Prepare to retreat before climate change!

Summary: The latest issue of Science has a powerful paper about our coming desperate attempts to prepare for climate change. Let’s look under the hood to see how scientists produce advice for policy-makers. It reveals that the peer-review process is broken, greatly weakening our ability to see and prepare for climate change.

A melting Earth.
ID 33491903 © Rolffimages | Dreamstime.

Flipping through my new issue of Science, one of America’s top two science journals, this caught my attention: “The case for strategic and managed climate retreat” by Anne R. Siders et al. in Science, 23 August 2019. It is a powerful paper by three rising stars from Harvard and Stanford. It is getting a lot of attention (e.g., in Naked Capitalism’s daily links). From the abstract; red emphasis added on buzzwords …

“Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat – moving people and assets out of harm’s way – but why, where, when, and how they will retreat. …We argue for strategy {sic} that incorporates socioeconomic development and for management that is innovative, evidence-based, and context-specific. …

“In some cases, retreat may need to include reparations or payments for loss and damage to address historic practices that placed communities at risk or to enable communities to retreat in a way that does not exacerbate past wrongs (for example, forcibly relocated indigenous, minority, or impoverished populations, or greenhouse gas emissions from major economies that contribute to rising seas, imperiling island nations). …

“The opportunities presented by succeeding in this work are immense, and the climate risks are urgent and growing.”

That sounds ominous! But before adopting their recommendations, I read on to learn the basis for this forecast. Here it is.

Retreat in response to natural hazards already occurs. It can be driven by major disasters, when people abandon their homes and relocate permanently. Economic pressures such as decreasing agricultural yields or rising insurance prices sometimes push people away from hazardous areas. Government programs have relocated populations out of at-risk areas, moved roads and other infrastructure, imposed setback requirements, banned return to disaster-prone areas, or condemned and demolished buildings considered too risky (28). Even in areas experiencing overall growth, some people are retreating (such as in Manila, Nairobi, and New York City) (24710).

“Whether driven by disasters, market forces, or government intervention, people will continue to move from hazardous places as climate risks escalate.”

Let’s see those references about people who are moving “from hazardous places as climate risks escalate.”

  1. Managed Retreat – A Strategy for the Mitigation of Disaster Risks with International and Comparative Perspectives” by Stefen Greiving et al. in Extreme Events, March 2018. This discusses responses to a wide range of natural disasters. It gives no examples of retreat due to climate change, let alone anthropogenic climate change.
  1. Managed retreat as a response to natural hazard risk” by Miyuki Hino et al. in Nature Climate Change, May 2017. Gated; open copy here. They examined 27 cases of managed retreat, but linked none of them to climate change.
  1. Managed Coastal Retreat: A Legal Handbook on Shifting Development Away From Vulnerable Areas” by Anne R. Siders (then a graduate student at Stanford), a Columbia Public Law research paper, November 2013). 158 pages. It describes responses to natural disasters. I found no links to climate change.
  1. A climate of control: flooding, displacement and planned resettlement in the Lower Zambezi River valley, Mozambique” by Alex Arnall in The Geographic Journal, June 2014. I do not have access to this. Here is the conclusion to the paper. It discusses how resettlement policies serve elites’ interests – and how resentment and resistance to them is growing.
  1. Planned Relocations, Disasters, and Climate Change: Consolidating Good Practices and Preparing for the Future” by Sanjula Weerasinghe for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2014. The Google Scholar link provided does not go the paper. No examples of retreat due to climate change. They mention Alaska and Fiji, but give neither details or supporting citations.
  1. Agency-driven post-disaster recovery: A comparative study of three Typhoon Washi resettlement communities in the Philippines” by J. Sedfrey S. Santiago et al., in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, March 2018. Gated; open copy here. Again the Google Scholar link provided does not go to the paper. Typhoon Washi hit in December 2011. It was a tropical storm, fifth-strongest category on the Tropical Cyclone Intensity Scale and sixth on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (i.e., the category below hurricane). Not an unusual event (details here). The paper does not mention climate change.
  1. Climate change, migration and conflict: receiving communities under pressure?” by Andrea Warnecke et al. for the German Marshall Fund of the United States, 2010. It gives no examples of retreat from climate change.

