The other day, in comments on a Facebook post about climate change and science denial, I concurred with someone who noted that “CO2 emissions have an impact on climate is established science. The belief this will cause cataclysmic disasters is not,” by asserting that “The debate has been muddled almost beyond recognition or repair with this binary “it’s a lie” vs “if we don’t act now, we all die” false dichotomy.”

Rather promptly, I was ‘rebutted’ by someone snarkily stating “I mean except no one is saying “if we don’t act we will die now” but hey I guess strawmen are cool.”

Since I try to avoid making unsubstantiated assertions, I dredged up a couple of the more prominent predictions upon which I made my concurrence, including Prince Charle’s textbook example of over-precision fallacy that we have only 96 months to act. The prompt response was “Lol prince Charles isn’t a fucking scientist you clown.” and “What’s next? Gonna site [sic] Al Gore?”

My first thought was amusement that this AGW true-believer pre-emptively dismissed the Godfather of Global Warming so blithely. My second was that, for him to jump to Al Gore means he knew that Gore had made the exact sorts of catastrophic predictions he claimed “no one is saying.” So, he outed himself as a liar. Game, set, match, to me.

Just for fun, I dug up a few other global warming “tipping point” predictions, of yore and of recent times:

  • 1982 – Mostafa Tolba, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program: “By the turn of the century, an ecological catastrophe which will witness devastation as complete, as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust.”
  • 1989 – Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program: Governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control.
  • 2006 – Al Gore former US Vice President: Unless drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gases are taken within the next 10 years, the world will reach a point of no return.
  • 2007 – Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”
  • 2009 – Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: Negotiators had 50 days to save the world from global warming.
  • 2009 – Prince Charles: we have just 96 months to avert “irretrievable climate and ecosystem collapse, and all that goes with it.”
  • 2009 – James Hansen, NASA climatologist: “We have to get on a new path within this new administration. We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world.”
  • 2009 – Elizabeth May, leader of the Greens in Canada: “We have hours to act to avert a slow-motion tsunami that could destroy civilization as we know it. Earth has a long time. Humanity does not. We need to act urgently. We no longer have decades; we have hours. We mark that in Earth Hour on Saturday.”
  • 2011 – Tim Wirth, US Senator: called a second Obama administration term “the last window of opportunity” to enact policies that can avert a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.
  • 2014 – IPCC Warning: By 2018, no new cars, homes, schools, factories, or electrical power plants should be built anywhere in the world, ever again, unless they’re either replacements for old ones or carbon neutral.
  • 2014 – Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister: “We have 500 days to avoid climate chaos.”
  • 2015 – A Vatican Conference: A 2015 climate accord may be the last chance to keep global warming within a range deemed “safe” for the world, its people and its ecosystems.
  • 2017 – Eric Holthaus, climate scientist: “But if carbon emissions continue to track on something resembling a worst-case scenario, the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up.” “All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years — much too quickly for humanity to adapt.”
  • 2018 – Sixteen authors of a National Academy of Sciences paper: “Our analysis suggests that the Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions—Hothouse Earth.”
  • 2019 – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congresswoman: “World will end in 12 years’ if climate change not addressed.”
  • 2019 – Beto O’Rourke, Presidential candidate: “We have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis.”

Some of these names carry more authority and gravitas than others, but all are public figures with wide audiences, refuting any assertions that they are “nobodies.” Their pronouncements, especially the more recent ones, are utterly dismissive of all the previous predictions that failed to materialize. We didn’t get stronger and more violent hurricanes, we didn’t get entire nations flooded, we didn’t get polar bear extinction, we didn’t get a disappeared polar ice cap, to name just a few. And, we didn’t get anywhere near the warming that the models predicted. In plain english, the models don’t work. They overwhelmingly over-predicted warming. But, that hasn’t given the alarmists pause. Instead, they’ve become even more breathless and desperate in their warnings.

Their rhetoric reflects a mindset we can find in another sector of human behavior: the doomsday cult. In the psychology of the doomsday cult, we can find the “logic” behind increasingly dire predictions of imminent catastrophe in the wake of previous ones that failed to actualize.

From the Wikipedia article:

[T]his phenomenon [is] part of a coping mechanism called dissonance reduction, a form of rationalization. Members often dedicate themselves with renewed vigor to the group’s cause after a failed prophecy.”

People want to be right, especially when they’ve gone public with a declaration or prediction. Psychological discomfort at being wrong grows with the number of times one has committed to a position, with the broadness of the audience that heard that prediction, and with the degree that people took notice of the prediction (itself a function of the magnitude of one’s public image and name-recognition). At some point, commitment to a declaration or prediction becomes so established that an “I was wrong” admission is more than many could bear.

So it seems with the global warming alarmists, and that’s amplified by the careers that have been built, the fame that has been garnered, and the fortunes that have been made off global warming alarmism (for the record, I believe that there is some contribution to recent global temperature change from human carbon emissions. I am not convinced that we face a crisis, though, and I find the widely-embraced solution of renewables and carbon caps to be both quixotic and incredibly harmful. More here). They cannot walk back their alarmism without substantial public embarrassment and, likely, personal economic and reputational harm.

Therefore, they are incentivized to behave just like the members of a doomsday cult who don’t quietly slink off into darkness when the doomsday turns out not to be so doomy. Their incentive is a bit different from a traditional doomsday cultist’s, in that their dates-of-doom are “act by” dates, rather than “die on” dates. If their urgings are not heeded, they can simply reset their act-by dates to something in the future. Near enough to impart a sense of urgency, but far enough to give them room to blather it far and wide (to personal acclaim and benefit from those who want to perpetuate the paradoxical feel-good about warning the rest of us that the sky is falling).

Fact is, we should be happy that countless dire warnings of tipping points, catastrophic weather, entire nations being submerged, and the like, haven’t materialized. Yes, we don’t actually know if we’ve crossed a tipping point, but going by the ever-extended predictions of future dates at which we’ll hit it, it seems that even the “experts” feel we haven’t gone over the cliff yet.

But, like the people who were bitterly disappointed that the Mueller Report found that Trump is not a traitor (it would have been a disastrous turn for the country if he were), colluding with the Russians, we witness countless people who, it seems, would actually be sad or worse if global warming alarmism turned out to be overstated and/or not a problem that requires wholesale change in how we live and power our lives.

Does that mean that it’s not happening, or that there’s nothing to worry about? Hardly. As I’ve blogged, the best and smartest things the world’s nations should do are vigorously pursue nuclear power and invest in geoengineering research. As we do that, we should let the free market continue to shift energy production towards whatever works best and most efficiently. That includes the growth of natural gas power generation enabled by the fracking revolution (which is supplanting coal energy, which produces 4x more atmospheric carbon per unit energy) and the use of wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and whatever else makes economic sense (without the heavy finger of government tipping the scales).

But, we should not fall prey to the hysterics and doomsday cultists, whose anger at others’ resistance to wholeheartedly embrace their full-throated alarmism seems to make them want the worst to come true, just so they can say “we told you so!”

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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