This short article is intended for a special reader of mine who recently sounded the alarm on the issue of climate change. As it appears here, the term is italicized for reasons that will become evident upon further reading. While I have tremendous respect for the reader who has sounded the alarm, and while I do not contend to offer an exhaustive assessment on the subject, I do believe that these points are both valid and worthy of consideration. I submit these out of admiration for said reader, and for due consideration by all others who take the slightest interest in this very important topic.
First, let it be known that there is good cause behind the phrase 1,000-year flood. Climate change is nothing you have to prove; it's always happening, and it always has happened. To sound the alarm about a natural and cyclical global phenomenon is, to put it delicately, disingenuous. Any focus on the temperature change in one part of the world ignores the fact that the average global temperature has been dropping for decades, even though the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing. This finding is even corroborated by the EPA in a report which clearly contradicts the theory that CO2 emissions cause the temperature to rise.
On the subject of rising sea levels, there is no evidence which strictly relates the phenomenon to human activity. First, the methods for measuring sea level have changed over time, and the task has proven difficult all the while. What's more, those measurements account not distinctly for the changing sea levels, but also for the movements of land; in most places, the land makes the greater impact. It is for this reason that we don't have a reliable gauge for sea level rise. For the last several decades we've relied upon satellite measurements, which are not strictly comparable to prior measurements. Ultimately there is no evidence that these levels have changed much at all over the past few thousand years. They've been slowly rising all along over these past few thousand years after their initial rapid acceleration after deglaciation twelve thousand years ago. The claim that we've witnessed a sudden change to these levels, given the evolution in instrumentation, and that we ought to be alarmed by changes in the making for thousands of years, is simply dishonest. Meanwhile, where natural disasters take place, global warming is one of the least significant of contributors. By the way, from a true scientific point of view, "global warming" refers to the kind in the making for many thousands of years, not the political variety which erroneously places the blame on human beings.
It is essential to, at minimum, have some rudimentary appreciation for the subject in order to defend against the political ramifications attending baseless theories — theories that abound at times like these, in the face of extreme weather. All too often this subject, as with countless others, is complicated by the introduction of factors or events not properly understood by those who don’t specialize or even dabble in those particular fields. Too often people, like Einstein and Keynes among others, apply methods and concepts where they don’t belong; or they simply assume that their intuition, presumably validated by discoveries elsewhere, will serve them in those domains where they’ve done little more than cursory assessments (if any at all).
I believe it is also essential for people to appreciate that weather is distinctly separate from climate; the one certainly factors into the other, but the other describes a general and predictable pattern of the first. Only over long periods of time can we possibly determine whether it is indeed climate (as opposed to weather) that is changing; and, if true, that does not necessarily implicate manmade contributions. These are two claims, so often linked, but yet independently unsupported: (1) whether climate, on the whole, is changing as dramatically as claimed amongst certain political and academic circles; (2) whether manmade contributions are responsible. It’s important to note here that the academics are not apolitical; they are not altruists forsaking every self-interest. Where they are not expressly sponsored by government, they are, as humans, motivated by other powerful factors. Indeed, even the well-intentioned academics crave the attention and the credit that comes along with a major theoretical discovery; this is true even among those in any way attached to the field, who enjoy the prestige that comes along with being members of the “enlightened class”.
While I am intimately aware of the geological, geographical, and ecological effects on weather (and natural disasters), I am not certain that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that urban development has “significantly” contributed to extreme weather patterns (let alone climate change). Granted, the term “significantly” is rather subjective, but it is worth determining whether it is appropriate in this context.
While it’s certainly true that urban development can either exacerbate or mitigate the impact of weather, I’m not familiar with any hard evidence indicating that, on the whole, natural disasters or extreme weather patterns (beyond moderate differences in wind travel, temperature, or precipitation) are on the rise in those areas that have been developed. On the contrary, data (however reliable) points in the opposite direction: that deaths from natural disasters have declined precipitously over the past century, somewhere on the order of ninety percent. While this isn’t to say that urban development has not, in specific examples, exacerbated or failed to manage the threat of extreme weather, it is to say that, on balance, it has dramatically improved safety and preparedness for such major events. No doubt, these are separate issues, but worthy considerations nevertheless.
On the topic of extreme weather and natural disasters, it’s also worth noting that they are most prevalent in the relatively desolate regions of the country. Now, one might argue that these regions are desolate for that very reason, or that urban development would exacerbate those weather phenomena; and I would agree, but I would also suggest that this then becomes a question of degree and balance (as explained previously).
