In January, the great and not so good of the corporate elite gathered at Davos for another telling off from Greta Thunberg.
“One year ago I came to Davos and told you that our house is on fire,” the climate activist reminded delegates. “I said I wanted you to panic.” In the intervening year they had not panicked enough, she said.
Although the meeting of the World Economic Forum was dedicated to creating a “Cohesive and Sustainable World”, and corporate culture has gone obsessively green, the naughty capitalists and greedy governments refused to end the use of fossil fuels instantly.
The rotters refused to extinguish commercial lifestyles to save the planet from imminent immolation.
Ironically, even as the high priestess of the Extinction Rebellion religion preached her sermon, Covid-19 was sweeping in from China and weeks later would shut down the world economy.
Since then we have all been treated to a live experiment in what happens when economic activity is cut by 25 percent.
While there are undoubted upsides and lessons to be learned about cleaner air in cities, the downside is looming mass unemployment, the ruin of the global aviation industry, and worsening health and educational inequalities.
This is not enough for Extinction Rebellion campaigners who want to go even further in shutting down activity.
Earlier this month, Thunberg set out in an open letter a list of demands that, if implemented, would make the economic effects of Covid-19 seem mild. Her co-signatories included assorted celebrities, activists, and, inevitably, Coldplay.
Climate catastrophists are clearly keen to get the alarmist show back on the road, perhaps because they have been eclipsed by the pandemic.
I am not someone who denies that protecting the environment is important. Cleaner air is required. When it comes to more efficient energy, less wasteful consumption, and rewilding our countryside, I’m all for it.
But the hysteria of the XR crew, amplified by the media, is counterproductive because it frightens people and could lead to panicked policy-making.
The risk is that overreaction by governments will turn voters against any kind of environmental policy. It need not be this way. With the intelligent use of technology and mitigation measures, mankind is more than capable of adapting to warmer conditions.
This is one of the points made in Bjorn Lomborg’s important new book False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.
Mr. Lomborg is a long-standing environmentalist regarded as a heretic by hardliners in the movement because he is an optimist who says that humanity is not doomed.
Global warming is happening, he says, but populations have been “scared witless” into thinking that it means the end of life on Earth.
“The rhetoric on climate change has become ever more extreme and less moored to the actual science,” he says. “The science shows us that fears of a climate apocalypse are unfounded. Global warming is real, but it is not the end of the world. It is a manageable problem.”
Lomborg advocates a “well-designed” carbon tax and reduced emissions but also more adaptation of the kind that, unheralded, is already happening. For 150 years sea levels have been rising and we have adapted by improving coastal protection.
We’re learning more about rivers and flood protection too. On heatwaves, economic growth will help to pay for better and more fuel-efficient air conditioning.
Cities can be adapted with more green spaces. Even something as simple as ensuring that roofs and roads are lighter in color — not black, which absorbs heat and warms urban areas — can make a difference.
For the sin of deviation from the apocalyptic consensus, The New York Times — woke bible and host of the Greta event at Davos in January — unleashed the eminent economist Joseph Stiglitz to lambast Mr. Lomborg, who has since responded with an amusing line-by-line demolition of Mr. Stiglitz’s claims.
But what may make the biggest difference to the debate is population decline.
A study published this month by the Department of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle suggested that a declining global fertility rate would cause population levels to plummet from 2064.
Twenty-three countries including Japan, Thailand, and Spain will have their populations more than halved.
This threatens to undermine one of the foundations of climate alarmism: the assumption that there are too many ghastly people and, by breeding and consuming resources, we will all soon destroy Mother Earth.
The prospect of population decline could be bad news for the fundraising efforts of the Greta crew if it becomes clear that climate change is even more manageable than thought.
I doubt that hardline climate campaigners will for one second allow this to dilute the purity of their doom-laden message, though. They have founded a religion and anything that distracts from it is heresy.
In that respect, they have much in common with woke calls for a social justice revolution. The best parallel for both of these is perhaps with the 16th and 17th centuries and the spread of Puritanism, a campaign to purify worship and signal virtue.
As the more extreme Puritans knew, declaring the apocalypse — a simple message — is strangely seductive and exciting.
Once again, on climate, the less intoxicating and more cheeringly mundane reality is that human beings are ingeniously adaptive. We’ll find a way through if we all keep our heads.
Read more at The Times