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The incredible disappearing doomsday

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  1. skybrian
    From the article: […]

    From the article:

    However jarring it is to compare this with the rosy picture in “Beyond Catastrophe,” Wallace-Wells is hardly the only journalist whose framing of the climate crisis has transformed in recent years. Where once the climate corps provided weary summations of daunting research, now they offer assurances that progress has been made and the future may be just fine. Given how quickly the tone has shifted, the average news consumer might assume that something fundamental has changed. Perhaps, thanks to all those new solar fields and international summits, a carbon-neutral future is already on the horizon.

    Unfortunately, that is not the case. Global emissions have plateaued at a level that will likely produce 1.5 degrees of warming, meaning that billions of people will suffer. That isn’t good news in any sense of the phrase—it’s not good and it’s not even really news. Indeed, it is precisely the earlier work of the climate catastrophists that makes the present reality seem novel and agreeable. The facts have remained the same; only the story has changed.


    Did the science really change? Or was there simply a shift in how a handful of influential journalists interpreted it? The answer has to do with a set of future emissions scenarios called Representative Concentration Pathways, or RCPs, that are embedded in every IPCC report and numbered according to the predicted total energy in the earth’s climate system in 2100, relative to the preindustrial era. Since 1990, the IPCC has tracked four different RCPs, from RCP2.6, in which warming is significantly limited, to RCP8.5, where the emitters keep on emitting and the planet heats at a rapid clip. Though some independent studies have described RCP8.5 as “business as usual,” the 2013 IPCC report referred to it merely as “one scenario with very high greenhouse gas emissions.”

    While RCP8.5 did indeed represent a worst-case projection—one in which, rather than transitioning to green energy, the world became ever more reliant on coal—at no point did the IPCC researchers assign relative probability to it, since it was intended only as a point of comparison. As Glen Peters and Zeke Hausfather wrote in a 2020 Nature paper, it was used to “benchmark climate models over an extended period of time, by keeping future scenarios consistent.” In fact, very little has changed in the climate modeling done by the IPCC since it began. Roger Pielke Jr. and Justin Ritchie, two researchers whose work has been central to debunking catastrophism, note that “the future envisioned by the IPCC has remained remarkably static,” with the range of possible temperature increases moving from between 2.9 and 6.2 degrees Celsius in 1990 to between 3 and 5.1 degrees Celsius in 2021.

    All of this helps to explain why so many scientists were aghast at the extremity of the vision Wallace-Wells laid out in 2017. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” wrote the University of Pennsylvania environmental science professor Michael Mann. “The article fails to produce it.” The atmospheric scientist J. Marshall Shepherd tweeted, “Over the top alarmist articles about climate change are just as irresponsible as baseless skeptic claims.” The glaciologist Peter Neff noted the “significant literary license” that Wallace-Wells had taken, while Christopher Colose of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies was more pointed, calling the “nightmare scenarios” in the article “simply ridiculous.” “A ‘business-as-usual’ climate in 1-2 centuries still looks markedly different than the current one,” Colose continued, “but there’s no reason yet to think much of the world will become uninhabitable or look like a science fiction novel.”

    “In the big picture,” Wallace-Wells told me, “RCP8.5 never should have been described as ‘business as usual.’ ”