Climate Contrarians Are Sometimes Right . . .

Those who are steeped in the science and folklore of climate science know of the important work of Dr. Judith Curry, President of Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN) and former Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Curry, a highly trained and well-educated climate scientist, has for many years criticized the IPCC and science community for using the modeled worst-case scenarios that have become the baseline narrative of climate change.

For her views, sadly Curry has been called by some a “climate denier” and marginalized by those who have profiteered from climate alarmism. She even opted to leave academics based on what she described to Congress as the “poisonous nature of the scientific discussion around human-caused global warming.” She was bullied out of academics.

A few years ago, when Dr. Curry and I first spoke, we were talking broadly about her views on climate and I was lamenting the sad state of affairs in our public discourse, particularly for serious professionals such as herself in questioning the “conventional” thinking. “Brent,” she said “funny thing is I’m much closer to the so-called consensus science on climate than people might think.” That is, she believes that humans are indeed impacting climate and it’s a problem we need to address.

Curry’s beef with the scientific community has been its heavy reliance on RCP8.5, which offers a worst-case, apocalyptic glimpse into a warming earth if global temperatures rise by 9 degrees. Curry isn’t alone, and others are starting to muster the courage to speak out. This week, Zeke Hausfather Glen Peters, in Nature argue that preoccupation with RCP8.5 is not only scientifically wrong, it’s misleading. According to Hausfather and Peters

RCP8.5 was intended to explore an unlikely high-risk future2. But it has been widely used by some experts, policymakers and the media as something else entirely: as a likely ‘business as usual’ outcome. A sizeable portion of the literature on climate impacts refers to RCP8.5 as business as usual, implying that it is probable in the absence of stringent climate mitigation. The media then often amplifies this message, sometimes without communicating the nuances. This results in further confusion regarding probable emissions outcomes, because many climate researchers are not familiar with the details of these scenarios in the energy-modelling literature.

This is a long overdue acknowledgement, because talking incessantly about the misleading scenarios has resulted in a sense of climate fatalism, as Jonathan Franzen conceded in an Sep. 2019 article in the New Yorker titled, What If We Stopped Pretending; The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it. Franzen’s understandable fatalism was resoundingly rejected by many.

In any event, as I have continued to maintain, credibility in science is as important as truth in advertising. How scientific uncertainty is communicated to the public – what we know and what we don’t know – is crucial to good public policy. If we as society are to fix big problems often complicated by scientific complexity and uncertainty, we must fix the way we discuss them.