None of those references support the claim. I see this happening more often lately (e.g., Michael Mann did it in his testimony to Congress; details here).

Here are the references the authors give to support their belief that “the climate risks are urgent and growing.”

  • _.
  • _.
  • _.

That is bizarre, for that claim is the foundation for the paper and the basis for its significance. What does “urgent” mean? What do they mean by “growing?”

More specific to the paper’s conclusions, what numbers of people will be forced to retreat under each of the scenarios used in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5)? Most simulations show relatively small effects from RCP2.6. Most show that RCP8.5 would be a nightmare. AR5 gives no probabilities for each RCP. If the authors found no studies about retreats for each RCP, that would be worth mentioning.


The authors give no evidence that climate change is forcing “retreats.” How many people will climate change force to retreat in the near future, or in the 21st century? The authors do not say. Readers do not know what the authors mean by “the climate risks are urgent and growing.” Severe inconvenience or extinction? More broadly, the paper gives no evidence supporting “the case for strategic and managed climate retreat.”

This paper is alarmism, without the details and evidence characteristic of good science. It does provide an example showing that peer-review has collapsed in fields related to climate science. If the conclusions are politically pleasing, the paper gets waved through. This does not build confidence in the need for massive police action.

About the authors

The authors are fast-tracd academics. Anne Siders has a JD from Harvard and PhD from Stanford. She is an Environmental Fellow at Harvard’s Center for the Environment. Miyuki Hino is a Ph.D. candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford. Katharine Mach is an Associate Professor at the University of Miami School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and a lead author for the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and the US Fourth National Climate Assessment.

Other posts in this series

  1. The replication crisis in science has just begun. It will be big. – Climate science is just one of the affected fields.
  2. A crisis of overconfidence in climate science.
  3. About the corruption of climate science.
  4. The noble corruption of climate science.

For More Information

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon.

For a briefing on the current knowledge about rising sea levels, see these by climate scientists Judith Curry.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see all posts about doomsters, about peak oil, about The keys to understanding climate change and especially these…

  1. Let’s prepare for past climate instead of bickering about predictions of climate change – Doing something is better than nothing.
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.
  3. Focusing on worst-case climate futures doesn’t work. It shouldn’t work.
  4. “Climate’s Uncertainty Principle“ by Garth Paltridge.
  5. Listening to climate doomsters makes our situation worse.
  6. Enlisting peer-reviewed science in the climate crusade.
  7. How fast is the world warming? Is it burning?
  8. See how climate science becomes alarmist propaganda.

To help us better understand today’s weather

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr., prof at U of CO – Boulder’s Center for Science and Policy Research (2018).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

23 thoughts on “Prepare to retreat before climate change!”

  1. “Effects of climate change are identified as one of the major causes to resettle endangered communities into safe and habitable areas”.

    During my control/f search of the articles you cited, I discovered lots of statements similar to the above, and as you stated, no current examples. All the authors just offer near future CAGW calamities as given.

    Just when do you have time to read all the literature you mention!

  2. One has to wonder who pays for such research. My guess is it’s you and I.

    After recent political events and articles such as this, I see the alarmists in retreat. And to me, that’s a good thing.

    “I’m not going to loose that wealth on dreams and windmills. Clean air and clean water”

  3. The alarmism is becoming unbounded. It’s apparently time to move Miami, Savannah, Norfolk, etc. inland NOW! Trillions of dollars ought to just about do it. Polar bears are just about gone…NOT! Plants are “not doing as well” because of warming and CO2 … NOT! (All real experiments say the opposite). Drought has increased and will increase more in the western US (according to Union of Concerned Scientists … NOT! … according to the United States Drought Monitor; in fact less than usual for some time. More strong storms like hurricanes & tornados… NOT! (For several years we’ve been trending down, especially tornados). First, we are told to expect less or no more snow in places soon, then supposedly it’s AGW that’s causing extra/harsh snows. On and on.

    It’s time that common sense people to rebel against the nonsense, alarmism and threats of extreme action against our lives (economical upheaval and loss of rights).
    And, no, (for those who will charge me with this in comments), I definitely do NOT work for or particularly care about fossil fuel industry.

    1. Wally,

      You are reporting the face of victory. It’s a triumph of propaganda with a people derelict in their responsibility as citizens. Without that tether to reality, news becomes entertainment and people become gullible.

