We’re Dooooooomed! Dooooooooooomed!

When serious people try to gauge the probable effects of climate change, they have to make some assumptions.


For example, when Nicholas Stern tried it on behalf of the UK government, one of his assumptions was that the population would rise to about 15 billion souls. That would imply higher emissions than those using lower population estimates. Stern also mixed up Robert Muir Woods’ estimates of weather-related catastrophes, which also pushed up his damage estimates.

Stern came to the conclusion that temperature rises of 5-6C this century were quite likely, which is higher than most mainstream estimates. As a result, he predicted economic losses of 5% of GDP annually, starting in 2006 and lasting forever. That is a serious problem. It is not a catastrophe. In fact, it’s 11 years later and we see no sign of it having happened to date.

Some have predicted up to 100 million climate change refugees. But they predicted 25 million of them would have fled their home by the end of the Nineties. There were none. There still are none. And so it goes.

Now we have an article in New York Magazine walking through all the apocalyptic scenarios that have been trotted out since 1998. Scientists are falling over themselves to distance themselves from the article and its predictions. Read here to see Michael Mann dismiss the article. If it’s too much for Michael Mann…

Those who read this will quickly note a few things. For me, the first is that it doesn’t list its assumptions. So it’s kind of hard to take it seriously, although the media and blogosphere are using it as our latest version of the Rorschach Test.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change actually wrote quite a bit about the impacts of future climate change. A summary is here, including links to the IPCC documents. Spoiler alert–It does not predict catastrophe.

Well, all that is background to what I want to write about.

When you use the term CAGW in blog conversations about climate, some from the consensus brigade will confront you about the ‘C.’ Scientists, they say, don’t use the term catastrophe in connection with climate change. Actually, some do–but to be honest, it’s mostly bloggers, commenters and people from green NGOs that abuse the word and deserve the ‘C.’ Most scientists don’t associate climate change with catastrophe. For this we should thank them–and we should listen to them.

Sober calculations of potential impacts result in predictions of 5% increase in precipitation (without specifying where this will occur), regional increases in floods and droughts (again, without locations), about 8 inches of sea-level rise this century and changes in migratory patterns for both plants and animals. It will also get a bit warmer, although the 2C that seems the central value this century is not enough to radically change agriculture in most of the world or living patterns–except in the poorest regions, which (perhaps not coincidentally) are often the hottest already. Storm surges will increase damages to waterfront property and when sea level rise occurs in areas already subject to subsidence, those storm surges will be impressive and dangerous. Things will go a bit haywire in the Arctic, as decreased ice is likely to change weather patterns significantly in the region.

But that’s really about it. That’s what people say who have been studying the climate as a career for decades. There are some who say it might be worse, some who think it won’t be as bad as I have described… But I submit that’s a fair characterization of the consensus view on the impacts of climate change.

Scary stories sell, for the same reason scary movies are popular. We like vicarious participation in cataclysmic stories, secure with our popcorn and our friends sitting next to us in the theater.

As long as everyone understands that that’s all this is, there’s little harm involved. But when it is presented as something more than speculative fiction, there are consequences.

An Argentinian couple killed their child and themselves a few years ago because of climate change. Children are afraid of the future because people don’t tell them that these scary stories are only scary stories.

Climate change is real. Humans have almost certainly contributed to it. It may have serious impacts in certain regions in the future. It makes sense to start addressing it now, and we should start by improving the infrastructure of places that already suffer from weather disasters.

Regional climate models are not very skillful. It does make sense to adapt to regional climate change but it’s vital in that respect to know what to expect, and where. Or if it’s extreme weather adaptation you are talking about there’s very little evidence to suggest it is getting worse; and some very doubtful ‘science’ which attributes extreme weather events (usually heatwaves, droughts, deluges) to anthropogenic climate change. Adapting to more of this, on the simple expectation that it will get worse, whilst totally ignoring extreme weather events which can’t be confidently attributed to ‘global warming’ (e.g. record-breaking cold snaps – in Australia this winter, for instance) seems to be to be a bit silly, and unscientific.

