Humanity and the environment are improving despite panic

(The following article is written by Henry Chew)

While conventional wisdom may tell us to better be safe than sorry, but we might miss the forest for the trees in our constant panic. This is because we cannot think rationally under persistent “climate anxiety”. 

In response to the article of whether mankind will survive climate change, this article will address 3 major popular concerns surrounding climate change. Namely, 1) Carbon Dioxide is not a disaster control knob, 2) The world is not worse off via the use of fossil fuels, and 3) The state of the world is not in decline.

Rethinking carbon dioxide 

The concern that carbon dioxide emissions throws the climate system out of whack is misplaced. Carbon dioxide is a very poor greenhouse gas because it covers only a small range of the radiative absorption spectrum. By its nature, carbon dioxide reflects very little heat energy back to earth compared to water vapor. 

Carbon dioxide also has a very low concentration level of 415ppm in the atmosphere. Considering the full context that the most prevalent greenhouse gases is water vapor- with the highest concentration of 14,400ppm.     

There is also an exaggerated concern about the social cost of carbon, but the social benefit of carbon that is rarely discussed. For a more balanced cost-benefit analysis, carbon dioxide does have an aerial fertilization effect on crops. The more carbon dioxide there is, the greater the crop yield.

According to the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, the extrapolated data from greenhouses show how the increased aerial fertilization of 34ppm in atmospheric CO2, produced a global economic benefit of $3.2 trillion from 1961 to 2011.

The unbreakable relationship between fossil fuels and poverty alleviation

Climate activists, like Harjeet Singh of ActionAid, are largely mistaken about placing climate change as the “most frightening” issue faced by developing countries today. 

Drawing from a study using statistics provided by the World Health Organization in 2011, ranking 24 leading causes of death globally, we found that climate-related deaths rank very low. 

Furthermore, adding up the poverty-related deaths of undernourishment, vitamin A deficiency, zinc deficiency, unsafe water, unsafe sex, sanitation, iron deficiency, indoor smoke from solid fuel, we discovered that poverty-related deaths are dramatically larger than climate-related deaths by a factor of 60-70.

The easiest way to get out of poverty for developing countries is the access to cheap, reliable and plentiful energy- fossil fuels. Any divestment of fossil fuels away from poverty alleviation is debilitating humanity. 

Consider that India’s life expectancy improved by seven years over the last 30 years because of the use of fossil fuel. Just imagine your loved ones’ lives being extended by seven years and multiply it by 1.333 billion. That is how much it means for poor countries to gain access to fossil fuels.

Not only the quantity of life is being extended, but also quality. There are several other aspects of improvements, like having refrigeration, air-con, and cheap transportation for the first time. Through electrification, we also see more children having access to primary education- the most crucial step up away from poverty. 

Fossil fuels are also part of the reason how the world has halved absolute poverty in 15 years, meeting its UN Millennium Development Goal set in 2000, 5 years ahead of schedule.

More people will suffer and die from not having access to cheap fossil fuels, than 2 degrees increase in temperature in 2050. Such effects fall more on developing countries than developed countries.

In 1560, 23% of all energy produced in England is human labor. 300 years later, the use of coal and subsequently other fossil fuels phased out entirely the use of human labor as a source of energy.

Today, fossil fuels have also advanced equal opportunity for women and the disabled. Home appliances, powered for the most part by electricity, have reduced the time, tedium, and toil of the work that women traditionally did—and still do—in the home. 

In addition, power tools and machinery allow women, the disabled, and the weak to work at tasks that once would have been reserved, for practical purposes, for able-bodied men, which has expanded the former groups’ economic opportunities.

The world is getting better whether we admit it or not
Weather events have  taken up plenty of media coverage, but that does not mean that extreme weather events are more frequent and intense. Even the Scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1, have low confidence in recent extreme weather events being specifically attributed to global warming.

CNN is wrong to conclude that the amazon rainforest is burning at an unprecedented rate. NASA released the satellite image on August 21, it noted that “it is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity. Time will tell if this year is a record-breaking or just within normal limits.”

Majority of these fires were set by farmers preparing Amazon-adjacent farmland for next year’s crops and pasture, explains The New York Times. “Much of the land that is burning was not old-growth rainforest, but land that had already been cleared of trees and set for agricultural use.” Indonesia’s agricultural industry exhibits very similar behavior which we are familiar with. 

According to the national institute of space research in Brazil, there is no increase in Annual deforestation trend. 

On a global scale, researchers from the University of Maryland, the State University of New York and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have found that new global tree growth over the past 35 years has more than offset global tree cover losses, in their paper published in the journal Nature.

New tree cover occurred in places that had previously been barren, such as in deserts, tundra areas, on mountains, in cities and other non-vegetated lands. Global greening has affected all ecosystems – from arctic tundra to coral reefs to plankton to tropical rain forests – but shows up most strongly in arid places like the Sahel region of Africa, where desertification has largely now reversed.

The great news that remains unreported is that humans are well equipped to handle the climate. All over the world, climate-related deaths have fallen tremendously. Having access to cheap fossil fuels, along with technology, humans can insulate themselves from extreme weathers.

The climate is not by default safe for human survival, but humans need to transform the environment to fit human lives. 

It is a further misinformer to expect mankind to adapt to the climate and environment, exactly like the animals do- by changing themselves. Mankind has always changed the environment via the use of his mental dexterity. 

Japan is a great example of a country that efficiently deals with natural disasters. In the same vein, Singapore’s land reclamation project is an excellent mitigation method to deal with potentially rising sea levels.

International climate group is also misguided to point out that economic growth is antagonistic to the environment.

Various researchers have noted a U-shaped relation between environmental degradation and economic growth. As development takes off, levels of pollution and land degradation rise, but they begin to improve once certain thresholds of per capita incomes are attained. A 2012 study found, after parsing data from 52 developing countries between 1972 and 2003, that deforestation increases until average income levels reach about $3,100 per capita.

Environmental protection is a luxury that only rich countries can afford. Caring for the environment may not be at odds with economic progress. Instead, to protect the environment we need more economic progress, not less.

Global leaders need our moral sanctionsContrary to Associate Professor Walter Theseira’s claim on the matter, moral arguments do work -when they are right. If the moral standard is human lives, including human survival and human flourishing, then it is moral to use fossil fuels to push humanity forward. 

Most of us are busy in our fossil fuels-enabled careers and do not have time to understand the complex multi-faceted issue of climate change. Our global leaders do owe us a fair hearing of both sides of the climate change debate.

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