Bjorn Lomborg: How The Media Was Fooled
The new climate-change study getting all the headlines is deliberately misleading. Too bad so many in the media got fooled.
September 26 was a triumph for public relations. An organization called DARA launched a report called “Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2nd Edition. A Guide to the Cold Calculus of a Hot Planet.” The study, sponsored by 20 countries, projected some astoundingly large impacts from climate change, both on the number of deaths and the economic impacts. The report has produced a media heyday for climate alarmism, but is a house of cards built on dubious analysis and erroneous claims.
Nearly all the media coverage also portrayed the study uncritically, and with the assumption that these bad outcomes were crucially dependent on us not tackling climate change. (Another headline: “If world doesn’t act on climate, 100 million will die by 2030.”) Bloomberg News’s story helpfully stressed that if climate change remains, unchecked the cost will escalate by 2030 to 3.2 percent of GDP or about $6.7 trillion annually.
Unfortunately, this message to the public is dramatically misleading. Serious errors or omissions (whether intentional or not) in at least three areas — climate change deaths, economic costs, and the costs of “action versus inaction” — almost entirely undermine the entire thrust of the report.
Let’s be clear. Global warming is real and man-made, and it needs an effective response. But unfounded alarmism and panic are unlikely to engender good and effective policy.
Number of Dead
First, the report is seen to claim that “climate change deaths could total 100 million by 2030.” This is actually not what the report says. It carefully outlines how the “the present carbon-intensive economy” is causing 4.975 million deaths per year of 2010, and how by 2030 the “carbon economy — and climate change-related” impacts will kill 6 million people every year.
Why the cumbersome language of a of “combined climate-carbon” economy? Drilling into the composition of the 4.975 million deaths in 2010, one finds these deaths are not predominantly caused by climate change (only a few newspapers like the Guardian didn’t fall for this).
Indeed, 1.4 million deaths are caused by outdoor air pollution, which is almost entirely unrelated to global warming. This air pollution, of course, is still predominantly caused by fossil fuels, but only because that is what we mostly use for fuel in the world. So, while the report is technically correct in saying that these 1.4 million deaths are caused by “the present carbon-intensive economy,” these deaths are in no way caused by climate change. Rebranding air pollution, mostly from particulate pollution, as “carbon” appears both disingenuous and designed to confuse. It was clearly intended to convey the message that these deaths were somehow relevant for the global warming debate.