurge. There is no point buying earthquake insurance if you do not live in an earthquake zone. In this case more adaptation rather than more mitigation might be the right policy at the margin. …

None of this is to say that climate change is a fantasy — the planet is not and never has been a stable place — and that we don’t have real environmental problems that we need to consider and address. But are we hurtling toward imminent, irreversible catastrophe directly because of humanity’s prosperous machinations, and we need to voluntarily undertake measures to cut back on our economic growth post-haste? It definitely sounds like they’re cooling their jets on that one.

Which, really, is a much smarter approach. Eco-radicals seem to think that hysterical doomsaying is the only way to rouse people to action, yet somehow, we have miraculously managed to roll right by past every one of their apocalyptic benchmarks (global cooling, peak oil, famine and drought, rising oceans, etcetera), and it isn’t really helping their case. Being a little more honest and a little less emotional about the science, the range of possibilities, and how much we still don’t know — rather than excommunicating any dissenters as heretics — is probably a much better way to recruit people to your cause in the long run.