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Climate Activists ADMIT They Are Moving the Goalposts

Last month I wrote a post titled, “Climate Change Crowd Moves Goalposts—Again.” I was referring to the rhetorical strategy of de-emphasizing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a metric for gauging the impact of climate change. I speculated that this was because the climate change activists recognized that on the original terms of the debate—as staked out in the IPCC reports, for example—their case was quite weak. Somebody who knew how to actually read the latest IPCC report would see that this “consensus science” showed that the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C would cost more than the benefits (as I demonstrated in a later post).

In that context, it’s very refreshing to see my accusations totally confirmed by this October 1 Nature article that explicitly calls for climate activists to change their goal. And they even cite the awkward pause in global warming as one of the reasons! I’m not exaggerating for effect; look at their opening paragraphs:

For nearly a decade, international diplomacy has focused on stopping global warming at 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This goal — bold and easy to grasp — has been accepted uncritically and has proved influential.

Bold simplicity must now face reality. Politically and scientifically, the 2°C goal is wrong-headed. Politically, it has allowed some governments to pretend that they are taking serious action to mitigate global warming, when in reality they have achieved almost nothing. Scientifically, there are better ways to measure the stress that humans are placing on the climate system than the growth of average global surface temperature — which has stalled since 1998 and is poorly coupled to entities that governments and companies can control directly. [Bold added.]

Rarely does one get such clear-cut confirmation: These particular climate change activists are telling their colleagues that the “pause” in global warming is putting them into a rhetorical box, and so they had better switch to a whole suite of dials that could not possibly be falsified. (They didn’t use those exact words; that is my elaboration on how they are trying to avoid making the same mistake in the future.)

Now to their credit, some members of the climate activist community are pushing back against the Nature article, saying that the 2°C goal should not be abandoned. Nonetheless, I thought it worthwhile to bring the latest to your attention, showing that we’re not attacking strawmen here: When the data year after year make it harder to stick to the original climate change goal, an article in Nature calls for moving the goal.

IER Senior Economist Robert Murphy authored this post.

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