Considering Catastrophe

There’s been quite a lot of recent coverage of a paper suggesting that climate endgames, such as global societal collapse or human extinction, have been dangerously unexplored. For those who recall the contentious RCP8.5 debate, this may seem a surprising suggestion.

I’ve now had a chance to read the paper, and it mostly seems reasonable. There are possible feedbacks that haven’t necessarily been studied in as much detail as maybe they should have been. There are possible tipping points that we may want to understand better. Plus, we can’t rule out that climate sensitivity may actually end up being on the high side of the range. I agree that these are things that we should be looking at. I’d be surprised, though, if we significantly reduced the uncertainty about these outcomes any time soon.

They then discuss how climate change can impact our societies, suggesting that climate change could exacerbate vulnerabilities and cause multiple, indirect stresses (such as economic damage, loss of land, and water and food insecurity) that coalesce into system-wide synchronous failures. Again, it does seem worth studying these potential outcomes.

A couple of general comments, though, that I may not explain as well as clearly as I’d like. How the impact of climate affects societies depends on many factors, some of which we can influence. Hence, the outcome isn’t deterministic in the same way as it might be for a physical system. Of course, this doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t consider these type of scenarios, but they’ll almost always be conditional. So, we probably have to be careful of suggesting that climate change will cause some kind of societal response, rather than it might do so if we fail to take appropriate action.

The other issue is that we already largely know what we should be doing to reduce the risks associated with climate change. Essentially, collectively we need to limit how much is emitted and we need to invest in developing resilience and reducing vulnerabilities. Nothing wrong, of course, with considering what might happen if we fail to do so, or do so badly. Of course, if we’re already failing to do what should probably be done, it’s hard to see how more (uncertain) information is going to do much to change that.

This Realclimate post probably sums it up pretty well.

To get to the worst cases, two things have to happen – we have to be incredibly stupid and incredibly unlucky.

We can’t really do much about the unlucky part, other than trying to better constrain things that are uncertain. We can try to not be stupid and maybe highlighting what might happen if we are will help to avoid that. On the other hand, as someone who was involved in the RCP8.5 debate about a supposed focus on worst-case scenarios, I’m not convinced that it will have the desired effect.


Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios, by Kemp, Xu, Depledge, and Lenton.
The never-ending RCP8.5 debate – one of my posts about a contentious discussion about worst-case scenarios.
The best case for worst case scenarios – Realclimate post by Gavin.

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92 Responses to Considering Catastrophe

  1. Jon Kirwan says:

    I’m fine with questioning everything being laid on the table in plain view.

    But what exact indications do you see that suggest that we are, collectively, moving in a direction towards the more positive outcomes? I frankly see everything except those kinds of actions. Certainly, ones that are sufficiently large. Let alone encouraging in any way.

    We have war in Ukraine, tensions in Taiwan, instability in Lebanon, Yemen’s war, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and Ethiopia’s conflicts to name just a few, Not a single conflict in the global conflict tracker (27 of them) are categorized as “improving.” All of them are either “unchanging” or “worsening.” The US barely eeks out a pathetic response to climate in the most recent senate vote.

    I’m returned to considering Gilmore’s “Catastrophe Theory for Scientists and Engineers,” John Wiley and sons, 1981.

    And no, I’m not optimistic about the capacity for humans to surmount what’s ahead. I don’t think we have the global capacity. End of story.

  2. dikranmarsupial says:

    “… we have to be incredibly stupid …”

    After the election of Trump and Johnson, I am not overly sanguine on that part, we will have to trust to luck.

    I think the RCP8.5 debate is possible a reason for extreme outcomes being unexplored, not every scientist wants to spend time defending their work in the media and social media. The RCP8.5 seemed a good example of how people find it difficult to separate scientific from political issues, or more specifically to prevent politics affecting your view of the science (should be the other way round). RCP2.6 is at least as politically/economically implausible as RCP8.5, but you don’t hear anybody complaining about it.

    Part of the problem is that the general public don’t understand that a lot of science is about bounding things – working out what is within the bounds of plausibility and what isn’t. So it is good science to try and work out what the best/worst consequences (from a climate rather than political/economic perspective) might be. A lot of the public debate is unhappy with terms like “consistent with” as being mealy-mouthed, when it actually has a specific meaning. It isn’t a very strong statement, but it is the reason why “is not consistent with” is such a string statement, and why scientists don’t use a stronger term when it isn’t warranted. Oddly enough, it is the same people that complain that climate models are not falsifiable (they are) – which is all about “consistent with”/”not consistent with”.

    Of course, being rational, we want to estimate the distribution of plausible outcomes as accurately as possible, so of course we should investigate the top end, especially as this is where the damage function is likely to be highest.

  3. Jon,

    But what exact indications do you see that suggest that we are, collectively, moving in a direction towards the more positive outcomes? I frankly see everything except those kinds of actions. Certainly, ones that are sufficiently large. Let alone encouraging in any way.

    Fair point. I think we are moving towards emitting less than we otherwise might have done. However, this doesn’t mean that we’re moving (overall) towards more positive outcomes.

    And no, I’m not optimistic about the capacity for humans to surmount what’s ahead. I don’t think we have the global capacity. End of story.

    This may, unfortunately, be the case. I guess I’m not sure how we benefit for studies that point out that we may be heading for global catastrophe. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t look into this. One could argue that it might be better to spend resources studying how we can actively avoid. In other words, what should we actually do, rather than what we should avoid doing, although maybe understanding the latter will help to inform the former.

  4. Dikran,

    After the election of Trump and Johnson, I am not overly sanguine on that part, we will have to trust to luck.


  5. Bob Loblaw says:

    There is “worst case scenario” in terms of climate physics (e.g., RCP 8.5) ,and then there is “worst case scenario” in terms of economics and society response. We need to distinguish between the two. We don’t need a “worst case climate physics” to end up in a “worst case economics and society response”.

    The UK seems to have shed its case of Johnson (although I’m not sure where it is heading from that). The US is still deeply into its case of Trump, and that is metastasizing throughout the Republican party and its base.

  6. Tom Fuller says:

    Taking the physical and socio-economic aspects together, it becomes fairly clear that impacts due to human-influenced climate change become a ‘value at risk’ problem, something that would be obvious to all the investment bankers that patronize this venue… Sorry… But see here…

    You frame the problem pretty clearly, better than in prior attempts to address this. I think we can and should start putting a framework around the solution.

    As a committed Leftist (and yes, I know all Leftists should be committed…) I am very much in favor of institutional safeguards preventing the next Trump/Johnson/Orban/Duterte/Xi, ad nauseum.

    Apart from that, I think a new set of Millenial goals to help developing countries accelerate an energy transition, continued carrot/stick initiatives in the over developed countries and a clear and rational explanation of the value at risk is the most we can hope for now.

    But I hope people here can show how I’m wrong.

  7. Ben McMillan says:

    I’m also inclined to think the reasonable-worst-case “very bad and very disruptive things could occur” is a useful thing to keep in mind in conjunction with the most-likely outcome (even for no-action scenarios). That is just how rational people approach risk-management, and the fact that it makes contrarians very angry doesn’t tell you much either way.
    After the last couple of years, quite serious disruption in general looks much more plausible than a sort of “end-of-history” scenario where economies just plod along growing annually at 2% with incremental changes to the status quo. The idea that endlessly growing GDP will make climate impacts look like a minor inconvenience seems dubious; the world looks like a fragile place again.
    Of course, some people are utterly out of contact with reality and think we can “grow” our way out of this winter’s looming energy crunch: that looks like it won’t work out well for them or the people in their power.

  8. Bob Loblaw says:

    Rather than taking a least-squares-regression plus error bars approach, I think the rational idea is to take a minimax approach.

    But then, most people are better at rationalizing than they are at rational thinking.

  9. Pingback: Nella coda della gaussiana – ocasapiens

    seems to fit in this discussion. No alarm required, just sharing the science link.

  11. Tom Fuller says:

    smallbluemike, that link does not seem to be working…

  12. “Given the extensive and pervasive consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic, it was truly scary to discover the massive health vulnerability resulting as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Camilo Mora, geography professor in the College of Social Sciences (CSS) and lead author of the study. “There are just too many diseases, and pathways of transmission, for us to think that we can truly adapt to climate change. It highlights the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.”

  13. Willard says:

    An important limitation of VaR:

    > Calculation of Value at Risk for a portfolio not only requires one to calculate the risk and return of each asset but also the correlations between them. Thus, the greater the number or diversity of assets in a portfolio, the more difficult it is to calculate VaR.

    Op. Cit.

    Portfolios start to get big with more than 100 names, that requires 100 x 100 correlation and covariant matrices. Imagine an economy.

    The other thing is the stop loss. Gamblers can decide how much they risk on each bet. After a level of loss, say 20%, they get out. (Since they make one bet at a time, there is no need for calculating correlation.) This does not prevent big price gaps, but since they do not go all in, the risk of black swan events is not worth hedging. Insurance would eat most of the profits.

