Responses to Considering Catastrophe

A while ago I wrote a post about a paper by Luke Kemp, and colleagues, suggesting that we should put more effort into exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios. There’s now been a response by Burgess et al. suggesting that Catastrophic climate risks should be neither understated nor overstated and a response to the response pointing out that

Counting the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) SSP3-7.0 and SSP5-8.5 scenarios used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR6 Working Group II report is not a good proxy for catastrophic climate risk assessment.

I have my own concerns about the arguments in the original Kemp et al. paper, but I don’t think the Burgess et al. response does a particularly good job of engaging with their arguments, even if it is clear that we should neither understate, nor overstate, catastrophic climate risks.

As I understand it, the original Kemp et al. paper was making a subtler argument than simply suggesting that we should focus more on high-emission/warming scenarios. They were referring to considering how societies might respond to the potential impacts, and not simply those associated with the high-emission/warming pathways.

For example, what would happen if some regions had temperatures and humidities that made working outside difficult? What would happen if some regions experienced some major climate-change-driven agricultural failure? What would happen if we crossed some tipping point that led to rapid changes, such as substantial sea level rise on a timescale of decades? What about compound events, the increasing possibility of multiple extreme events happening at the same time? How would climate change impact society’s ability to recover from a major societal event, such as a war?

I should also stress that the idea isn’t to simply understand the possibility of the above occuring, but to try to understand how these outcomes would actually impact society. Even though I agree with the Burgess et al. response that we should be cautious of overemphasizing apocalyptic futures, I don’t think they really engaged with the deeper arguments being made in the Kemp et al. paper and mostly just suggested that there is already a lot of focus on the high-emission/warming pathways and that catastrophic outcomes are not all that likely along the other pathways.

For what it’s worth, my own concern with the suggestions in the Kemp et al. paper is that it’s extremely challenging to do what they suggest, and it’s hard to know how to do it in way that would be methodologically robust. Also, societal systems are not deterministic, so it would be very difficult to use this type of work to make any kind of prediction. Additionally, it seems unlikely that this type of analysis would substantially change what we should do; limit how much more is emitted and invest in improving resilience and reducing vulnerabilities.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t think this work should be done, just that I’m not quite sure how one would do it, which – admittedly – is probably not a good argument for not doing it.


Something I should probably have realised, but didn’t, is that there is quite a strict word-limit for PNAS responses. According to Matthew Burgess, it’s only 500 words. So, it was going to be tricky to address the nuances in the Kemp et al. argument in such a short response.

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62 Responses to Responses to Considering Catastrophe

  1. A couple of other things I thought I would highlight in the Burgess et al. response. One is the comment that:

    For example, the cataclysmic Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) and Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 5-8.5 (SSP5-8.5) scenarios—now widely considered implausible (2)—account for roughly half of the scenario mentions in recent IPCC Assessment Reports’ impacts (Working Group II) sections (Fig. 1A), similar to underlying scientific literature (3).

    As the Kemp et al. response points out, counting mentions is not a great way to assess this. Also, the suggestion that these are now widely considered implausible is – mostly – based on their own work. Maybe it is widely considered but I don’t think it’s some consensus position amongst experts.

    Burgess et al. also refer to SSP2-RCP4.5 as a plausible high-end emission scenario. I realise that SSP2-RCP4.5 and the older RCP4.5 are not identical scenarios, but they must be at least similar. RCP4.5 had cumulative emissions of about 4500 GtCO2, about 2000GtCO2 more than we’ve emitted to date, or about 50 more years at current emissions. Given that we haven’t definitively peaked emissions yet, it seems a bit optimistic to call this a high-end emission pathway.

    Finally, they also say

    Under the most economically pessimistic [and, possibly, realistic (6)] SSP3, GDP per capita still more than doubles by 2100 in most countries (2, 6).

    One of the references (2) is to the IPCC reports. My understanding is that the analyses presented in the IPCC reports mostly assume that economic growth will continue. I realise that there may be other analyses that indicate that continued growth is likely, but there does still often seem to be an assumption, rather than something that emerges from an analysis.

  2. Having thought about this all a little more, I think my general view about focussing on potentially catastrophic outcomes is similar to my views on the uses of IAMs. I don’t think it’s really possible to make reliable predictions about socio-economic systems many decades into the future. However, it can be useful to use models of socio-economic systems to see how they might respond to various possible interventions.

    For example, how might a carbon tax, or some other kind of incentive, influence emission trajectories. Or, what could we do to reduce the vulnerability to something like a compound event. In neither case are you strictly predicting the outcome, but more trying to provide information about various possible interventions that might reduce the overall impact. I may not have expressed this all that clearly, so hopefully this makes some kind of sense.

