On Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered a speech about the real-time dangers of climate change and pollution. Fresh from the defeat of her Green New Deal resolution, she spoke at a Financial Services Committee meeting and made what she presumably thought was the best case for taking action to halt the environmental apocalypse. But if this was the most convincing argument she has, then Ocasio-Cortez has revealed herself as a one-woman war on science, and we should assume that the planet is just fine.
“You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist?” she said in response to criticism from Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. “Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx, which is suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint, whose kids have their blood ascending in lead levels. Their brains are damaged for the rest of their lives . . . People are dying. They are dying.”
Nothing like a good body count to help today’s Democrats expose the monstrosity of Republican policy. But, thankfully, Ocasio-Cortez’s dystopian vision doesn’t really map onto reality. And the science behind actual rising health crises is complicated and unresolved. Take asthma. Yes, there’s a been a rise in asthma since at least the 1980s, but no one knows why. Like, the rise in autism or the prevalence of lower sperm counts, it’s one of those strange medical/statistical trends that leave experts scratching their heads.
There’s the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which posits that recent improvements in air quality have deprived kids of exposure to germs that would serve to immunize them. But this is complicated by the fact that a significant portion of the rise in asthma cases has occurred in big cities where the air is not particularly clean. Additionally, there’s some evidence that early exposure to pathogens may do more to cause asthma then prevent it.
There are other theories: Some attribute the rise in asthma to mold, some blame an increase in sedentary lifestyles, and, yes, there’s a theory about asthma and climate change. But there are now theories linking everything—from mental illness to sex slavery—to climate change. The hypothesized link to asthma is just another in the batch. The idea is that warmer climates contribute to a rise in allergic pathogens, but half of all asthma cases have nothing to do with allergies. So, this is hardly an answer.
As for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, it’s a tragic result of local cost-cutting and mismanagement. It has to do with the Green New Deal to the extent that everything has to do with the Green New Deal because it’s a kitchen-sink proposal to save the planet. But given that the GND is also an unworkable hodge-podge of alarmist posturing, it doesn’t really matter.
Ocasio-Cortez also said, “Broad swaths of the Midwest are drowning right now. Underwater. Farms, towns that will never be recovered and will never come back.” It’s true that floods are on the rise. But is this because of global warming? According to Deke Arndt of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “There’s going to need to be a lot of homework done between now and when we can give a definitive answer.” Flooding, like asthma, is complicated. An excellent New York Times article by Henry Fountain on attribution science notes that “studies of extreme rainfall are considered less reliable [than studies on heat waves] in finding links to climate change, and studies of events like wildfires and severe thunderstorms even less reliable.”
The weak link between climate change and wildfires is also no obstacle for Ocasio-Cortez. “Climate change is real. Whether it’s hurricanes or wildfires, it’s here,” she tweeted. “We must switch to renewable energy now. Time for a #GreenNewDeal.” And as for hurricanes, she’s wrong yet again. A recent report by the UN Climate Panel states: “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.”
Ocasio-Cortez can rant all she likes, but the science remains, at best, unsettled. Her argument was an impassioned masterpiece of urgent, hysterical, high-volume nonsense. Americans are growing increasingly skeptical of sensationalism that passes for accepted wisdom. AOC’s tirade makes it clear that our skepticism is our best defense.