    Institutional investors work with a different outlook. They need some level of volatility, but not too much. So they adjust their position according to it. Andreas Clenow has good posts on the idea.

    Reality does not come with a stop loss rule. It may come with a bootstrap. Takes a while, a long while.

  14. russellseitz says:

    We must live in the best of all possible worlds to have run out of unluck in time to elect Biden.

  15. mrkenfabian says:

    I have long suspected the biggest problem feedbacks are mismanagement, blameshifting and conflict and that the greatest climate harms will arise indirectly from those – more so than from direct weather related catastrophes. For climate refugees those will deny them safe havens and will be lethal. As well as make it more likely and sooner that they will face such desperate conditions. With a problem that is addressed best by international cooperation the choice to negotiate international treaties as if it were a zero sum game of winners and losers, with delay seen as winning, will continue to undermine collective effectiveness.

    I swing from deep pessimism to (cautious) optimism. Solar and wind are now the most built new energy sources on the basis of costs, even if we haven’t stopped adding new fossil fuel energy – cause for a lot of optimism. It is a threshold I was not sure we would ever cross; closing more fossil fuel plant than adding new is brought a bit closer for it. Innovation hasn’t stopped, with improving the associated complementary technologies becoming more significant than better solar panel or wind turbines, but we’re getting those too.

    I see the most immediately significant benefits of renewables successes as political; the alarmist economic fears that have been the most potent memes of climate obstructionists (“worse than the problem”, “economically ruinous”) have been undermined. Now we have leaders of major nations committing to zero emissions… well, SAYING they are committed to zero emissions. But just being willing to say it out loud is actually a huge step forward.

  16. Greg Robie says:

    Bad news: growth in solar is due to a business model Goldman Sachs likely invented (and rolled out in 2015 with its first $1Billon of a 10 yr/$10B scheme). Using perminant capital vehicles (PCV), it leverages Japanese law and dual ownership and operations, one domestic, known, and regulated; one foreign, unknown, and unregulated to securitize illegally leased solar rights in the US to hedge energy future contracts and thereby monetize sunshine. Proprietary leases make this contestibly less than illegal AND renders promised decommissioning assured abandonment. Incidiously brilliant!

    New York has accommodated this by dumping net metering and going to value stacks. Maine got roped into such accommodating laws that they have a morotorium on 2-4 MW net metering projects. Florida passed a law ending their net meeting. Others may know of other states. But it’s depressing. The hopeful trends in solar are due to a sheme to monetize sunshine via energy futures contracts.

    Also bad news, but the commenters here have helped me grasp this, I’ve summarize in a single tweet (with one character left over!) why things are as they are:

    Death, personal/social: our species is hard wired to fear (amygdala) … & hard wired to deny (#MotivatedReasoning). Folk “on the spectrum” are least likely to find death terrifying.

    In my experience/knowledge, “action” is lead socially by ~20% of us & makes democracy passive./?

    I’m rather proud of that summary! Rational geeks will forever be a shunned impertinent used minority.

    The IRA is a joke, but two neighbors who know of my climate focus thought the IRA was positive and thought I be happy. I start with: the US benchmarks it’s percent reductions aspirations using 2005 emissions. Even that needs to be explained … if they had not already stopped listening. These two conversations today did not improve with further explaination. People need, and will get, their hopium.

    And if you are confused about the Ukraine thing, my view: this is a Wall Street sanctioned war planed (at least as far back as Obama, to play Putin’s weaknesses, effect massive reparation bills that will be paid for in Western currencies – if not exclusively in the $. This will effect a grab of Russian fossil carbon for the West and mostly shutting China out. Russia will be a nutered disfunctial state. The Aircraft Carrier “Kearsarge” is anchored in Helsinki right now.


    PS: I’ve a new Kevin Anderson clip on my youtube channel – he can say a lot in a munite! It was Ken’s ping at Marc Hudson’s site and an interview with Kevin that introduced me to this place.

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart


  17. Jon Kirwan says:


    But what exact indications do you see that suggest that we are, collectively, moving in a direction towards the more positive outcomes? I frankly see everything except those kinds of actions. Certainly, ones that are sufficiently large. Let alone encouraging in anyway.

    Fair point. I think we are moving towards emitting less than we otherwise might have done. However, this doesn’t mean that we’re moving (overall) towards more positive outcomes.

    We simply aren’t doing anywhere near enough. I have no doubt of that.


    And no, I’m not optimistic about the capacity for humans to surmount what’s ahead. I don’t think we have the global capacity. End of story.

    This may, unfortunately, be the case. I guess I’m not sure how we benefit for studies that point out that we may be heading for global catastrophe. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t look into this. One could argue that it might be better to spend resources studying how we can actively avoid. In other words, what should we actually do, rather than what we should avoid doing, although maybe understanding the latter will help to inform the former.

    I’m of a mixed mind about this.

    On the one hand, I am pretty sure (opinion only, of course, and mostly just a guess of mine) that we (collectively) have no chance to do anything meaningful. We just can’t turn fast enough on a dime. We need to make profound changes to concepts of property ownership and capitalism. And that’s not going to happen. Not willingly by some, anyway. We need to start community living, immediately. Not tomorrow. But now. That can significantly reduce capital asset requirements and reduce consumption while maintaining a reasonable semblance of modern living conditions. 15-20 families in a unit would be optimal, I estimate. But it’s not going to happen. Not soon enough, anyway. (And I’m talking about highly industrialized countries here. Get that right.)

    On another hand, I’m very much worried about random mitigation efforts that are taken by isolated countries or individuals. Kind of a “hunt and peck” approach to reducing some aspects.

    Climate change can be mitigated in various ways. But it does nothing whatsoever for the decimation of forest systems and fisheries, for example. Climate change is just one of many facets of modern human impact on the environment. There are many other important facets that don’t get and then keep the attention they require. Their just isn’t enough “oxygen” in the discussions we have left over to give breath also to these other issues. They are lost in the discussion.

    We have to address so many different things all at once. Not just climate change. So many other facets are equally important. And all of them are crashing at once.

    I don’t think we can manage it. I think we are far too stupid, collectively, to get our arms around what needs to be managed all at one time. Nature will, of course, do what it does and fix things. But I fear we will have little to say about it. Because we are barely smarter than bacteria in a petri dish, when it comes down to it. We don’t have the vision. Plain and simple. We are stupid, collectively. And that will be a part of our final epitaph.

    Do you see anything that suggests to you that we can grapple squarely with all the issues that are under severe pressure due to the population on this planet and the consumption of resources far beyond the ability of the sun to reproduce them each year? Not just climate, Ken. I am talking about ALL of the pressures our population places upon our global system? Do you see political systems in place that can organize an effective response? Do you see that people may be able to stabilize population, itself? (The underlying cause of all of this.)

    I don’t.

    We are just tiny bacteria. Stupid bacteria. In a small petri dish. And for all we may squirm or talk about things, the end result will be little different in the end. We simply aren’t capable of overcoming our genetic-driven limitations.

    I want, very much, something to hang my hat on. To believe that we can achieve more. But I don’t see any hope as things are playing out now. Very little, far too little, and even then likely not delivered but more just words and far far too little action as a result. We like to imagine. But we fail. Every single year, we fail. And still more each year.

    Talk is great. But nature doesn’t care about talk. Nature cares about physics. If you jump off a 200′ ft cliff, nature doesn’t care how much you are scared or how much you pray. It just cares about the physics. Crying doesn’t matter. Pleading doesn’t matter. Screaming doesn’t matter. The end is a result of the physics.

    Nature is a very consistent teacher.

    We will learn that fact. In spades.

  18. Jon Kirwan says:

    Well, that turned out crappy-looking, ATTP. I wish I had a way of testing my posts before posting them. If you can fix it — my thanks. Otherwise? My apologies for those who have to read it.

    [Mod: I think I’ve fixed it.]

  19. Tom Fuller says:

    Well, this bacterium has the opportunity to look over the walls of our petri dish and has come away with a far more optimistic viewpoint than Mr. Kirwan.

    It is precisely the messy experimentation by cranks and weirdos around the world that has led to innovation, moving in fits and starts, that changes the world. See

    We’ll get there.

  20. Jon,
    Tom probably makes a roughly reasonable point, depending on what one means by “we’ll get there”. This is well outside my comfort zone, but I agree that collectively we will probably not take the kind of action that would probably be needed to deal with the many issues you highlight. We will, however, probably muddle through in some ways. However, this will probably lead to lots of suffering that it might have been possible to avoid and that most of us will probably just normalise (it will be suggests that it’s unfortunate, but there was probably not much we could have done to avoid it).

    We (by which I mean human societies) may even end up in a state that would be regarded as good, maybe even regarded as better than today. However, it seems likely that if we do get there, we’ll do so along a path that included lots of suffering and that those who do benefit will do so at the expense of many who did not.

