Summary: Climate change is among our most important public policy issues, and shows our broken ability to see and understand our world around us. Today Esquire gives us a powerful but misleading story about our imminent doom, one rich with lessons for us. Expect to see many more of these before November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. (2nd of 2 posts today.}
“The unwise man is awake all night, worries over and again. When morning rises he is restless still.”
— Norse proverb.
Today’s reading is “When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job” by John H. Richardson in Esquire — “Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can’t really talk about it.”
It’s a sad story, but not the one Richardson thinks he’s telling. Glaciologist Jason Box has an apocalyptic forecast for climate change. This has taken a psychological toll on him and his family. Richardson misrepresents the story, however, by neglecting to mention that Box’s views are outside the consensus of climate scientists as seen in the reports of the IPCC.
Like most alarmist articles in the media, the letters “IPCC” don’t even appear. Focusing on the views of scientists with forecasts more extreme than the IPCC while discrediting those on the other side of the curve (“skeptics”) is an attempt to shift the Overton Window — and increase public support for large-scale regulation of energy and economic activity.
The methane apocalypse
“If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.”
The tweet immediately went viral, inspiring a series of headlines: CLIMATOLOGIST SAYS ARCTIC CARBON RELEASE COULD MEAN “WE’RE FU**ED.” CLIMATE SCIENTIST DROPS THE F-BOMB AFTER STARTLING ARCTIC DISCOVERY. CLIMATOLOGIST: METHANE PLUMES FROM THE ARCTIC MEAN WE’RE SCREWED.
Scientists have a wide range of opinions on many of the key questions about climate change — which is why it’s an active frontier of science. That’s why we have the IPCC to put them in context, an antidote to activists of the Left and Right misrepresenting the consensus by focusing on individual papers.
The report of Working Group I of the IPCC’s AR5 is quite explicit about the risk of methane emissions (for details and citations see this post).
- Models’ projections of the growth in methane levels range from small to large.
- These projections have come down in each IPCC report.
- Methane levels have increased more slowly than in any of their projections.
A scientists holding non-consensus views is not wrong; only time can provide such answers. But for laypeople concerned about climate-related public policy, knowing the consensus is essential to understand what’s happening. Hence the disservice to readers done by articles like this in Esquire.
For More Information
For another perspective on this see Pre-traumatic stress syndrome by Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Institute Tech). For more about psychological problems affecting some climate scientists see “A Climate of Despair“, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 August 2014.
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, and these articles about misrepresentations of climate science…
- Climate scientists speak to us. What is their consensus opinion?
- Was 2014 the warmest year? NOAA says that was “more unlikely than likely”.
- The Pause in global warming has ended. Now see the rest of the story.
- What happened to NASA’s missing weather satellites & their vital data about global warming?
For a more detailed look at today’s extreme weather
To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).