But the ‘C’ word can be retired any time now without cheapening or coarsening the debate about the subject. It can join the ‘D’ word in the Climate Lexicographer’s Hall of Shame.


  1. I didn’t know that about Stern’s estimates of population growth and temperature rise. His estimate of a population of 15 billion by 2100 is 40% above the UN’s. His assumed increase is twice the UN estimate. Similarly, his assumed temperature rise is twice the IPCC’s median estimate. So assuming some kind of linear relationship, his estimates of damage are presumably about four times the best estimates of the world’s accepted experts.

    A few weeks ago BishopHill linked to this article


    which demonstrates exactly how much Stern has been lying to the government about what he’s done with £9 million of public money.

    The only difference between “lukewarmists” like Tom Fuller, the author of this article, and sceptics like me is that Tom is a sensible fellow, hoping to engage others in reasonable discussion, whereas I like to express my feelings. Nick Stern is a liar and a fraud. Giving a false account of how you’ve spent 9 million of government funding is presumably a criminal offence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ..the ‘C’ word can be retired any time now without cheapening or coarsening the debate about the subject.

    I’m afraid it can’t. Without the C word the debate is reduced to a discussion between hydrologists on how high to build such and such a sea wall. And how many graduates in environmental science will that employ?

    It was in writing my last article


    that I realised why the C is an intergral part of CAGW. Like Love and Marriage, you can’t have One without the Other. It’s written into the religion that fixed the rules.

    I wrote:

    ..the worse the putative effects of global warming, the more urgent it is to deal with them right now, rather than lowering the CO2 content of the atmosphere in a few decades time. And this argument is unanswerable right up to the most extreme effect imaginable – the end of life on the planet. Which explains neatly why climate change activism must be catastrophic or nothing.

    I didn’t realise it at the time, but I put an end to the climate debate then and there.

    When I first heard about global warming, I worried about the family beach villa on the Mediterranean. Then I saw the council bulldozer piling up the sand every autumn against winter storms, and I hoped they’d have the sense to pile it up three millimetres higher every year, and indeed they did.

    Then I heard about the polar bear, whose population is increasing, though Al Gore said the opposite, and Bangladesh, whose land surface is increasing, though the World Bank said the opposite. For ten years I pointed out this stuff to Guardian journalists and others, and they ignored me or banned my comments. Because if you can fix the problems caused by climate change, then climate change isn’t a problem. Therefore you can’t fix them.

    The climate changes. It’s embedded in the etymology of the word “climate.”

    So either it’s catastrophic or it’s tautological. Therefore it’s catastrophic.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. CAGW is another Ice Age. 400k years ago the UK and much of North America were uninhabitable. An Ice sheet 1000m thick lay just north of what is now London. The ice diverted the Thames south to its current position. It originally flowed through Happisburgh in Norfolk, which is why 900,000 years ago Homo Erectus left a few footprints in the mud while searching for shellfish, during a brief spell of global warming.


  4. Geoff — So either it’s catastrophic or it’s tautological. Therefore it’s catastrophic.

    This came up in the Twitter discussion (such as it was, or such as it became) with Richard Betts about the MO paper Jaime refers to.

    Betts claims that the paper itself makes no statement about attribution. (See https://twitter.com/richardabetts/status/886725660097617920 ). However, it does claim in the conclusion, albeit perhaps as preamble/discussion that

    Climate change is projected to negatively impact all aspects of food security.

    Betts maintained that the IPCC definition of ‘climate change’ includes natural variability. Thus the paper had “nothing to do with AGW”, on his view. Indeed, the paper purports to identify the risks of weather-related “water stress” afflicting two of the biggest maize-producing regions simultaneously absent the observational data for making such a prediction of risk, and using models instead. The figure produced is 6% per decade, which I think amounts to an event (more or less) once in 200 years. The authors point is that because the observational record couldn’t yield this result, there is a tendency to under-estimate the risks.