    I could, of course, be wrong and I hope I am. Maybe the action that is being taken today will be enough to avert many of the more severe outcomes. Maybe we’ll just be lucky and it will turn out that the impacts are less severe than expected. Maybe we’ll discover some amazing “solution” that noone had considered before and that turns out to be easy to implement. If it’s not physics, I’m easily confused (even confused by physics, sometimes 🙂 ).

  21. Tom Fuller says:

    Actually, I agree completely with what you write, ATTP. Preventing or reducing the harm to be caused by climate change is a worthy goal for all of us.

  22. RickA says:

    To me, this paper is just more of the same – scary warnings about the distant future to try to promote desired action near term. Kind of like – no more snow in 5 years type of scare tactic.

    If and when humanity arrives at a consensus that something scary is really happening, we can always go nuclear to really reduce our carbon emissions. Until then, if humanity cannot be bothered to double and triple down on the one technology we have which actually reduces carbon emissions – well that just tells me the collective “we” are not that worried.

    We have seen that renewables don’t really cut carbon emissions (see Germany and California). The backup power (when it is dark and not windy) is usually coal or natural gas, and we end up emitting more carbon emissions than just biting the bullet and tripling our reliance on nuclear power.

    I am fairly confident that the future will end up with about 70% nuclear for baseload power and 30% or so renewable, with the nuclear being the backup power source. But it will be a long road for many to overcome their irrational fear of invisible radiation and support nuclear power.

    Meanwhile about 80% ish of world energy is still fossil fuel based, and a lot of resources which could be tripling our nuclear capacity are being invested in renewables which are creating lots of future problems and not really solving the problem by REALLY reducing carbon emissions. Rosy projections are all well and good – but the hard facts are what really matter.

    So whenever the world wants – they can get realistic and solve the problem. It is just a matter of time and education to develop the will to build lots and lots of nuclear power. Preferably fifth generation passive cooling, thorium and small scale solutions.

    Or invent a real working fusion power source (still 50 years away last I read).

    In the meantime, idealists will insist we stop using fossil fuel and go renewable and we will boil or freeze and emit more and more carbon emissions. Just study what is really happening in Germany and California to see the future – it is not panning out they way it was sold. Compare with France and ask yourself which is really the better model for the next century. Especially with fossil fuels being used as a weapon.

    Overall I am optimistic that humanity will eventually get there – it is just a messy inefficient process that will take decades to play out, with the idealists and pie in the sky activists fucking things up while the realists have to wait until reality slaps the stupidity out of the idealists and pie in the sky activists. Inch by inch we are getting there. Germany is not closing its last 3 nuclear plants and will probably reopen the 3 it shut down. California has figured out it cannot shut down its last nuclear plant. Reality has slapped them in the face and they have woken up – and that is progress.

    Oh well – that is human nature and life I guess. We will definitely muddle through.

  23. Willard says:

    > we can always go nuclear

    You know the drill, RickA:

    A report published in The Lancet in 2019 concluded that a dietary shift toward plant foods and away from animal products is vital for promoting the health of our planet. The report states that projections for the future show that “vegan and vegetarian diets were associated with the greatest reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.”

    A global shift to a plant-based diet could reduce mortality and greenhouse gases caused by food production by 10% and 70%, respectively, by 2050. A report from the United Nations Environment Programme says that “animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.” The World Health Organization says, “Reducing livestock herds would also reduce emissions of methane, which is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.”

    A study published last year shows just how critical cutting meat production is in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The study found that 57% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production come from meat and dairy products. Beef contributes the most global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the study. Just 29% of food-related global greenhouse gas emissions come from plant-based foods.

    But nukes” drive-by done.

  24. RickA says:

    Thank you Willard – I can always count on you!

  25. RickA,

    We have seen that renewables don’t really cut carbon emissions (see Germany and California). The backup power (when it is dark and not windy) is usually coal or natural gas, and we end up emitting more carbon emissions than just biting the bullet and tripling our reliance on nuclear power.

    You do have to be careful here. A partial renewables system that relies on backup fossil fuels will probably emit more than some alternative that didn’t rely on fossil fuel backup. It will, however, probably emit less than having maintained and expanded a fossil fuel system. We should be careful of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  26. RickA says:


    All renewable systems are partial. There is no such thing as a 100% renewable system. So we also have to factor in the fact that we are building and maintaining two separate systems, the wind towers and solar panels, plus the backup systems. CO2 emissions are created for making wind blades, transporting them, mining rare earth metals for solar panels and so forth – so renewables emit co2 emissions in manufacturing and moving them to their destination.

    Building a 100% nuclear system from the git-go would emit less emissions than building two systems. Renewables are not bad – they just are not solving the problem of CO2 emissions. Nuclear power will emit less co2 than renewable plus fossil fuel backup. That is the solution we should be implementing.

  27. Rick,

    Nuclear power will emit less co2 than renewable plus fossil fuel backup. That is the solution we should be implementing.

    In an ideal world maybe, but a key factor about climate change is that it mostly depends on how much we emit in total. The goal isn’t simply to get to net zero at some point in the future, it’s to do so in a way that also limits how much is emitted in total. Hence, a pathway that implements alternatives that displace some fossil fuels sources may well be preferable to one where we rely on fossil fuels until we can fully implement a nuclear system.

    A fully nuclear system may be the ideal, but I don’t think one can ignore the various obstacles to implementing such a solution.

  28. russellseitz says:

    Willard knows the drill— always try to think inside the Skinner Box.

    AGW is too good an excuse for social engineering to let mere engineering get in the way of behavioral engineering opportunities or vegan cultural imperialism.

  29. RickA says:

    The obstacles to nuclear will fall easily once we decide co2 emissions are really a problem that has to be dealt with. Until then, all the hand wringing and wishing is just wasted electrons until we actually grapple with reality.

    If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly.

  30. russellseitz says:

    A lot hinges on the cost and capex of electric propulsion. Falling battery costs militate for mitigating the carbon footprint of food and agriculture by electrifying shipping and farm machinery as well as vehicles. Agriculture and animal husbandry have a long way left to travel on the road to decarbonization.

    Power density may limit electric airplanes to low speeds and short ranges, but the time and mobility value of long haul air transport may justify using atmospheric carbon capture as an expensive offset for jet flights.

  31. mrkenfabian says:

    Sorry RickA but your sorts of climate science denial – demonstrated on several occasions on this site, and recently – are incompatible with that level of “once we decide CO2 are really a problem”. Perpetual delaying of any deciding it is, with repeated calls to doubt it is… isn’t good enough for bringing this “just use nuclear” future any closer. On the contrary, it works to delay it.

    Nuclear has become the preferred zero emissions energy option of people who don’t want to fix the climate problem. And why not? The most unpopular, the most expensive (by a large and growing margin), the slowest to build option. SMR’s, that don’t yet even exist as an available option – 5 decades overdue and still another decade and more funding away – are especially popular. But what they like best about nuclear is – after arguing it isn’t necessary because global warming is a scam – they can blame environmentalists and climate activists and their preferential support for renewable energy for lack of progress.

    Yet I don’t think the populist unpopularity of nuclear has ever been so deeply held that consistent messaging that the climate problem is so serious that it requires it – messaging by those who do think it is the best option (those that think renewables are better being free to promote that) – would not turn it around; most people don’t really care what anti-nuclear activists say.

    Too many nuclear advocates are – like you – climate science deniers or remain indulgently tolerant of them – but if they don’t “get” the climate problem why would anyone think their judgement about what is best to fix it is superior? It’s a serious credibility problem, but in the end it will be costs that decide and without the climate imperative the same “supporters” of nuclear will continue to oppose the steep carbon pricing that is essential to “just use nuclear”.

  32. Jon Kirwan says:

    To: RickA:

    I’m no fission power expert. But I did spend some time with one, Dr. Pollard, two decades ago. (I still have boxes and boxes of materials he gave me to read.) I’ve spent significant time considering what it would take to replace our fossil fuel usage with nuclear power. It’s not going to happen in time. Can’t happen in time. It’s not just generation. It’s the entire infrastructure needed to move energy around from centralized sources to diffuse end-points, losses that have be made up by increased generation, raw materials needed for same that we currently aren’t sure we have, etc. And that’s assuming idealized fission. Which we absolutely do not have. Nor do we have the oversight. Nor do we want every country in the world having these things. Etc.

    I’ll believe it is possible when I see a carefully crafted plan that shows me, in detail, how this can occur where it matters given the short time left. That will have to include regional and sub-regional details. Or it’s a non-starter for me.

    To: Ken
    I pretty much find your take (on my take) comfortable to read and accept.

    What I wrote to RickA above makes a great segue because it’s a narrow thought about a narrow subject that is only one of many issues we face. It’s why I talk about Gilmore’s mathematical treatment, the introduction of time (dynamism) into non-linear systems.

