Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years
which I think this is broadly true. Various factors over the last 5 – 10 years have meant that the worst case scenarios that might have seemed plausible, no longer really are and the trajectory that we are now on is taking us to a world that will not end up as warm as might have been the case.
However, as the article highlights, this doesn’t mean that everything is now over. It is still possible for things to end up worse than where we appear to be heading, either because we’re unlucky, or because some of the gains are reversed. Similarly, it could be better, both because of luck or because society takes active steps to make it so. In addition, none of this means that we shouldn’t still be committing to developing resilience and reducing vulnerabilities.
The article also mentioned the dreaded RCP8.5 debate that took place on Twitter in around 2019. I was involved in this and wrote some posts about it. It was a very unpleasant discussion and I lost a great deal of respect for some people I had previously respected (not Zeke, obviously). One issue that some of us were trying to point out was that it was worth being careful of generating a narrative that might play into the hands of those who’ve never regarded climate change as a serious issue, and I think we’re starting to see that develop.
Some of the responses to the David Wallace-Wells article are already arguing that rather than having avoided the worst case scenarios, that they were never really plausible. Essentially suggesting that climate change was never the serious problem that others have suggested and that those who’ve been pointing this out for years have now been proven right. The obvious problem with this is that anytime there is a serious problem that some are dismissing, they can always claim to have been right if society ends up doing enough to avoid the outcome that some were warning about.
On the other hand, maybe it’s good that some of those who were dismissive are at least engaging with a more optimistic message. Maybe it’s a small step in the right direction and we should cautiously embrace it. However, there is a real risk of this going too far and people claiming that there is no longer any reason to be concerned. Even if we do end up following the trajectory that is currently expected, the impacts could still be severely disruptive and many people could still suffer and, unfortunately, probably will.
Also, it’s extremely frustrating to watch people who’ve mostly been wrong, now claiming that they were right all along and that their views have been vindicated. Maybe it’s a small price to pay for progress, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow. However, it also seems to be an unfortunate illustration of how easy it is to promote a simple message about a complex topic. It would seem much better if people were willing to acknowledge nuance, but it’s clearly not as compelling.