These unsubstantiated scares have real-world consequences. An academic study of young people around the world found that most suffer from “eco-anxiety,” with two-thirds scared and sad, while almost half say their worries affect their daily lives. It is irresponsible to scare youths witless when in reality the UN Climate Panel finds that even if we do nothing to mitigate climate change, the impact by the end of the century will be a reduction of an average income increase from 450 percent to 438 percent — a problem but hardly the end of the world.
Moreover, panic is a terrible policy-adviser. Activist politicians in the rich world are tinkering around the edges of addressing climate change, showering subsidies over expensive vanity projects such as electric cars, solar and wind, while the UN finds that it can’t identify an actual impact on emissions from the last decade of climate promulgations. Despite their grandiose statements of saving the world, 78 percent of rich countries’ energy still comes from fossil fuels. And as the Glasgow climate summit showed (for the 26th time), developing nations — whose emissions over the rest of this century matter most — cannot afford to similarly spend trillions on ineffective climate policies as they help their populations escape poverty.
Fifty years of panic clearly haven’t brought us anywhere near solving climate change. We need a smarter approach: one that stops scaring everyone and focuses on realistic solutions such as adaptation and innovation. Adaptation won’t make the entire cost of climate change vanish, but it will reduce it dramatically. And by funding the innovation needed to eventually make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels, we can allow everyone — including developing countries — to sustainably go green.