In an extended essay for the Guardian excerpted from her new book, Naomi Klein showcases everything wrong with climate alarmism. First, she slings out a string of dire warnings that are preposterous, going far beyond what the “consensus science” of the latest IPCC report says. Then, after terrifying her readers with bogus warnings, Klein then calls for massive government action on the scale of the “Marshall Plan” in order to achieve all sorts of progressive goals, including a more equal society. Klein’s essay shows that she too—just like outgoing IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri—views climate activism not merely as a scientific endeavor, but as a secular religion.
Naomi Klein’s Preposterous Warnings
Here are some examples of the absurd rhetoric in Klein’s essay:
Faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis…[T]he global economy is upping the ante from conventional sources of fossil fuels to even dirtier and more dangerous versions – bitumen from the Alberta tar sands, oil from deepwater drilling, gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), coal from detonated mountains, and so on.
Meanwhile, each supercharged natural disaster produces new irony laden snapshots of a climate increasingly inhospitable to the very industries most responsible for its warming. Like the 2013 historic floods in Calgary that forced the head offices of the oil companies mining the Alberta tar sands to go…Or the drought that hit the Mississippi river one year earlier, pushing water levels so low that barges loaded with oil and coal were unable to move for days…
Living with this kind of cognitive dissonance is simply part of being alive in this jarring moment in history, when a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting us in the face – and yet we are doubling down on the stuff that is causing the crisis in the first place.
[W]e look but try to be hyper-rational about it (“dollar for dollar it’s more efficient to focus on economic development than climate change, since wealth is the best protection from weather extremes”) – as if having a few more dollars will make much difference when your city is underwater.
We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will very likely drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas, and there is a very high chance that our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. [Bold added.]
I hope I don’t have to even argue that our species, Homo sapiens, is not threatened by climate change in even the most extreme scenarios studied in the literature. Yes, it is theoretically possible that runaway climate change could wipe out our species, just as it’s theoretically possible that emitting radio waves will alert hostile aliens to our presence and lead to the destruction of humanity. That is hardly an argument for banning radios.
Regarding sea level rise, the latest IPCC report (the Fifth Assessment Report or AR5) says that in a business-as-usual scenario—meaning governments don’t take drastic new measures to restrict carbon dioxide emissions—concludes that the “likely” sea level rise by the year 2100 will be between 26 and 82 centimeters. It is true that some experts warn policymakers that they should prepare for a “worst case” scenario of 190 centimeters. But these outcomes are hardly a given, contrary to Naomi Klein’s casual references to major cities being underwater. And even in those circumstances—again contrary to Klein—many analysts think the rational thing to do would be to continue using efficient, affordable energy in order to develop these coastal regions and fortify them against rising sea levels.
Remember, the type of drastic emission cutbacks Klein has in mind would literally cost the world many trillions of dollars in forfeited economic output. That estimate comes not from skeptical groups who are pro-business, but rather from William Nordhaus’s own modeling. (See the “abatement costs” of various policies in Table 4 of my journal article here.) Humanity is very resourceful and can do a lot with many trillions of dollars and 85 years to prepare, especially if we’re talking about what even the IPCC’s own computer models consider to be an unlikely threat.
Regarding extreme weather events, here too the actual published science doesn’t support Klein’s rhetoric. As I explained in this previous IER post, the latest IPCC report doesn’t support the claims that many current extreme weather events are due to manmade climate change. Here are some excerpts from the IPCC’s Working Group I (AR5) report:
- “Overall, the most robust global changes in climate extremes are seen in measures of daily temperature, including to some extent, heat waves. Precipitation extremes also appear to be increasing, but there is large spatial variability.”
- “There is limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century.”
- “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.”
- “In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.”
- “In summary, there is low confidence in observed trends in small-scale severe weather phenomena such as hail and thunderstorms because of historical data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems.”
