We all have that crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions, trying to convince us that climate change isn’t real and Barack Obama was born in Kenya. But maybe you also have a relative who tells you he welcomes climate change because he’s looking forward to the warmer weather in his chilly hometown.
Accepting that climate change is happening but putting a positive spin on the consequences is a growing view in the climate skeptic camp, Slate reports. And this new “climate optimism” was on full display at the last week’s ninth International Conference on Climate Change, billed as an “International Gathering of Scientists Skeptical of Man-Caused Global Warming.” Held ironically enough in drought-stricken Las Vegas, the event was organized by the Heartland Institute, which proudly proclaims that the Economist has called it “the world’s most prominent think tank supporting skepticism of man-made climate change.”
“I don’t think anybody in this room denies climate change,” James M. Taylor, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, said in a speech at the conference, Slate reported. “We recognize it, but we’re looking more at the causes, and more importantly, the consequences.”
That’s right – the climate change debate is moving beyond denial and even a “discussion” of its sources to focus on its effects – and frankly, these climate skeptics say, it won’t be so bad.
Earlier this year, the Heartland Institute published a report, “Climate Change Reconsidered II,” which came to the conclusion that the benefits of changing climatic conditions “greatly exceed any plausible estimate of its costs.” The study was compiled by a group of scientists satirically calling themselves the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC); the NIPCC says it is able to offer a “second opinion” to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which, by the way, recently announced that climate change’s impacts are going to be worse than previously predicted.
Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will actually be advantageous to plants, the report says, in what sounds like a fourth grader’s scientific train of thought: Plants will grow faster, bear more fruit, and develop a greater resistance to drought and pests. Wildlife — even the polar bears – will thrive as warmer temperatures broaden their habitat, according to the report, although the polar bears struggling to grasp to thawing ice in the “Planet Earth” documentary series might tell a different story. And coral bleaching caused by warmer oceans? No problem, the NIPCC says; coral has survived previous warming periods just fine.
The real threat to the planet, the report’s authors contend, is cutting back on our use of fossil fuels because we are concerned about climate change’s negative impacts.
“Dramatically reducing the use of fossil fuels would have devastating effects on workers and consumers of both the developed and developing worlds, leading to severe hardship and even deaths,” the Heartland Institute writes in a press release.
You heard them right: Don’t worry about the increased floods, drought, disease and famine caused by climate change – or the 150,000 extra deaths each year the World Health Organization predicts due to rising temperatures. Instead, we should fear the consequences of stronger regulations that lead to a healthy environment and a transition from a fossil-fuel-based, monopolistic economy to a growing green economy that relies on clean-burning renewables.
The NIPCC’s recommendations – rolling back environmental legislation, “responsible” development of fossil fuels and overall “free-market environmentalism” – truly reveal their and other climate skeptics’ beef with climate action advocacy. This isn’t a debate about the causes of climate change or how severe its effects will be; it’s an argument for maintaining business as usual, instead of dramatically changing how we live and work to keep our planet and ourselves healthy.
But an even more troubling question remains: With over 50 percent of Americans admitting they worry about climate change very little or not at all, will this new “climate optimism” put up another barrier to addressing climate change?
Image credit: Flickr/Sharon M Leon
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru