Catastrophe is What They Sell

Over at Stoat, William Connolley has just discovered that some alarmists have labeled either global warming or climate change as ‘catastrophic.’ This upsets him, as he is one of many who maintained that ‘catastrophic’ is something that skeptics say that alarmists write, but that in fact it is only skeptics putting words in the mouths of sober scientists and politicians who would never exaggerate.

Connolley is referring to this open letter, which indeed does talk about preventing ‘catastrophic climate change.’ And it indeed is fairly silly, as Connolley rightly points out.

So, are skeptics falsely accusing alarmists of shouting fire in a crowded theater?

This open letter is not unusual, as Connolley surely knows. Many activists, alarmists and even more who should know better have been describing future climate change in apocalyptic terms for decades.

It’s in the academic literature: “On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change “(Weitzman 2009), “Catastrophic Events and Stochastic Cost-benefit Analysis of Climate Change“, (Azar et al, 2003), “Insurance Against Catastrophic Climate Change,” (Adams, 2007) are three examples found in seconds using Google Scholar. The search term ‘catastrophic climate change’ returned 190,000 results in the academic database.

When those papers are released into the wild, their authors make statements to the press. Like this:

“What would happen with that kind of temperature increase? No one knows exactly, but Wagner and Weitzman properly view the outcome as “near-certain disaster.” “‘Catastrophic’ no longer seems to do it justice,” they say.”

It’s in the IPCC reports: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out (Meehl et al., 2007).”

It’s pervasive in political speech. As the BBC reports, “The costs of inaction on climate change will be “catastrophic“, according to US Secretary of State John Kerry. In a statement, Mr Kerry said: “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice.” Mark Carney, head of the Bank of England, says the “catastrophic impacts of climate change” — including floods and storms and financial costs of shifting to a low-carbon economy — will only be felt over a longer period than the three to ten year horizon used in the financial industry.”

It is very common in the messaging from environmental NGOs: “It’s nearly impossible to overstate the threat of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising more rapidly than predicted and consequently the world is warming more quickly. Global warming will have catastrophic effects such as accelerating sea level rise, droughts, floods, storms and heat waves.” “We are already experiencing dangerous climate change…we need to act to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

A search for “catastrophic climate change” on Google returned 20,500,000 results. Much of it was from the media. Here are some representative examples:

Certainly the imagery associated with climate change is less than subdued. If you want to see catastrophe, look at Google Images:


30 Nov 2009, US President, Barack Obama. Adverts with heads of state placed all over Copenhagen International Airport by the global coalition, and Greenpeace calling on world leaders to secure a fair, ambitious and binding deal at the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

30 Nov 2009, US President, Barack Obama. Adverts with heads of state placed all over Copenhagen International Airport by the global coalition, and Greenpeace calling on world leaders to secure a fair, ambitious and binding deal at the Copenhagen Climate Summit.




So I’m afraid William Connolley has been reading with blinders on for quite some time. Climate Catastrophe is what his team is selling. Even if they don’t want to admit it.




36 responses to “Catastrophe is What They Sell

  1. I’ve noticed this too. A lot of people like Conolley simply ignore what those who support their political goals say and then express shock that someone else actually really read it. They are quite content however to let these things even into the scientific literature. Or to be fair, perhaps they are genuinely just not really looking carefully.

  2. The climate creeps who on the one hand demand dramatic expensive policy changes to deal with the threat of “climate change” and at the same time refuse to acknowledge that they are promoting a cure for a catastrophe are liars or cowards. Their position is as non-rational as if they would demand the immediate evacuation of the Eastern Seaboard because of a hurricane risk yet deny there was an imminent hurricane strike.
    And then condemn those who point out that not only is there not a storm in the Atlantic but that it is not hurricane season.

  3. There’s a small group of alarmists who maintain that there will be 100% catastrophe for everyone on this planet if business-as-usual continues for X amount of time (some, like Guy McPherson, even say it is inevitable whatever is done at this point).