One of the considerations is the concept of the so-called urban heat/cold island: that buildings and land surface modifications affect the travel of wind and exposure to sunlight at dusk and dawn, thereby inducing more rainfall downwind and causing temperature differences, notably in summer and winter. However, there are incidental benefits associated with these phenomena, namely longer growing seasons; and these effects are not endemic to all urban areas, but more specifically depend on the “background climate” and local environmental conditions. Ultimately, this particular phenomenon, it must be noted, has not driven climate change, but has had a moderate (and variable) effect on localized weather; and remember, rural land still constitutes more than ninety-seven percent of the United States’ land area. The risk run by this narrative is that academics will forget the nuance and, as their sponsors and their disciples so often do, simply reduce it to binary absolutes that are far easier to sell to the public.
The planet operates, as an organism, toward a state of homeostasis, and there is no evidence that these particular factors threaten the earth as a whole. In fact, the greatest threat, so far as this discussion is concerned, is not weather or climate change, but population change. Now, the problem is not overpopulation, but the building political and economic headwinds, of which there are too many to exhaustively enumerate here.
On the one hand, it is unlikely (if not downright impossible) that the population could endure any of the measures introduced to meaningfully change course (as tracked against the aforementioned data). On the other, the now-unavoidable population decline, which will be precipitous, will, in time, resolve the issues so stressed in these times (so far as they exist at all). While the severity and scope of those issues, as highlighted, are inconclusive, we can rest assured that the academics haven’t reconciled their proposals with the tradeoffs (in just the same way the academics failed to assess the economic, psychological and social costs of lockdowns): among them the real possibility of population decline; a threat with such grave implications that the entire topic of “climate change” will suddenly seem academic.
As is likely obvious by now, the matter is a complex one, not only for each case study but for the proposals that follow from incomplete assumptions/conclusions.
The production of fossil fuel energy, beginning with coal, gained around the middle to latter half of the nineteenth century; whereas coal production has climbed gradually over the period, oil and gas (in that order) have since surpassed it, rising especially sharply after World War II. Meanwhile, wood has constituted a stable (if not slightly smaller) share over the period, with hydro and other renewables constituting a gradually larger (albeit still relatively minor) share over the past several decades.
Now, the issue isn’t that these developments have positively no impact, but that their impact, save for the localized variety already discussed, pales in comparison to the prevailing forces which determine climate. Again, this is a matter of scale, degree, and relativity, alien concepts to most who struggle to even grasp smaller models. Finally, there is no evidence at all which suggests that the planet is destined for a mass extinction event. In fact, something like six percent of the world’s species are even classified as “critically endangered”, and most of those are not facing imminent extinction; in fact, most are expected to survive. By the way, this is operating from the list of tracked species (numbering 120,372 as of 2021), not accounting for all of the others (estimated in the millions); so, in all likelihood, that percentage is much lower.
Remember, the five true mass extinction events of the past were caused by enormous cosmic and geological forces. It’s also important to remember that extinctions are a natural part of evolution (averaging, overall, two species per year): as it has been said, extinction is the rule, survival is the exception. Today’s extinction rate is hardly outside the norm for the past hundreds of millions of years; in fact, it would have to be many times higher to reach the levels of those prior mass extinction events. What’s more, the majority of known extinctions since the year 1500, roughly ninety-five percent, were traced to islands, with only five percent being traced to continents.
Upon assessing a more recent period, from 1993 onward, ten bird species and five mammal species have since gone extinct, averaging half a species per year. Accounting for the conservation efforts which likely “saved” upwards of eighteen species during that period, and assuming (in the worst-case scenario) that those eighteen would have gone extinct, we’d be left with an average of one and a half species per year. Remember, the overall average is around two species per year. Interestingly, another report indicates that some species have even evolved to cope with ecological and environmental changes. Ultimately, there is no evidence that we are on the precipice of a mass extinction event. What’s more, there is scant evidence to show that human activity today is substantially more threatening to animal life than when the aboriginal people from Siberia migrated to North and South America more than 11,000 years ago, who helped to wipe out all of the megafauna on those continents. But even then the cascading mass extinction event did not happen, probably because nature and our planet are far more resilient than believed by those dead set on selling an agenda.
For those seeking to be alarmed, virtually any extinction is akin to a mass extinction; they don’t distinguish between types, and they don’t account for the fact that extinction is the norm. There’s a whole industry around the alarmism, and “the science”, as it is ordinarily regarded, is little more than computer algorithms (as opposed to empirical data) operating from incomplete assumptions or otherwise toward predetermined conclusions.