Guest Commentary: Economic growth, innovation can guide us through crises


Thomas C. Patterson is a retired physician and former Arizona state senator, who lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Americans are becoming neurotic worriers. COVID-19 brought out the worst in us, as politicized medical leaders rushed us into a panic response that I believe did far more harm than the disease itself, without fundamentally affecting the net outcome of the pandemic.

But COVID-19 is hardly the only example of Americans overestimating the dangers in their lives. We fret about everything from “Christian nationalism” arising from court decisions protecting religious freedoms to alien-bearing UFOs.

Many Americans fear police officers kill unarmed Blacks by the thousands, when the real number is about 10 to 20 annually. College students expect “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” to provide protection from exposure to opposing opinions and the literal physical harm they are thought to cause.

Part of the problem of imagining all these boogeymen are that real threats can get lost in the shuffle. Impending financial doom, a rapidly changing world order and millions of unassimilated migrants crossing our borders could all use better focused attention.

There is no better example of the trivial deflecting us from the critical than climate change. Sixty percent of the developed world truly believe that it will spell the end of humanity.

The World Health Organization declared climate change the most important public health issue of the 21st century. The savants of the World Economic Forum named climate action failure as the greatest policy risk of the next decade.

Third World countries, unfortunately for them, find most of their foreign aid these days linked with resources to address climate change, rather than more pressing needs, like economic development, malnutrition, clean water, education or health care.

The fact that some degree of warming is real and related to human activity hardly justifies the catastrophe narrative. Facts derived from official sources tell a different story — for example, that 98% fewer people are dying from climate-related disasters than a century ago.

Those who express doubt about any aspect of the catastrophe narrative are dubbed “climate deniers” by the mainstream and depicted as science-adverse Neanderthals. Joe Biden claimed he could change their minds just by showing them the climate-related fires he had personally witnessed.

About those fires, Joe. The undisputed fact is that 4.2% of the land in the world burned yearly in the early 1900s. Today, it has fallen to 3%, due to less heating from open fires, better forest management and more resources available for fire suppression. Tilting at climate change will produce far less harm reduction from fires than will common sense, risk management and prevention.

Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish economist, gives other reasons to doubt climate change deserves its reputation as an existential threat. Hurricanes, despite claims to the contrary, are not increasing. On the contrary, the number of hurricanes in 2022 was unusually low, the second weakest batch of hurricanes since satellite data became available in 1980.

Landfall hurricanes, the most accurate way of charting hurricane frequency, appear to have declined slightly since 1900. Hurricanes each year cost 0.04% of global gross domestic product. Projections from the scientific journal Nature, taking into account changes in climate, as well as improved ability to protect ourselves from hurricane harm, indicate that, by 2100, the damage will be 0.02%, even without new climate policies.

The World Health Organization claims that 95,000 worldwide deaths annually from malnutrition will be attributable to unchecked climate change between 2030-50. That sounds like a lot, but the global total of deaths from malnutrition is 30 million or so annually, a number that is sure to come down as crop yields increase and economic development improves.

Even polar bears, the subject of one of Al Gore’s apocalyptic predictions, are doing OK. Polar bear specialists estimate that, due to hunting limits, the worldwide population is 21,000-31,000, up from 12,000 in the 1960s.

Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus estimates that, if we stand pat, climate change will cost 4% of gross domestic product by 2100. But the U.N. predicts that global GDP will rise by 450% in that time, dwarfing the climate-induced harm.

Big-government tyrants love crises because of the power and prestige they bring. Instead of impoverishing ourselves with impractical boondoggles, we need to bear down on economic growth and innovation to pull us through. That’s what Americans do best.

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