  3. dikranmarsupial says:

    I wonder if part of the problem is that science is still very concerned with falsificationism, so you are bound to see lots of papers that aim to determine whether something is plausible or not (i.e. whether it might falsify some theory). In climate science, that is bound to involve the more extreme scenarios, so you ought to expect more papers to use e.g. RCP 8.5, without any implication that the scenario is considered likely (or even plausible).

    The whole point of scenarios (from a socio-economic-political perspective) is to sample from the space of outcomes that are reasonably plausible (including both extremes) so that we can reason about the effects of different courses of action. I like the title of the new paper ” Catastrophic climate risks should be neither understated nor overstated” – well, quite – but that is in the political discussion of climate – I don’t think it necessarily applies to the scientific discussion as not all science is trying to find a balanced view, some of it is searching for boundaries.

  4. Tom Fuller says:

    The EPA did some interesting work on SLR back in the 90s. I think Titus was their author on studies estimating the cost of fighting a 1 meter rise. Mosher and I pasted links to the paper here and elsewhere.

    I think the problem with the studies you’re asking for is they end up centering around adaptation, a concept that gets criticized widely when considered on its own. The climate concerned do pay lip service to it, if it is mentioned in the same breath (and as subservient to) mitigation.

  5. Dikran,
    My understanding of scenarios is that they’re meant to be plausible, in the sense of they could happen, or could have happened, but that they’re not meant to have actually probabilities assigned to them. This is partly because the likelihood of something close to an actual scenario emerging will probably be constantly changing, but also because they’re meant to inform, rather than influence. If a scenario is explicitly described as likely, or unlikely, then it could then influence the actual likelihood of that scenario emerging, or not emerging.

    I do think that a lot of this is influenced by personal judgement. If you’re someone who thinks that we’re making progress, that emissions will probably peak soon, that new technologies will quickly displace fossil fuel infrastructure, and that continued economic growth will make us able to deal with any of the impacts that might emerge, then you’d probably be in favour of promoting optimistic scenarios and would want to avoid highlighting apocalyptic outcomes, which you may regard as very unlikely.

    On the other hand, if you’re someone who looks around and sees all sorts of problems in the world, is concerned that we might end up reversing some of the gains that have been made, worry that climate change is taking us into an environment that humans have never experienced – even along moderate emission pathways – and recognise that climate change is probably irreversible, you might be in favour of highlighting how bad things could get if we don’t take action soon to ensure that emissions are limited and that we invest in developing resilience and reducing vulnerabilities.

    I don’t really think that scholarly analysis can really decide which of these views is “right” and which is “wrong”.

  6. Tom,

    I think the problem with the studies you’re asking for

    What studies is who asking for?

    they end up centering around adaptation, a concept that gets criticized widely when considered on its own.

    Certainly some truth to this. On the other hand, if some work highlighted the probability of reaching some tipping point, that might motivate more action to reduce emissions.

  7. dikranmarsupial says:

    ATTP absolutely. Whether these scenarios are plausible is not a matter of science but economics and politics. While RCP 8.5 is currently looking unlikely, we could choose to make it likely, it is within our power do do so. I would say that we wouldn’t be that stupid, but I think recent history suggests that isn’t a given. The whole point is exactly to decide which scenario gives us the best chance of the outcome we want and take action to *make* it likely!

  8. Willard says:

    Regarding likeliness, I would wait for the 2022 numbers on coal to make sure:

    Based on current economic and market trends, global coal consumption is forecast to rise by 0.7% in 2022 to 8 billion tonnes, assuming the Chinese economy recovers as expected in the second half of the year, the IEA’s July 2022 Coal Market Update says. This global total would match the annual record set in 2013, and coal demand is likely to increase further next year to a new all-time high.

    And China is under a health lockdown and possibly suffers an economic recession. I do not think that a Goldilocks narrative applies to coal. Or if it does, it should be really skewed toward the need to burn as little as we can afford.

    Scientists soon ought to have the computational power to show that a 4C world will not be a walk in the park. So the Goldilocks trench should shift toward lesser extreme scenarios.

  9. Climate is a very long term process and there’s no way you’re going to have any noticeable effect on it by cutting CO2 in our lifetimes. But if it is going to cause extreme weather effects and such, humanity is going to need lots of reliable energy to deal with it. Fracking and nuclear plants should get the highest priority! Alex Epstein has it right with his new book:

    [Source: ]

  10. I don’t think we should worry about catastrophes at all. And apocalypse? Nobody should use that word. I like just sticking to the facts and staying away from these value arguments. I have heard repeatedly that suggesting the C or A words can cause people to give up and lose hope, and that once that happens, then our situation will not continue to get better every day like it is now. Here is some good news: Coal demand is rising, but that’s good for stock prices and we are talking about clean coal, not the old dirty coal that used to get burned.