  4. But, Larry, don’t you think it all raises the question of whether they really believe it?

    I find it very striking that you have all these people proclaiming coming disaster from rising CO2 levels. But when it comes to discussion of measures that would actually reduce them globally to the levels they claim to think necessary, they are totally silent or in many cases oppose them.

    They won’t even support measures which would be required to reduce local emissions. And when it comes to those required to reduce global emissions, they are actively hostile to any such suggestions.

    For instance, you’ll find none of the allegedly terrified advocate real reductions in tons emitted by China, which is essential to the reduction of global emissions. On the contrary, you find them proclaiming that would not be fair, or that the Chinese, by raising their emissions from 10 billion to 15 billion or so over the next few years are leading the world in fighting climate change.

    Or the abolition of the US car and truck industries and everything that would entail, which would be essential to reducing local emissions to the level they claim to believe necessary.

    Instead you get the advocacy of completely useless measures. Like, for instance, Paris, when it comes to global emissions. Or wind power, when it comes to local ones.

    I don’t know what this is all about, but its pretty clear it has nothing to do with reducing CO2 emissions or any real belief that to do so would do anything about climate. Its a sort of mass hysteria.

    And it seems confined to the English speaking countries and Germany. I don’t see any sign the Chinese, for instance believe a word of it. Or the Indians. Or the Russians. Or even the French or Italians.

    1. henrik,

      “don’t you think it all raises the question of whether they really believe it?”

      That’s an interesting question, one which I believe a great many people have asked. Personally, I don’t care either way.

      1. I think its important, because it makes a difference to how we treat the policy proposals that are made by the advocates. Whether advocacy is seriously trying to bring about a revolution in the US in energy, transport and living. Or whether its just self indulgent virtue signalling of tribal membership and will be satisfied with supporting a few token erections of wind farms and urging people to vote for the next Hillary.

        Whether it is genuinely trying to reduce global emissions. Or whether its goal is to find some excuse for de-industrializing the US, while leaving the rest of the world free to grow economies and emissions as fast as they can. Which was the effect that Paris would have had, if ever implemented. So it does kind of matter, as a for instance, whether the advocates really believed that Paris would have any effect on climate.

        It also affects one’s view of their rationality. I mean, to defend Paris as effective means one is dealing with people who are incapable of applying the most basic arithmetic to their assertions. That really makes a difference to how one deals with their proposals.

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  6. Good stuff as usual, Larry. I am a little concerned, though, that you insist on raining on our panic parade. We want bad news and we want it now!

    There is a town, or what’s left of one, called Indianola, on the southern shore of Matagorda Bay in my home state. It used to be a big deal. In fact throughout much of the 19th century it was the biggest port for hundreds of miles around. A regular bustling metropolis. But then a hurricane came along and pretty much wiped it out. No problem; they just rebuilt. A few years later, another storm came along and wrecked it again. It was rebuilt yet again. A few years after that yet another storm came along. But the third time was the charm, and Indianola was not rebuilt. Today it is a hamlet of tumbledown fishing shacks and bait shops, without even the faintest of hint of its former glory.

    The world is littered with such places. New Orleans, for example, will be one of them sooner or later. Though climate change may be blamed, it is not responsible. New Orleans was built on a river delta, which continuously subsides beneath its own weight. With dikes confining the river, the ground lost to subsidence is no longer replenished by flood-borne sediments. At some point, the increasingly desperate defenses will be insufficient.

    Whatever climate change brings, it is likely to occur so slowly that living humans won’t even notice because we have rather short life spans. We will adapt without even realizing it, as we always have.

    There was a big fuss a few days ago about a record one-day ice loss in Greenland. Panic! But if you run the numbers, you see that for Greenland’s ice cap to disappear, you’d have to maintain that loss rate, without any replenishment from new snow, for over 12,000 years.

    But why ruin a perfectly good panic with a sober, fact-based assessment?

  7. SkepticalWarmist


    Two corrections to your article:
    1) The quote that begins “Whether driven by disasters, market forces, or government intervention …” shows up on my web browsers as 2 separate paragraphs. In the paper that sentence is the last sentence of the paragraph above.

    Comment 1:
    QUOTE from the paper: “Whether driven by disasters, market forces, or government intervention, people will continue to move from hazardous places as climate risks escalate.”

