Emma Thompson’s interview on newsnight has caused a bit of a Twitter storm because she got some things wrong. For example she said
if they take out of the earth all the oil they want to take out, you look at the science – our temperature will rise 4 degrees Celsius by 2030, and that’s not sustainable.
Well, this is clearly wrong. Our temperatures will almost certainly not rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2030, but she did at least get right that how much we burn will determine how much we warm.
She also made strong claims about refugee crisis
Our refugee crisis – which, let me tell you, if we allow climate change to go on as it’s going, the refugee crisis we have at the moment will look like a tea party, compared to what’s going to happen in a few years’ time. Because if we allow climate change to continue, there are going to be entire swathes of the Earth that will become uninhabitable, and where are those people going to go? Where do we think they’re going to go? We’re looking at a humanitarian disaster of proportions we simply can’t imagine.
To make parts of the world uninhabitable would probably require wet bulbs temperature rising by about 4oC, which would imply a rise in global average surface temperature of around 7oC. This is possible if we continue along a high emission pathway, but I would hope that we won’t actually do so, and such temperature changes would likely be beyond 2100 if we did. Implying that this could happen in a a few years time is a huge exaggeration.
However, climate change does present risks, could lead to changes that will make some regions less able to support their populations than they are today, and could result in the movement of a large number of people. Even though climate change may have played an insignificant role in the current crisis (and it may well have played some kind of role), doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be considering how we might deal with such a situation in the future, if climate change does force large numbers of people to relocate.
Okay, so Emma Thompson said some things that were completely wrong, and others that were exaggerating what we actually expect. Would be much better if she was more informed and more careful in what she said. There is no need to exaggerate. It’s serious enough without having to do so. It’s indeed not great that Emma Thompson gets a platform and gets things wrong. All the usual suspects are, of course, crowing about this and pointing out all the people who’ve said she was wrong. Fine, she was indeed wrong in a number of places.
However, here’s the big difference between Emma Thompson getting something wrong, and say – for example – Christopher Booker or Matt Ridley getting something wrong. When someone like Emma Thompson gets something wrong, you won’t easily find people promoting it. Typically – as has happened here – people point out the errors and accept that those who speak publicly about this should make sure that they’re sufficiently informed. When someone like Booker, or Ridley, gets something wrong, it gets promoted on various denialist blogs as highlighting problems with climate science.
The only positive from this is that it’s quite likely that – despite her errors – Emma Thompson will be remembered as someone who tried to highlight an important issue that we’re not taking sufficiently seriously, while Andrew Montford will remembered as someone who spread misinformation and doubt. Additionally, I would expect Emma Thompson to correct these errors in future, while Andrew Montford will continue to repeat his, over and over again.