More Scare Tactics on Climate Regulations


Bjorn Lomborg has a great article in Foreign Policy walking through the problems with a major new study warning of the need for government action on climate change in order to avoid millions (!) of deaths. Lomborg’s critique shows how the climate change debate, especially as it’s reported in the major media, is full of exaggerations and non sequiturs. Even though the advocates of massive new government regulations like to use the phrase “climate denier,” this has nothing to do with the physical science itself. Rather, the loudest cries for aggressive regulations ignore what the physical and economic studies show, as Lomborg points out so elegantly in his piece.

The study in question is put out by a group called DARA and is titled, “Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2nd Edition. A Guide to the Cold Calculus of a Hot Planet.”  Upon the study’s release in late September, major media around the world breathlessly repeated its shocking findings. For example, the Huffington Post ran an article with the headline, “”Climate Change Deaths Could Total 100 Million By 2030 If World Fails To Act.”

The only problem is that this claim is completely bogus, for several different reason. First of all, Lomborg shows that the actual study doesn’t back up this claim:

[T]he report is seen to claim that “climate change deaths could total 100 million by 2030.” This is actually not what the report says. It carefully outlines how “the present carbon-intensive economy” is causing 4.975 million deaths per year as of 2010, and how by 2030 the “carbon economy — and climate change-related” impacts will kill 6 million people every year.

Why the cumbersome language of a “combined climate-carbon” economy? Drilling into the composition of the 4.975 million deaths in 2010, one finds these deaths are not predominantly caused by climate …

Indeed, 1.4 million deaths are caused by outdoor air pollution, which is almost entirely unrelated to global warming.

Thus we see the clever bait-and-switch used by the study’s authors. They wanted a really big number for the headlines, and so they discussed deaths due to the “combined climate-carbon” economy, knowing that in the big policy debates, the average reader would assume these were deaths associated with global warming. Digging into the actual study, Lomborg finds that the actual number of deaths even possibly attributable to global warming / climate change is 400,000—and this number too is likely exaggerated, Lomborg claims, but he is relying on the study itself just to make the point. Yet even if this were the correct number, Lomborg says that the study’s summary statements show “the impression clearly intended for the media was almost 5 million deaths, or a more than twelve-fold exaggeration.”

Another major problem: The study’s estimates of the economic cost of climate change in the next few decades completely disagrees with the actual peer-reviewed studies on the subject. This isn’t something that the average person knows, because the alarmists repeatedly chant the mantra of how climate change is already wreaking havoc on the world. But here is a quotation from the DARA study itself:

The findings of this report differ from previous studies that largely understand climate change as a net benefit or minimal cost to society today (or prior to mid-century), and which inform current economic decision-making on climate change, making it easier for governments to avoid serious action.

After quoting from this bit of refreshing candor, Lomborg wryly comments: “Such admission, of course, should make us wary of suddenly accepting a phenomenally larger estimate (with a different sign) from a study that has not been published in the peer-reviewed literature.”

Yet it gets even worse. Let’s put aside the fact that the study used a very misleading summary of its findings, to inflate the perceived death toll of climate change by a factor of 12, and that its own non-peer-reviewed analysis is at complete odds with the received economic studies of the impact of climate change through mid-century. Even so, nobody thinks that aggressive actions by governments today, can appreciably alter the climate’s trajectory by the year 2030. Even the most alarmist advocates of massive intervention are only claiming that we need to act immediately, in order to start turning the ship, as it were. Here’s Lomborg’s description of the problem:

By constantly talking about action and inaction throughout the report, DARA managed to get almost all newspapers to emphasize that all of the bad outcomes described by 2030 would only happen if we didn’t take climate action. The truth is, that nothing we realistically could do about climate emissions would make any change by 2030.

Lomborg’s purpose wasn’t to be a “denier”; he personally believes the type of climate models endorsed by major scientific organizations and the IPCC. Rather, Lomborg is simply showing another example of academics using deliberately misleading statistics, in order to get the major media to sway public opinion in favor of government regulations in the name of climate change—even though the actual science doesn’t validate the narrative in question.

When it comes to looking at government interventions in the energy or transportation sectors, it’s not enough to ask, “Is global warming real?” We must go further and look at the actual economic impacts, and see the costs and benefits of the proposals. Very often the very analyses used to justify the proposals, do not back up what their advocates claim.

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