Is Climate 'Lukewarmism' Legitimate?
To many, prominent writers Matt Ridley, Ross Douthat, and Oren Cass are a baffling bunch. They are the visible proponents of the position that climate change is real, manmade, and occurring as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), yet it does not yet constitute a worrying or catastrophic problem. They are "lukewarmers."
So what do we make of these climate change moderates, who do not hold the invalid, unevidenced opinions of those who deny the scientific consensus, yet at the same time, do not ascribe to the apocalyptic scenarios espoused by climate alarmists and the accompanying solutions to avert them?
As far as I can tell, lukewarmers' views are legitimate. The mountains of evidence in the most recent IPCC assessment report, comprising more than 9,200 peer-reviewed studies, cannot simply be cast aside as the product of a conspiracy or a statistical fluke of climate models. The climate is warming and it is more than 95% certain that humans are the dominant cause. If lukewarmers accept the science, they are on solid ground.
This standing allows lukewarmers to legitimately debate what the IPCC cannot conclusively tell us: How much damage will climate change actually do? What are the best policies to remedy it? Is it something we need to be extremely worried about?
On the first note, for example, Oren Cass argues that the harmful effects of climate change on agriculture will likely be slow, allowing plenty of time for adaptation. The same goes for migration as a result of sea level rise. Yes, there will be climate refugees from submerged island nations and other low-lying lands, but residents should have time to move. These opinions might be naively optimistic and cold-hearted, but they are logically sound.
On the policy point, lukewarmers contend that excessive mitigation efforts now could be more costly in the long run than adaptation later. This is a risky position, and ignores moral positions for averting climate change, but again, it is a reasonable argument. It also places lukewarmers in a strong position to call out those who oppose sound policy moves to mitigate climate change.
"If someone proposes truly radical solutions that might avert climate change at unfathomable cost, lukewarmers should decry the overreaction," Oren Cass writes. "Likewise, if someone rejects sensible policies that have concrete benefits by rejecting any cause for concern, lukewarmers should insist they be serious."
Can lukewarmism ever become unreasonable? Yes. If the years go by, and world temperatures and sea level rise match or exceed the worst-case scenarios forecast by the IPCC, lukewarmers cannot cling to their present position. One cannot remain "lukewarm" if the Earth is on fire. And if repeated, unprecedented droughts wreak havoc on agricultural systems or persistent, powerful storms render coastal areas essentially uninhabitable, or massive ice shelves show further signs of collapse, lukewarmers will need to follow the evidence and recognize that "alarm" is called for.
To his credit, lukewarm New York Times columnist Ross Douthat agrees. "Every lukewarmer, including especially those in positions of political authority, should be pressed to identify trends that would push them toward greater alarmism and a sharper focus on the issue."
In other words, they must recognize some level of evidence that will cause them to change their views. If they don't, they have proven themselves not to be lukewarm moderates but dogmatic deniers.