Quote of the Day:
In 15th-century Peru, we learned last week, children were sacrificed to propitiate to the Chimú gods, in an attempt to end natural disasters. In our time, the roles have been reversed. Now children warning of an impending climate catastrophe are the ones that have to be propitiated. Now it is they who demand sacrifices.
Niall Ferguson in “Beware of Greta Thunberg’s Science Fiction” in the Boston Globe
Greta Thunberg, as you probably know, is the 16-year-old who arrived in New York by “emissions free yacht” to attend, by invitation, a U.N. event on climate change.
She began lecturing President Trump almost the moment she set foot on U.S. soil. She urged him to “just to listen to the science, [as] he obviously doesn’t do that.”
Like all sane people, I have no desire for humanity to perish on an intolerably hot planet. But I join Mr. Ferguson in urging young Greta and her supporters/followers to listen to scientists on both sides of the global warming debate. Ferguson writes:
Now, I am not about to deny that climate change is happening, or that global warming is going to have adverse effects in the foreseeable future. Not even Bjorn Lomborg, the skeptical Danish economist, says that. The point, as he argued in a recent, brilliant presentation at the Hoover Institution, is that — as in the past — we humans are capable of adapting to climate change in ways that can significantly mitigate its adverse effects.
It would be foolish to do nothing to prepare for a warmer planet. But it would be even more foolish to take, on the basis of apocalyptic visions, extreme precautions that end up costing even more than inaction would. Subsidies to renewable energy have a cost. Cutting CO2 emissions has a cost. Those costs in terms of forgone growth could exceed the costs of climate damage if we over-reach in the way that, for example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal would. The key point, as Lomborg says, is that vastly more people die as a consequence of poverty each year than die as a consequence of global warming. A CO2 emissions target is not the optimal target if meeting it would trap millions in poverty, not to mention ignorance and ill health.
Back in the 1400s people in Peru believed that sacrificing their children would reduce rainfall. Not only did that not work. Regardless of their grim, murderous rites, they were soon to be hit by a far worse natural disaster than rain, namely the various lethal pandemics that swept the Americas following the arrival of Europeans. We know climate change can happen because it followed hard on the heels of this “great dying”: collapsing population in the New World reduced man-made emissions, leading to the so-called Little Ice Age.
I have said more than once in recent years that our era has more in common with the 16th and 17th centuries than with any intervening period. It is the early-modern world all over again, not least because the effects of the Internet on popular belief so closely resemble the effects of the printing press.
The challenge of millenarianism — as Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore pointed out in my favorite sketch from “Beyond the Fringe” — is what to do when the end of the world fails to happen.
Greta is right about one thing. The chances are virtually nil that the governments of the world will do as she asks. While the West virtue-signals, China, India, Brazil, and others will continue to attach more importance to growth than to curbing emissions in the drastic way she and her fellow Friday truants demand. The planet will grow warmer, just as it grew colder in the 1600s. And we shall adapt, taking advantage of the technological innovations that will gradually improve how we generate and store electrical power and ward off flood waters.
It is 2059. To the embarrassment (but, I hope, relief) of Greta Thunberg, now 56, her great expectations of the end of the world have not been fulfilled. Jair Bolsonaro didn’t torch the Amazon. Donald Trump didn’t incinerate the planet. You should come back to New York to celebrate our survival, Greta.
But this time fly.
By the way, several of Thunberg’s crew did fly back to Europe.