By Tom Harris
Environmental activists and their supporters in main stream media are appalled that not a single question in the presidential debates focussed on climate change.
Writing for The New York Times, David Leonhardt said, “the lack of a single question on the world’s biggest problem was a grievous error.”
May Boeve, executive director of climate group 350 Action, complained in The Guardian (UK), “This crisis threatens our communities, our economy, and the future for our children…yet climate change doesn’t get a single direct question in the debate.”
Baltimore Sun editorial staff concluded, “Shame on the various moderators for not insisting that Mr. Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak directly on such a critically important topic.”
But the moderator and the candidates set the content. Regardless, Clinton or Trump could have easily bridged the questions posed to climate change if they had wanted to. So clearly, neither of them placed a high priority on the issue.
And that is exactly how it should have been.
Contrast climate change with many of the topics asked about in the debates: the Syrian civil war (asked about six times), terrorism (four times), Russia (three times), immigration (three), job creation (three), and the national debt (twice). These are real issues that demand our attention.
But man-made climate change is a hypothetical future problem based on controversial computer model forecasts. There is little happening now that warrants our concern.
Consider the facts. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the statistical average of surface temperatures increased 1.53 degrees between 1880 to 2012. Humanity’s contribution to this relatively small temperature rise is obviously not a problem of the same importance as terrorism.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website shows that the incidence of extreme weather state records has been decreasing in recent years. One has to go back to the 1930s to find a time when state-wide extreme weather records were being set often.
Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, summarized the situation well in 2014: “When you read that the cost of disasters is increasing, it’s tempting to think that it must be because more storms are happening. They’re not… In reality, the numbers reflect more damage from catastrophes because the world is getting wealthier. We’re seeing ever-larger losses simply because we have more to lose.”
Other climate change concerns are similarly unfounded. For example, the current rate of sea level rise is less than one tenth that of 8,000 years ago. There are regions in the ocean where pH (a measure of acidity) varies more in a day than the most extreme forecasts for the 21st century, yet ocean life adapts. Arctic summer sea ice area increased almost a million square kilometers between 2012 and this year.
Yet Vox, a prominent American advocacy news website, argued, “Humanity is departing from the stable climatic conditions that allowed civilization to thrive, yet the most powerful nation on Earth can’t set aside five minutes to discuss.”
The best answer to Vox, Leonhardt, et al was unexpectedly provided last year by Clinton herself. In the leaked emails of John Podesta published this week by Wikileaks, it was revealed that in her September 9, 2015 meeting with the Building Trades Union, Clinton said, “They [climate activists] say, ‘Will you promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again?’ No. I won’t promise that. Get a life, you know.”
Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC).