With Alarmism off the dial, it’s nice to see some pushback coming from the near end of the science-scare. If journalists had asked questions like this back in 1988, it would have been all over by 1989.
When the media says “billions will die” Shellenberger wanted to know why. He just pulled on that string and it all unravelled…
It takes a layers of incompetence to wind up an atmospheric spectral change into Death To Billions. Mass delusion and catastrophic hyperbole just doesn’t come from nowhere — it’s starts with incompetent scientists who never ask each other hard questions, not even in the tea rooms. They tell journalists ambiguously phrased, cherry picked lines which are then amped up by the media, who also ask no hard questions and go on to misquote and exaggerate. By then it’s a junkyard of science communication, and that’s when attention-seeking zealots get hold of what they thought were scientific pronouncements and turn them into bumper stickers of enviro-biblical jello.
Firstly the worst quotes come from an XR Activist, not a scientist (why do the media repeat these claims?).
Shellenberger just followed the claims:
I wanted to know what Extinction Rebellion was basing its apocalyptic claims upon, and so I interviewed its main spokesperson, Sarah Lunnon.
“It’s not Sarah Lunnon saying billions of people are going to die,” Lunnon told me. ”The science is saying we’re headed to 4 degrees warming and people like Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Center and Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research are saying that such a temperature rise is incompatible with civilized life. Johan said he could not see how an Earth at 4 degrees (Celsius) warming could support a billion or even half-billion people.”
Lunnon is referring to an article published in The Guardian last May, which quoted Rockström saying, “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that” at a 4-degree temperature rise.
So the XR activist thought it was from a scientist. But when Shellenberger interviewed the scientists it turned out they didn’t say that (well, not exactly):
Rockström… told me that the Guardian reporter had misunderstood him and that he had said, “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate eight billion people or even half of that,” not “a billion people.”
So The Guardian had to make a correction — not 7.5 billion deaths then, only 4 billion (well, that’s alright then?):
Rockström said he had not seen the misquote until I emailed him, and that he had requested a correction, which the Guardian made last Thursday. Even so, Rockström stood by his prediction of four billion deaths.
But note the caveats, it’s not the evidence he has, but the evidence he doesn’t, and it’s not that he’s sure, in his judgement, he’s doubtful:
“I don’t see scientific evidence that a four-degree celsius planet can host eight billion people,” he said. “This is, in my assessment, a scientifically justified statement, as we don’t have evidence that we can provide freshwater or feed or shelter today’s world population of eight billion in a four-degree world. My expert judgment, furthermore, is that it may even be doubtful if we can host half of that, meaning four billion.”
Rockström said half of Earth’s surface would be uninhabitable, people would be forced to migrate to the poles, and other shocks and stressors would result from heatwaves and rising sea levels.
So Shellenberger, bless him, asks the obvious questions that almost no journalist on Earth has asked:
But is there IPCC science showing that food production would actually decline? “As far as I know they don’t say anything about the potential population that can be fed at different degrees of warming,” he said. Has anyone, I asked, done a study of what happens to food production at 4 degrees warming?
And the expert admits he hadn’t really thought of that:
“That’s a good question,” said Rockström, who is an agronomist. “I must admit I have not seen a study. It seems like such an interesting and important question.”
The expert agronomist?
Shellenberger gives him the bad news that warming won’t kill as many people as climate policies will:
In fact, scientists, including two of Rockström’s colleagues at the Potsdam Institute, recently modeled food production.
Their main finding was that climate change policies are more likely to hurt food production and worsen rural poverty than climate change itself, even at 4 to 5 degrees warming.
The “climate policies” the authors refer to are ones that would make energy more expensive and result in more bioenergy (the burning of biofuels and biomass), which would increase land scarcity and drive up food costs.
Similarly, UN Food and Agriculture concludes that food production will rise 30 percent by 2050 unless “sustainable practices” are adopted in which case it would rise just 10 to 20 percent. Technological change significantly outweighs climate change in every single one of FAOs scenarios.
A great piece of work by Michael Shellenberger. Journalism students will study it a hundred years from now, wondering how it all got so stupid…