    That does seem to be one of the dramatic “money quotes” of the paper. But note that the paper gives zero citations after than sentence, which is the last sentence in it’s paragraph. All the citations are occur on previous sentences in the paragraph.

    2) RE your statement: “Let’s see those references about people who are moving “from hazardous places as climate risks escalate.” is misleading. There are no references on the passage quoted. The “money quote” is the author’s conclusion/inference based upon previous references. I read it as simultaneously as a logically plausible scenario or prediction and as a sneaky rhetorical trick that conflates past and current climate with projections of future climate. A red herring.

    Comment 2: It is very plausible and likely that “Whether driven by disasters, market forces, or government intervention, people will continue to move from hazardous places”. That would be the case even in a climate leading to fewer disasters. Another red herring.

    Your content analysis of the references is a small but real contribution to climate change science and knowledge.

    1. Skeptical Warmist,

      (1) “Let’s see those references about people who are moving “from hazardous places as climate risks escalate.” is misleading.”

      I’ve been at this a long time, and am familiar with the games people play to defend these articles. If I didn’t go thru the references, people would point to the references and say “see, you’re being misleading.”

      (2) “The ‘money quote’ is the author’s conclusion/inference based upon previous references.”

      Yes, which is why I examined the “previous references.” So my statement is by your own logic not misleading. What you call the “money quote” is a key foundation for the paper – and so deserves close scrutiny.

      (3) “It is very plausible and likely that ‘Whether driven by disasters, market forces, or government intervention, people will continue to move from hazardous places.'”

      This isn’t a high school science project. If the authors believe it is plausible, they have to support the claim.

      1. “people will continue to move from hazardous places.”

        Is there a place on the planet where weather and climate isn’t a hazard? For a time, I lived in a town in southern California which had the claim that they had the most even temperature through the year than any other city in America. We rarely had any extreme weather or temperatures and it was rather idyllic. Still, without inexpensive energy, I would have perished rapidly, even in that extremely mild climate, if exposed to the elements. As Alex Epstein says, fossil fuels don’t make a safe environment more dangerous, they make an already dangerous environment safer. All these “people” moving from hazardous places likely wouldn’t need to move if they had access to bountiful and inexpensive fossil fuels. This would eliminate most of the hazards wherever they may live.

      2. Joz,

        “Is there a place on the planet where weather and climate isn’t a hazard?”

        You point to another example of sloppy writing in this paper. They mean from places experiencing unpleasant effects of climate change to place less affected or where the effects are pleasant.

  8. It’s an existential climate emergency!!! OK, now can someone tell me exactly where this emergency is? I’ve been all around America, the Persian Gulf, and eastern Europe, and I’ve yet to see any emergency anywhere. In fact, if you look at records, we’ve now enjoyed a couple of decades of the mildest climate (weather) in my life. I remember how cold it was in parts of the midwest and upper Minnesota in the 70’s. I remember summers getting pretty warm after that, but the last two decades have been amazing. Some places have warmed and some have cooled, but overall, it’s been extremely mild. The theory is that rising CO2 will warm the planet and cause weather extremes. You can compare the climate and weather in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s where CO2 levels were much lower and weather and temperatures were commonly extreme. Follow that forward to today where CO2 levels are much higher and the climate seems to have mellowed quite a bit in the last 100+ years. It almost seems like they have the theory of CO2 warming the planet and causing extremes, backward. This, of course, brings to mind, Feynman. Of course it does.

    “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

    We have the theory of what CO2 does.

    We have the experiment of how the planet has reacted to increasing CO2.

    Empirical evidence appears to disagree with theory.

    This is all complete oversimplification, but seems to be fairly accurate, all the same. So, come to your own conclusions.

    1. Joz,

      “now can someone tell me exactly where this emergency is?”

      They look at worst-case scenarios. The RCP8.5 scenario, the worst-case used in the IPCC’s AR5. Or worse ones. What if there are massive methane releases from the tundra or ocean- or both. Or if the climate’s sensitivity to CO2 is on the high-end of estimates. These are, of course, speculative. But they are scary enough to use as justifications for political action useful to the Left.

      “Empirical evidence appears to disagree with theory.”

      Absurdly false.

  9. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #374 | Watts Up With That?

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