Harry Bulkeley: Book raises questions about solving climate change

Harry Bulkeley
Harry Bulkeley

A sad little girl holds up a hand-lettered sign reading “You’ll die of old age. I’ll die of climate change”.

Thus begins a book entitled “False Alarm” by Bjorn Lomborg. Half my readers are already saying, “Oh, no, here is another one of Harry’s right wing screeds against climate science.” Before you dismiss the book, understand that Dr. Lomborg acknowledges that climate change exists, that it is caused primarily by human activity, that it is bad for the planet and we need to solve it.

Where his book differs from many of the arguments in the political arena today is that he says there are other, more effective and realistic ways to address the issue. Lomborg is a PhD and a professor at Stanford, not in climate science but in statistics. This book is a report of his examination of many of the studies, reports and trends in the current academic literature. After examining them, he proposes a different approach to solving the problem. Agree with him or not, this book poses some questions that should be considered.

"False Alarm" is packed with footnotes, graphs and summaries of studies that are much too detailed to explain in this article. If you are concerned about climate change and are willing to consider ideas you haven’t considered before, I urge you to read it. I will discuss a few of the big ideas in it.

Climate change and what to do about it is one of the most contentious and emotional issues we face today. Many arguments are based on emotion, not logic. One image that has been used to evoke emotion is the lonely polar bear floating on a small chunk of ice. That bear was an icon for climate activists. You don’t see that image too much any more because, guess what? The number of polar bears has been increasing from as low as 5,000 to an estimated 26,000 today. It seems hunting, not global warming, was causing their demise. When it ended, their numbers went up.

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Lomborg labels much of the debate as “climate panic” which has been stoked by sensational media reports. We’ve all heard that there are more hurricanes, more droughts, and more floods now. The actual UN studies found “no significant observed trends in global cyclone frequency.” The UN also had “low confidence in global-scale observed trend in drought.” There was a “lack of evidence regarding a trend in the magnitude or frequency of floods.”

We have been told by many Climate Cassandras that we only have until 2030 before the planet is doomed. The Washington Post reported that sea level rise would make 187 million people homeless. That infamous report was based on 2019 paper which relied on a 2011 study which acknowledged that it didn't take into account humans' ability to adapt. Its conclusion was that realistic assumptions of people displaced by high seas would be 305,000- 1/600th of the original figure.

The biggest culprit in global warming, we are told, is carbon dioxide. Nearly every proposed solution involves cutting those emissions. Professor Lomborg discusses the actual conclusions of a study done by the EPA and the UN's panel of climate scientists which found that if all the major economies in the world cut their CO2 output to zero right now (which is impossible and would cause the entire world economy to grind to a disastrous halt) such a cut would reduce the Earth's temperature rise by just under .8° in 80 years. In other words, it wouldn't matter. Even Dr. James Hansen, an outspoken climate crusader says "suggesting renewables will let us phase off fossil fuels ... is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy."

If jousting at wind turbines from our solar powered cars won’t solve the problem, what will? “False Alarm” offers many suggestions. The first is research. A lot of research can be done with the money being spent on ineffective wind and solar projects. That is where we will find real sources of viable clean energy. Energy storage is another promising area. The ability to store unlimited amounts of wind and solar could help make those sources more practical. Nuclear energy is an obvious but under-used source.

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The book stresses the human ability to adapt to changes in our environment. Since we first got up on two legs and walked out of the Great Rift Valley we have learned to live in different climates. That's how we settled in Siberia and the Sahara and survived the last ice age.

It’s not possible to summarize everything Dr. Lomborg talks about, but it is thought provoking. There are those who will simply dismiss his ideas because they don’t agree with them and others will criticize them without reading them. But, those who are willing to have an open mind on this important subject will find “False Alarm” an interesting alternative take on the accepted wisdom.

It offers a realistic hope for the future of our planet and perhaps some comfort to the scared little girl thinking she will die of climate change. She won’t.

Harry Bulkeley is a retired Knox County judge and a local historian.

This article originally appeared on Galesburg Register-Mail: 'False Alarm' - Book raises questions about solving climate change