There’s been a rather contentious Twitter thread about RCP8.5, a concentration/forcing pathway I’ve discussed before. It started with a claim that it was “bollox” followed by a suggestion that it was mainly used for generating headlines, scaring gullible folk and children, and giving climate contrarians a reason to ignore the need for urgent action on emission mitigation.
A number of us pointed out that there were still valid reasons for using an RCP8.5 concentration/forcing pathway and that suggesting that it was mainly used for generating headlines and scaring gullible people was just promoting a denialist conspiracy theory. Fortunately, some other sensible people also chipped in and pointed out that we probably couldn’t yet rule out an RCP8.5 concentration pathway, that it was still useful for inter-model comparison, and that it was a useful pathway for impact studies because of the large signal to noise. None of this means that there aren’t some valid criticisms, but claiming it’s “bollox” and simply used to scare gullible people is just nonsense.
What I found frustrating is that I think this is an interesting/important issue and it would be worthwhile to be able to discuss it sensibly. However, I particularly dislike suggestions that the reason we haven’t effectively implemented climate policy is because of the behaviour of climate scientists, and so I failed to hide my frustration as well as I probably should have. I did learn some things from some of the comments, but the overall discussion was unfortunate and I think it ultimately created some artificial divisions between people who probably mostly agree.
Unfortunately, I think this is becoming all too common. My impression is that we’re now in a position where people who probably mostly agree about the issues, are in conflict over details that probably don’t really matter. Fundamentally, whether we use RCP8.5 in climate models, or not, the basic message is the same; we need to start reducing emissions soon. It’s possible that some contrarians will use that climate scientists use RCP8.5 to argue that they’re intentionally exaggerating the risks. However, if climate scientists stopped using RCP8.5 the same people would simply find something else to criticise. The idea that scientists should stop doing something in order to counter those who are clearly engaging in bad faith doesn’t make any sense to me.
I really do wish it were possible to have these nuanced discussions without it turning contentious; that it were possible to have a discussion where maybe people didn’t end up agreeing, but still learned something. Probably human nature that it’s the exception rather than the rule, but it’s still unfortunate. Does make me wonder if we’ll ever really get into a position where we can implement any kind of effective climate policy. Hopefully, we’ll either overcome this, or that what we do end up managing to do is enough to avoid the more serious consequences.