Here’s a letter to a Washington Post reporter. Because I subscribe to that newspaper, I regularly receive blast emails from the Post on a variety of topics. One such blast email was sent a few days ago by WaPo environmental reporter Sarah Kaplan.
Ms. Sarah Kaplan
You report that, because of your fear of climate change, you “ultimately sought out a therapist to help me cope with my climate anxiety.” I’m sorry to learn of your terrible mental anguish.
But there is available a surer and more enlightening cure than therapy for the “eco-anxiety” that ails you. This cure is simple, inexpensive, and also enjoyable. It is to explore literature beyond the scientifically and economically dubious ‘reports’ and overwrought fear-mongering that regularly pour forth from most mainstream outlets (including, alas, the one for which you work).
Charging no fee, I offer below some specific recommendations to restore your equanimity.
Start by reading Steven Koonin’s 2021 book, Unsettled?. Koonin is a physicist now on the faculty at NYU. Previously he was provost at CalTech as well as Energy Department undersecretary during the Obama administration. Although he once, like you, suffered anxiety about climate change, he has since dug deeper into the science and is now becalmed despite his continuing belief that the climate is indeed warming and that at least some of this warming is caused by human activity. Here are just two quotations from Koonin’s book:
“[A] host of vexing practical problems means that climate model results require at least a pinch, if not a pound, of salt” (page 79).
“Trust in scientific institutions underpins our ability – and the ability of the media and politicians as well – to trust what is presented to us as The Science. Yet when it comes to climate, those institutions frequently seem more concerned with making the science fit a narrative than with ensuring the narrative fits the science” (page 189).
After reading Koonin, find further comfort in Bjorn Lomborg’s 2021 volume, False Alarm. Lomborg writes there, on page 6, that “[t]he rhetoric on climate change has become ever more extreme and less moored to the actual science. Over the past twenty years, climate scientists have painstakingly increased knowledge about climate change, and we have more – and more reliable – data than ever before. But at the same time, the rhetoric that comes from commentators and the media has become increasingly irrational.”
When you finish digesting Lomborg’s tract, turn to Michael Shellenberger’s 2020 Apocalypse Never.
Finally, and most importantly, read the late Julian Simon’s 1996 magnum opus, The Ultimate Resource 2. (It’s available free of charge, and with no trees cut down, here.) There you will find careful, clear, and coherent reasoning – all tested against data – about a wide variety of environmental matters. Simon’s analysis – especially after you’ve read Koonin, Lomborg, and Shellenberger – will restore your peace of mind. And as a bonus, it might also enrich your environmental reporting.
In addition to the above-mentioned books, there are many other excellent resources available – for example at the website of PERC – to help you regain your mental composure. I wish you luck in your journey back to calmness and peace of mind.
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