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Denial and Alarmism in the Near-Term Extinction and Collapse Debate

Guest article by Alastair McIntosh,  honorary professor in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. This is an excerpt from his new book, Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being

cover art for Riders on the StormMostly, we only know what we think we know about climate science because of the climate science. I have had many run-ins with denialists, contrarians or climate change dismissives as they are variously called. Over the past two years especially, concern has also moved to the other end of the spectrum, to alarmism. Both ends, while the latter has been more thinly tapered, can represent forms of denial. In this abridged adaptation I will start with denialism, but round on the more recent friendly fire on science that has emerged in alarmism.
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BAU wow wow

How should we discuss scenarios of future emissions? What is the range of scenarios we should explore? These are constant issues in climate modeling and policy discussions, and need to be reassessed every few years as knowledge improves.

I discussed some of this in a post on worst case scenarios a few months ago, but the issue has gained more prominence with a commentary by Zeke Hausfather and Glen Peters in Nature this week (which itself partially derives from ongoing twitter arguments which I won’t link to because there are only so many rabbit holes that you want to fall into).

My brief response to this is here though:

Mike Mann has a short discussion on this as well. But there are many different perspectives around – ranging from the merely posturing to the credible and constructive. The bigger questions are certainly worth discussing, but if the upshot of the current focus is that we just stop using the term ‘business-as-usual’ (as was suggested in the last IPCC report), then that is fine with me, but just not very substantive.

References

  1. Z. Hausfather, and G.P. Peters, "Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading", Nature, vol. 577, pp. 618-620, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-00177-3

Sensitive But Unclassified

The US federal government goes to quite a lot of effort to (mostly successfully) keep sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information (like personal data) out of the hands of people who would abuse it. But when it comes to the latest climate models, quite a few are SBU as well.

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Just the facts?

In the wake of the appalling mass shootings last weekend, Neil DeGrasse Tyson (the pre-eminent scientist/communicator in the US) tweeted some facts that were, let’s just say, not well received (and for which he kind of apologised). At least one of the facts he tweeted about was incorrect (deaths by medical errors are far smaller). However, even if it had been correct, the overall response would have been the same, because the reaction was not driven by the specifics of what was said, but rather by the implied message of the context in which it was said. This is a key feature (or bug) of communications in a politicized environment, and one that continues to trip up people who are experienced enough to know better.

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Absence and Evidence

Guest commentary by Michael Tobis, a retired climate scientist. He is a software developer and science writer living in Ottawa, Ontario.

A recent opinion piece by economist Ross McKitrick in the Financial Post, which attracted considerable attention in Canada, carried the provocative headline “This scientist proved climate change isn’t causing extreme weather – so politicians attacked”.

In fact, the scientist referenced in the headline, Roger Pielke Jr., proved no such thing. He examined some data, but he did not find compelling evidence regarding whether or not human influence is causing or influencing extreme events.

Should such a commonplace failure be broadly promoted as a decisive result that merits public interest?

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Koonin’s case for yet another review of climate science

We watch long YouTube videos so you don’t have to.

In the seemingly endless deliberations on whether there should be a ‘red team’ exercise to review various climate science reports, Scott Waldman reported last week that the original architect of the idea, Steve Koonin, had given a talk on touching on the topic at Purdue University in Indiana last month. Since the talk is online, I thought it might be worth a viewing.

[Spoiler alert. It wasn’t].

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The best case for worst case scenarios

The “end of the world” or “good for you” are the two least likely among the spectrum of potential outcomes.

Stephen Schneider

Scientists have been looking at best, middling and worst case scenarios for anthropogenic climate change for decades. For instance, Stephen Schneider himself took a turn back in 2009. And others have postulated both far more rosy and far more catastrophic possibilities as well (with somewhat variable evidentiary bases).

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References

  1. S. Schneider, "The worst-case scenario", Nature, vol. 458, pp. 1104-1105, 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/4581104a

Decluttering

Filed under: — gavin @ 21 January 2019

Given some unexpected down time this month (and maybe next month too!), I’ve been trying to go through key old posts on this site. The basic idea is to update links to other sites, references and figures that over the years have died (site domains that were abandoned, site redesigns, deliberate deletions etc.). Most notably, the IPCC website recently broke all the existing links to elements of the reports which we had referenced in hundreds of places. Thanks guys!

Some folk have been notifying us of issues they found (thanks Marcus!) and I’ve been fixing those as they come up, but obviously there are more. Links to old blog posts from Deltoid, Scienceblogs, Pielke Sr. or Prometheus generally don’t work anymore though they can sometimes be found on the wayback machine. It turns out a lot has changed since 2004 and many hotlinked images in particular have disappeared.

It’s obviously not worth finding replacements for every dead link, but digital uncluttering and fixing up is useful. So, please use this thread to notify us of any useful fixes we can make (and if you have an updated link,, that’d be perfect). Additionally, please let us know if any of the old content is still useful or interesting to you. We know there is still substantial traffic to the back catalog, so maybe it should be highlighted in some way?

To those of you who might ask whether blogging still brings me joy… of course it does!

Let’s check your temperature

The underlying mission of my job is to safeguard lives and property through climate change adaptation based on science. In other words, to help society to prepare itself for risks connected with more extreme rainfall and temperatures.

For many people, “climate” may seem to be an abstract concept. I have had many conversations about climate, and then realised that people often have different interpretations. In my mind, climate is the same as weather statistics (which I realise can be quite abstract to many).

To avoid miscommunication, I want to make sure that we are on the same page when I discuss climate. Maybe it helps if I talk about more familiar and specific aspects, such as the temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind?

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4th National Climate Assessment report

Filed under: — gavin @ 23 November 2018

In possibly the biggest “Friday night news dump” in climate report history, the long awaited 4th National Climate Assessment (#NCA4) was released today (roughly two weeks earlier than everyone had been expecting).

The summaries and FAQ (pdf) are good, and the ClimateNexus briefing is worth reading too. The basic picture is utterly unsurprising, but the real interest in the NCA is the detailed work on vulnerabilities and sectorial impacts in 10 specific regions of the US. The writing teams for those sections include a whole raft of scientists and local stakeholders and so if you think climate reports are the same old, same old, it’s where you should go to read things you might not have seen before.

Obviously, since the report was only released at 2pm today without any serious embargo, most takes you will read today or tomorrow will be pretty superficial, but there should be more considered discussions over the next few days. Feel free to ask specific questions or bring up topics below.