    So, we can invest safely in coal stocks and support clean coal. I think that is a lot smarter move than tossing money at nuclear stocks. At least with coal, we can go with clean coal. Nobody is offering us clean nuclear. Forget about it.

    I did read a story about the number of snow crabs in the Bering Sea. Apparently the numbers are down a bit and that means that crab boats will likely not be out for a few years looking for crabs because the crabs are not there in numbers that can support harvest. People are treating this like it’s all gloom and doom, but that doesn’t help. Look at the bright side, the boats can stay in harbor now for a few years and that’s going to slash the CO2 emissions from the crab boat industry. Here is that story:

    Lots of folks are thinking that maybe the warming waters of the Bering Sea caused the crab die-off and that could be right. But, on the bright side, that water has always been way too cold. Nobody wanted to play in surf on the Bering, so maybe that will be changing. This crab die off is a great opportunity for the crab boat folks to convert their boats into shoreside b and b’s and make a few bucks while we wait for the crabs to come charging back. A warmer Bering Sea might turn out to be a great thing as long as there aren’t a lot of clathrates locked up in the sea bed. I think there are some, but probably not a lot. And melting clathrate deposits really don’t emit very much CO2 at all, so I don’t see anything there to worry about.

    There are certainly some risks with climate change, but it’s very hard to know exactly how much risk we are really facing. We are not going to disappear like snow crabs. We all know that for sure. Our future is bright and warm! Get out the shades and sunblock, baby! Sunny side of the street!

    Sometimes I look at how we are doing with managing the important ghg CO2. Check these numbers from CO2 rose well under 3 ppm over the past year. Relax. We are killing it! Too bad about the crabs, though.

    September CO2

    Sep. 2022 = 415.95 ppm
    Sep. 2021 = 413.30 ppm



  11. Mike Dom.,
    I’m not surprised you think Alex get’s it right.

    Climate is a very long term process and there’s no way you’re going to have any noticeable effect on it by cutting CO2 in our lifetimes.

    This illustrates an unfortunate lack of understanding of the basics. Of course, we can only live one reality, so we can’t actually compare the one we live through with an alternative in which we emitted more, or emitted less. However, the overall level of global warming is expected to roughly depend on how much is emitted and is expected (absent some kind of negative emission technology) to be irreversible. So, how much the climate will change will depend on how the overall level of global warming, which depends on how much is emitted.

    Also, the peak warming due to a pulse of emission occurs after about 10 years. Hence, how much is emitted in the near future will – on average – determine how much we warm in the near future. If we keep increasing emissions, there will be more warming than if emissions peak soon and start to come down.

    So, not only does global warming, and the resulting climate change, depend primarily on how much is emitted, changes to emissions now will have an impact on a timescale of roughly a decade. You can, of course, choose to disagree with this, but then you’d be choosing to disagree with our current best understanding.

  12. Perhaps a bit on the side: A major problem with the scenarios is that none of them includes a possible economic contraction. I believe this is very likely to happen as a combined effect of increasing energy production costs and climate policies (which de facto also means increasing energy costs). And even if you don’t share my view it would still be pertinent to make no-growth or de-growth scenarios as such scenario would make it clear that the 1.5 degree target is almosty only realistically achievable with no economic growth. See e.g and

  13. Gunnar,
    Indeed, as far as I’m aware, all of the SSPs assume continued economic growth. Even if we don’t want it, there would seem to be merit in considering a scenario in which economic growth does not continue.

  14. at Gunnar: I googled that idea and found this on degrowth modelling: “The goal is to make well-being independent from economic growth.

    To explore that possibility, the researchers built 18 climate models, with varying combinations of degrowth, renewable energy deployment and social change. They included only simple, existing carbon removal techniques, such as planting forests, in the models.

    They then compared those models against the standard scenarios to avert dangerous warming used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and found that moderate degrowth in the economies of developed countries was a more feasible and sustainable option for reaching the Paris target than plans that called for massive carbon dioxide removal in the future.”

    Well being is great, but everybody wants that and a bigger television and faster computer… Degrowth or zero growth is a hard sell. I think they will continue to be pretty fringy ideas. I like the idea of studying those ideas better than I do studying to find a consensus on what constitutes a catastrophe or apocalypse, but that’s just me.


  15. Willard says:


    Please make sure you add a “source” in front of what you peddle. Also, remove referrals. I did both for you.

    Drive-by done.

  16. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Climate is a very long term process and there’s no way you’re going to have any noticeable effect on it by cutting CO2 in our lifetimes. ”

    We already have had a noticeable effect on it by emitting CO2 in our lifetimes. That experiment has already been done. Perhaps we ought to try the experiment where we cut CO2 as well.

