On Monday we were treated to an article in the online version of Het Laatste Nieuws (translation: The Latest News) with the catching title Climate researcher: “The idea that our grandchildren are in danger because the earth is warming, is absurd” (Dutch).
Reading the article, that “climate researcher” appeared to be Richard Tol, a professor of the economics of climate change. The article is quite different from the usual doom stories in the mainstream media. He explains that climate change is a very complex subject, that climate science is a young science, that lots of things are not known yet, that the climate has almost no influence on our wellbeing/prosperity and that we have the money/knowledge to do something against for example half a meter sea level rise. Also things like that there is no reason to assume that climate change is so terrible (unless you are fundraising for Greenpeace or are a politician who present himself as savior of humanity) or that the boys and girls of the KNMI (the Dutch weather bureau) had to do what they are paid for (forecasting the weather).
Quite a relief to read compared to the messages we normally get from the mainstream media. This sentiment was shared by many of the commenters. At this moment there are 106, most of them positive. Saying for example “That man has it right”, “Hallelujah, at last a skeptical view in the media”, “Nice that this view get published”, “Thank God for someone with common sense” and so on. I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t expect so many positive reactions. It shows that although our mainstream media is only reporting on the other side and restrict skeptical views, there are more people than I would expect who are not influenced by this, have other sources of information and/or have an innate skepticism. That is heartwarming.
I don’t go along with all of Tol’s arguments though. There are two that seems dubious to me. Like the statement that the maximum expected global warming (± 5 °C) would be nothing to worry about because between 6 am and 12 am there is already a difference of 8 °C. In our daily life scale that will indeed be true, but I am not really sure whether one can compare actual temperatures with an average annual temperature difference and expect it to be meaningful in reality. These are different beasts altogether. The same with sea level rise. A rise from the feet to the knees over a century doesn’t seems that much, but it is also an average, not comparable to an actual water level.
But I do agree that such changes are over a very long time and could be countered.
It is remarkable that such an article is being published, even without a reply or downplaying from the other side. This is a very rare occasion indeed. I hope the journalists aren’t getting into trouble for this.
The subject in the title was that we seem to care more about the future of the grandchildren than the current poverty. He sees poverty as a bigger problem than climate change (I agree) and asked the rhetorical question whether one will help the poor by reduce the emission of greenhouse gases or by fighting poverty?
That is what I foremost remember from this article: the disconnect between current real problems (like real pollution and poverty) that kills many millions right now, while policy makers are focusing on an issue that might cause problems many decades from now. That is indeed bonkers.
Translation of the article
Climate researcher: “The idea that our grandchildren are in danger because the earth is warming, is absurd”
People do have not lose sleep over the effects of climate change, says the influential Dutch economist and climate researcher Richard Tol. “The idea that our grandchildren are in danger as the planet warms, is utter nonsense.”
Richard Tol (46) closes occasionally his eyes while talking. He sits comfortably sagging in a canteen of the University of Sussex, southern England, near Brighton. He scratches his beard. Formulates carefully. The Dutchman is one of the most important economists in the world. Is a renowned climate researcher. With an unbuttoned lumberjack shirt, gray tuft and long in his neck.
The world is in commotion about the climate, but you claim that climate change is not a problem?
“There is no reason to believe that climate change is so horribe at this moment. Unless you raise funds for Greenpeace or are a politician who presents itself as the savior of mankind. Then you gain by exaggerating things. The reality is that the climate hardly affects our wellbeing and our prosperity. There are happy and rich people living in boiling hot Singapore, but also in freezing cold Canada. There are unhappy and poor people in boiling hot Kenya but also stone cold Mongolia. Climate change is not the main environmental problem. Dirty air causes currently roughly four million deaths each year. The UN climate panel IPCC states that at the end of this century up to one million deaths could be attributed to climate change. So a problem that causes a million deaths over a hundred years, is more important than a problem that causes millions of deaths now? Utter nonsense.”
One heat record is broken after the other. Arctic ice melts, the sea level rises. But is anyone who worries about that is talking straight from his neck?
“There is mass hysteria. Climate change is a very complex issue. It is only recently studied. We don’t know a lot of things yet. We do know that there are more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and that it makes it warmer. The IPCC, where I’ve spent years co-authored the climate reports, assumes a warming of up to 5 degrees. The warming between 06:00 am and 12:00 pm is on an average 8 degrees.
Of course people notice that it is currently hotter than normal. I even mowed the grass a few days back. That doesn’t make sense, it’s winter. But that it is warmer than normal in a particular year, is not necessarily a sign of climate change. And even if it does, then the consequences will be more subtle than dramatic.”
The Dutch KNMI says that it is “code orange for the climate”.
“The boys and girls from KNMI should do what they are paid: predict the weather. They have zero expertise in the field of climate policy. They know nothing about energy policy and nothing about economics and should keep their mouths. No, I don’t think that I disregard the negotiators at the climate summit in Paris. Nothing surprising came out of that summit. There is no link between the objectives and the climate policies. In that respect these climate agreements are just like world peace: it would be good if it would be there, but we continue to fight. Or with the use of oil and gas. This climate agreement means that a parliament must now decide what it will do in 2100. It is of course meaningless and in my view the number of climate summits can also be scaled back drastically.
I know that governments rather don’t want to hear that tens of thousands of civil servants dealing with climate change are unnecessary. And environmental organizations dealing with climate will not thank me for saying that they can better focus on something else. If a country wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, simply enter a carbon tax and in return reduce payroll taxes. Not everyone has a job, but everyone uses energy. For such a carbon tax, three officials at the Ministry of Finance are enough. It is not so complicated. Meanwhile, companies can focus on cleaner forms of energy. It is technically possible. We know how wind, solar and water power must convert it into electricity. Without subsidies please. For as long as there are subsidies for windmills, solar panels or whatever, companies will not invest in products in the next 25 years. You don’t need to hold a carrot before the nose, but use carbon tax as a stick to chase them.
Climate policy has to become much simpler. There are too many rules. That creates confusion. Europe put companies for a huge dilemma: CO2 emissions should go down and the air cleaner. To meet both environmental goals, Volkswagen fiddled with the software in their cars, rather than to look for a technical solution. Now it threatens the company to go down, investigations for air quality go in the trash bin and climate policy should be redesigned. That isn’t helpful to anyone.”
Are you concerned that the future of your children is at risk due to climate change?
“Not for a moment. It disturbes me hearing people like Al Gore say that he is worried about the future of his grandchildren. Complete madness. The best estimate is that sea level will rise half a meter this century. That is from the ground to our knees. The Netherlands has the money and the knowledge to do something against it. It is the poorest who are affected by climate change. They are the grandchildren of the people in a country like Bangladesh, that are at risk by the rising sea levels. But why are we suddenly concerned about the grandchildren of people that we care little about. Poverty is a bigger problem than climate change. Do you help the poor by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or to fight poverty? An important question for which no one has a clear answer yet.”