‘Climate hysteria needs a reality check’

Ross Clark on why the end of the world is not nigh.


Topics Science & Tech

Environmental apocalypticism is everywhere now. Today, we’re told that the world is no longer reckoning with global warming, but with ‘global boiling’. Not just climate change, but with ‘climate catastrophe’. But does this alarmist rhetoric bear any relation to reality? Is the world really coming to an end thanks to climate change?

Ross Clark – journalist and author of Not Zero – returned to The Brendan O’Neill Show to discuss the dangers of climate hysteria. What follows is an edited extract from their conversation. Listen to the full thing here.

Brendan O’Neill: We often hear that young people are terrified that the world will end thanks to climate change. But you recently uncovered some polling that shows there is growing scepticism among young people. What do you think explains this?

Ross Clark: In a recent poll, 31 per cent of British 13- to 17-year-olds agreed with the statement that ‘climate change and its effects are being purposefully exaggerated’. Of course, some in the green lobby saw that poll and said: ‘Oh, the kids are being lied to by right-wing conspiracy theories funded by the oil industry.’ But the main takeaway here is that teenagers aren’t stupid. If they’re constantly told the world is going to end tomorrow, and that we’re going to fry to death, we should not be surprised if they become suspicious when this keeps failing to happen.

It also doesn’t help when they’re told on the BBC, for example, that the Earth is going to lose most of its trees and habitable lands by 2050. Of course, anybody who knows anything about the global environment will tell you this is rubbish. Tree cover retreated by little more than one per cent in the 2010s. Meanwhile, deforestation has been gradually falling since the 1990s. We are clearly not going to lose most of our trees.

Young people are also told that the Earth is going to starve them, apparently because climate change is affecting food production. Again, anyone who knows about this subject will point to the actual data from the UN’s food and agriculture organisation, which shows that yields on all the main crops have increased dramatically over the past 10, 20 and 50 years. Agriculture isn’t getting any less capable of feeding us either, whether that’s because of climate change or anything else.

You don’t have to be fed very much of this hysterical stuff to start asking yourself: ‘Is this actually real, or are people just trying to frighten us?’ We saw alarmism like this around the same time that The Day After Tomorrow came out in 2004. Before the film’s release, a Pentagon report leaked stating that European cities will be submerged beneath rising seas within 20 years. Britain, in particular, was going to have a Siberian climate. Well, that didn’t quite work out, did it?

We’ve had a similar report already this year. In February, scientists warned that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, the system of ocean currents that keep the water around Britain warm, is going to break down. Freshwater from melting glaciers in Greenland is allegedly eroding it, and so Britain could be swept by rising seas and a Siberian climate as early as next year – or as late as 2095.

Quite a lot of scientists have been pushing back against this prediction, pointing out the extravagant modelling and huge assumptions behind it. Even if this system did break down, Britain is surrounded by various oceans and seas. Worst case scenario, we would have the same sort of climate as Labrador, Canada. There is just no way we’re going to end up with a climate like the interior of Siberia. That’s complete and utter nonsense. One day we’re told that we’re going to fry. The next day we’re told that we’ll freeze to death. It just doesn’t make sense at all.

O’Neill: Would you say that these apocalyptic predictions are themselves responsible for increasing scepticism?

Clark: The beauty of the climate-change predictions of the past half century was that the bleak outcomes were always so far in the future. You could spin alarming tales and keep getting away with it. But we’re 40 years into the big scare now. And a lot of the forecasts have simply failed to occur. How many times can we be told that we have seven years to save the Earth, only for the deadline to come and go without anything much happening? It’s got to the stage where these predictions can be tested against reality. And they’re not passing.

It is true that global temperatures are rising. But the narrative that has developed based on this fact has been hysterical, particularly when it comes to extreme weather predictions. Every time there’s a storm in Britain, somebody on the radio predicts that storms in general are only going to get more severe thanks to climate change. But if you look at the data, the opposite is true. The maximum extreme wind speeds measured in Britain are on a downward trend. Also, the rate of hurricanes in the US has not changed in two hundred years. And yet respected scientists will get on the radio and say that we’re getting more storms and hurricanes because of climate change, which simply isn’t true.

Similarly, climate change is blamed every time there’s a flood. But this could just as easily be a land-management issue. Perhaps flooding has become a problem because we keep building in stupid places, such as on flood plains. For context, rainfall in Britain has increased significantly over the last half century, but that does not necessarily translate to higher flood risk. Evaporation naturally balances this out. In a study measuring the flood patterns of more than 2,000 rivers from 1963 to 2005, only seven per cent were found to experience any real change.

The green lobby treats these specific events as though they are the inevitable consequence of climate change. In truth, these environmental problems, be they floods, storms or forest fires, are just as much land-management issues as they are climate issues. But we don’t get told that story.

Ross Clark was talking to Brendan O’Neill on The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:

Matt Ridley and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation

Matt Ridley and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation


Thursday 21 March – 7pm to 8pm GMT

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Topics Science & Tech


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