  17. Dikran,
    Good point. The reason we’ve been warming at ~0.2C/decade is because we’ve been emitting ~100GtC/decade. If we stopped doing the latter, the former would quite quickly tend towards ~0.0C/decade (averaged over internal variability).

  18. Linley says:

    I am not talking or thinking at the same esoteric level as most of you, but I do want to make a point about adaptation.

    I am in Australia. Nearly 3 years ago we had some particularly bad bushfires. We always have bushfires but these were awful. Over the last 18 months (and currently) we have had particularly bad flooding. We always have flooding but it seems to have been extra bad. Just how much these things are influenced by climate change, how much by stupid decisions (eg building in forests and on flood plains) and how much is just plain bad luck I don’t know.

    The point I want to make is it seems to be impossible to have a discussion about adaptation for these things. Yes, we should reduce emissions, but if there is any attempt to discuss adaptation people jump up and down and scream net zero, net zero. We are stuck with the climate we have and the risks we have for the foreseeable future. In fact the risks are likely to increase. Managing the risks has to be an important agenda item, but doesn’t seem to be.

  19. russellseitz says:

    The PNAS 500 word limit is clearly enough for an Op-Ed, as Pielke &Co.’s only takes 59 words to climate communication and catastrophe on the same page as

    “despotism and rashness… forced sterilization and abortion…including China’s…Past and present Fascist and Neofascist movements” using ” fears of environmental catastrophe to promote eugenics and oppose immigration and aid.The Sri Lankan… agricultural and economic crisis” and ” the youth mental health crisis.” in which”45% reported thoughts of climate change negatively affecting their daily lives and functioning, and 40% reported being hesitant to have children .”

  20. Ken Fabian says:

    Mike – “Climate is a very long term process and there’s no way you’re going to have any noticeable effect on it by cutting CO2 in our lifetimes. ”

    Well, minimising the noticeable effects in our lifetimes is the point of cutting emission even if to the point of not noticeable looks beyond our capabilities; it is failing to cut CO2 that is going to have the most noticeable effects in the lifetimes of people now living – out to about 100yrs with luck and good management for some.

    Having established that you don’t see much point to emissions reductions, will you insist they must be done with nuclear? So far everyone else who doesn’t want to do them has. The most expensive, longest build times, most regulation, most government intervention, most subsidy, most unpopular, but best of all not doing it can be blamed on… climate activists. Not “should” be blamed on them; as I see it it was only ever up to green climate activists by default, because mainstream politics handed the issue to them in “you care so much, you fix it” style. Followed by “not like that”.

  21. Linley,
    There’s a lot of history to these kind of discussions. It’s now pretty clear that the climate will continue to change until emissions get to (net) zero. Hence, net-zero is clearly an important goal. However, we will also have to deal/adapt to the changes that occur and, in many cases, should be trying to reduce vulnerability to what happens today.

    However, there are some who argue that we should adapt instead of mitigate (reduce emissions) and this is often why people respond poorly to suggestions that we should adapt. If we focus on adaptation, rather than mitigation, then we’ll essentially be adapting to a continually changing climate and to one that will be moving further and further from what we, and other ecosystems, are used to.

    So, in my view, we do need to do both. It’s important to invest in reducing vulnerabilities and increasing resilience while also peaking emissions and getting them to come down to (net) zero.

  22. Ben McMillan says:

    A bigger problem with moving adaption forward is the people with a massive investment in things staying the same, whose money is tied up in property in flood and fire-prone areas. Sometimes that leads to straight refusal to accept that there is a problem (Florida seems to come up regularly in this).
    A lot of adaption is essentially a question of choosing what to sacrifice; do you cut down huge areas of forest to try to reduce fire risk, e.g. clear all the trees out of Canberra, or move whole towns out of river valleys (e.g. places in northern NSW that already flood regularly), or live in denser urban environments that are easier to defend than McMansions spread out across the land?
    More discussion on adaption can only help to better inform what mix of adaption, suffering, and mitigation we should proceed with. Hopefully the discussion on adaption involves transferring funds to the people who will suffer most, and not just fireproof shelters to insulate the rich from the consequences of their actions.

  23. Chubbs says:

    Better title for the opinion piece: The risk of overstating climate risk cannot be overstated

  24. dikranmarsupial says:

    ” We are stuck with the climate we have and the risks we have for the foreseeable future. In fact the risks are likely to increase. ”

    Indeed, how do we stop the risks from increasing? Mitigation.

    We do need both, partly because we are not rational enough to perform sensible mitigation steps so we will be left with adaption as the only option.

