Did the IPCC predict a climate apocalypse? No.

Summary: The IPCC’s Special Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” is cited as the basis for climate activists’ predictions of doom. Look at the report. There is nothing in it justifying such apocalyptic forecasts.

Walking to a bleak future - Dreamstime-25163217
Photo 25163217 © Ben Goode – Dreamstime.

Global Warming of 1.5°C

An IPCC Special Report, 6 October 2018.
Excerpt from the Summary for Policymakers. Red emphasis added.

B1. Climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics between present-day and global warming of 1.5°C, and between 1.5°C and 2°C. …

B1.1. Evidence from attributed changes in some climate and weather extremes for a global warming of about 0.5°C supports the assessment that an additional 0.5°C of warming compared to present is associated with further detectable changes in these extremes (medium confidence). …

B1.3. Risks from droughts and precipitation deficits are projected to be higher at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming in some regions (medium confidence). …

B2. By 2100, global mean sea level rise is projected to be around 0.1 metre lower {4″} with global warming of 1.5°C compared to 2°C (medium confidence). …

B2.1. Model-based projections of global mean sea level rise (relative to 1986-2005) suggest an indicative range of 0.26 to 0.77 m by 2100 for 1.5°C global warming, 0.1 m (0.04-0.16 m) {4″} less than for a global warming of 2°C (medium confidence). …

B3. On land, impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, including species loss and extinction, are projected to be lower at 1.5°C of global warming compared to 2°C. …

B3.1. Of 105,000 species studied, 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C (medium confidence). …

B3.2. Approximately 4% (interquartile range 2–7%) of the global terrestrial land area is projected to undergo a transformation of ecosystems from one type to another at 1ºC of global warming, compared with 13% (interquartile range 8–20%) at 2°C (medium confidence). …

B4. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2ºC is projected to reduce increases in ocean temperature as well as associated increases in ocean acidity and decreases in ocean oxygen levels (high confidence). …

B4.1. There is high confidence that the probability of a sea-ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer is substantially lower at global warming of 1.5°C when compared to 2°C. With 1.5°C of global warming, one sea ice-free Arctic summer is projected per century. This likelihood is increased to at least one per decade with 2°C global warming. Effects of a temperature overshoot are reversible for Arctic sea ice cover on decadal time scales (high confidence). …

B4.4. Impacts of climate change in the ocean are increasing risks to fisheries and aquaculture via impacts on the physiology, survivorship, habitat, reproduction, disease incidence, and risk of invasive species (medium confidence) but are projected to be less at 1.5ºC of global warming than at 2ºC.

————– There are 4 more pages like this. ————–

Summary of the SPM

Most of the findings in the SPM of this Special Report are of two kinds. First, stating that the effects of 1.5°C warming are less than those of 2.0°C warming. Pretty obvious, but it means little unless we know the effects of 2°C warming. It seldom quantifies the difference in effects from that extra 0.5°C warming, which is the key information necessary to know when assessing the cost-benefit of limiting the coming warming.

Second, there are more specific findings – bad but not disastrous – given at a “medium” level of confidence. The IPCC uses five levels of confidence: very lowlowmediumhigh, and very high. “Medium” is a weak basis for extreme measures to restructure society and the global economy. Especially since it is human nature to overestimate confidence more often than to underestimate it. For more about this, see Judith Curry’s “A crisis of overconfidence.

There is nothing in this Special Report justifying belief that the world will end, that the world will burn, or that humanity will go extinct. It has been misrepresented just as past reports have been (e.g., the 4th US National Climate Assessment). The disasters described the Climate Emergency and Extinction Rebellion activists are those of RCP8.5, the worst-case scenario in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment report – or even beyond it. RCP8.5 is, as a worst-case scenario should be, a horrific but not apocalyptic future that is improbable or impossible. For more about this, see Curry’s “What’s the worst case? Emissions/concentrations scenarios.”

The hysteria of activists

In the past year, climate activists have gone full doomster – with predictions of disasters up through an apocalypse, often citing the SR1.5. It has swept the West like the 1918 flu. As in this graphic, pinned to the Twitter page of Julia K. Steinberger, Professor of Social Ecology & Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds. It is from her article at Medium about saving the world.

Julie K. Steinberger - cartoon about climate doom

Some climate scientists I have spoken with dismiss the hysterical claims of climate activists. That is a mistake. The effectiveness of propaganda is unrelated to its accuracy. It just has to tell a compelling story.

“Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!
— Advice from Screwtape to his nephew, from chapter I of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis (1942).

