Pielke's Weekly Memo #16
The NYT mystery resolved! Plus political contributions of U.S. scientists and more good news on climate
Hello all from Oslo! My time here in Norway is getting short and I have very much enjoyed my stay this fall. I have some big, new public talks coming up in London (24 Nov on science advice) and Oxford (16 Nov on catastrophes of the 21st century), as well as a more informal event in Coventry (19 Nov on climate). If you are in the vicinity, please do come in person and say hello. Note that registration is required for each (at the links above), but all events are free and open to the public.
Lots of good stuff in the queue for coming weeks — see below for a preview of next week. Today, I resolve the curious incident with a New York Times fact-checker that I discussed last week, and after the jump I present some data and discuss campaign contributions of U.S. academics and also share more good news on climate, released just yesterday.
New York Times Mystery Solved!
In last week’s memo I wrote about a curious and concerning interaction with a fact-checker from the New York Times. This week I can report that the mystery has been solved.
The article in question turned out to be quite interesting — it is titled, “Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View” and is written by David Wallace-Wells. In a nutshell it is about how our expectations of climate catastrophe have been radically scaled back, as readers here will know well.
Just a few years ago, climate projections for this century looked quite apocalyptic, with most scientists warning that continuing “business as usual” would bring the world four or even five degrees Celsius of warming — a change disruptive enough to call forth not only predictions of food crises and heat stress, state conflict and economic strife, but, from some corners, warnings of civilizational collapse and even a sort of human endgame. (Perhaps you’ve had nightmares about each of these and seen premonitions of them in your newsfeed.)
Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees.
Compare that conclusion with the title of a recent paper of ours on plausible climate scenarios: “Plausible 2005–2050 emissions scenarios project between 2 °C and 3 °C of warming by 2100.” I am especially pleased that in the piece Wallace-Wells gave a lot of credit for how perspectives have changed to the seminal work of my colleague Justin Ritchie. Ideas do change the world, even if it takes a while.
I encourage you to read the whole NYT article, because of its importance in shaping the popular narrative on climate. The article includes some interesting perspectives from climate scientists who up until recently expressed strong opposition to the idea that extreme climate scenarios may be implausible.
Others are trying to rescue the extreme scenarios by using them to claim credit for the new, more optimistic outlook — The claim is that because of the accurate extreme scenarios, policy makers noticed and placed us on a better path. That is wrong, as these scenarios were never right. But still, it is progress. I did a long and somewhat technical Twitter thread on the article, which you can see here.
As far as the mention of me in the article, it was dramatically reduced from that implied by the fact-checker, with almost all pejorative characterizations removed, which I’d venture is related to my public comments. Wallace-Wells still chose to associate me with Republicans (the only person in his entire piece given a political label) — a delegitimizing dog-whistle for progressive readers for sure.
But still, the bigger and more important issue here is that our and others research and public discussions of scenarios are now very broadly accepted as the mainstream, consensus, scientifically robust position. As it should be! Work to do on extreme events, but we’ll get there on that topic as well.
One final note. Wallace-Wells contacted me and apologized for the interaction with the fact checker. I won’t go into any details, but that was much appreciated. I view Wallace-Wells as a good person who is really trying hard to make sense of these complex and contested issues in a highly political space. That he has been able to revise his views, dramatically so, over recent years and take his many readers on a journey along with him is impressive. So no hard feelings, I accepted his apology.
Coming up next week at The Honest Broker:
Climate Change and U.S. National Security Strategy
Can “citizen juries” help to improve the practice of democracy?
After the jump: Comments on a new dataset on political contributions of U.S. scientists, both surprising and not surprising. Also, in the lead-up to COP-27, the annual UN climate meeting, there have been a number of new reports issued, and despite what you might read some places, the news is good, remarkably good.
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