  25. Willard says:

    > there is quite a strict word-limit for PNAS responses. According to Matthew Burgess, it’s only 500 words.

    One day scientific institutions may discover blogging.

  26. Willard says:

    Perhaps the PNAS should consider limiting the number of self-citations and self-serving plugs:

    1. Target, 2. IPCC, 3. Self, 4. Self, 6. Self, 7. But Alarmism, 8. Friend, 9. Friend, 10. But Alarmism. No, Self is not Will Self.

    Only 5 is more than convention or politics.

  27. That reminds me that the claim about Sri Lanka had a fairly convincing rebuttal. The argument was that it wasn’t simply a desire to promote organic farming that lead to the fertiliser ban. It was strongly influenced by fiscal issues. As I understood it, they basically couldn’t afford it. I’m not sure if this is right or not, but the “it was all to do with a drive for organic farming” argument seems rather simplistic.

    I’m sure that good intentions can often have bad outcomes, but I do find the arguments that environmentalism is responsible for all sorts of terrible things to be pretty weak.

  28. Willard says:

    If hippies had any power, they would not have to rely on reactionary voices for promoting their stunts. Since it introduces Ryan Maue to the power of art, it will have been worth it. One day he might even discover that Vincent had a painting under another painting:

    Meanwhile, let troglodytes shriek about small, mashed potatoes.

  29. Per Sri Lanka: There are numerous reasons to rethink what we do with human waste. This article goes over a few of them. The cost of fertilizer is mentioned.

  30. russellseitz says:

    Willard , for a brief moment you had me hoping for a hidden portrait of Mister Potato Head

  31. Ken Fabian says:

    Linley, I think prevention simply gives better outcomes than adapting and deserves the greater effort. Ounce of prevention versus… not cure, just continuously coping, that has to persist for generations. More prevention means less adaptation.

    I also see the prevention part as requiring the greater awareness, forethought and planning whilst adaptation can be more reactionary, responding to problems as they present. Better with forethought and planning too of course – but there is a lot of that going on to make infrastructure more resilient. It doesn’t get as much fanfare from people concerned about the climate problem – and that is as it should be – but it isn’t neglected… more neglected than the overall neglect that has been the desired outcome of those engaged in Doubt, Deny, Delay as climate policy.

  32. Richard Arrett says:

    Just read a great new paper, which I highly recommend:

    Click to access SSRN-id4000800.pdf

  33. Off topic, but I noticed an article in the Guardian about EU auto emissions. Apparently some folks think EU6 standards need to be upped to EU7 standards. EU6 seems to have been a pretty job of reducing emissions. This was at the end of the article: “Since the Euro 6 was applied in 2013, NOx road emissions have fallen by 22% for cars and 36% for lorries and buses, the draft regulation says. Particulate matter emissions have also fallen by 28% for cars and vans, and 14% for lorries and buses.”

    There is always so much pressure for lower levels of emissions, maybe we need to take a moment and appreciate how much is being accomplished with measures like EU6.

    I spotted more good news in this story: “In the EU, total fossil CO2 emissions increased by 6.5% in 2021. However, this increase is just about half of the reduction that took place between 2019 and 2020 (-10.8%). Consequently, the EU27 emissions fell by 5% between 2021 and 2019, continuing a downward trend.

    Looking further back, the EU has achieved the largest relative decrease in greenhouse gas emissions among the top emitters. EU27 fossil CO2 emissions in 2021 were 27.3% lower than in 1990 and its share of global emissions also decreased from 16.8% in 1990 to 7.3% in 2021.”

    Why is anyone talking about catastrophe when we are making this kind of progress? It makes no sense. We are killing it!

    And, it must be mentioned that warming is expected to essentially stop once we hit net zero. I think we should just keep up the good work on getting our CO2 emissions down to net zero and then take a victory lap with the checkered flag. This is a great planet. I would almost say, a perfect planet. Time to relax and enjoy it. Net zero! Here we come!



  34. Richard Arrett,

    That’s an interesting paper. The full cost of electricity is something that should be pursued and it mentions that the higher the proportion of wind and solar, the more expensive electricity gets. I don’t think there is any way to measure the FCOE of high levels of wind and solar, because there are no empirical examples.

  35. Willard says:

    Nice to see WilliamH publishing again:

    You missed your chance earlier, Rick. No more peddling.

  36. Richard Arrett says:


    Just because you do not agree with William H doesn’t mean his facts are wrong. Guilt by association doesn’t change facts either. Why not just say what you disagree with in his paper?

  37. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Full cost of electricity”

    let me guess, he is arguing that the consumer ought to be paying the full environmental costs of the electricity they consume, rather than fossil fuels being effectively subsidised by these externalities being covered indirectly by government (in) action?