For years, RCP8.5 provided the material for an almost endless series of stories to scare the public (see examples) about the horrible future ahead if we did not change the world. But eventually people pointed out that RCP8.5 was either extremely improbable or impossible (see here and here). Scientists began considering less extreme scenarios. The entire doomster program was at risk. But there was a backup plan.

The 2°C warming target was set somewhat randomly (see here and here). It was the basis for the Paris Agreement (implemented by Obama without Senate approval). It proved a weak tool for activists. So the target was lowered to 1.5°C, which would require massive changes to society and the economy – changes that the Left finds desirable.

About the SR15 report

For a report of this important, it has received surprisingly little critical analysis. One of the few is “Deficiencies In the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5 Degrees” by climate scientist J. Ray Bates. He documents two weaknesses in SR15.

  • “It departs from the IPCC (2013) Fifth Assessment in the direction of an increased sense of planetary emergency without giving rigorous scientific reasons for doing so.
  • “Crucial research evidence, accumulated since the IPCC Fifth Assessment (2013), significantly reduces the prospect of a looming emergency. This evidence has not been taken into account; nor is it even referred to in the SR1.5 report.”

Why have so few scientists spoken out about the misrepresentation of SR15? Many are themselves activists (the noble corruption). Others rightly fear attack from the Left’s enforcers – seeing what they have done to scientists such as Roger Pielke Jr. and Susan Crockford.

Read the report and decide for yourself. While doing so, remember that the world faces many threats – not just global warming. We have to understand each threat so that we can best allocate resources to build a better future. Here’s one way to do so.

For More Information

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Eminent climate scientist Judith Curry has written much about the models that produce most of the IPCC’s key findings. I strongly recommend these …

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see the keys to understanding climate change, all posts about computer models, and these posts about the climate wars …

  1. Important: Let’s prepare for the repeat of past extreme weather instead of bickering about predictions of climate change. – Doing something is better than nothing.
  2. Focusing on worst-case climate futures doesn’t work. It shouldn’t work.
  3. The Extinction Rebellion’s hysteria vs. climate science.
  4. Listening to climate doomsters makes our situation worse.
  5. See how climate science becomes alarmist propaganda.
  6. How journalists helped wreck the climate debate.
  7. A demo of why we do nothing about climate change.
  8. The climate crusade marches across America!
  9. What Would Happen if Science Went Stupid? – Activists’ propaganda goes bonkers.

Activists don’t want you to read these books

Some unexpected good news about polar bears: The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened by Susan Crockford (2019).

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

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


17 thoughts on “Did the IPCC predict a climate apocalypse? No.”

  1. With a price tag of $122 trillion, necessitating a $240/gal tax on gasoline, it wouldn’t matter if it was the apocalypse.


    We’d be better off socking the money away in Treasuries so we can afford to pay for adaptation to whatever the weather does in the future. Fortunately, the disasters and apocalypses all reside in (or beyond) RCP8.5. While, reality resides somewhere between RCP2.6 and RCP4.5.


    1. David,

      “With a price tag of $122 trillion, necessitating a $240/gal tax on gasoline, it wouldn’t matter if it was the apocalypse.”

      Determining if it will be the apocalypse is the key question to start the debate. If it is, the cost is irrelevant.

      (1) $122T is an easily bearable cost. We’ve paid more for wars.

      World GDP is ~$88T in 2019, and growing at ~3%/year (in real terms, after inflation). So $122T over 12 years would be roughly 8% of GDP/year. That’s far less than has been spent on wars in the past. Britain was spending 38% of GDP on the military in 1918 and 50% in 1943. Also, this would probably boost GDP – as often happens in wars for the nations not physically affected.

      (2) No cost is too great to save the world.

      If the alternative was the destruction of civilization – or even humanity – $122 trillion over 12 years (or even less) would be rational. Look at the great End-of-the-World films. Nobody asks the cost of building space arks in When Worlds Collide, or building giant fusion-powered rockets to move the Earth in Gorath (1962). Only a mad accountant would say “dying was the more cost-effective choice.”

      1. Any cost is too great, if it won’t have any affect on the impending apocalypse.

        There is no reason to believe that the $122 T will have any affect on the weather 80 years from now. Applying a real world discount rate to the asserted financial cost of RCP8.5, drops the Social Cost of Carbon to zero-point-zero. The money would be more wisely invested in Treasuries, so we can afford to adapt to whatever the weather does to us in the future.

      2. David,

        That’s, of course, an important issue!

