The Most Pernicious Climate Myth of All

Harte, John | October 29, 2013 | Leave a Comment

most pernicious climate myth of all

Four decades ago, climate deniers spread the myth that there were flaws in the scientific studies showing that humanity was changing the level of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.

Three decades ago, that myth became untenable, but another myth arose, one casting doubt on the finding that those gases could alter climate in a significant way.

Two decades ago, in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus, the dominant myth shifted a little: those gases could warm the planet but their effect on climate would be minor compared to natural climate variation.

Last decade, many deniers accepted that human caused climate change would dominate natural variation, but spread the myth that the consequences to society would be acceptable.

Now, with compelling evidence from around the world of unacceptable damage from climate warming, the most pernicious myth of all has emerged:  the costs of preventing future catastrophic warming will be more painful than the cost of suffering global warming.

Why is this the most pernicious myth of all?  All the previous myths could be dispelled with good science, and they were.  But this current myth is all about economics and engineering and politics, not climatology.   It is the last holdout of the deniers…if this myth is shattered, nothing stands between them and humanity actually taking actions to save itself.

But scientists are reluctant to speak out about matters outside their area of expertise.   So who can speak truth to this final deception?  And why am I so confident that solving global warming can create jobs and make us wealthier?

The reason is that a strategy actually does exist for preventing catastrophic climate change without burdening society with unemployment and economic ruin, and in a subsequent blog I will describe it.   From the perspective of economics and engineering the strategy is feasible.  From the perspective of politics, however, it may be impossible to implement.  Because of politics, the United States has squandered much valuable time, having taken only one of the major steps that comprise the plan:  tightening fuel efficiency standards on U. S. automobiles.   There is much more that can be done.

The important point is that even if the cost of damage from un-mitigated climate change and the military cost of continuing to maintain access to foreign oil are ignored, the United States would still benefit economically from following the proposed strategy, and thereby reducing fossil fuel use to 30% of its current rate by 2030.  Even if every one of the scientific myths mentioned above were in fact true, the United States and the rest of the world would benefit from taking the steps that comprise the plan.

(For a preview of the proposal, take a look at the free downloadable book .

John Harte is a Professor in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley

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