    BTW life is short, and there is a vast profusion of papers of highly variable quality out there. if you think someone ought to read a paper, it is best to give a summary and explain why you think it is worth reading and how you think others will benefit from doing likewise.

  38. dikranmarsupial says:

    Beall’s list of potentially predatory open access journals is a good filtering step for papers that are recommended without further justification for the recommendation.

  39. Willard says:

    That you use the X-does-not-mean-Y trick does not mean you’re wrong either, Rick. Which is a Good Thing, for you simply handwaved to a paper and said “interesting,” and usually metrics are not exactly things that are true.

    You left the discussion on the other thread when I suggested that your plan of tripling nuclear production implied something like a threefold increase on your compatriots’ electricity bills and a floor price on energy for the duration of the nukes park life. One drive-by per thread is enough.

    Thank you for your understanding, and in return to your “but nukes” peddling:

    Given the increasing interest in sustainable food consumption and production, this study aims to understand how consumers perceive the value proposition of vegan food. Over 120,000 tweets relating to veganism were extracted from Twitter, which were then analysed using the text analytics tool Leximancer to ascertain the predominant themes of conversation taking place around vegan food. Our results show that, in light of the three main drivers for vegan food choice—ethical, personal health, and environmental—surprisingly, we see a limited number of environmental or sustainability motivated tweets. This is a significant finding, as, while vegan food consumption is reported to be sustainable, this is not a preferred topic of conversation for consumers. Value propositions communicated with respect to personal health attributes (e.g., dairy free, gluten free, and nutrition), and consumption benefits (e.g., tasty, delicious) are more likely to resonate with consumers and motivate increased consumption while concurrently delivering environmental benefits as a positive side-effect. Furthermore, the polarity of the attitudes and conversations taking place between vegans and non-vegans on Twitter underscores that a single value proposition is unlikely to reach both groups simultaneously and that different value propositions are likely to be required to reach these respective groups.

    Looks like we both have to work on our value propositions!

  40. russellseitz says:

    Willard, where in the moral calculus of climate mitigation would you place the 2017 film Raw, a film by Julia Ducournau that tells the story of a vegetarian veterinary student whose taste for meat escalates alarmingly after consuming raw offal, and Agustina Bazterrica’s 2020 book “Tender Is the Flesh” that imagines a future society that farms humans like cattle?

  41. Willard says:


    On a spectrum, ranging from the freeest to the fightiest, between: 300, in which Fox News hosts face hordes of hippie zombies; Braveheart, featuring a Lewis Lapham who trades sardonic essays for a military revolution to save small c conservatism; No Country for Old Men, in which a top biologist has to fight a virus that kills political candidates who deny vaccine efficacy; finally Team America, Starship Troopers, and Soylent Green, for reasons you must already know.

  42. Ben McMillan says:

    Here’s some adaption going on: NSW offering to buy back homes, or raise them higher up and make them more resilient to flooding.

    The other thing the flooding in Australia has did is take down a lot of coal power and thus create a huge electricity price hike, reinforced by war-induced global fossil energy inflation. That’s put a rocket under the plans to replace coal with clean energy.

  43. Ben McMillan says:

    Also, this year’s IEA World energy outlook is out:

    Even in their conservative STEPS scenario, renewable energy output exceeds pretty much all of the SSP projections in 2030. Nuclear output is more middle-of-the-pack.

    (of course, electricity is only part of the story, but even e.g. transport looks much more of a solvable problem than it did 10 years ago)

  44. russellseitz says:

    W. It is indeed sardonic that Lapham’s Quarterly, which Lewis so ably edits, was set up by the former publisher of The Nation, the institutional home of Covering Climate Now.

  45. I spotted this bit of good news:

    “Global carbon emissions from energy will peak in 2025 thanks to massively increased government spending on clean fuels in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to analysis by the world’s leading energy organisation.”

    So the Ukrainian conflict appears to have a silver lining in terms of a transition to clean fuels. That silver lining appears to be powered by higher fuel prices. I think it might have been better if we imposed a carbon tax to increase fuel prices, but it turns out that it is a lot easier to persuade US citizens that confronting and vanquishing Putin is much easier than imposing or raising taxes. That’s just the way that works here.

    I found this good news story by following a link from a kinda doomy/gloomy Guardian story about the UN going full alarmist over our current emissions path.

    Irreversible climate breakdown? Come on. There’s no way that’s going to happen. The UN group is even worried that 2.5 degrees of warming are going to cause us big problems. I have read that many plants will enjoy that level of warming and their growth will suck CO2 out of the atmosphere like there is no tomorrow.