    Even if we would find a perfect replacement (cheap fusion power in hand-held devices made out of common materials and made available to anyone and everyone without need to distribute power, for example), it would do nothing at all about all of the other non-linear catastrophes that seem to be happening at about the same time. And it would do nothing whatsoever about ever increasing consumption. In fact, it would increase that consumption almost without bound.

    With free energy comes unhindered environmental exploitation. Fossil fuels are, simplified into caricature form, free. It’s what allowed the population of this planet to rise like the hockey stick of recent (Michael) fame. That increases demand for food. Which reduces fisheries to what we see today. More and better would just mean we’d be enabled for still more exploitation of resources, which are already being consumed faster than the sun can reproduce them. Sure, we can add yet more discoveries — how to use the free energy to create more food. And yeah, that’s not going to work well in the end.

    All roads get us to the same place. We need to learn how to live stably inside this little bubble we call Earth. It’s a delicate thing, higher life forms balanced on end. (Bacteria run the place and always have. So I’m not worried about them.)

    So when I write, I always have the larger pictures in mind. Climate is just one of many symptoms. I worry about all of the symptoms and how I see them changing the “surface” topology and creating new, different points of local stability, while those forces themselves also evolve and change due to this changing surface and its nearby stability points.

    It’s complex. And I don’t think we have what it takes to avoid the worst.

    And even my saying that climate is but one symptom of many, still fails to get across the scope of this. It’s almost pale. We recently have experienced what a “little bit of Cov-2” has done to a finely tuned global distribution system. We are coming through some of that. But I know people who are working on the shipping end of things and it’s still a long way away from “getting straightened out.” Just a wrinkle of sorts and these systems that we’ve taken many decades to gradually wind up, find themselves getting balled up and twisted. And that’s just over a little extra disease (which microbiologists say isn’t the end, by any means.)

    But yes, I agree and I also believe we are in for a lot of hurt along the way. I don’t believe we are dead as a species. That’s my hyperbole used for emphasis. Not fact. But we are already eating into our bank account (the Earth) at a rate that is far faster than our income (sun’s production) allows us, for long. We need to get that into control. And that’s not going to happen… not easily, anyway.

    Climate is a distraction for some of us. We get taken up by the discussion of it and think that if we can grasp it well enough and get it in hand, that we are good. But we aren’t. There’s so very much more that also demands still more from us.

    If you get a chance, read Jonathan Weiner’s “The Next One Hundred Years: Shaping the Fate of Our Living Earth”. I have a stack of them here that I bought after talking with him (before he won his Pulitzer a few years later) and have been giving out. It was published in 1990. But it remains a remarkable achievement as it is still relevant to this very day. (If you want, it would be my privilege to send you a copy and a copy of some letter exchanges with him at the time.)

    So many different things are going on at a very rapid, changing pace. We really do have our hands full right now. There is no way we are going to juggle our way out of this well enough to avoid myriad terrible tragedies because none of us are on the same page about anything. And there is no way we do this without sincere and global coordination. And even given that (which won’t happen — look at Ukraine, look at Taiwan, look at …) then I’d still be shocked if we pulled the rabbit out of the hat.

  33. Willard says:

    > Vegan cultural imperialism

    Nature always bats last, Russell:

    [N]ew evidence suggests that the earliest humans evolved from ape-like ancestors without first shifting to a meat-based diet. Research published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution suggests that the first members of the Homo genus ate mostly vegetation from trees and shrubs, just like their ancestors Australopithecus.

    No need to get dogmatic over an energetic question.

  34. Ben McMillan says:

    Staid government institutions like the UK’s BEIS (or Australia’s AEMO) now have pretty detailed workings for how to reach 2050 targets. As you would expect, a lot of the energy ends up being generated by wind+solar (dominantly wind+solar for Australia, mix of things including nuclear in the UK’s case).

    This has been one of the clearest markers of progress in the last 20 years: what looked like something only fringe enthusiasts thought was possible is now basically considered the default pathway and backed by policy and funding.

    Actually it is pretty amazing how much the UK’s power sector emissions have dropped over the last 20 years.

  35. Joshua says:

    RickA –

    > The obstacles to nuclear will fall easily once we decide co2 emissions are really a problem that has to be dealt with.

    The obstacles to any particular energy pathway would fall one “we” decide co2 emissions are really a problem.

  36. russellseitz says:

    Willard, huge thanks for that splendid example of Vegan triumphalism circa 2017, from

    “In a major philosophical victory for vegans everywhere…Research published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution suggests that the first members of the Homo genus ate mostly vegetation from trees and shrubs, just like their ancestors Australopithecus.”

    By Jacquiline Ronson, who went on to author Inverse’s stirring account of :

    I must apologize for flinging a fast BibliographyBall. but I availed myself of my full pelt Nature Publications access and read the article Inverse cites, which though surprisingly old, unsurprisingly provides less polemic ammunition than you or Jacquiline Ronson suggest :

    The takeaway from Nature Ecoogy and Evolution is simply that between 2.6 and 3 million years ago, it took evolving savannah primates maybe ten thousand generations to figure out how to eat ungulates and become carnivorian:

    Late Pliocene environmental change during the transition from Australopithecus to Homo Joshua R. Robinson, John Rowan, Christopher J. Campisano, Jonathan G. Wynn & Kaye E. Reed
    Nature Ecology & Evolution volume 1, Article number: 0159 (2017) Cite this article

    It has long been hypothesized that the transition from Australopithecus to Homo in eastern Africa was linked to the spread of open and arid environments near the Plio−Pleistocene boundary, but data for the latest Pliocene are scarce. Here we present new stable carbon isotope data from the late Pliocene mammalian fauna from Ledi-Geraru, in the lower Awash Valley (LAV), Ethiopia, and mammalian community analyses from the LAV and Turkana Basin. These data, combined with pedogenic carbonate stable isotopes, indicate that the two regions were largely similar through the Plio−Pleistocene, but that important environmental differences existed during the emergence of Homo around 2.8 million years ago. The mid-Pliocene to late Pliocene interval in the LAV was characterized by increasingly C4-dominated, arid and seasonal environments. The early Homo mandible LD 350-1 has a carbon isotope value similar to that of earlier Australopithecus from the LAV, possibly indicating that the emergence of Homo from Australopithecus did not involve a dietary shift. Late Pliocene LAV environments contrast with contemporaneous environments in the Turkana Basin, which were more woody and mesic. These findings have important implications for the environmental conditions surrounding the emergence of Homo, as well as recent hypotheses regarding Plio−Pleistocene environmental change in eastern Africa.

  37. Willard says:

    You can read the abstract at the end of the post, Russell. My own takeaway is the same as the author’s:

    Certainly at later points in human evolution meat eating became a bigger part of life, and this very well may have contributed significantly to the animals that we have become. But as early Homo 2.8 million years ago and vegans today show, you don’t need to ingest animal protein to be smart.

    You can read that takeaway right before the abstract.

    Unless you wish to argue that because we used coal to kickstart the industrial revolution we should stick to coal, I do not think you have any leg to stand on.

  38. russellseitz says:

    Given our incisors, Willard, I think that a fairly legless argument. Do you think Lucy’s diet was socially constructed?

    Thank goodness has have evolved sufficiently to avoid following the Vegan Australolpithecines into extinction ; even the Rift Valley’s famously grass-eating geladas are omnivorous, leaving the present Vegarchy without any truly vegan primate competitors.
    When will vegans pure of heart start picketing Wholefoods for food chain-free products of molecular biology unencumbered by the ecocarbofootprint of farming, starting with Beyond Tofu?

  39. Willard says:

    > Given our incisors

    They’re not exactly ours, Russell. They’re our ancestors’. You know what primates eat, right? Almost anything, and meat in more moderation than your typical New England BBQ festival fan.

    You’re confusing me with some fantastical hippies you uppercut with your allegories. As a Canuck, I am well aware that there are parts of the world where hunting and fishing is here to stay. Again, it is all about moderation.

    Speaking of which, enough shadowboxing.

  40. russellseitz says:

    “> Given our incisors
    They’re not exactly ours, Russell. They’re our ancestors’”

    Spoken like a true First Canadian conservative, but we go to the culture wars with the teeth we’ve got.

  41. mrkenfabian says:

    Russell, all primates have incisors and canines, some of them large and impressive. Yet meat eating is the exception in this group. In many cases display seems more likely as an evolutionary explanation than diet.

    Evolutionary anthropology is highly speculative and the numbers of serious scientists probably isn’t large. I suspect more often the pronouncements are more saying x is plausible, rather than it being a conclusion with high confidence. Or should be.

