The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way I regard climate change. Don’t get me wrong: climate change is real and it’s man-made. But it not the “the greatest threat to humanity” that I once characterized it.
The greatest threats to humanity are the pandemics caused by our violation of the natural world of animals. As we recklessly tear nature apart, we reap the whirlwind of its viral bounty.
World leaders have exploited our fears of climate change. The World Health Organization famously called climate change the “greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” Leaders of the richest nations gathered in Davos this January and declared that climate accounted for all the long-term biggest risks to the world.
Persistent scare stories have convinced us that the climatic end-of the-world is nigh. One survey of 28 countries shows that almost half of all people believe climate change will likely lead to the extinction of the human race.
The world’s poor don’t see it that way -they rank climate change quite differently. When the UN asked 10 million people, mostly those in the majority world who are poor, what they regarded as the world’s top priorities, they emphasized better education, health care, jobs, government and nutrition. Climate change ranked 16th out of 16 priorities – right after phone and internet access.
Bjorn Leonhard, President of the Copenhagen Consensus and author of False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, says:
“Global warming is a real challenge and a problem we need to tackle. But the alarmism makes it difficult for us to think smartly about climate solutions and it diverts our attention away from the many other important global issues (Globe and Mail, July 19, 2020).”
Sea level rise is very real problem but it’s often portrayed in apocalyptic terms. We are told by the UN climate change panel that 187 million people will be displaced. Bloomberg News declared that coastal cities such as Miami may “drown in 80 years.”
But that number assumes that we do nothing in the meantime. In fact, people don’t just sit around while the water laps at their feet. The same UN climate change panel shows that with adaptation, such as protection with dikes or seawalls, the number of people in the world who have to move by the end of the century is just 305,000. For comparison, four times that number of immigrants now live in B.C. according to the 2016 census. B.C. could accommodate all the world’s water refugees.
The economic effects of climate change are serious but not fatal. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the economic effect of climate change would reduce the average person’s income in the 2070s by 0.2 per cent to 2 per cent. The reduction means that we will “only” be 356 per cent richer today instead of 363 per cent richer without the impact of climate change. That’s a sombre finding but not as bad as the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic from which we may never fully recover.
The impact of climate change is real but it pales in the light of the economic impact of this global pandemic.