PRAGUE – Scare stories have been an integral part of the global warming narrative for a long time. Back in 1997, Al Gore told us that global warming was making the El Niño winds stronger and more severe. That has not happened. Greenpeace and many others have told us for years that we will see more violent hurricanes. In fact, over the last six years, global hurricane energy has dropped to its lowest level since the 1970’s, while the United States has had the longest absence of severe hurricanes ever (Sandy was a “superstorm,” not a hurricane, when it hit the vulnerable East Coast in October).
But the scares do not stop there. The World Wildlife Fund declared in 2004 that polar bears would go extinct by the end of the century, and that the calamity would start in Hudson Bay, where they would stop reproducing by 2012. The bears are still reproducing. And stories abound of global warming bringing malaria to Europe or Vermont. But here, too, the evidence contradicts such fears; in fact, malaria deaths have dropped more than 25% over the last ten years.
It is understandable that pundits, worried about global warming and frustrated with the near-absence of political interest or solutions, see exaggeration as an easy way to garner attention. The problem is that when these scare stories are later shown to be wrong, people become less willing to listen even to reasonable arguments about global warming. Indeed, skepticism about global warming has gone up, not down, as the false alarms have become increasingly high-pitched.
Moreover, by casting every problem as mainly caused by global warming, the solution almost automatically becomes cutting CO2 emissions, though this often is the slowest and costliest way to achieve the least good.