    As an aside I have had an ongoing interest in evolution of (misnamed) human hairlessness and whilst there have been some good minds making good contributions there is an abundance of (IMO) poor scholarship going way back – and much of it persists way past when those with fundamental mistakes should have been set aside. Ongoing omission of consideration of (IMO) the single most significant function of body hairs in modern humans – the sensory – continues to frustrate and irritate me. Yet it was seeing claims that looked dubious taken as fact (eg body hairs being effectively functionless) that sparked my initial interest.

    I think climate science looks quite mature in comparison.

  42. izen says:

    “Russell, all primates have incisors and canines, some of them large and impressive. Yet meat eating is the exception in this group. In many cases display seems more likely as an evolutionary explanation than diet.”

    Amongst primates a purely vegetarian diet is the exception. There is also the fact that large teeth to display also correlate to the amount of meat eaten; cf gorillas and baboons.

    But the real test is the digestive system. Primates generally lack an efficient cellulose digestion system and eat meat to supplement energy, protein and micro-nutrients. Humans have a particularly short digestive system and are if not dependent, then more effectively fed by at least small amounts of meat.
    Certainly the amount eaten in the western diet is excessive, once or twice a week would be a more balanced amount.

  43. Dave_Geologist says:

    Primate incisors and canines? (OK, just canines, rabbits and beavers have incisors, as do horses.)

    Display, as mentioned above, and if that fails, combat. Proper meat-eaters have carnassial teeth instead of molars, but that’s for slicing off bite-sized pieces, and once we had stone blades we didn’t need to do that to eat meat.

    The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence.

    The phylogenetic analysis suggests that a certain level of lethal violence in humans arises from the occupation of a position within a particularly violent mammalian clade [primates], in which violence seems to have been ancestrally present.

    Once we had artificial weapons, we didn’t need big canines either.

  44. Willard says:

    Having carnassial teeth helps carnivores quite a bit. There is no need to look back very far to see what we ate for a long while, for instsnçe:

    Bread, potatoes, cabbage, beans and various cereals were the base of local cuisine. There was usually only one dish per one meal on the table on regular days. On holidays, there could be several dishes served during the same meal, but they were the same as those cooked on regular days, as a rule. Meat was seldom eaten. It was saved for the most important holidays like Easter, Christmas, weddings and funerals, as well as on extremely hard working days.

    Unless you were a fisherman or a very successful farmer, you would have eaten animals sparingly. Why eat your profits? Meat has never been as cheap as today. It is still not that cheap.

    There is an argument that hunter-gatherers had it easier than farmers, e.g.:

    This choice implies less children, however. One does not simply carry 10 kids around just for the fun of it. As with AGW, our choices always come with trade offs.

    Humans seldom had free lunches. That we argue like we could might be a sign of our golden age.

  45. Willard says:

    I dare you to ninja me, Dave!

  46. Joshua says:

    > Evolutionary anthropology is highly speculative and the numbers of serious scientists probably isn’t large.

    But there is no end to the reverse engineering Just-So storification, that matches preferred narratives (just by coincidence, or course).

    All goes with the pattern-finding nature of how we make sense of the world.

    I would speculate that Just-So storification is the product of natural selection 🤔

  47. russellseitz says:

    “I think climate science looks quite mature in comparison.”

    The situation recalls a line in Shaw’s play set in the Serbo-Bulgarian War:
    “Some of our oldest families can trace their ancestry back for 30, or even 40 years.”

  48. Willard says:

    Birth registries were less well maintained than our livres de raison:

    Just as cattle were the most common stock animal, beef was the favourite meat, followed by pork; mutton was somewhat less appreciated. However, during the wars of the mid-18th century, sheep livestock became more important, and in the Québec City area, annual family consumption rose from 5 to 14 kilos, from 1690 to 1759.

    By comparison, meat consumption in the US of A was around 264 pounds per person in 2021:

    A ten-fold explosion at least, and families used to be numerous at the times. Usual numbers are between 7 and 11 kids. And grandparents stayed at the family home. So make that a 100-fold increase.

  49. “The Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the planet over the last 40 years, according to research published Thursday that suggests climate models are underestimating the rate of polar heating. ”

    Forests from the Arctic to the Amazon are transforming at a “shocking” rate due to the climate crisis, with trees advancing into previously barren tundra in the north while dying off from escalating heat farther south, scientists have found.

    Once we hit net zero on emissions, this kind of thing is expected to stop, so no reason to be unduly alarmed about this kind of thing. I think we are not facing unavoidable catastrophe. I think we continue to be facing avoidable catastrophe.

  50. angech says:

    Considering Catastrophe
    ATTP you state.
    “as someone who was involved in the RCP8.5 debate about a supposed focus on worst-case scenarios, I’m not convinced that it will have the desired effect.”

    Catastrophe should really be considered as worst case scenarios.
    Although you can always pile one on top of another I guess.
    First question, do you still now consider RCP8.5 an expected outcome or a worst case scenario.
    At the time when discussing it did it help develop the desired effect you wanted or have you since changed your mind?
    “I’m not convinced that it will have the desired effect.”

  51. angech says:

    Russel Seitz
    “Late Pliocene environmental change during the transition from Australopithecus to Homo”
    I would like to make a couple of comments about teeth and diet from a genetic and evolutionary point of view.
    The ability to eat meat or not.
    To be a carnivore or herbivore.
    Is not something that develops de novo due to dietary change.
    Life for a non plant organism tens to be one of surviving on plant organisms first and when that fails surviving on other non plant organisms.
    Teeth genes have been present for millions of years.
    The genes for tastes for meat or grasses likewise.
    Herbivores have dormant but resuscitatable carnivore genes and vice versa.

  52. angech,
    I’ve never considered RCP8.5 and expected outcome. It’s always been an extreme high-emission pathway.

  53. dikranmarsupial says:

    Angech, RCP 8.5 has never been the expected outcome. The RCPs are scenarios they are the input to the climate modelling, not the outcome. The physics of climate is easier to predict than our economic and political behaviour, so the IPCC instead provides “projections”, which tell us what we can expect to happen IF we follow some scenario of emissions (or the resultant concentrations). To cover the plausible range, there are a number of scenarios, from RCP2.6 to RCP8.5, and in deciding policy, politicians can judge the expected benefits by comparing the expected concentrations from their policies and compare those with the outcomes from the nearest scenarios. So if you say “RCP8.5 is the expected outcome”, that isn’t a question of climate, it is a question of economics and politics that will give rise to the future GHG concentrations.

    Now from the paper:

    The Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 corresponds to a high greenhouse gas emissions pathway compared to the scenario literature (Fisher et al. 2007; IPCC 2008), and hence also to the upper bound of the RCPs. RCP8.5 is a so-called ‘baseline’ scenario that does not include any specific climate mitigation target.

    Riahi, K., Rao, S., Krey, V. et al. RCP 8.5—A scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions. Climatic Change 109, 33 (2011).

    So RCP8.5 is clearly intended as a bound (an extreme scenario) that we might see if we continued emitting GHGs with no real attempt at mitigation. As there are those who argue against mitigation, then it is completely reasonable for the IPCC to provide this bounding scenario to show what might result from following that course of inaction.

    I’m very sure ATTP knows all of this perfectly well. I suspect it is skeptic climate blogs that don’t know this distinction between scenarios and outcomes, you would do well to correct that misinderstanding.

    RCP8.5 is apparently based on the previous SRES A2 scenario from the previous IPCC report. Interestingly that was not the most extreme considered by SRES, that was A1FI – which was the “business as usual”* (no mitigation, exploit fossil fuels for economic growth) scenario. So I’ll take that as progress! ;o)

    I vaguely recall that A1FI wasn’t originally in SRES, but was added at the request of the politicians?

    * the problem with “business as usual” is that “business as usual” today is thankfully not the “business as usual” when SRES was implemented, although it could be better.

  54. Willard says:

    In 2020, the baseline was 5C:


    In 2020, Doc had different concerns:

    > From what I see and hear I can only imagine it is going along swimmingly.

    A 5C world provides even more water for you to swim.



  55. dikranmarsupial says:

    5C?! The recent heat wave in the U.K. already presents a real danger for some of us:

    Fortunately Norfolk is marginally cooler. ;o)

  56. russellseitz says:

    Unfortunately, Dikran, existential threat inflation has prospered to the point that in ClimateBll, one side’s extreme bound is another’s starting line for public indoctrination.

  57. angech says:

    Willard says: August 15, 2022 at 2:50 pm. “ In 2020, the baseline was 5C:
    In 2020, Doc had different concerns:
    > From what I see and hear I can only imagine it is going along swimmingly.”
    Just to be clear.
    The comment
    “A 5C world provides even more water for you to swim.”
    Was Willard’s I think.

    Very interesting comparing the comments from then til now to see if there are any shifting sands.

    BAU or baseline, my impression of RCP8.5 at the time was where are the other 50% of predictions for a world with increasing fossil fuel use.
    The real worst case scenario.
    5C or 10 C?

