New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is the gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday, Schneiderman and 13 other Democratic attorneys general urged President Trump in “the strongest terms” to “maintain and reconfirm” America’s participation in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Schneiderman and his comrades in the Attorneys General United for Clean Power coalition oppose the entire Trump energy agenda, starting with the promise to end the war on coal. These are the prosecutorial bullies whose idea of protecting “shareholder value” is to drive fossil fuel companies into bankruptcy. If Trump has any doubt the Paris Agreement is a death trap for his energy agenda, he should just read the list of attorneys general urging him to stay in the treaty.
Let’s look at some of the claims they make in their April 25th letter to Trump. They begin: “As we commemorate the 47th anniversary of that first Earth Day, we confront threats to our planet greater than ever envisioned by those who sounded the alarm almost half a century ago.”
Actually, no. Although today’s climate campaigners often make outlandish claims, nothing tops the hype peddled by the first generation of Earth Day protestors. Check out Reason magazine correspondent Ron Bailey’s 30th Earth Day retrospective from May 2000. Bailey revisits 18 apocalyptic predictions from the first Earth Day that turned out to be “spectacularly wrong.”
For example, in April 1970, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich warned that “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” causing “at least 100-200 million people per year” to die of starvation “during the next ten years.” In a special Earth Day issue of The Progressive, Ehrlich predicted that in the 1980s, approximately four billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish from famine in the “Great Die-Off.”
The larger point, of course, though completely lost on Schneiderman, is that history has not been kind to green prophecies of doom.
The attorneys general next trot out the argument that climate change is a national security issue. They quote from a review of an Obama administration Defense Department report:
The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability . . . These developments could undermine already-fragile governments that are unable to respond effectively or challenge currently-stable governments, as well as increasing competition and tension between countries vying for limited resources. These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.
It doesn’t get much sillier than that. Not climatic but political factors—war, dictatorship, persecution, and, more broadly, insecure property rights and corrupt governments—are the chief causes of mass migration, economic disruption, inadequate access to electricity, the appeal of extremist ideologies, and conditions fostering terrorism.
The Earth’s climate system is naturally dangerous, ginning up hurricanes, floods, and droughts, all on its own. At most, climate change exacerbates—or ameliorates—climate-related risks, at the margin. Human health and welfare chiefly depend on wealth, technology, and legal institutions. History demonstrates that the wealth and technology supported by fossil fuels have made the climate vastly safer and more livable. For example, since the 1920s, global deaths and death rates related to drought have declined by 99.8 percent and 99.9 percent, respectively.
Since the attorneys general profess to worry about national security, Trump should ask them where they stand on his proposals to increase military spending by $54 billion and beef up U.S. border security. They specifically cite “mass migration” as a concern. Does that mean they support Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border?
But let’s cut to the serious matter. The Paris Agreement is far more likely to be a “conflict accelerant” or “threat multiplier,” to borrow Obama administration buzzwords, than any climatic effects of greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement’s mid-century emission-reduction goal cannot be achieved unless developing countries drastically cut their current consumption of affordable energy from fossil fuels. More than one billion people in developing countries have no electricity and billions more have too little to support development. Do the attorneys general really believe that putting energy-starved nations on an energy diet would promote stability and peace?
Citing a June 2015 EPA report, the attorneys general claim climate change is a “threat to our economy.” That report was sheer flimflam. For example, although the global warming rate has been remarkably constant since 1979, the EPA assumed the rate would accelerate by 400 percent between now and century’s end. Based on what evidence? The same climate models that cannot even replicate past climate change, hind-casting about twice as much warming as actually occurred.
The EPA report projected that in the “no action” scenario—a future in which the world does not implement the Paris Agreement—heat stress kills an additional 12,000 Americans in 49 cities in 2100. That’s not plausible. Urban air temperatures have been rising, yet U.S. heat-related mortality has been declining, decade-by-decade, since the 1960s. Why? People aren’t dumb. When hot weather becomes more frequent, they adapt. Cities like Tampa, Florida and Phoenix, Arizona have practically zero heat-related mortality.
To arrive at the estimate of 12,000 additional heat-related deaths, the EPA had to make the implausible assumption that, even if temperatures shoot up, many U.S. cities in 2100 will still lack the adaptive capabilities possessed by Dallas today, and none will have greater capacities.
The EPA’s “no action” scenario also forecast 57,000 deaths from air pollution in 2100. That projection is based not only on the fanciful fourfold increase in warming rates but also on the assumption that U.S. air pollutant emissions do not decline between 2015 and 2100. Yet, as the EPA well knows, emissions have declined, decade by decade, since 1970. All significant U.S. air pollution will likely be gone well before mid-century.
The AGs further warn that the “human and financial risks and costs [of climate change] are great, and they are accelerating.” The data, clearly summarized by University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke, Jr., tell a different story. There has been no trend in U.S. hurricane damages since 1900, U.S. flood damages as a proportion of GDP have declined since 1940, and weather-related losses as a percentage of global GDP have declined since 1990.
So, I’m glad the activist attorneys general are urging Trump to stay in the Paris Agreement. Their endorsement of the treaty should help allay any doubts he may have about the wisdom of pulling out.