by M. Shellenberger, Nov 3, 2021 in Unherd
No global problem has ever been more exaggerated than climate change. As it has gone from being an obscure scientific question to a theme in popular culture, we’ve lost all sense of perspective.
Here are the facts: in Europe, emissions in 2020 were 26% below 1990 levels. In the United States, emissions in 2020 were 22% below 2005 levels. Emissions are likely to start declining, too, in developing nations, including China and India, within the next decade. Most nations’ emissions will be bigger this year than last, due to post-Covid economic growth. But global emissions are still likely to peak within the next decade.
And the result will be a much smaller increase in global average temperatures than almost anyone predicted just five years ago. The best science now predicts that temperatures are likely to rise just 2.5-3°Cabove pre-industrial levels. It’s not ideal, but it’s a far cry from the hysterical and apocalyptic predictions of 6°C, made just a decade ago. A 3°C increase is hardly an existential threat to humanity.
Not that you’d know it, if you had half an eye on the headlines this summer. The floods, fires and heatwaves that plagued the world were, for many observers, proof that the impacts of climate change have already become catastrophic. In Europe, more than 150 people died in flooding. In the United States, wildfire season started earlier and lasted longer, razing hundreds of thousands of acres. Around the world, hundreds died from heatwaves.
But again, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the facts: there has been a 92% decline in the per decade death toll from natural disasters since its peak in the 1920s. In that decade, 5.4 million people died from natural disasters. In the 2010s, just 0.4 million did. Globally, the five-year period ending in 2020 had the fewest natural disaster deaths of any five-year period since 1900. And this decline occurred during a period when the global population nearly quadrupled — and temperatures rose more than 1°C degree centigrade above pre-industrial levels.