    Thanks to DM for pointing out, with reasons, that my viewpoint was wrong and that RCP 8.5 was a top end projection taking into account that procedures to lower and mitigate fossil fuel use would lead to lesser effect scenarios.

  58. dikranmarsupial says:

    Misrepresentation of an “opponent”‘s actual position, it is nothing new (I suspect it is one of Schopenhaer’s strategems), and skeptic blogs have indulged in it for a long time, e.g. CAGW. Plus ca change …

  59. russellseitz says:


    Some Authorities have fast-forwarded vegan evolution from the Pliocene to the Anthropocene:

  60. angech says:

    Angtech:to russellseitz what an interesting video.
    Did you really have to put that up?
    Nearly fell off my flat earth!

  61. I think a lot of folks are considering catastrophe around the world this summer. Lots of heat and a shortage of water have people thinking. I think we have an avoidable catastrophe ahead of us. Lots of folks who are suffering right now from the heat or lack of water probably think the catastrophe is already upon us and it may be, to a certain extent. However you evaluate that circumstance, most sensible folks believe that the planet will simply continue to become less hospitable unless and maybe until we reach net zero. The impacts that are currently being felt will lead to global migrations as humans attempt to move away from heat, drought and other localized catastrophes. The guardian has an article about migration today. Good read in my opinion:

    I think the right frame to think about our situation is “avoidable catastrophe.” We can do something about it and we have known that for many years, yet our efforts to avoid catastrophe seem puny when compared to the impacts.

    My request? Don’t talk about unavoidable catastrophe or similarly fatally flawed framings of our situation. If folks are alarmed, don’t slap the term alarmist on them, just recognize that these folks are experiencing alarm. I don’t think we are doomed, but the weakness of our collective actions seems tragic.


  62. It seems likely to me that the US IRA legislation will lead to greatly reduced methane emissions as they are reported by industry to the EPA. I understand that the IRA levies a tax on methane emissions above a certain level. That seems like a good thing. Unfortunately, the expected fall of reported emissions is likely to be the result of complex reporting rules and novel interpretations rather than actual reduced methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry.

    “An unorthodox reading of a single word in the EPA regulations allowed Range to slash its reported emissions from energy production by 93% in 2020 compared with the approach used by most oil and gas companies. That’s enough to move the company from the bottom of its peer rankings to the top. The EPA says this interpretation isn’t valid, although Range insists that it is.”

    Our focus should be on reductions of CO2 which is a stock atmospheric constituent while methane is a flow atmospheric constituent, so lots of folks will caution not to be distracted from CO2 reduction efforts by discussion of methane reduction efforts. That is correct, of course. Rising methane levels are expected to cause a temp bump, but it will be a small bump compared to the long lasting impact of higher CO2 levels and methane only lasts about 12 years in the atmosphere, so additional heat buildup from methane could be gone in the time it takes a child to complete their primary education.

    And the issue that arises from the US IRA legislation may not be that big a deal because it seems possible that nations have normally been under-reporting their methane emissions for years.

    The current annual rate of increase for CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere appears to be 2.3 ppm, that’s not too bad. It’s a very high increase number in the long term record, but I think our species may have crested on CO2 accumulation increase numbers. We have a lot of work to do to get to a net zero status. Along the way to CO2 net zero we may need to take a moment to make sure that we don’t allow a spike of methane to get by us and give us an unneeded 12 temperature spike. I think the methane contribution to total warming is generally estimated to be about 25% of total warming, so CO2 is definitely the big dog.

    Catastrophe almost seems like a distraction to me. There’s an old quote about economic slowing that says that it’s a recession when you know folks who have lost their jobs and it’s a depression when you have lost your job. Catastrophe seems like that kind of thing to me. As long as the impacts are happening to somebody else, it’s something that might be considered, but it’s a bit academic. The distraction part arises because discussion and consideration of catastrophe shifts our focus from the big and important topic of reducing greenhouse gas accumulations in the atmosphere and oceans. Catastrophe is a mirage in my opinion. It really doesn’t exist or matter that much as long as our water supplies and heat levels don’t start messing with production of foodstuffs.

    It’s been a pretty mild summer in the Pacific NW of the USA and I am thankful for that. We have had some hot days, but nothing like last year and I have enjoyed soaking my feet in the cool waters of the Skookumchuck River a few times. Life is good. I wish the same for all of you.

  63. Ken Fabian says:

    I do wonder how scenarios would play out where we do reduce emissions a bit but reductions hit a wall and remain stubbornly resistant to further reduction – and to reaching net-zero. (From technological progress failing to deliver desired and required improvements in clean energy technologies or through rising international conflict, struggling economies and breakdown of international agreements).

    The highest emissions pathways may appear to be off the table but halving emissions and having them stuck there for twice as long doesn’t look like a guarantee we cannot reach those “alarmist” levels of global warming; it seems like they would still be reached, just a bit later.

  64. russellseitz says:

    Ken should keep reading the handwriting on the wall.

    David Wallace-Wells credentials as a self-proclaimed “climate alarmist” are impeccable, but the decay of RCP 8.5 has compelled him to change his dystopic tune :

  65. Ken Fabian says:

    Russell, to claim sufficient emissions reductions to prevent high range scenarios – that this rules out less than extreme emissions persisting for long enough to add just as much emissions as very high emissions would, just slower – is a sure thing now doesn’t look so sure to me. My comment is a question (“I wonder…”) and is an invitation to people who might know better than me to have a say. Does that make me an unreasonable climate alarmist?

    I note that where I live we still have a mainstream conservative right political party that appears to believe ongoing use of fossil fuels is a national and global right and preventing it is an economically dangerous imposition at best and possibly a green totalitarian plot. Speaking of alarmists. They use the “but Australia only makes 1.3%” line without any hint of shame to argue for reduced national ambitions – as if 1.3% were somehow inconsequential rather than being a very large contribution to an enormous problem. A bit the way “but CO2 is only 0.04%” gets used.

    They were and still are pushing for a position that would undermine international climate agreements and goals – and I cannot see how that can be seen as anything other than knowing and intentional, it being clear that having all nations with similar or less emissions to Australia being excluded would exclude about 1/3rd of global emissions and if nations with a bit more emissions join in, up to 1/2, and this would destroy international agreements. In seeking the outcomes they want they advance the actions that will help make them happen.

    Climate science denial is still a long way from over. Emissions at high rates are far from over. The fossil fuel industry is a long way from dead. Yes, there are grounds for cautious optimism but we’ve barely begun.

  66. russellseitz says:

    Ken, I invite you to venture further down the pathway of considering how much has happened between RCP 8.5’s launch as the flagship of the rhetoric of future catastrophe , and the soi disant climate left’s discovering it to be an unsustainable meme.

    ClimateBall in Willard’s court.

  67. Willard says:

    Russell, I invite you to drop But CAGW:

    “But CAGW”

    Since it is the central square of the contrarian playbook, it might be hard.

    So alternatively I invite you to drop the stick and move away from the horse.

  68. Talking or thinking constantly about AGW is definitely tiresome. I am so happy that we have had such a pleasant summer here in the Pacific NW. It is pretty [easy] to shrug off the reports of droughts and extreme heat when the weather is this good. We are about ready to start harvesting grapes here. Good thing because I just finished off last year’s grape cider and I really enjoy my homebrew cider. My brother and his family is in South Texas. He says it’s been hot and I see a tropical storm is forming and might be heading his way. Nothing really unusual about any of that. He lives on the Guadalupe River and it’s gone dry in a few places which is very unusual, but still running in his reach of the river. We installed a modern heat pump ac unit at his place last year and he says it is working great and his utility bill is lower than it was with the 30 year old AC unit that was there before.

    I used to love to go to Uvalde on summer weekends to hike and swim in the Frio River, but I think it’s more of a wading river this year. Still nice cold fresh water where you can splash around. That’s the good life. The rope swings cannot be used when the depth falls to the current level, but I think this is really just weather and a kind of normal drought. We had those years in Texas when I was a kid. This too will pass. Rains will come sometime soon. I think the river swings will be back in action next summer.

    I glanced at methane this past week and was surprised to see that the level is now up over 1900 ppb. No worries, doesn’t seem to be causing any harm in the PNW. Lots of greenhouse gases floating around us here, but still having a pretty reasonable summer.

    How about sharing good news? Anybody else experiencing enough good weather to make catastrophe a distant concern? Accentuate the positive, baby!


  69. Willard says:

    Apophasis is a way to talk about a thing by mentioning one does not want to talk about it, Mike. This is no better than what Russell does.

    This is a thread about studying catastrophes. Not catastrophism. Not catastrophe theory. Not catastrophization, whether psychological or theatrical.

    The best way to end a comedy is to stop.