    No worries! We knocked CO2 in the atmosphere down to 415.95 ppm for September. Last year it was 413.30, so we are kicking CO2’s butt. Not even 3 ppm increase in the past year and that’s before all the plants get started and start gobbling away at that CO2 in the air. Talk about low hanging fruit? If you are looking for low hanging fruit to grab, just look at CO2 in the atmosphere. Take as much as you want.

    This kind of stuff used to worry me. Not any more. All we need to do is monetize atmospheric CO2 and then sit back and reap the benefits. Future is bright!



  46. Ben,
    Thanks, that is an interesting projection.

  47. Joshua says:

    Savaged on Twitter.

    Likewise here?:

    Where My Climate Doubts Began to Melt

  48. Joshua says:

    While I’m at it:

  49. Mal Adapted says:

    Joshua, I had an urge to post that David Wallace-Wells article too. It made a strong impression on me, and apparently on a lot of commenters also. It’s paywalled, of course; that’s not a problem for me, but it’s too bad for non-subscribers.

  50. Mal Adapted says:

    Joshua, the title of the browser window I’m reading that Bret Stephens piece in is “Yes, Climate Change is Real: Markets, not Governments, Offer the Cure.” Stephens details his journey to acceptance of the scientific consensus, but can’t let go of his fear of “statism”. Nor can he resist taking a shot at climate realists for being mean to “skeptics”. He sounds a lot like Tom, actually!

  51. I think everybody is sick of the alarmists. They have really slowed our progress on reaching net zero. And I have seen them be mean to skeptics. so that part is definitely true. I think most of global warming damage is actually Al Gore’s fault.

  52. Joshua says:

    Mal –

    At least Stephens proactively acknowledged he was likewise guilty of being mean. That’s a cut above our friend here.

  53. Joshua says:

    Mike –

    Actually, I’m sick of hippie punching.

  54. Ben McMillan says:

    The bit on adaption in the David Wallace-Wells article is good:
    “But perhaps the more profound questions are about distribution: Who gets those seeds? Who manages to build those dikes? Who is exposed when they fail or go unbuilt? And what is the fate of those most frontally assaulted by warming? “

  55. Pingback: Beyond Catastrophe | …and Then There's Physics

  56. Ken Fabian says:

    smallbluemike, I have been thinking you are being sarcastic aka taking the piss. I don’t want to be reading you wrong though.

  57. small,
    Yes, I must admit that I’m somewhat confused, in that you seem to have shifted your views. Nothing necessarily wrong with this, of course.

  58. Nothing in my view has really changed. I have just accepted that expressing alarm and sharing bad news on our situation creates too much pushback. I have decided to be relentlessly and perhaps foolishly optimistic about our collective situation. I can only speak for myself, but the pushback I encountered from posting questions like Chris Smaje just posed, seemed to be counter-productive. I found that I needed to flip my script and be relentlessly optimistic about our situation to see if that would create a space for others to move past me on the “alarm” spectrum. It’s like being on a bicycle team, people need to take their turn at the front, I have drifted to the back of the pack to catch my breath and enjoy the scenery. Other folks need to take the lead for a while.


  59. Ken Fabian says:

    Smallbluemike – Apologies for reading you wrong but no apologies for disagreeing with the premise that climate science denial and opposition to emissions accountability is a consequence of legitimate pushback against alarmist exaggeration. Or apologies for thinking if you really mean it you aren’t coming across as very convincing; it works more convincingly as sarcasm imo.

    I see blaming “alarmists” as just one more way for deniers and delayers to justify their (otherwise hard to justify) pushback and re-frame it as climate activism that is the problem, with exaggeration presumed rather than demonstraed. But the harms from global warming are at the core of why it is a problem and if there is any lesson to be learned from Doubt, Deny, Delay politicking it is that being afraid of bad outcomes is a powerful motivator – the example being the alarmist economic fears of going without fossil fuels, which has underpinned much of the opposition and obstruction and willingness to tell lies and mislead.

    I am especially disappointed by people with authoritative influence pushing that excuse for not basing their position on the available expert advice from the start, eg like Richard Muller (BEST). Having disparaged the datasets showing warming as alarmist exaggeration-become-group-think and subsequently having his own efforts show it was not he still appears to maintain it is alarmist exaggeration at fault. I haven’t read all he has to say – likely it is more nuanced, but what I’ve read reads as Lukewarmer and seeing the issue as faddish rather than factish. With a bit of that hubris some physicists appear to have. Lukewarmer is in my view, just a variant of Denier.

