George Will

Speaking of experts, in 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many nonrenewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a "basket" of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals -- chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten -- that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined.

An expert Ehrlich consulted in picking the five was John Holdren, who today is President Obama's science adviser. Credentialed intellectuals, too -- actually, especially -- illustrate Montaigne's axiom: "Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know."

As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal. The proclaimed faith of eco-pessimists is weirdly optimistic: These optimal conditions must and can be preserved or restored if government will make us minimize our carbon footprints, and if government will "remake" the economy.

Because of today's economy, another law -- call it the Law of Clarifying Calamities -- is being (redundantly) confirmed. On graphs tracking public opinion, two lines are moving in tandem and inversely: The sharply rising line charts public concern about the economy, the plunging line follows concern about the environment. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked which of 20 issues should be the government's top priorities. Climate change ranked 20th.

Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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