  70. Thanks for sharing the link to the David Wallace Wells article. My partner and I don’t actually go out on the highway very much anymore, but when we do, I have a habit of identifying full EV cars passing us in our old prius because my partner doesn’t actually recognize the EVs out on the road. I am definitely seeing the number of full EV cars increase dramatically. The transition away from fossil fuel cars may move fast like the move from horse drawn to fossil fuel automobiles so long ago.

  71. russellseitz says:

    [Playing the ref. -W]

  72. Chubbs says:

    There are many potential paths to catastrophe. Per the subject paper, climate impacts could be worse than expected. Per RCP85, climate impacts could be as expected, but ignored. A third option is a non-climate catastrophe: war,pestilence, economic collapse, etc., that is made worse or triggered by climate change. Would place my bet on the last option, but also think our crystal balls are unusually cloudy as change in man-made and natural systems increases.

  73. [Playing the ref. -W]

  74. Although I absolutely relish the thought of a homo sapiens extension event, I don’t think CAGW is that vehicle or means to an end.

    Rhetorical devices, erm words, such as these …

    “Why do we need to know about the plausible worst cases? First, risk management and robust decision-making under uncertainty requires knowledge of extremes. For example, the minimax criterion ranks policies by their worst outcomes (28). Such an approach is particularly appropriate for areas characterized by high uncertainties and tail risks. Emissions trajectories, future concentrations, future warming, and future impacts are all characterized by uncertainty. That is, we can’t objectively prescribe probabilities to different outcomes (29). Climate damages lie within the realm of “deep uncertainty”: We don’t know the probabilities attached to different outcomes, the exact chain of cause and effect that will lead to outcomes, or even the range, timing, or desirability of outcomes (, 30). Uncertainty, deep or not, should motivate precaution and vigilance, not complacency.”

    … so uncertain as to leave one wondering just what it would take to kill off the last few homo sapiens, let alone the 1st billion, the next billion, to that very end game of homo sapiens ultimate extinction is, and forever will be, the very act of navel gazing.

    Real extension events lie ahead but involve other species like large mammals (elephant, rhino, tiger, et. al.).

    “Knowing the worst cases can compel action, as the idea of “nuclear winter” in 1983 galvanized public concern and nuclear disarmament efforts.”

    Really? According to the BAS …

    “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warn of lack of progress on climate, nuclear weapons. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced on Jan. 20 that the hands of the Doomsday Clock remain at 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it has ever been to apocalypse.”

    We are now closer than we have ever been wrt nuclear war combined with other homo sapiens maladies such as climate change …

    “In their decision, the Bulletin cited disinformation, global security threats including ‘nuclear saber rattling,’ lack of actionable climate policies, disruptive technology and insufficient worldwide COVID-19 response.”

    The real reason for such ludicrous-impossible-to qualify-let-alone-quantify studies?

    “The impact of a report on catastrophic climate change could be even more marked. It could help bring into focus how much is at stake in a worst-case scenario.”

    Why? To push the current failed climate agenda forwards (or more appropriately backwards) using the ultimate scare tactic of homo sapiens extinction.

    “Further research funding of catastrophic and worst-case climate change is critical.”

    Dangling modifier anyone? As in critical to what exactly. Critical to substitutive action on our current meager path to abating AGW. We need to tackle AGW 1st before rearing the head of CAGW as simply a rhetorical vehicle or device. As such, a research vehicle that is MORE likely to be completely ignored by homo sapiens.

    I do suggest an IPCC report is needed, a ludicrous report titled … Way Beyond RCP8.5 by 2050 Even! … or almost as good as Nuttier Than Net Zero by 2050!


    Once children hid under their desks, now children stand on their desks.

  75. Willard says:

    > MORE likely

    Citation needed.

  76. Bob Loblaw says:


    Is a “homo sapiens extension event” similar to a “homo sapiens extinction event”? Perhaps a lost battle with autocorrect?

  77. Ken Fabian says:

    I think the human capacity for mismanagement, blameshifting and conflict making the manageable unmanageable and making things worse than they otherwise would be should never be underestimated. The decades of denial and lack of climate ambitions we have endured look like a prime example. The potential for seriously bad outcomes from global warming looks to have a solid basis – or why did the world’s governments agree to establish an IPCC or sign up to emissions reductions targets? At a local level within the lifetimes of children now living the possibility – verging on likely – that we will get droughts and bushfires with 5 or 6 C extra degrees of heat is properly alarming. (We have got 1.4C rise for 1C global average – 4C would do that.)

    I have looked at projections of emissions out to 2100 that show nice, smooth, ongoing emissions reductions that don’t stubbornly level out or go backwards and seem to get to the targets in the end, almost like it is inevitability, but I am left seriously doubting they really cover the messier possibilities. I am open to being informed otherwise – if my concerns can be shown to be baseless.

    I also think the notion that emphasis on the potential for catastrophe from global warming is counterproductive to winning support for actions to avoid it – that if we didn’t mention the ways things can go seriously wrong we would have won and will win more support for strong policies – is mostly BS. It is primarily an element of anti-climate action rhetoric. Which includes as perhaps it’s most potent meme the constant promotion of alarmist economic fear of a transition away from fossil fuels, especially that any actions capable of timely emissions reductions will be catastrophic – more catastrophic than climate change itself. Catastrophe messaging, hitting on people’s fears, that works.

    If telling people how bad it is likely to get isn’t having an impact or causes a hardening of disbelief and opposition that is almost certainly due to persistent anti-climate action rhetoric that is well supported by powerful, influential – trusted – sources encouraging disbelief and opposition than it being an intrinsic outcome of emphasis on the bad.

  78. mrkenfabian says:

    The potential for human mismanagement and conflict making the manageable unmanageable and outcomes worse than they might otherwise be should not be underestimated. 3 decades of prime time climate science denial and obstruction impeding policy commitments seems to be a prime example. Projections of various scenarios – SPS or SSP – tend to show nice smooth progressions over time, like there is an inevitability built in and the potential for stalling of clean energy growth or reversal of global efforts isn’t apparent, unless contained within the SSP5-8.5 scenario. SSP2-4.5 still shows ongoing warming at 2100. 3C will mean above 4C on the ground around here – and thinking that droughts and bushfires with that much more heat around will be catastrophic seems real. Is my concern about it some kind of doomist thinking on my part?

    We got an IPCC because the expert science based advice indicated potential for disastrous outcomes – to say that taking that potential seriously only turns people against strong action, that it hardens resistance to incorporating it into government policy was made less by the taking of it seriously looks like anti-climate action rhetoric to me. I think the most potent argument against taking strong climate policy action has been alarmist fear of economic catastrophe due to strong climate policies. That counter messaging – playing on people’s hopes and fears – looks far more responsible for inciting doubts and hardening resistance than it being any intrinsic outcome of climate issue messaging around risks of catastrophe.

    (Prior posting gone awol – commenting “using your account” resulted in redirect to “not logged on”, with a login and post option, followed by no comment appearing with follow up attempts leading to “duplicate comment detected” and inability to re-post. Not the first time I’ve had this happen. So I cannot re-post the comment I started with.)

  79. Jon Kirwan says:


    Last couple of posts are fresh in mind and nicely written and enjoyed. I like the added slices through these issues that help to keep more of the important balls in the air. I’ve already said way too much and I’ve little interest in circling around, again. Just wanted to offer my sincere thanks.

    I’m sorry you’ve lost what is likely a fine post. It’s happened to me a number of times here. I changed my practice because of it, at least in cases where I’m writing more than a paragraph. Instead, creating a simple text file on my local machine which cannot be lost, get that right, and only then bother with posting. (After this recent loss, I’m sure it’s already front and center on your mind and I’m not adding any new thoughts.)

    I’d dearly appreciate the ability to preview before posting to make sure the silly little markup (or markdown) items are right. It would be a gift if ATTP could work out (find, etc.) some add-on to support a preview before finally posting. Or, perhaps as an alternative, suggest an open ‘test’ site where text can be previewed without posting and without having to set up an account. (I’ve not found one, yet. But that may be my own failure more than that of others.)

  80. Willard says:

    > I’m sorry you’ve lost what is likely a fine post.

    Twas in spam. Released.

    Since there’s lots of comments in that folder, it’s hard to monitor false positives. If that happens too much, please contact Akismet:


    > some add-on to support a preview before finally posting

    Plugins are not allowed on WP dot com unless paid. Won’t happen.

    If there’s a typo you’d like to get fixed, issue a comment to that effect and I’ll do my best to edit it.


  81. Food for thought … CAGW is a joke … a very good joke … but still just a joke … even in any science fiction context!

    As in … I was not born three days before The Day After Tomorrow!

  82. KF asks “thinking that droughts and bushfires with that much more heat around will be catastrophic seems real. Is my concern about it some kind of doomist thinking on my part?”

