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:
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.