    This is the exact mirror position of climate risk deniers (some of them hiding in lukewarmer clothing) who maintain that there is zero risk that AGW could ever pose any serious danger or cause serious damage.

    And then there’s the people in the middle, mainstream science, the IPCC, etc, who say that there is a risk of catastrophe under a business-as-usual scenario. Not 100% certainty, but a possibility that there will be serious damage. Some of them may even say that chances are small, or that it will only be catastrophic for an X percentage of the global population, not everyone. It all depends on what you define as ‘catastrophic’.

    Of course, climate risk deniers (wearing lukewarmer clothing) will lump in that middle ground with the extreme position as part of their strategy to keep things going business-as-usual, actually increasing the chances of catastrophic consequences for people in the future (probably not them).

  4. Some people say Prince Charles is a catastrophy:

    earlier this year:

    Prince Charles:
    Q Climate change has also been a major theme of many of Your Royal Highness’s speeches on environmental themes. Is Your Royal Highness heartened by the progress being made?

    A I have said recently, and repeatedly over the years, that if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change, conserve scarce resources and maintain ecosystem functioning, while at the same time improving the health and well-being of billions of people, then we need to see profound and rapid changes. The challenge now is to go much further and much faster,”

    and several years ago, he was part of the 100 months to save:

    “The best projections tell us that we have less than 100 months to alter our behaviour before we risk catastrophic climate change,” the Prince of Wales said in a speech in Rio de Janeiro, as reported by the [U.K.] Telegraph.

  5. The

    “The global annual average temperature has increased by more than 1.5 degrees F between 1880 and 2012. This interactive graph from the National Climate Assessment shows the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the same time period. Climate scientists say we need to avert an additional 2-degree temperature increase to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.”

  6. and of course we also have/had Greenpeace….

    “The ads all feature a doctored image of a current world leader – so that they look about ten years older – apologising from the future (2020 to be precise) saying, “I’m sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change… We didn’t.”

    Images of the ads here (Obama, Brown, Sarkozy):

  7. And the Prime Minister of the UK:

    “Mr Brown said: “If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt: once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement in some future period can undo that choice.

    “By then it will be irretrievably too late. So we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the catastrophe we face if present warming trends continue.”

    so whilst their is little reference to CVAGW in the ‘scientific literature’ – therefore sceptics are dumb. it really is a misdirection, from the fact that the media,,politicians and activists talking about CAGW.

  8. It’s a very odd notion from Connolley – that CAGW is a myth invented by sceptics. Barry and I between us have pointed him to three articles using the C word in the Guardian in the last week.

    You have found a good list of examples here. It must have taken you at least five minutes on google to find these.

  9. Brown’s successor – Ed Milliband (now former leader of the Labour Party.

    “I do not want to see Britain or any country having to adopt crisis measures to halt the slide into global catastrophe because we missed this critical opportunity now”

  10. David Cameron – Prime Minister (UK)

    “…the threat of imminent, irreversible, and catastrophic change to the climate of our planet should prompt us to challenge any perceived consensus on green growth…

    …the vital need to protect our environment through policy that enhances, rather than impedes, wealth creation.

    I won’t rehearse here the arguments in favour of action to halt climate change.” Cameron 2007

    [ about 3 minutes googling 😉 ]

  11. I have to confess I also like to write catastrophe propaganda when I’m feeling in a nihilistic mood. But after I do it I visit my priest, confess my sins, and dutifully say 10 Hail Marys.

  12. The earliest mention I see is by the Green Party in 1990:

    Tuvalu used the phrase in a speech to the U.N. in 1997. Ireland used it in its National Climate Change Strategy in 1997. Stephen DeCanio of UC Berkeley used the phrase 6 times in a paper in 1997.

    Stephen Schneider used it in a paper in 1996:

  13. WWF – getting catastrophic

    “The impacts of global warming
    It’s nearly impossible to overstate the threat of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising more rapidly than predicted and consequently the world is warming more quickly.

