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Taking the Temperature of Global Warming Fever

The frenzied herding during financial manias finds a parallel in climate change debate

by Bob Stokes
Updated: June 02, 2017

Critics say President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement dealt a setback to the global-warming cause. But, the evidence suggests that "global-warming fever" had already been cooling off. "Crowds often think their personal cause of the moment is a permanent issue. It almost never is."

 

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[Editor's Note: The text version of the story is below.]

President Trump announced on June 1 that the U.S. would withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Not surprisingly, he was criticized for the decision. Here's one headline (CNN, June 1):

Trump to planet: Drop dead

Climate change has been such a hot-button issue that scientists attack other scientists for disagreeing. And this goes back several years.

On May 31, 2007, when global-warming fever was running especially high, NASA's chief administrator, Michael Griffin, expressed doubt about global warming on NPR. The Associated Press reported the next day that he was "under fire" because he "should know better." The article quoted critics calling him "a deep anti-global warming ideologue."

Scientists may offer varying opinions about climate change, but our interest in the subject looks beyond the science.

Shortly after Griffin was on NPR, The Elliott Wave Theorist published remarks about global warming. Here are excerpts of what Robert Prechter said in June and July 2007:

My primary intent is to take a look at the question from the point of view of a social psychologist to decide whether it appears to be the result of hysteria. I am not a climatologist, but I am a student of manias and herding, and that is what the global-warming craze appears to be about. There is powerful evidence of herding at the social level: The projection is extreme, and the tone is strident. The GW movement has not a little taste of old-time religion in its accompanying admonition of humanity. Professors and scientists who challenge all these methods and conclusions are rejected as heretics. Commentary on the subject is even selling theater tickets. Hysteria often signals the end of a trend. What I expect, based upon observing mass movements, is that this fear, too, will go away.

Besides a U.S. president exiting an international climate agreement, the overall fear does appear to have lessened over the past 10 years.

In a section titled, "Global Warming Fever is Still Abating," the January 2016 Theorist pointed out dire global-warming predictions that were expected to have come to pass by the end of 2015, but had not. The publication also discussed the decreasing coverage of global warming in the media, and polls that indicated a declining concern among the public.

The Theorist noted:

In 2011, the International Energy Agency issued a report asserting that "global warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels marks the limit of safety, beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible." It predicted that the CO2-producing infrastructure built through 2016 would close "the door ... forever" on alleviating the global warming trend, and that "by 2017, there will be no room to maneuver at all." (The Guardian, November 9, 2011) Well, it's 2016; let"s see what happens.

And, now, it's 2017, and headlines from this year note:

  • U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall To Lowest Since 1991 (Forbes, Jan. 2)
  • UK's CO2 emissions lowest since 19th century (newscientist.com, March 6)

Prechter concluded by saying:

Crowds often think their personal cause of the moment is a permanent issue. It almost never is.

Whether [climate change] should be an issue is a scientific question, one I am unequipped to answer. But don"t expect the zeal to return anytime soon.

Critics say Trump has dealt a setback to the climate-change cause, but in our view, the temperature had already been cooling off.

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