Headlines following a new U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report claim that climate change may cause sea levels to rise more than three feet by 2100 and cause hundred-year floods to be annual occurrences in coastal cities. But are these headlines realistic?
The facts say no.
The U.N. report suggests a range of possibilities from 2 to 3.6 feet, but news coverage fixates on the headline-grabbing worst-case projection.
This high-emissions scenario projects worldwide emissions nearly tripling over the next 50 years and is widely criticized as being too extreme and ignorant of current trends, such as low-emitting natural gas outpacing coal in electricity generation.
Similarly, the highest temperature and sea level scenarios require unlikely feedbacks that enhance the climate’s sensitivity to CO2 emissions and underweight the influence of natural forces.
Catastrophic climate predictions have famously flopped, because projections are simply educated guesses. Previous generations feared the world was entering a new Ice Age, and a U.N. official claimed in 1989 that much of the world would be underwater by 2000. Yet here we are.
More importantly, none of the IPCC’s reports take into account the tremendous benefits carbon-producing sources of energy have had on human health, prosperity, and security. Particularly when it comes to disaster response and resiliency, reliable electricity powered by fossil fuels has helped humankind stay safer in natural disasters than ever before — thanks to advanced meteorological technology, near-instantaneous news dissemination, and better communication and cooperation among government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Meanwhile, the goal of eliminating all U.S. emissions, which would require abolishing 80% of our energy, would have a virtually unnoticeable effect on sea levels but devastate our economy and thrust tens of millions into poverty.
The full picture of human flourishing should be weighed against consistently overheated tales of a doomsday future.