    However, I (and Jaime) believe that Betts is wrong. First, as Jaime points out, AGW is factored in to the models. And as I point out, no matter the IPCC’s inclusion of natural variability (Geoff’s tautology problem), it also includes the anthropogenic component — the dominant factor in late C20th warming according to the consensus position.

    What strikes me as a new development here is the attempt to distance science from the catastrophism implied, noted by Tom in the case of Mann et al distancing themselves from the doomsaying, much to the disappointment of the Grists and NGO activists. However, it is slipperyness which characterises whatever tactic is intended by the memo (unless this new found sobriety in climate circles is a spontaneous phenomenon). Climate science hasn’t learned much… Betts’ final rejoinder was that, as someone who works with the authors, he is better placed to understand their claims and motivations than I.

    Moreover, and aside the fact that climate scientists seem the least able to understand the motivations and political context of climate science, the misapprehension seems to be that climate risks can be understood in terms of weather alone. I.e. Betts (for one) is happy for an abstract — modelled — understanding of climate to influence ‘policymaking’, but not an abstract understanding of agricultural production, or economy, or even policymaking or risk. The global market for food crops, and the risks that it faces, then, are to be understood in meterological terms.

    The folly of this is that the strategic mitigation of risk by intervening can produce exactly what it seemingly intends to avoid. For example, a 2011 prediction of weather-related crop failure in China led to the purchase of crops on the world market, pushing up global prices. As discussed here, those high prices were in turn blamed on drought in Syria, and the case that climate change caused or contributed to the conflict there.

    It seems to me that the MO scientists have the same understanding of the ‘risks’ of 1-in-200 year events as meteorologists had in 1817. No doubt in 1817, the loss of a ‘breadbasket’ would present a huge risk to the local population that depended on it. But in 2017, through to 2217, there are and will be increasingly productive modes of agriculture and land and water management, and a global market, full of equivalents and alternatives to staple crops, with an increasingly wealthy global population able to access it.The obstacles to that access (which seemingly gave rise to exposure to risks from climate) were: 1. the undue intervention of an undemocratic government of more than 1 billion people; 2. the excesses of an more troubled undemocratic government struggling to sustain its authority in the face of domestic and regional tensions as well as…; 3. the interventions of nominally democratic states in the West exceeding their mandates with yet more incautious adventurism. Weather, not even climate change, not even anthropogenic climate change, had nothing to do with it.

    The slipperyness, it seems to me, can be accounted for the slow realisation that the simple model of humans dependent on predictable weather is approaching bunk. hence, I don’t agree with Tom’s conclusion: “But the ‘C’ word can be retired any time now without cheapening or coarsening the debate about the subject.”

    The debate — which has never happened — cannot happen without catastrophe looming, because risk mitigation is the single contemporary political priority, and is in particular the foundation of global political bodies intended to mitigate ‘global’ and encompassing ‘challenges’ ‘facing humanity’. Once it is realised that the problem of climate change is categorically local, and that science cannot necessarily inform as much as mislead, it is hard to prop up those political projects. Moreover, the appeal of addressing — with urgency — a problem with a risk factor of somewhere between -1 and +1, becomes so much reduced. Hence climate scientists distancing themselves from catastrophe appears as a gesture towards being a bit more rational about things, but is in fact a posture assumed by a body trying to work out how to have its cake and eat it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Forgot to add…

    The other reason Betts is wrong that the paper’s authors were discussing natural variability rather than anthropogenic climate change is that the line, ‘Climate change is projected to negatively impact all aspects of food security’ is a statement that cannot be made about natural variability. It can only be presupposed by projecting increased anthropogenic CO2 emissions.


  6. Richard is very insistent that the study does not model the risk of crop failure from AGW but from natural variability only. If so, the authors of the study and the Met Office should have made this clearer, in order to prevent alarmist outlets like the Guardian getting hold of it and promoting it as further evidence of climate doom.


  7. Many climate scientists might not use the C from CAGW but they use a different C as in climate change. It’s very user friendly and can be used to mean anything the user thinks they can get away with. It means any tale of climate catastrophe from the past can be worked into the global warming narrative.

