Exaggerating the Damage Caused by Climate Change

Here is a link to the abstract of a peer-reviewed article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. (You may be able to download the full article. I could, from my university computer.)

The abstract says, “It appears that news media and some pro-environmental organizations have the tendency to accentuate or even exaggerate the damage caused by climate change. ... We find that the information manipulation... induces more countries to participate in an IEA [International Environmental Agreement], which will eventually enhance global welfare.”

The article argues that by exaggerating the harmful effects of climate change, advocates can gain more support for government climate change policies.

The article says, “Linking climate change to extreme weather may be a powerful way to motivate people.” Referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it says, “The IPCC has tended to over-generalize its research results and accentuate the negative side of climate change. Following its lead, the mainstream media has gone even further.”

Later, “...it may be better for the countries to hold a pessimistic view of the climate problem, as it will induce more countries to participate in the IEA...” The paper then goes on to develop a mathematical model to demonstrate why this is the case.

The paper’s conclusion begins, “This article offers a rationale for the phenomenon of climate damage accentuation or exaggeration on the part of the international mainstream media or other pro-environmental organizations.” And then to show the bias of the authors, “Forming a binding IEA to curb climate change is a matter of urgency... When the media or pro-environmental organizations have private information on the damage caused by climate change, in equilibrium they may manipulate the information to increase pessimism regarding climate damage, even though the damage may not be that great. Consequently, more countries (with overpessimistic beliefs about climate damage) will be induced to participate in an IEA in this state, thereby leading to greater global welfare...”

The paper concludes, “This article further explores how the mass media may manipulate the information it privately has to influence behavior related to the environment ... this article introduces a novel mechanism, ‘information manipulation.'”

This article is noteworthy because it is published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. This is not right-wing political propaganda, and it is apparent from reading the article that the authors are sympathetic to the idea that more global action needs to be taken to combat what they believe are the negative effects of climate change.

The article is written by advocates of international environmental agreements who plainly state that climate scientists and the media exaggerate the negative effects of climate change, and explain why doing so helps further their goals.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas.
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