There’s been a bit of a furore over an article called The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. The goal was clearly to investigate some of the extreme scenarios, but – unfortunately – the article got a number of things wrong and was rightly criticised in this Climate Feeback response.
However, I think this is all rather unfortunate, as I do think we should be able to discuss the more extreme scenarios; it’s a pity that the article wasn’t more careful when doing so. Although much of the criticism was indeed valid, I do think that some was a little uncharitable, given that the intent of the article wasn’t specifically to be alarmist, but was to try and present some of the more extreme possible outcomes. In that vein, David Roberts has a response that is worth reading.
Okay, I’m struggling to put together a post that is coherent, so I’ll try to make a point about presenting doomsday scenarios. I think it’s fine for them to be discussed, but my view is similar to what Joe Romm presents here. A key point is that we are doing this to ourselves. This isn’t really the same as, for example, the possibility of an asteroid strike in which we’re trying to determine how big it is and whether it’s going to strike the Earth, or not. In the context of climate change, the possibility of these extreme scenarios depends entirely on what we do; we essentially have complete control. Climate change is happening because we’re emitting CO2 into the atmosphere and the impact will depend on how much we choose to emit.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that dealing with this is easy; there are also potentially severe scenarios associated with what we might do to avoid the impacts of climate change. However, that still doesn’t change that we are in control and we can choose – if we wish – to minimise the possibility of severe climate impacts. So, I think discussing these severe scenarios is fine, but I do think it’s important to recognise that these will only materialise if we really do choose to simply continue emitting increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Maybe there will be some point where we’ve really left things so late that there will be little we can do to avoid some very severe/catastrophic outcomes, but we’re certainly not there yet and I think it is important to make this clear.