In a recent posting, “The vital importance of climate change education in medical schools,” the author concluded that climate change is “here and undeniable” and, based on her experience of wildfires, that the cataclysmic consequences are already upon us.
Many would disagree, including Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Ivar Giaever who, on resigning from the American Physical Society (APS) in protest, wrote: “In the APS it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?”
Let’s examine the fundamental tenets of climate change to see if it is really undeniable.
1. Global warming. Some scientists do not agree that the planet is warming. For those that do, the rate of warming has not met with predictions, a serious blow to the cause, and a foundational failure that casts serious aspersions upon any other forecasts.
2. Global warming is anthropogenic in origin. Such causation can never be proven; it is inferred based on correlations, for example, between temperature and atmospheric CO2 but, as we all know, the association is not necessarily causation. Examples of this can be found on the website “spurious correlations.”
3. Global warming is due to releasing CO2 into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. There is no question that humans have caused an increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. However, some dispute CO2 as the chief greenhouse gas, and others have argued that the CO2 effect is already at its maximum, so further rises are inconsequential.
4. Global warming will result in changes to the Earth and its weather that will be seriously detrimental to mankind. Many people believe that global warming has already resulted in adverse climate change, encouraged by the media, which delights in oxymoronic statements such as: “This is the worst … since 1922 and is the result of climate change.” This never questions whether the mechanism of the historical event might be responsible for the contemporary one. Every unusual weather event is automatically ascribed to climate change.
The data do not support the idea that calamity is already upon us. A March 2023 Congressional Research Service report states that U.S. wildfires have decreased slightly over the last 30 years.
Short-term predictions for events such as the rise in sea level, mass deaths of polar bears, the vanishing of the arctic, the snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the glaciers of Montana, etc., have been woefully inaccurate. Lady Liberty’s feet remain well clear of the water.
Regretfully, the climate change movement has been hijacked by apocalypticists, who warn that failure to take immediate drastic action will result in death and destruction.
Such warnings are nothing new. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s website lists some 40 catastrophic predictions made over 50 years by climate and allied experts, including ice ages, famine, and population extinction; none materialized. Remember how we would all fry due to the hole in the ozone layer and then dissolve in acid rain?
The writings of climate change advocate Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Lomborg argue that apocalyptic events are unlikely to happen, probable adverse consequences of climate change are a long way off, and the cries of the Prophets of Imminent Doom are causing harm to the cause.
5. Global warming and the apocalypse can be reversed by reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. The likelihood of humans reducing CO2 levels seems slim with current strategies, particularly using wind and solar to generate electricity. More promising approaches, such as nuclear energy, have been illogically ignored.
Finally, an alternative view is that global warming and rising CO2 levels might bring benefit rather than harm, one endorsed by Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore (who also does not support the anthropogenic origins of global warming). Frozen regions of the Earth would become available to agriculture and prospecting. Elsewhere longer growing seasons would increase agricultural yield. Indeed, the number of trees on the planet has already increased due to growth in areas now made hospitable by global warming,
Human CO2 production may have saved the planet as historic levels fell close to those that would not support plant growth. A study in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2016 showed that a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years, largely due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2, an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States. Greening has also been shown to mitigate global warming, an important consideration if, as some believe, the current level of CO2 already provides maximum greenhouse effect, thus supporting a further increase in CO2 levels rather than a reduction.
In medicine, we require a high standard of evidence before adopting a practice. The current evidence for climate change may meet the standard of lay folk, politicians, and others with a vested interest, but it should not meet ours. Climate change should no more be introduced into medicine at this time than acupuncture or ayurvedic medicine. As with these, more evidence is required.
Martin C. Young is a pediatric endocrinologist.