  60. Greg Robie says:

    A [delayed] drive by. 😉

    The trusted models have not gotten, nor do not get the collapse of the cryosphere right, particularly at the poles, even more particularly in the Arctic. The Special Report on 1.5°C assertion of no commitmented warming at a theoretical stasis in carbon emissions left out the current role of the latient heat on our pre-industrial era cryosphere. The Inuit observations of seasonally increasing Arctic refraction is the ‘Inconvenient Truth’ dismissed both in academia and here (& why this is an ‘allowed’ driveby. <— Mike, I don’t know how – nor why – you have survived here as long as you have./?

    The last time I roughly measured the divergence between the models and observations of sea ice loss, such was about a 7° divergence between approximated linear trend lines. Doesn’t this indicates that the cause for the divergence is still [willfully] hidden in plain sight … except such is not true of our expert Arctic observers, the Inuit hunter!/?

    In matters that relate to the privileged of a trusted status quo – who tend to be dismissive of the uneducated – academia effects an apartide-like mindset; observer bias; motivated reasoning that is blind to what these elders observe regarding the seasonal refraction of additional sunlight. What this denial of a non-academic wisdom has enabled the continued building of is a Yurtle-the-Turtle [ivory] tower regarding pedagogy and intelligence and math.

    If one accepts that academia, particularly the physical sciences, are sociologically biased toward the predelictions of those of us with brains that may be observed to be on the Spectrum, can’t we also rationalize – as being puzzled – that our condition is due to a lack of data and computing power? <— a blame-the-math-not-the-biased-data thing./?

    If so, add in academia’s ‘special’ moral bias of ‘right’ talk being superior to a ‘right’ walk (& this while physics plays with the latter, not the former!). For me this adds up to that effete corp of impudent snobs who are, well, Agnew’s real life academic elite. (I was a freshman engineering student at the time of that criticism of academia. I had to look up effete, corps, & impudent!)

    Regardless, I am ‘biased’ to frame the resulting mathematical view of our social condition as a matter of factorials. Utilizing Gardner’s seven* intelligences, such yields a very large number for evaluating ‘correctness’ regarding evaluating plausible outcomes that are socially catastrophic. Is it a large enough number that more talk is rationalized while the walk of BAU marches on … & with academia in functional lockstep?

    Remember “lazy”: math is a universal language whose variables are derived from a different non-universal lexicon of cultural assumptions.

    For any who advocated for nine intelligences (i.e., the additional natural and spiritual ones), these two are more outside-the-box-paradigm-like than not. In this sense of being significantly culturally different, they ‘compete’ with the academic paradigm for social pertinence. <— & thereby can appear to be differentiable intelligences … because practitioners tend to not be employed as academics … & less in lockstep.

    Current trends strongly suggest that academia’s ‘moral’ elitism is effecting whatever one might be biased to label our society’s current social trends that perpetuate BAU [but now an increasingly a greenwashed version of it]: a psychological desire for simplicity in the face of increasingly perceived changes in static/unchanging complexity (i.e., laws of physics).

    … or, most everybody strives to be lazy.

    Call it a Catch 22 or an oxymoron, but either way, “lazy” [within academia] is a limited conception of intelligence as a capacity to articulate “solutions” to problems that have social relevance – while retaining academia’s economic pertinence (a #SmartLivesMatter bias!/?). <— & a narcissistic-like predeliction of ivory tower dwellers; an academia-centric motivated reasoning?

    I feel it is relevant to recall that Martin Weitzman worked to mathematically capture what would be economically significant regarding our abrupt climate change (if such could be quantified): the complexity of the climate system’s tipping points and anthropogenic perturbations of it.

    That effort was killed off. “Lazy” was rewarded. Nordhaus offered a ‘feel-good’ simple. A privileged academia followed the simpleton … & still follows. And so, history repeats.

    Small ‘n Blue – & as a mike-check repeat – an Age of Reason gives way to our globalized trusted economic mysticism of CapitalismFAIL This is a Dark Age rebooted. Because there is physics, the reboot is within a climatically altered epoch: our Anthropocene. Perhaps your brain, Mike, is not significantly reptilian enough to fit in with the frogs of our small pond (small blue planet) allowing themselves to be ruled by a heron./?

    #OurStory Repeats

    When what will happen/ And this regarding a why/ Omits who and where

    Since the haiku form of poetry fails to get posted in its three line format, I use the “/“ to indicate line breaks …formerly, carriage returns/previously – and still – a separate line! 😉

    PS: the global growth in solar is driven by extra-legal securitization of solar rights. <— such is obvious if one sets up a speardsheet to attempt a profitable PV business plan.

    PPS: clean hydrogen in the IRA is a transformation of the fossil carbon’s oil industry into the next commodity market to be securitized [differently]: hydrogen. (What I read in the related laws is that petroleum distillates are slated to become (in the US) exempt byproducts of ‘clean’ hydrogen).



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