    Global warming will have catastrophic effects such as accelerating sea level rise, droughts, floods, storms and heat waves. These will impact some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, disrupting food production, and threatening vitally important species, habitats and ecosystems.”

  14. and just for fun the RSPB 😉

    Catastophic consequences – looking to the future

    The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has developed different scenarios for human development, each of which results in different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The scenarios show increases in global average surface temperature of between 1.4°C by 2100, for the lowest emission scenario, to 5.8°C for the highest.

    The most recent research indicates that the higher emission scenarios may lead to higher temperature rises than previously thought, perhaps much higher at over 10°C, whilst the lower temperature rises seem less likely.

    The high emission futures would have catastrophic consequences for both people and wildlife. For comparison the difference between the highest and lowest average temperatures between a major Ice Age and warm ‘interglacial’ period is between 4-5°C.”

    The RSP is not small fry:

    The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a charitable organisation registered in England and Wales[3] and in Scotland plus Northern Ireland.[4] It was founded as the Plumage League in 1889 by Emily Williamson. It works to promote conservation and protection of birds and the wider environment through public awareness campaigns, petitions and through the operation of nature reserves throughout the United Kingdom.[5]

    The RSPB has over 1300 employees, 18 000 volunteers and more than 1 million members (including 195,000 youth members), making it the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe.[6] The RSPB has many local groups and maintains 200 nature reserves

  15. and the National Trust:

    Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general, National Trust, said:

    “We are keen to play our part in meeting the big environmental challenges of today – climate change and the catastrophic decline in wildlife and habitats. We see their impact day by day in our places. But Government has to play its role in setting the right regulatory and fiscal framework – and the recent shift in policy positions is worrying.”

  16. It does seem curious that he could have missed all the talk of catastrophe. Where does he think the ‘last chance’, used about every climate conference, comes from? It’s our ‘last chance’ before we are tied into mild inconvenience?

  17. Mega LOL

    “This will be a make-or-break presidency as far as our ability to avert a climate change catastrophe,” says Michael Mann, meteorology professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, whose “hockey-stick” shaped graph warned of sharply rising emissions and temperatures.

  18. “If we are going to avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change impacts, we have to be ramping down our carbon emissions dramatically in the years ahead. The current administration has begun that process, but our next president must not only continue but build on that progress,” Mann says.
    (same url)

  19. Now, Mann is one of a number of climate scientists who have described their personal feelings about climate change in the form of handwritten letters.

    MANN: “I feel concern that my 9-year-old daughter, her children, and grandchildren may end up asking why it is that my generation failed to act in time to avert a catastrophe.”

  20. Donna LaFramboise writes along the same lines. E.g., “humanity is on the way to unintended self-combustion, if we do not immediately turn to the path of sustainability.”

    • Donna pegs the madness and devolution of the climate obsession movement rather well. Looking up Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the author she highlights, and how a secularist eugenics promoter wormed his way into the highest levels of influence in the Catholic Church is a deeply disturbing experience.
      The madness of our enlightened leaders in obsessing on so-called “climate change” has been at the price of dealing with real problems. The news out of Syria today and the new world wide travel warning by Obama only highlights this. Nero fiddling and Caligula’s war on Neptune come to mind as mild examples of just how out of touch our leaders have become.

  21. Tom, Remember what Woods and Connelly agreed on? If they both attacked something, it must be the truth.

    • I don’t think Connolley or myself are ‘attacking’ anybody… I’ve only reproduced quotes showing that catastrophic language is everywhere.

      Connolley is critical of the signaturies using catastrophic. . Seemingly oblivious of countless example over the years,including by Mann

  22. Pingback: Climate Catastrophism: Scientists vs. Activists | The Lukewarmer's Way

  23. Marty, a survey of Barry Woods’ site does not show many similarities between Nixon or Connolly or even Connolley.
    Can you clarify some?

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