Climate Catastrophe Is a Choice

Downplaying the Risk Is the Real Danger

A wildfire in Lower Lake, California, September 2015. Noah Berger / REUTERS

Oren Cass argues that the worrying predictions of mainstream climate science are overblown (“The Problem With Climate Catastrophizing,” March 21). But rather than assessing the legitimate range of views regarding climate change, Cass marshals a series of fallacies in an apparent effort to justify a fossil fuel-friendly agenda of inaction.  

The clearest signs of trouble in Cass’ essay are rhetorical. By referring to mainstream climate scientists as “catastrophists,” Cass suggests that he is more interested in scoring political points than in engaging with the science surrounding climate change. It is true that the projected effects of unmitigated warming might objectively be characterized as catastrophic. If anything, however, scientists have been overly conservative in their assessments, tending to understate the actual threat posed by climate change—the very opposite of catastrophism. What’s more, the label creates a straw man: in Cass’ argument, “the catastrophist” is an amalgamation of perspectives set up for the purpose of being knocked down.

Cass’ suggestion that advocates who worry about future generations and choose to have children are hypocrites is another red flag. His singling out of Dave Bry, Travis Rieder, and Eric Holthaus is an ad hominem argument, and what's more, it often fails at a mathematical level. After all, when couples elect to have a single child, it leads to a decreasing population. Cass also misses the larger point: what most advocates for climate action seek is a way for their descendants to live on this planet sustainably.   

Cass correctly cites a quote I gave to Esquire in 2015 to describe the uncertainty surrounding the speed with which the Greenland Ice Sheet will melt. But this is where the usefulness of his characterization of mainstream climate science ends, since he proceeds to dismiss ice-sheet collapse and the other legitimate concerns of climate scientists as exaggerated. “Perhaps,” Cass notes, the dire risks that climate scientists foresee will materialize. But people shouldn’t take scientists’ predictions too seriously, he suggests, because “if nothing else, they are unfalsifiable.” This

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