- “In summary, the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century…”
Finally, regarding Klein’s claims that our children will be threatened by the ravages of climate change: She is apparently unaware that according to one of the three climate models selected by the Obama Administration to estimate the “social cost of carbon,” manmade global warming will confer net benefits on humanity through the year 2065 or so. (See my treatment of Claim #3 in this earlier IER post for the details.) I don’t know how old Klein’s children are, but I can say that one of the leading computer models predicts that my son will be around 60 years old at the point when human carbon dioxide emissions stop helping humanity on net and turn into a nuisance.
Is the general public getting this aspect of the “consensus science” on climate change? Would the average person have any idea that one of the Obama Administration’s own computer models contains this prediction?
Klein Reveals the Real Driver of Climate Alarmism
Later in her essay, Klein unwittingly reveals why she is so unconcerned with the actual facts, and instead relies on over-the-top rhetoric to scare her readers into action. Just look at these amazing quotations:
In 2009, when the financial crisis was in full swing, the massive response from governments around the world showed what was possible when our elites decided to declare a crisis.
We all watched as trillions of dollars were marshaled in a moment. If the banks were allowed to fail, we were told, the rest of the economy would collapse. It was a matter of collective survival, so the money had to be found….A few years earlier, governments took a similar approach to public finances after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In many western countries, when it came to constructing the security/surveillance state at home and waging war abroad, budgets never seemed to be an issue.
In the very same way, if enough of us stop looking away and decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of what some have called a “Marshall Plan for the Earth,” then it will become one, and the political class will have to respond, both by making resources available and by bending the free market rules that have proven so pliable when elite interests are in peril…
I have begun to understand how climate change – if treated as a true planetary emergency akin to those rising flood waters – could become a galvanising force for humanity, leaving us all not just safer from extreme weather, but with societies that are safer and fairer in all kinds of other ways as well….
Once the lens shifted from one of crisis to possibility, I discovered that I no longer feared immersing myself in the scientific reality of the climate threat. And like many others, I have begun to see all kinds of ways that climate change could become a catalysing force for positive change – how it could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to re-claim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; and to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water. All of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality within our nations and between them. [Bold added.]
The above is truly jaw-dropping. If Glenn Beck had been given an opportunity to write a bogus entry in Al Gore’s diary, in order to discredit the claims that his climate activism was backed up by hard science, Beck could hardly have done better than Naomi Klein’s stated plan to use climate policy to achieve a host of other progressive social reforms.
Naomi Klein detests capitalism; she previously wrote a (different) book arguing that free-market academics use disasters to push through their political agendas. By her own admission in her new essay, she didn’t originally take the climate alarms very seriously, but she changed her mind on what the science said, oh so coincidentally just as she also realized that she could scare the heck out of everybody and achieve a host of her other political goals that voters would never approve in a straight-up choice. Just as the elites used the financial crash in 2008 to push through trillions of dollars of bailouts and new regulations that take advantage of the little guy, so too does Naomi Klein want to trumpet a scary crisis in order to sabotage the very economic system that has pulled billions of people out of poverty and will help billions more.
 To avoid confusion, let me be clear that the creator of the FUND model, Richard Tol, is a supporter of government action to curb carbon dioxide emissions, even though his model predicts net benefits past mid-century. The reason is that those gains are already “baked into the cake,” and Tol thinks it is important to begin putting the brakes on human-caused emissions to slow the train, as it were. Nonetheless, my statements in the main text are perfectly true: According to Tol’s model, humanity will enjoy more benefits than harms from manmade climate change for the next several decades, which makes it difficult to square with Klein’s assertions that our children will suffer the ravages of climate change. And to repeat, Tol’s model is not obscure or crankish; it was one of only three selected by the Obama Administration’s Working Group to estimate the impacts of emissions.
 In her earlier book, Klein reported many alarming items regarding the behavior of Western governments and the role some pro-market intellectuals played in advising the notorious Chilean dictator, Pinochet. However, Klein incorrectly (in m view) concluded that this was an inevitable feature of capitalism per se, that it could only be forced upon a population against their wishes (and was hence evidence that capitalism must be anti-social).