The irrepressible Bjorn Lomborg has come up with a new argument against AGW: It frightens children. And not in a good way, like clowns, or sirens, or fundamentalist sermons on Hell, or "duck and cover" drills for nuclear war, or balsawood drones laden with anthrax spores.
An article in the Washington Post cited nine-year-old Alyssa, who cries about the possibility of mass animal extinctions from global warming. In her words: "I don't like global warming because it kills animals, and I like animals."What this child needs to understand is that a) mass animal extinctions are impossible, or at least unlikely, or at least not that big a deal; b) there are plenty more animals where those came from, and anyway this is why we have zoos; and c) it's far more tragic that millions of African children are dying of malaria, so turn off the waterworks or we'll give you something serious to cry about.
Usually, Lomborg is angry because people believe that something can be done about climate change. Today, though, he's angry because they don't. Consistency is for small-minded people, y'see, and Lomborg's wits are as wide as all outdoors.
Exaggeration also wears out the public's willingness to tackle global warming. If the planet is doomed, people wonder, why do anything?Of course, most of the prominent people who claim that mitigation is impossible or pointless or a Marxist plot -- or all three -- are inactivists like Lomborg.
But so what? This argument allows Lomborg to lean down from Parnassus and sigh theatrically over what fools we mortals be, so it's as true as it needs to be. A boxer's feint isn't strictly honest, either; what matters is whether it throws his opponent off balance. And if you're not thrown off balance by Lomborg's argument that inaction is bad when it's based on despair, but good when it's based on complacency, your mind is a good deal sturdier than mine.
Essentially, Lomborg has translated his standard economic argument into emotional terms: just as the cost of taking action here and now must be weighed against the prospective riches of Third World tycoons from the year 2100, the present-day tears of a few deluded children must be weighed against the abiding joys of a future in which everything turns out just fine, thanks to clever people like Lomborg who understand that there's no sense in fighting fate.
Since catastrophic -- or even seriously disruptive -- climate change is pretty much impossible, normal reactions like anxiety or grief must be pathologized, and the fact that our children are worried becomes an argument against addressing the issues that worry them. To paraphrase Ivan Karamazov, Lomborg is unwilling to found the edifice of climate action on the unavenged tears of a child: the truth is not worth such a price.
The current debate about global warming is clearly harmful. I believe that it is time we demanded that the media stop scaring us and our kids silly. We deserve a more reasoned, more constructive, and less frightening dialogue.Absolutely. Because otherwise, as Lord Monckton explains, we'll destroy Western prosperity, commit genocide against the Third World, and wind up daubing ourselves with woad and subsisting on fronds and bracken.
The sooner our kids get this through their thick little skulls, and recognize the deadly conspiracy that threatens their future, the better off we'll all be.
(Illustration: "Magic Lantern Alphabet of Animals. London, Paris, New York: Raphael Tuck & Sons, not before 1886.')