mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Folly of Green Fearmongering

The Green movement’s fear tactics are undermining the cause, the Breakthrough Institute‘s Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger say in the NYT:

There is every reason to believe that efforts to raise public concern about climate change by linking it to natural disasters will backfire. More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization. […]

Evidence that a fear-based approach backfires has grown stronger. A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. “Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern,” the researchers wrote, “they clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.” In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.

If you haven’t already, you should acquaint yourself with the Breakthrough Institute. They consistently generate some of the smartest (and often the most counter-establishment) thinking on the environment. This latest op-ed, penned by the think tank’s two co-founders, makes an argument we’ve long supported: that climate alarmism is the leading cause of climate skepticism.

We know that greenhouse gas emissions have reached levels unprecedented in modern history, and that these emissions will eventually contribute to higher surface temperatures. But when it comes to predicting the future evolution of climate, the share of man’s impact on it, and the size, scope, and timescale of the effects of climate change—the “fiddly bits,” in other words—we are learning more every day about how little we actually know. But this hasn’t stopped the green movement from banging on about the apocalypse in an attempt to scare the public into supporting its politically unworkable policies.

As Breakthrough‘s founders point out in their op-ed, this strategy hasn’t worked. People are increasingly skeptical of climate change, because they can usually tell when the world hasn’t ended. The environmental movement needs to listen more to thinkers like Nordhaus and Shellenberger, and less to the alarmist voices.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    We don’t know that “these emissions will eventually contribute
    to higher surface temperatures.” We might think it possible, despite the failure of (smoothed average) surface temperature to rise since 1997, or even likely, but we absolutely don’t know what’s going on. Given the enormous increase in emissions, one might equally-well postulate that they are keeping an Ice Age at bay. The AGW theory has been utterly discredited by the empirical data.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The environmentalist movement could start with explaining why a warmer world is a bad thing. During the medieval warm period when temperatures were warmer than they are today, people colonized Greenland and were growing grapes and making wine in Moscow.

    How is enlarged growing seasons and growing areas a bad thing?

    In addition, experiments have shown that the increase in CO2 approximately +100 ppm (285 ppm – 385 ppm) increases plant growth by +15% and makes plants more water tolerant (need less water). Since plants are the base of the food chain, this means 15% more food for animals and mankind.

    How is more food a bad thing?

    The historical record shows that for at least the last 1.5 million years the world has been going through Ice Ages every 100,000 years like clockwork, with the interglacial periods lasting from 11,000 to 14,000 years. The present interglacial period is now a long in the tooth 14,000 years old and we can expect that a new Ice Age is imminent.

    If CO2 really does cause a greenhouse effect (no evidence yet that it does), isn’t that a good thing in the face of an imminent Ice Age?

    In conclusion, the benefits of increased CO2 far outweigh any yet to be observed deleterious effects. And it is in fact the Billions even Trillions of dollars being wasted on failing and failed green boondoggles, that are the worst observable effect of increased CO2.

    • Corlyss

      I love the NIPCC’s response to the IPCC’s hysteria: we’re basing our report findings on OBSERVED phenomena, not computer models which haven’t got it right yet. Several years ago, Freeman Dyson had a funny put down for the models: the models have not yet been able to predict known events and models which cannot pass that test are unworthy of serious consideration. He was speaking of the El Nino/La Nina phenomenon, the existence of which no one disputes, not even the Greens’ paid trolls.

  • Rick Johnson

    The leading cause of climate skepticism isn’t climate alarmism, it’s the failure of the warmerist to produce any credible evidence that human activity is having a deleterious impact on the Earth’s climate.

    Claims that high levels of greenhouse gases will eventually contribute to higher surface temperatures also lack a firm scientific bases.

    Skepticism is on the rise because people have seen through the Greens BS.

    • Bruce

      In addition, everybody has cable TV and watches National Geographic Channel and learns that there are currently deserts where oceans used to be and oceans where deserts used to be and this all happened before man “evolved.” So the hysteria doesn’t add up, given that the world’s climate changes frequently over billions of years.

  • Corlyss

    “But this hasn’t stopped the green movement from banging on about the apocalypse in an attempt to scare the public into supporting its politically unworkable policies.”
    Let’s be candid. The greens don’t give a fig about public opinion as long as they can substantially underwrite the careers of policy-makers. EU and Europe has proven that fact dozens of times over.

  • Loader2000

    Based on every comment I read in the comments section of the NYT article, the argument that the authors made fell of completely deaf ears. I didn’t read a single comment that didn’t have this basic tone: “Just because a bunch of idiots won’t listen to the truth doesn’t mean we have to coddle them….”

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service