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Why Should Serious People Take Such Reporting Seriously?

Here’s a letter to the Program Director of NPR’s Here & Now:

Sir or Madam:

Your segment today on climate change unwittingly offers reasons why so many people not on the political left remain skeptical of entrusting governments with more power to regulate in the name of protecting the environment. Almost every second of this segment’s nine-plus minutes portrayed life today as ghastly, treacherous, and destined only to get more hellish. Yet reality is very different.

Your reporting would be more credible if you at least acknowledged such facts as these – facts that uninformed members of your audience would be shocked to learn:

Global death-rates from natural disasters have fallen dramatically. This rate is today 1/14th what it was a century ago and ½ what it was a half-century ago.

The proportion of the world’s population with access to clean water is at an all-time high.

The risk of dying from air pollution is at an all-time low. (Ditto the risk of dying of famine.)

Life expectancy today continues to rise and is at an all-time high; today it’s much more than twice what it was before the industrial revolution. This happy trend is due in part to the fact that…

Child mortality is at an all-time low. (Ditto for the maternal mortality rate.)

People worldwide are better educated.

These and many other positive trends in human well-being are the direct consequence of economic growth – most of which is spawned by free markets and powered by carbon fuels. Your apparent blindness to this reality casts doubt, if not on your objectivity, certainly on your sense of historical perspective. (I laughed out loud when host Jeremy Hobson – talking about Europeans who today suffer from heat waves – said that “Many people don’t have air-conditioning because, over the course of centuries, they haven’t needed it.” In reality, of course, pre-20th-century Europeans didn’t have air-conditioning because innovative free markets hadn’t yet made it possible.)

The general public would surely pay more attention to climate reporting if programs such as yours were to substitute realism for incessant apocalypticism.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030