Scared Silly about Global Warming

The continuous presentation of scary stories about global warming in the popular media makes us unnecessarily frightened. Even worse, it terrifies our kids.

Al Gore famously depicted how a sea-level rise of 20 feet (six meters) would almost completely flood Florida, New York, Holland, Bangladesh, and Shanghai, even though the United Nations estimates that sea levels will rise 20 times less than that, and do no such thing.

When confronted with these exaggerations, some of us say that they are for a good cause, and surely there is no harm done if the result is that we focus even more on tackling climate change. A similar argument was used when George W. Bush’s administration overstated the terror threat from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

But this argument is astonishingly wrong. Such exaggerations do plenty of harm. Worrying excessively about global warming means that we worry less about other things, where we could do so much more good. We focus, for example, on global warming’s impact on malaria – which will be to put slightly more people at risk in 100 years – instead of tackling the half-billion people suffering from malaria today with prevention and treatment policies that are much cheaper and dramatically more effective than carbon reduction would be.