What is the probability of dying from an external event, rather than from an ailment such as cancer or heart disease? As an exercise, list the following external potential life-ending events in order of the probability that you think might kill you: automobile crash, airplane crash, pandemic more deadly than COVID, weather-related event from a storm (drowning or collapse of structure) unrelated to “climate change.” Weather-related events caused by global warming: earthquake, volcanic event (either directly from the eruption or from crop failure due to diminished sunlight), asteroid impact, nuclear war, conventional war, famine caused by the collapse of the monetary system, famine caused by farm animal and plant diseases and others.

Some of the external events that could kill you can be mitigated by more investment to prevent or better cope with them. Human beings, however, can do little about volcanic eruptions or variations in the output of the sun. To make rational decisions about how much to spend to address each risk, it must first be determined the probability of the risk and then how much it will cost per life to be saved.

The current rage is all about climate change. To be sensible, it is important that the rate of change be determined and then make judgments about the ability of humans to alter that rate in a significant way, at a reasonable cost per person. Judith A. Curry is a distinguished climate scientist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She had become increasingly concerned about the politicization and hype of climate science. Some politicians and their press lackeys have held forth with a never-ending stream of doomsday climate scenarios over the last three decades. Former Vice President Al Gore told us that the Arctic ice sheet would be gone by now, as would Miami Beach, but both are still with us.

Ms. Curry had observed that most of the “climate models” had consistently run too “hot” in that they projected much faster increases in temperature that was actually occurring (other leading climate scientists, including the late Fred Singer, Dennis Avery and Pat Michaels, had made the same observations). If the world is actually getting warmer at a much slower rate than alarmists have been saying, it means we have more time to make adjustments to human impact on the climate. Ms. Curry has argued that even if we immediately stopped all emissions from greenhouse gases, it would take decades for that to have any impact — and we have plenty of time to make an orderly transition from fossil fuels to more promising nuclear and geothermal energy sources (wind and solar have very limited potential and are turning out to be much more costly to both build and maintain than many proponents claimed).

Some of Ms. Curry’s fellow academics did not like her argument that the climate crisis was overblown. She went from being lauded for her work to increasingly being an outcast. Academics and others in any field have a vested interest in overstating the importance of their area of expertise because funding goes to those who can argue that they are dealing with the greatest threat. There is a limited pool of money, so the people who build rockets that can alter the trajectory of potential killer asteroids are to some extent fighting over the same pool of money that can be used for better airline safety, or pandemic mitigation, or combating climate change).

In 2016, Ms. Curry resigned her university position, in part to get away from the academic BS (my words, not hers) and joined the private sector as president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network to work on real, applied science, without having to be politically correct. She has just published a book, “Climate Uncertainty and Risk: Rethinking Our Response.” It is a brilliant tome, filled with many important insights and several thousand footnotes to document her arguments.

Throughout the book, Ms. Curry is careful to explain the difference between what we think we know for certain, what we know that we don’t know, and what we don’t know that we don’t know. Ms. Curry argues that we know the planet has been warming since at least 1860, and that the rise in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for at least some of that warming. She argues that what we do not know is how much of the rise in carbon dioxide is caused by human fossil fuel burning, rather from natural variability. She also argues that we do not know if the warming is dangerous, or how much warming we can expect over the next century, let alone how much benefit, if any, we can expect from reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The irony is that to date, global warming has saved lives — more people die from cold than heat — and plants (food) grow faster when the air contains higher levels of carbon dioxide.

Ms. Curry is first rate when explaining alternative risks and why caution is wise in trying to mitigate them. “Climate Uncertainty” is a serious, nonpolitical book, which will help to elevate the level of scientific and political discourse. It should be read by everyone who writes or speaks about climate change, including the political and media class.

• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.


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