Economics was once known as “the dismal science” primarily because of an 18th century economist, Thomas Malthus, who famously predicted that population growth in Europe would lead to the extinction of the human race. In 1798, he wrote: “the power of population is so superior to the power of earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or form visit the human race.” Malthus was so convinced that “the vices of mankind are the active and able ministers of depopulation” that he bet his professional reputation on the imminent collapse of society. Malthus clearly underestimated mankind’s ability to adapt, survive and progress.
In our day, it is not economics but climatology that deserves the moniker of “the dismal science.” Last week, the Obama administration released its thoroughly depressing National Climate Assessment, an 829-page report written by climatologists, that predicts death and destruction, heat waves and hurricanes, famine and floods, due to man-made “climate change.” (Climate change used to be called “Global Warming” until that phrase became the punch line for late night comedians as American suffered through one of the coldest winters on record in 2013-14.)
After reading much of the report, I am convinced that these climatologists are modern-day Malthusians. While their mathematical models may prove correct and weather patterns may deteriorate over time, they vastly underestimate mankind’s ability to adapt, survive and progress in a changing world. We must be careful not to get caught up in the hysteria and hyperbole peddled by climatologists who would use their meteorological predictions to justify wholesale reordering of modern society. Alarmists rarely advocate for balanced policies.
Do I believe climate change is real? Yes, I do. In fact, given the overwhelming evidence gleaned from geological history, I am quite certain that climate change, rather than a recent anomaly, is a natural constant. Our planet is always changing, and there is no such thing as a meteorological equilibrium.
Do I believe mankind impacts climate change? Of course we do! We are part of the very environment we live in, and our tremendous capacity to harness and subdue nature is the hallmark of our collective success as human beings. I don’t see climate change as a tragedy because I cannot look at climate change in a vacuum. Sometimes I wonder if the climate change zealots, who wring their hands over the ever-expanding global population, lament the discovery of crop rotation, nitrogen fertilizer, the internal combustion engine, insulin, antibiotics and cancer treatments. The overall human condition is far better today than it was in 1895 when we first started recording global temperatures. To me, the overall human condition matters most.
While the National Climate Assessment presents some impressive analysis, it does not offer practical ways for society to alter the climate change course these climatologists insist we are on. Based on their own models, if Americans immediately stopped consuming all fossil fuels and collectively held our breath for the next 80 years, at best we would see a 0.5 Fahrenheit degree reduction in what climatologists predict will be a 4 degree increase in average global temperatures. The only way to substantively alter the trend in greenhouse gas emissions would be to eliminate half of the world’s human population and drive the rest back into the Stone Age. If genocide and devolution are the only antidotes to climate change, I think we should take our chances with less predictable weather.
We must not, in our collective angst over climate change, forget that with life comes a modicum of risk. Let’s not allow our fears to make us into Malthusians.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and former U.S. Senate candidate.