The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos has again attracted politicians, environmental activists, and celebrities to pontificate about how to save the world—of which most of them have very little understanding. What they lack in scientific knowledge and understanding, they substitute with deeply-held emotional leftist and statist convictions, not based on facts.

The Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio is a good example. In an address at the WEF he lamented the “fragility of our climate” and predicted and an irrevocable global catastrophe from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere that is caused by—you guessed it—by human activity. DiCaprio was particularly condemning the use of fossil fuels: oil, natural gas, and coal, and the companies producing them, accusing them of “corporate greed.”

It is always unfortunate when people make fools of themselves, even more so when they seem to believe that doing so is helping a cause (fighting climate change, or perhaps gaining more admirers and publicity). DiCaprio certainly succeeded making himself a fool, as he got it wrong on all accounts.

Calling climate “fragile” is a misnomer. With is wide variations over time (regardless of any human activity): warming (droughts, storms) and cooling (ice ages), climate can certainly be hazardous to humans and to other species. However, contrary to the environmentalists’ arguments, increasing CO2 is not a threat to climate (and to us). Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org and an ardent environmentalist crusader, has argued that if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeded 350 parts per million, all life on the planet would be in jeopardy. The current level of CO2 is about 400 ppm, with no ill effects. In fact, from the perspective of thriving plant life—which is beneficial to human survival and flourishing—the level of CO2 should be many times higher than the present levels, as convincingly demonstrated by Patrick Moore in a Power Hour podcast with Alex Epstein.

DiCaprio’s second claim that fossil fuels are ‘harming’ the climate and by extension, human life, is also completely bogus. Even if an increased level of CO2 in the atmosphere was harmful, the impact of increased burning of fossil fuels by humans has been negligible, as the research cited in Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels clearly shows. Quite the contrary, having access to cheap, reliable energy from fossil fuels has made us better able to deal with the natural hazards of climate: droughts, floods, hurricanes, and hazardous levels of heat and cold. (For evidence on this, I highly recommend Epstein’s book, or his excellent Power Hour podcasts where he interviews energy and climate experts).

To point a finger at the oil and gas companies and to blame them for hurting us because of “corporate greed”—the pursuit of profits through making reliable, affordable energy affordable—is also completely dishonest. “Greed” is an invalid concept because it packages together the legitimate pursuit of material wealth through production and trade and coveting someone else’s wealth through illegitimate means such as deception and fraud. Therefore, “greed” as a concept deserves to be thrown out altogether. Instead of accusing of fossil fuel producers of “greed,” we should thank them for producing values that have made, and continue to make, human lives better, by lifting people out of poverty in the developing countries and increasing well-being ever higher in the industrialized countries.

The feather in Mr. DiCaprio’s dunce cap is his hypocrisy. Without the fossil fuel companies he attacked at the WEF, he could not have traveled to Davos (unless he was willing to swim and walk). He could not have had spotlights pointed at him (whale oil and candles don’t quite have the same effect), nor could he have been warm enough in a tuxedo (the production of which also required energy from fossil fuels). But more importantly, without the energy provided by the fossil fuel companies, the Hollywood film industry could not exist, and DiCaprio could not have had the career and earned wealth he has. And neither could he donate the millions to various dubious environmental causes.

I suggest to Mr. DiCaprio that to have the dunce cap removed, he should know what he talks about—which requires studying the facts. Alternatively, he should just stick to his expertise, acting. And to remove the feather of hypocrisy, he should start boycotting the fossil fuel companies and their products (which, of course, would be futile), or start recognizing the enormous value they provide to all of us. Until then, I will follow the principle of justice and boycott Mr. DiCaprio’s movies.

7 COMMENTS

    • Thanks, Keith, for the links. Yes, Justin will have to “duck and weave;” let’s hope he will not completely ruin the economy. (A humorous but sad anecdote: a colleague told me yesterday that she voted for Trudeau because she “wanted Liberal ideology” but now she is very disappointed and has concluded that he is “just a pretty face.” The lesson: be careful what you wish for …).

  1. Dear Prof. Jaana Woiceshyn, I have followed your blog, as a way to keep learning from a gifted former professor 🙂

    I was a bit intrigued by your points in this latest post. Isn’t it true that science has produced much more evidence attesting to the contributions CO2 levels towards a faster, and potentially more difficult to cope, changes in temperature, sea levels, and so on? Shouldn’t we try to manage this process, if that is the case?

    Looking forward to hear your perspective.

    • Dear Paul, thanks for following my blog!

      Your question about CO2 levels and their impact on climate is a good one. If we go by the popular media coverage and politicians (particularly those in power), climate science is “settled” and higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are caused by humans and leading to a catastrophe. But if you read the actual science on this, a very different picture emerges. In my post, I provided a link to the interview of Patrick Moore; I highly recommend you listen to that (http://industrialprogress.com/power-hour-dr-patrick-moore/). In the same series of Power Hour podcasts, there are also a number of others of climate scientists, such Judith Curry (I also recommend any of her articles). And The Moral Case of Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein is based on impeccable research–which shows that CO2 is not the culprit politicians and media make it to believe. Quite the contrary, more CO2 is better for the planet and human life.

      So to answer your question: there is no evidence to suggest that we should try to lower the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. I much rather have resources spent on reducing actual pollution.

  2. Thanks Jana,

    I agree 100% that there is lots of politics in this discussion, no question.

    When it comes to the scientific side of the debate, this is where I think I will struggle to buy the argument. I know the work of A. Epstein, and I do not ascribe the same scientific validity to him as you do. I went on to look J. Curry and was impressed by her work.

    Still, I am not following the climate change debate on the pop media, quite the opposite. Science is never unanimous, but I believe that it is rather difficult to refute the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence supporting the effect of green house emissions on climate change and accelerated global warming. See T. Wigley, W. Cramer, R Pielke, Steven Smith, and many, many more, with hundreds of thousands of citations. I think that if one believes in the scientific process, refuting all existing evidence to be rather difficult.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks, Paul, for your comment. Glad to hear you are reading the scientific arguments for and against climate change; most people don’t. As for Alex Epstein, he is not a climate scientist (he was trained in philosophy), but he has done meticulous research for his book, and I think his work is extremely important in getting the other side of the argument a hearing–which is not happening at schools and universities. The scientists he interviews in the Power Hour podcasts all have excellent credentials. I would recommend to listening also to the interview of Dr. Tim Ball or Dr. David Legates to learn what has happened to climate science (to funding, to university appointments–and of course, citations). We tend to think that peer review ensures objectivity in scientific publication, but when it comes to climate science, there is now a plenty of evidence to question that.–And refuting existing evidence should never be a goal; evidence should be accepted–as long as it truly is evidence.

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