On earth day, we are supposed to think that the planet is in peril and that somehow humans are the cause of this peril. This is not the case. The human impact on global climate is small, and any warming that may occur as a result of human carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions is likely to have little effect on global temperatures, the cryosphere (ice-covered areas), hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, and rivers), or weather. This is according to hundreds of peer reviewed studies examined by the Non Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a March 2014 study (see here). Indeed, atmospheric C02 from all sources (human contribution to the CO2 in the atmosphere is small) is showing beneficial effects.
As Lomborg notes, the biggest threat to the environment is air pollution – using dung and twigs to heat, light and cook. Close to three billion people do this every day. This leads to strokes, heart disease and cancer, and disproportionately affects women and children. The World Health Organization estimates that it killed 4.3 million people in 2012. Add the smaller death count from outdoor pollution, and air pollution causes one in eight deaths worldwide.
In the rich world, most other environmental indicators have improved dramatically. All developed countries have slashed their outdoor air pollution and handled much of their water pollution, while even strongly regulating small risks like pesticides and other chemical fears. In the developed world, rivers just don’t catch fire as the Cuyahoga River did just before the first Earth Day.
In the developing world, the overall environment has also gotten better because of the dramatic drop in indoor air pollution. Outdoor air pollution has risen — but this only confirms a long-standing finding that some environmental indicators tend to first get worse, then better, with economic development.
By focusing on global climate change, we miss opportunities to do something practical and useful about air pollution. By focusing on CO2 we miss the point completely – that the real issue is raising people out of poverty, so that they use fuels and cooking materials which are less likely to pollute the air and more likely to promote health.
By focusing on predictions of doom – the most recent IPCC report suggests yet another tipping point (calling Woolf just once too often) – rather on practical actions that can be taken to switch to natural gas, enable fracking to bring on more low cost gas and help larger numbers rise from poverty, Earth Day becomes a rant for the liberal elite to berate us all.