On September 23, 2018, the Syracuse Post Standard published a guest commentary entitled “Earth has a Fever – Public Policy has the Cure” by Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr. SUNY Senior Fellow for Environmental and Sustainable Systems. As is typical in Dr. Murphy’s commentaries a list of disasters is trotted out, the climate crisis of global warming is blamed for them, and the sermon ends with a call to “improve the future of our planet”. I disagree with his arguments and his proposed policies.
Unfortunately, Dr. Murphy’s list of disasters are, in fact, only peripherally related to climate change and I am not in the mood to dissect each of his claims because “the amount of energy necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it”, Brandolini’s BS asymmetry principle. Consider only the Cyanobacteria outbreaks in 55 lakes in New York State he claims are due to warm water column temperatures and nutrients. His attribution is correct but his emphasis is wrong. If there are limited nutrients it does not matter how warm the water is you will not get eutrophic algae blooms that lead to Cyanobacteria outbreaks.
I think that Dr. Murphy should read Roger Pielke Jr’s book on The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change to appreciate the actual problems associated with climate change. Dr. Pielke is reviled because he shows how the consensus of climate science does not support the climate crisis Dr. Murphy invokes as the reason to act now. As Ben Pile’s review of the updated version of the book notes “In other words, climate change may well be a problem, but the data sets consistently show that economic and technological development mitigate the worst problems that climate has always caused.”
Dr. Murphy says that Climate disruption is a social issue and that the “The least advantaged among us will suffer the most with limited access to air conditioners and cooling centers”. I agree that energy poverty problem is a social issue. I am sure that we disagree on the cure however. While Dr. Murphy would have us try to moderate extreme weather I believe that there is no evidence that the policies he espouses will prevent it. If anything we might be able reduce future frequency and severity but society is not where near resilient to existing weather so it makes sense to emphasize adaptation over mitigation.
My biggest concern is that the current New York State Energy Plan promotes the use of fossil-free technology that is so expensive that the least advantaged among us will have limited access to the energy they need for cooling and heating because they will be unable to afford it. Ben Pile explains:
Moreover, campaigners’ conviction that anthropogenic climate change is bringing disaster upon us overlooks the extent to which economic and social development has enabled us to cope better with extreme weather events. As Pielke explains, ‘societal change is underappreciated, overlooked, and part of that is politics’. ‘The climate-change issue’, Pielke continues, ‘has taken all the oxygen out of the room for vulnerability, resilience, natural climate variability, indeed pretty much everything else that matters. It is absolutely the case that overall being richer as communities, as nations, is associated with more resilience, less vulnerability to natural disasters, particularly when it comes to loss of life… The climate issue has become so all-encompassing that it’s hard to get these other perspectives into the dialogue.’