We can be confident that all true believers of The Science™ of climate change have taken careful note of the lessons offered by the coronavirus pandemic during 2020–22 for managing the ‘climate emergency’. The two agendas share nine items in common that should leave us worried, very worried.
The first is the revolting spectacle of the hypocrisy of the exalted elites who preach to the deplorables the proper etiquette of abstinence to deal with the emergency, and their own insouciant exemption from a restrictive lifestyle. Most recently we witnessed the surreal spectacle of Britain’s Parliament interrogating disgraced former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on allegations that he serially broke the lockdown rules he had imposed on everyone else—but not questioning the anti-scientific stupidity of the rules themselves. Possibly the most notorious American example was California Governor Gavin Newsom and his cronies dining maskless in the appropriately named French Laundry restaurant at a time when this was verboten, being served by fully masked staff.
Similarly, Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Al Gore and John Kerry have all been widely mocked for jetting around the world to warn people about global warming. I wonder if anyone has done a calculation of the total carbon footprint of each annual Davos gathering where CEOs, prime ministers and presidents, and celebrities fly in on private jets, are driven around in gas-guzzling limousines and preach to us on the critical urgency of reducing emissions? I understand the hookers do quite well during that week, so perhaps there is a silver lining.
A second common element between Covid and climate change is the mismatch between models that inform policy and data that contradict the models. The long track record of abysmally wrong catastrophist predictions on infectious diseases from the Pied Piper of Pandemic Porn Professor Neil Ferguson, is if anything exceeded by the failures of climate change alarmist predictions. The most recent example of the drum roll of “The end is nigh and this is absolutely your last chance to avert the end of the world from climate collapse” is yet another Chicken Little Sixth Assessment Report from the indefatigable Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
At some point the IPCC morphed from a team of scientists into activists. “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” the report warns us. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “survival guide for humanity.” But a one-time climate action journalist-turned-sceptic, Michael Shellenberger, described the UN as a “Climate Disinformation Threat Actor.” Calls for urgent climate action based on the language of “edging towards ‘tipping points”’ have been made over many years. Atmospheric scientists and former IPCC members Richard McNider and John Christy note that climate modelling forecasts have “always overstated the degree to which the Earth is warming compared with what we see in the real climate.” In 1982, UNEP Executive Director Mostafa Tolba warned of an irreversible environmental catastrophe by 2000 without immediate urgent action. In 2004, a Pentagon report warned that by 2020, major European cities would be submerged by rising seas, Britain would be facing a Siberian climate and the world would be caught up in mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting. In 2007, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri declared: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late.” Most hilariously, in Montana the Glacier National Park installed “Goodbye to the glaciers” plaques, warning: “Computer models indicate the glaciers will all be gone by the year 2020.” Come 2020, all 29 glaciers were still there but the signs were gone, taken down by embarrassed park authorities.
Third, the rapidly consolidating Censorship-Industrial Complex covered both agendas until Elon Musk began releasing the Twitter Files to expose what was happening. This refers to the extraordinary censorship and suppression of dissenting voices, with extensive and possibly illegal collusion between governments and Big Tech—and, in the case of the pandemic, also Big Pharma and academia. Even truth was no defence, for example with accounts of vaccine injuries, if their effect was to promote narrative scepticism. The social media Big Tech censored, suppressed, shadow banned and slapped labels of “false,” “misleading,” “lacking context” etc. to content at variance with the single source ministries of truth. “Fact checking” was weaponized using fresh young graduates—with no training, skills or capacity to sift between authentic and junk science—to put such judgmental stamps on pronouncements from world-leading experts in their field.
Fourth, an important explanation for the spread of Covid and climate catastrophism is the promotion of fear and panic in the population as a means to spur drastic political action. Both agendas have been astonishingly successful. Polls have consistently shown the hugely exaggerated beliefs about the scale of the Covid threat. On climate change, the gap between the stringent actions required, the commitments made and the actual record thus far is used to create panic. The notion that we are already doomed promotes a culture of hopelessness and despair best epitomized by Greta Thunberg’s anguished cry: “How dare you” steal my dreams and childhood with empty words.
A fifth common theme is the appeal to scientific authority. For this to work, scientific consensus is crucial. Yet, driven by intellectual curiosity, questioning existing knowledge is the very essence of the scientific enterprise. For the claim to scientific consensus to be broadly accepted, therefore, supporting evidence must be exaggerated, contrary evidence discredited, sceptical voices stilled and dissenters ridiculed and marginalized. This has happened in both agendas: just ask Jay Bhattacharya on one and Bjorn Lomborg on the other.
A sixth shared element is the enormous expansion of powers for the nanny state that bosses citizens and businesses because governments know best and can pick winners and losers. Growing state control over private activities is justified by being framed as minor and temporary inconveniences in the moral crusade to save Granny and the world.
Yet in both agendas, policy interventions have over-promised and under-delivered. The beneficial effects of interventions are exaggerated, optimistic forecasts are made and potential costs and downsides are discounted. Lockdowns were supposedly required for only two-three weeks to flatten the curve and vaccines, we were promised, would help us return to pre-Covid normalcy without being mandatory. Similarly, for decades we have been promised that renewables are getting less expensive and energy will get cheaper and more plentiful. Yet increased subsidies are still needed, energy prices keep rising, and energy supply gets less reliable and more intermittent.
Seventh, the moral framing has also been used to discount massive economic self-harm. Alongside the substantial and lasting economic damage caused by savage lockdowns to businesses and the long-term consequences of a massive printing of money, the obstinate persistence of excess deaths is painful proof of collective public health self-harm.
Similarly, the world has never been healthier, wealthier, better educated and more connected than today. Energy intensity played a critical role in driving agricultural and industrial production that underpin the health infrastructure and comfortable living standards for large numbers of people worldwide. High income countries enjoy incomparably better health standards and outcomes because of their national wealth.
Eighth, government policies in both agendas have served to greatly widen economic inequalities within and among nations with fat profits for Big Pharma and rent-seeking Green Energy. A lot of money was said to be required to keep Mahatma Gandhi in the style of poverty he demanded. Similarly, a lot of money is required to support Covid and climate policy magical thinking where governments can solve all problems by throwing more money that must neither be earned nor repaid.
In the triumph of luxury politics, the costs of the rich suffused in the golden glow of virtue are borne by the poor. Should a billion more Chinese and Indians have stayed poor and destitute over the last four decades, so Westerners could feel virtuous-green? Alternatively, for post-industrial societies, climate action will require cutbacks to living standards as subsidies rise, power prices go up, reliability comes down and jobs are lost.
Attempts to assess the balance of costs and benefits of Covid and climate policies are shouted down as immoral and evil, putting profits before lives. But neither health nor climate policy can dictate economic, development, energy and other policies. All governments work to balance multiple competing policy priorities. What is the sweet spot that ensures reliable, affordable and clean energy security without big job losses? Or the sweet spot of affordable, accessible and efficient public health delivery that does not compromise the nation’s ability to educate its young, look after the elderly and vulnerable and ensure decent jobs and life opportunities for families?
The final common element is the subordination of state-based decision-making to international technocrats. This is best exemplified in the proliferation of the global climate change bureaucracies and the promise—threat?—of a new global pandemic treaty whose custodian will be a mighty World Health Organisation. In both cases, the dedicated international bureaucracy will have a powerful vested interest in ongoing climate crises and serially repeating pandemics.