    Others have painted big pictures of doom for the public and authorities and there has been very little movement from the science community to correct those scare stories. One of the most recent was the contribution from Stephen Hawking claiming we’d turn into Venus (about as ‘C’ s it gets). While there were honourable protests, they didn’t make it as far as the outlets that published the story in the first place. Can we expect a big protest over Al’s new movie if it doesn’t corret the flaws of his first?

    I’m afraid that the C is still there, even if it’s silent. Any protest to the contrary is a) ass covering and b) they’re worried that catastrophism encourages fatalism and denial of danger.


  8. tiny.
    Yes, the silent c as in science (and another masquerading as an s).
    Without the C in CAGW there is no urgency, no reason for concern, no real impetus to do anything, spend anything or show any real interest. The C is integral to climate science as it currently is conceived.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hmmm. I’m going to file this under ‘Modeling the risk of extreme/unprecedented events in the current climate – nothing to do with AGW’ and probably come back to it at a later date.


  10. No exaggeration, David Wallace-Wells’ New York Magazine article is totally abysmal. I couldn’t finish it and stopped when I got to counting 15 outrageous untruths. C write large! (Would have been a good exercise to give to students studying climate change to see how many errors, deliberate lies and “misunderstandings” they could find)

    Usually I’m most grateful for guidance about what is interesting to read, but this time I could have given it a miss. I cannot claim, however, that I wasn’t given ample warning.


  11. Alan, I could hardly get beyond the first sentence: “It is, I promise, worse than you think”. How can he, a nobody journalist, “promise” that it’s going to be worse than you – the typical NYT reader – think?

    There is also an annotated version, which is quite funny. The first annotation, about the earth being ‘uninhabitable’ starts by talking about the IPCC, who of course said no such thing. Another annotation claims a ‘fact’ by quoting as a source, a book by Joe Romm! Apparently “The book was an invaluable resource in researching this article”, which might explain why the article is so full of false claims.

    Debunkings include this from ClimateFeedback and this at ArsTechnica, and

    There’s almost a 97% consensus!

    One of the few people to defend the article was David Roberts at Vox, see this article or his tweet-rant above.

    Of course, some of us have been saying for some time that climate scientists should call out excessive alarmism, so it’s good to see Betts and even Mann doing this. It’s also interesting to see a kind of split in the ranks of the climateers.

    There’s a post about this at Fabius Maximus, We love doomster stories.


  12. It’s important to factor in the virtue signalling effect of whoever declares policy. For example, St Obama reluctantly and almost against his will signs a travel ban into law. No complaints just gratitude from the masses for the wisdom of this incarnation of POTUS. Trump just announces the ban, no tears, no regrets and some west coast moron of a judge declares it unconstitutional and morons protest in the streets against a measure they were happy about 5 years earlier


  13. Tom, you get an “A” for effort but much less for the content.
    If there is no “C”, then few if any of the policies and alleged remedies the Paris Agreement seeks to impose make any sense at all.
    As to catastrophistic scary scenarios, Mann made a fortune pumping his hockey stick which was the basic bit of visual propaganda used to sell the climate emergency.
    And Hansen…he pushed Venus runaway off and on since the 90’s. And most certainly did so in the last few years.
    “Storms of my Grandchildren”…..
    And of course that great incarnation of Pol Pot, calling for massive violent terror and xenocidal population destruction. And good ol’ Naomi Oreskes, claiming the climate crisis requires that capitalism must be destroyed ….
    Far from being an outlier, the climate consensus only exists as a powerful social obsession due to the claims of climate crisis that gives the climate obsessed their rationalizations.


  14. If anyone can face it, there’s a Salon interview with the writer David Wallace Wells and Kate Marvel. I gave up after a few minutes, during which he told more lies – that his piece was clear that it was about worse-case scenarios, and that climate sceptics didn’t discuss it. He wears his hair in a bun.


  15. Trying to ‘lower the CO2 content’ of the atmosphere will not deliver even the imagined benefit unless nature’s own carbon cycle carries on exactly as if nothing had happened (i.e. no ‘artificial’ reduction of CO2). But why would it?


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