        My point was that this has to be approached logically. As I explained, it does not make sense to say “With a price tag of $122 trillion, necessitating a $240/gal tax on gasoline, it wouldn’t matter if it was the apocalypse.”

        We need to assess the magnitude and probability of the threat. The IPCC’s Assessment Reports are good attempts to do so (not perfect, but then we’re not in Heaven – nothing is perfect). Next, assess the full range of solution sets. Then assess the cost-effectiveness of each. Then make decisions, however painful (or not).

        Instead of this, for thirty years climate activists have been running around screaming DOOM Doom Our Pants Are On Fire. We are paying a high price for tolerating them, and that price is increasing as we pay more attention to them. Important other threats are ignored (e.g., damage to the oceans). We’re unprepared not only for likely future weather but for the almost inevitable repeat of past extreme weather.

        We have to get a grip on this issue.

      3. If the alternative was the destruction of civilization – or even humanity – $122 trillion over 12 years (or even less) would be rational.

        Yes, that is true. But the problem is that what the activists always are demanding is local action that will have zero effect. Not because reducing emissions globally will have zero effect. But because whether that would or not, that is not what they are demanding.

        They are always demanding that the US (or the UK) reduce or eliminate their emissions, while refusing to demand that the Chinese and Indians even stop growing theirs. But the US is around 12% and falling of global emissions, even eliminate it, while everyone else increases, cannot affect the climate. Its several thousand year old math, that.

        The action they are demanding, even if they are right about CO2, is not going to have, according to their own theory, any effect at all on global temperatures.

        Hitchins in the Mail in the remarks I quoted makes exactly this point, very forcefully. The UK activists demand, and get, the closure of one coal fired generating plant, when the Chinese have several hundred of them and are planning on building several hundred more.

        So tell us again, why is it so important to the planet to close this particular one in Didcot? The UK does around 1% of global emissions, and falling. So why is it so important to the planet to reduce this to zero by 2025?

        Hysteria is right.

      4. henrik,

        “But the problem is that what the activists always are demanding is local action that will have zero effect.”

        I agree. But the modus operandi here is to give focused examination to a narrow area. You raise a different question, requiring different evidence and analysis in order to produce useful conclusions.

        “The action they are demanding, even if they are right about CO2, is not going to have, according to their own theory, ”

        That’s far too broad a statement. As stated, it is false. Some of their recommendations are almost certain to be ineffective. Some probably would be effective, albeit with ruinous effects.

  2. The hysteria is not confined to irrational predictions of doom. It also is found in irrational demands for ineffective action. Here is Peter Hitchens writing in the UK Daily Mail:

    “I have yet to get one of them to respond to this simple point. We recently closed and demolished Didcot ‘A’ coal-fired power station, an efficient, reasonably modern plant with a generating capacity of about 1.44 gigawatts.

    Why? Why not at least mothball it? But no such caution is allowed in the great cause of cutting CO2 emissions.

    Look at the facts: an enormous 259 gigawatts (180 Didcots) of new coal-fired capacity are under development in China. That’s on top of the 993 gigawatts of coal-burning capacity China already possesses (690 Didcots).

    Perhaps the most dispiriting version of it is to be seen in the painted, beatific faces of the red-robed mime-artists who are to be found on so many of the demonstrations demanding that this country commits economic suicide

    “The UK’s whole electrical generation capacity, in all forms of power, is 85 gigawatts (59 Didcots). If we gave up using electricity entirely, it would make no difference at all to the impact of Chinese coal burning on the atmosphere.

    None. Not any. Zero. If we completely abolish all our fossil-fuel generation, including gas, it would likewise not matter in the slightest – except to us, our economy and our standard of living.

    China’s planned increase, yes, increase, in coal power is three times the size of our whole electricity-generation industry – wind, nuclear gas, and all. India is also increasing coal generation and last March reached a coal capacity of 200 gigawatts (139 Didcots).

    Then we have the UK Guardian in its efforts to stop being a paper and turn into a political movement and descending into hysteria:


  3. Look, all i wanna know is should I buy property in Florida right now? There’s big storms, there’s salt water intrusion on the coast, there’s also too many old people (why don’t they just go to Arizona instead? one state reserved for them, like the Trail of Tears but to Arizona ;-) ), but if it’s all fake news, I’m wanting to buy, ya know since folks are selling there now. Buy or no buy?

    1. No. Dont’ buy property in Florida.
      Florida is an awful place. VAmpires. Alligators. And Rich old smelly people.

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