    I believe your calculation and thinking is doomist. It may be accurate and there may be good reasons to raise the kind of concerns that you list here, but the general reaction will be to label you a doomist or alarmist. You will be told that your analysis and level of concern will cause people to give up on cutting emissions, so it actually makes things worse. If you raise the concern too strongly or too often, you will be categorized as playing the climate ball But CAGW card. For those of us who harbor serious/grave concerns about our situation, it behooves us to be quite cautious in a discussion forum like this one where the overton window simply won’t tolerate that level of concern or the terminology that often accompanies that level of concern.

    I was skimming the Carbon Brief Daily email earlier today and it does seem like the heat and drought around the globe are rather remarkable, but I would not say the situation is catastrophic. It may be, but it makes no sense to raise that discussion in a forum where it is off limits.

    I think it remains likely that the growth of green energy and conversion to an EV person transportation system is likely to proceed at a pace that will be completely surprising. Will that get us to a net zero status? We should hope that it will. Meanwhile, we should plan for inhabiting a planet that is a little less conducive to our individual and collective well-being. If you have the means, as most of the commenters here do, you will be able to avoid being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there is no guarantee of that. If lightning strikes, that is often a “game over” situation and some of the current impacts of AGW do appear to be almost as random as a lightning strike. It is what it is, right? That seems like a good motto for the anthropocene. That sounds a lot better than saying, uh oh, we are doomed.

    In the context of the real climate discussion about needing two things for catastrophe, “being incredibly stupid and incredibly unlucky,” that combination requirement seems a bit rosy to me. My own sense is that from here on out, we need to be as smart as we can be and we need to hope that we are individually and collectively lucky or incredibly lucky. It is what it is.

    Another beautiful summer day in the PNW. We have to take the pickup out on errands today. That vehicle doesn’t have air conditioning, but it won’t matter. I think temp should top at mid 80s. I encourage all of you to enjoy the nice days and share your experience of such. Tigers above, tigers below… wild strawberries! for those of you familiar with that buddhist metaphor.



  83. mrkenfabian says:

    Thanks Willard. I may end up unsubscribed from WordPress if I hit this problem again – and post with just with email and name.

    The 2nd version that was successful is effectively the same comment, paraphrased.

    Jon, I don’t know if the original was better but thanks for the appreciation. Not that I haven’t hit “post comment” more than once and wished I’d proof read first – or just taken the time to reconsider.

  84. check stuff in moderation please. More good news with California moving forward to ban sale of gasoline cars manufactured in 2035 forward. Washington State may follow California. I think we will get more progress on emission reduction from state level than we will get from federal. California is usually the leader of the pack on such things. Is this enough? Probably not, but it’s a smart move and we should be smart from here on out on ghg emissions.
    Beautiful day in the PNW with temps in the mid 70s, rivers are running and the grass is mostly green, but we are getting more fires and with fires we get smoke. Hoping for low smoke fall here.


  85. thanks, no big deal

  86. I agree with you, KF. I think we are facing an avoidable catastrophe and I see few signs that we are doing what we need to do to avoid catastrophe. If you are one of the 20 million homeless in Pakistan because of flooding, you might almost think that catastrophe has already arrived. But for those of us enjoying less turmoil and milder weather, the catastrophe has not yet arrived and we can be (should be?) less dramatic about the situation. ATTP has said that he is alarmed about our situation. Dikran has said he is not alarmed. I am making efforts to join Dikran’s position. It is a thankless job to talk bluntly about catastrophe as you are currently doing. As you note, a person sounding an alarm can even be gaslit by a claim that raising alarm is actually counterproductive. That is nonsense as you note, but it will probably happen anyway. I think some folks enjoy posing as adults and playing a role as the “cooler heads.”

    I encourage you to approach the communication task of alarm and catastrophe in the manner of a bicycle racing team. We have to work hard when we are at the front and setting the pace, but if we don’t drift back, rest and draft and let others set the pace from time to time, we will exhaust ourselves. Pacing is important.

    Still good weather in the PNW. Had the windows open last night and today. Might hit the mid 70s. We could use a good rain because the grass fields are catching afire from ciggie butts flicked out of car windows here. I wish people would stop littering with the ciggie butts, but addictions to substances and the fallout from addictions are simply part of our world. Makes sense to accept that, I guess.


  87. Willard says:

    > No big deal.

    I know. Sometimes comments just disappear. When they are researched and original, it sucks. Otherwise it is easy to rewrite them, like your last one.

    Non nova sed nove.

  88. The calamity stuff really gets overblown. Here’s a video from Ft. Myers and lots of folks are acting like this is a big deal, but I see a wasted opportunity to harness windpower and water power as the hurricane moves across florida. Much of the world just floods and always has.

    I saw some photos from pakistan where there are now wooden footpaths above the floodwaters. Human ingenuity and resourcefulness will pull us through in great shape if we look on the bright side and stop doing the chicken little routine everytime and nation or states goes underwater.

    I saw pictures of methane boiling up out of the Baltic yesterday. Not sure what that is about, but again, it’s an amazing opportunity to capture a valuable gas right at sea level and then resell it somewhere. I assume companies are already at work on monetizing the methane fountains.

    I came across a NOAA website that indicates we are seeing record setting amounts of methane in the atmosphere, so this is like a gold mine just waiting for the prospectors to arrive. Prospectors will need to hurry because methane is just a flow gas, not a stock, so if you are out there trying to collect methane, you may be wasting your time. The future is in capture and resale of a stock gas like CO2. Spend a lot of money on methane capture and then, poof, one day it’s all gone. Like Covid, one day you look around and see it’s gone.

    Here is where we are at on recoverable valuable gases in the atmosphere:

    CH4? methane? well under 2000 ppb, so really a trace gas. Means just about nothing unless you can monetize and turn that trace into a stream. and let’s be honest, the H is going to oxidize and come raining down on us and the carbon that is left over can be used to build things.

    CO2? Creeping up, but not even at 420 ppm yet. Rising so slowly that it will never catch up with oxygen or even weird stuff like argon. Forget about it. Please give up on the talk about catastrophe. Take a few deep breaths of beautiful nitrogen and oxygen. We have the best mix of nitrogen and oxygen in the entire solar system. It’s beautiful. Look around to see all the opportunities that surround us.

    Here’s just one good news story from the PNW:
    can you say “made in the shade?” I knew you could. Down in PDX yesterday and was amazed at how many electric cars and bikes were rolling around. We have nothing to worry but worry itself. Bright Futures INC., baby.

    Got a little bit of rain and feeling fabulous about our situation. Mushroom season is right around the corner. Chantrelles are already popping up. (but if you know where, you generally keep that to yourself)

    I read that UK is going to get going on fracking and I can tell you, fracking was great for the US economy. I envy the brits for the opportunity before them with fracking industry. Fuel might get so plentiful that it won’t make any sense to meter it. I think that’s how it works with nuke energy also.


  89. I don’t know where this fits, but I read today that the UK prime minister got forced out already. She seemed like a sincere and polite person and that was a bit of a relief after the last guy who was a bit of a buffoon. This one didn’t even get a chance to try out her ideas before she got pushed out. That seems unfortunate. The UK used to have some kind of left leaning party that could occasionally win an election and steer the UK toward a kind of Scandinavian social democracy, but I am not sure what happened to that group, they don’t seem to be around anymore. Maybe too closely aligned with the coal miners and other unionist types?

    I am not sure if that is good news, it seems bad to me, but here is some good news:

    “… Are depressed people simply more realistic in judging how much they control their lives, while others view the world through rose-colored lenses, living under the illusion that they have more control than they do?

    That’s the general idea behind “depressive realism,” a theory that has held sway in science and popular culture for more than four decades.

    The problem is, it’s just not true, new research finds.

    “It’s an idea that exerts enough appeal that lots of people seem to believe it, but the evidence just isn’t there to sustain it,” says professor Don Moore, the Lorraine Tyson Mitchell Chair in Leadership and Communication at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and co-author of the study, in press at the journal Collabra:Psychology. “The good news is you don’t have to be depressed to understand how much control you have.”

    Cheer up and grab the steering wheel! We have more control than we recognize!

    I know that methane doesn’t really matter very much because it is a flow gas, not a stock gas like CO2 and thinking about methane can distract us from attending to the huge progress that we are making on reducing CO2 emissions, but this is good news, so thought I should share it anyway:

    “… aquatic ecologist tried another solution in a few of the other lakes: he added Phoslock, a type of clay that’s been infused with the metal lanthanum. ‘Lanthanum binds to phosphates, eliminating it as a nutrient.’ That also reduces the number of algae, giving more space to the rest of the ecosystem – including methane-eating bacteria. Phoslock is not dangerous to the rest of the ecosystem; it doesn’t react to substances or living organisms other than phosphates.

    This method proved even more effective than dredging. The clay particles lowered methane emissions by 74%. Good news, according to Nijman. ‘It’s a win-win. We get healthier lakes, and we reduce methane emissions.’”

    Time to invest in phoslock production!



  90. Pingback: Responses to Considering Catastrophe | …and Then There's Physics

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