Telling ‘Noble Lies’ About Climate Change Will Backfire

Over the past twenty years, we’ve been subjected to a barrage of catastrophic climate change forecasts, prophecies that would put Moses to shame. Coastal communities will be submerged due to rapid sea-level rise caused by soaring temperatures and glacier melt. Record heat waves, droughts, floods, insect infestations, and wildfires will result in millions of climate change refugees fleeing their ruined homelands. Competition over increasingly scarce water resources will lead to armed conflict. About all that has been missing from these doom and gloom predictions is alien invasion.

Like Moses’ warnings to Pharaoh in the Bible, we are told there is a high price to pay if we are to avoid climate change-driven “death, injury, and disrupted livelihoods,” to quote from the March 31 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We must reduce our carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70% by 2050 to keep so-called global temperature from exceeding 2° C above pre-industrial levels, the IPCC claims.  This will require massive cuts in our use of coal, oil, and natural gas, the sources of 87% of world primary energy consumption. What’s also needed, according to yet another IPCC report, Climate Change 2014 - Mitigation of Climate Change, released on April 12, is nothing less than:

a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero‐ and low‐carbon energy supply from renewables, nuclear energy and fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage [CCS, a technology the IPCC admit is currently problematic], or bioenergy with CCS by the year 2050.

Former Vice President Al Gore tells us that “the survival of civilization as we know it” is at risk if we don’t take these kinds of actions.

While historical evidence increasingly suggests that cataclysm really did follow Moses’ prophesies, modern-day forecasts of climate Armageddon are not coming true. The reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) reveal that there is nothing extraordinary about late twentieth century warming, a temperature rise that stopped over 17 years ago. The NIPCC explains that ice cover "is not melting at an enhanced rate; sea-level rise is not accelerating; and no systematic changes have been documented in evaporation or rainfall or in the magnitude or intensity of extreme meteorological events."

Contrary to the IPCC’s warnings, the NIPCC report released this month, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts, shows that long-term warming and CO2 rise are benefitting nature and humanity, “causing a great greening of the Earth.”

Faced with such good news, what are global warming activists to do?

The latest IPCC reports demonstrate that many are following a strategy taught in law school: “if the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the facts are not on your side, pound the table.” In their February 24, 2014 paper “Information Manipulation and Climate Agreements” published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Chinese professors Fuhai Hong and Zhao Xiaojian explain:

The IPCC has tended to over-generalize its research results and accentuate the negative side of climate change. Following its lead, the mainstream media has gone even further.…Analyzing a sample of print, broadcast and online media coverage over a three-month period between 2005 and 2006, Ereaut and Segnit (2006) concluded that climate change was most commonly constructed through an “alarmist” repertoire as “awesome, terrible” and “immense,” characterized by “an inflated or extreme lexicon.”

On the surface, this strategy appears to work. Hong and Xiaojian conclude that, when the climate change threat is not very severe, as the NIPCC demonstrates is the case today, exaggerating the dangers tends to increase public concern and so their countries' participation in international climate change agreements. Gore clearly supports this approach, admitting in 2006,

I believe it is appropriate to have an "over-representation" of the facts on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience.

Taken to extremes, this approach can backfire. Fully one-third of Americans now believe that the media exaggerates the climate change problem, according to research reported on in Public Opinion Quarterly. In a U.S. Gallup poll conducted in early March, global warming ranked 14th out of 15 issues respondents were asked about. The survey showed that people care far more about unemployment and the economy than they do about climate change. After years of overplaying their hands, climate activists now find themselves tuned out by a large fraction of the population.

So supporters of climate change mitigation are increasingly resorting to the "Noble Lie," a political concept introduced by Plato in The Republic. Plato believed that most people lacked the intelligence to behave in ways that are in their own and society’s best interest. Therefore, he advocated creating religious lies that are fed to the public to keep them under control and happy with their lot in life. False propaganda to enhance public welfare is completely acceptable, Plato argued.

Whether the real underlying purpose is to reduce pollution and energy consumption, or to promote foreign aid, crop biotechnology, alternative and nuclear energy, or even personal fitness, social justice, and world government, use of the Noble Lie has become common in the climate debate.

Leading the pack is Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s commissioner for climate action. She told the London-based Telegraph newspaper in September 2013 that, even if the science backing the climate scare is wrong, the EU’s climate policies are still correct as they would, according to her, lead to more efficient use of resources. Hedegaard asks, “Would it not in any case have been good to do many of things you have to do in order to combat climate change?"