Climate alarmism got a boost Wednesday from the United Nations head, who repeatedly expressed urgency regarding the “horror story” and “death sentence” of climate change in a speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF), but an expert in the field of climate science argued that the UN chief’s warnings should be taken with a grain of salt as there’s “no reason to ring alarm bells.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a gloomy message on the second day of the elite gathering of world leaders and corporate executives in the Swiss ski resort of Davos on Wednesday.
“I’m not here to sugarcoat the scale of the challenge or the sorry state of our world. We can’t confront problems unless we look them squarely in the eye. And we are looking into the eye of a Category 5 hurricane,” Gutteres claimed.
The UN chief said the widest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations are undermining efforts to tackle global problems, which also include the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply-chain disruptions, and a potential debt crisis as interest rates rise to tame price pressures.
Climate ‘Death Sentence’?
Guterres spoke of a myriad of “interlinked” challenges, including geopolitical turbulence and soaring inflation, all of which are “piling up like cars in a chain reaction crash.”
“Our world is plagued by a perfect storm on a number of fronts,” he warned, while singling out climate change for special attention as a supposed “existential challenge.”
“We are flirting with climate disaster,” Guterres said. “Every week brings a new climate horror story,” he continued, noting that greenhouse gas emissions are at record highs, while the global commitment to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius “is nearly going up in smoke.”
Without further action, the world is heading for a 2.8 degree increase, he warned, “and the consequences, as we all know, would be devastating.”
Parts of the planet would be rendered uninhabitable, he said, while for many, such a rise in temperatures would be a “death sentence.”
The UN chief has long been in the camp of climate alarmism, famously saying at the COP27 climate change summit in Egypt several months ago that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”
But a number of experts say this is a simply a bad take. Among them is Steven Koonin, a professor at New York University’s department of civil and urban engineering, who once served as undersecretary for science at the Department of Energy, and holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the Massachussets Institute of Technology.
‘Almost a Nothingburger’
Koonin threw cold water on the UN chief’s alarmism in a recent interview with psychology professor Jordan Peterson, arguing that humanity adapting to climate change may be a challenge, but it’s no emergency—and certainly no cause for panic.
Asked by Peterson what percentage of scientists in his view “take an apocalyptic view” on the climate change issue, Koonin estimated that around 95 percent aren’t in that camp.
“None of them are kind of jumping off the roof and saying ‘My God, we’d better do something or we’re headed for the climate highway to hell’ or something which is what the Secretary General of the UN said a couple of months ago,” Koonin said, referring to Guterres’ remarks at COP27.
“No, we’re not,” he insisted. “It’s an issue. It’s a long-term problem. We can deal with it. But there’s no reason to ring alarm bells.”
Koonin, who wrote the bestselling book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, told Peterson that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide have, contrary to some apocalyptic predictions, been associated with benefits like greater greening of the planet.
For instance, the Leaf Area Index (LAI), which is a measure of the amount of leaf area per unit ground area in a plant canopy, has gone up by around 40 percent since the 1980s, Koonin said.
Agricultural yields have also risen, with a number of countries, including the United States, “going gangbusters on producing crops” and this, Koonin argued, “is certainly one of the benefits” of higher carbon dioxide concentrations.
“And it’s a significant one that has to be weighed against hypothetical detrimental effects from global warming, and the net of them is a few percent again, it’s in the noise, you can’t distinguish it. There are other factors about human well-being that are much more important than whether the climate is changing or not,” he argued.
“If I wanted to be a little snarky, it’s almost a nothingburger,” he said of the issue of climate change and global warming, adding that “the science says that, if you read the reports.”
“But the detrimental effects get hyped up by various players,” he added.
‘Hard to Find Trends’ of Negative Climate Impacts
Koonin also discussed the widely cited report from the International Panel on Climate Change which stated that policymakers tend to read summaries rather than the detailed report itself and formulate incorrect conclusions.
He said the detailed report acknowledges natural variation in temperature, not just human-caused, and that aside from things directly associated with warming like record-high temperatures, there are basically no extreme weather event trends.
“You don’t see much trends, globally,” he said. “Drought—hard to see a trend. Hurricanes or tropical cyclones—hard to see any trend at all over a century.”
He acknowledged that there’s a “little thing” that warrants some, namely sea level rise, but that this is proceeding at about one foot per century.
“It’s hard to find trends,” he said. “Doesn’t mean that the trends aren’t there. But they’ve just not emerged from the date.”
Koonin is one a number of experts who have pushed back against climate alarmism. Another is California-based environmentalist Michael Shellenberger, who told The Epoch Times in an interview several months ago that the most common misconception about climate change is that it “poses some existential risks to humankind.”
Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress and author of The Death of Environmentalism, said that the number of weather-related disasters have been going down for the past 20 or so years.
“It’s true that the planet is getting warmer, but we’ve been doing a really good job of adapting to it,” he said.
While the concept of a climate emergency has been promoted by scientists engaging in political advocacy, Shellenberger said that scientific studies suggest that it isn’t “anything other than a kind of incremental, cumulative issue.”
“The psychologically damaging effect of social media, the rise of drug overdose deaths in the United States, the crisis facing Europe because of lack of energy—these are all much more important problems to worry about than climate change problems,” he added.
“If you want to worry about environmental problems, then you should worry about the overconsumption of fish. That’s one of the environmental problems that doesn’t get enough attention.”
Nina Nguyen contributed to this report.