The Trump Administration is quite right in their critique of the latest climate change reports. This is not some denialist tactic, this is straight from the settled science upon the subject. The estimates currently bandied about rely upon a prediction that we know – yes know – simply isn’t going to happen. Therefore such derivative predictions are going to be wrong. And we really shouldn’t be basing public policy upon predictions that we know to be wrong.
Yes, this is true whatever we think of Trump, whatever we think about climate change itself. It’s still true if we agree with everything the IPCC has been saying upon the subject. For, to put it in a nutshell, RCP 8.5 is not going to happen. Thus predictions based upon it are wrong. Thus Trump and friends are right here:
Trump officials argue climate change warnings based on ‘worst-case scenario”
Yes, they are.
The Trump administration has a new strategy for deflecting concerns about the warming planet. Trump officials are minimizing warnings from scientists by arguing they are exaggerated and based on the worst-case scenario. They say the National Climate Assessment (NCA) – an expansive federal government report on the dangers of climate change in the US – considers only the highest possible levels of greenhouse gas emissions. “If you take the extreme case, you’re right, it’s dire,” Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, said on Fox News. “If you take the best case, it’s not much.” Zinke, who has encouraged fossil fuel production on public lands, compared climate risks to the chance of nuclear war. “If you look at nuclear war, today we’re going to go home to a bunker and wear a hazardous suit,” he said. “That’s not the case.”
It’s not quite true, that “only”. But it is true that the predictions that we all drown under the weight of the ice caps in 30 years are so based. The problem being that this is a violation of Worstall’s Fallacy. Or an example of it if you prefer:
President Trump says he doesn’t believe the recent federal climate change report. He’s right — not because the entire game’s a scam, or because the liberals have colonized the subject. The standard science on the subject tells us that this report, as with so many others, is wrong. They’re committing what I call “Worstall’s Fallacy” to get to their answer. “Worstall’s Fallacy” is to ignore what we’re already doing to solve a problem when considering what we need to do to solve it. If we’re going to look at how much we need to spend to abolish poverty, then we’ve got to start from how much poverty there is after accounting for what we already spend to kill it off. Here with climate change, we’ve got to start from how much have we already done to beat it to see how much more we’ve got to do. This is exactly what this report is not doing.
To give a specific example, the wilder claims depend upon the idea that we’ll be using more coal than we ever did. More coal as a proportion, not just more in total. This isn’t going to happen:
Do note this model doesn’t just assume that we’ll carry on as we are. Rather, it assumes that we’ll do everything worse than we already do. It’s this which gives us all of the blood-curdling outcomes like Mount Washington disappearing below the waves and people dying of heat stroke on the shores of Hudson Bay. But quite obviously this model is entirely inconsistent with all the work we’ve already done to make solar cheap, refine how windmills operate, and so on. We simply cannot have a world where both a major industrial nation has a 50 percent renewables capacity and also we’re not going to be using renewables but stoking civilization up with fossil fuels.
This is not a new point for us to be making:
Sadly, this report is wrong. Anyone believing this more worrying predictions made will also be wrong. For there’s an error in the report itself. And even more of an error in the reporting about the report. The error being they’re simply using the wrong prediction about the future as the basis for their work. Do note what I am not saying. I am not saying that climate change is all a crock. Nor am I trying to insist that it’s not us humans causing it, that climate changes all the time, nor even that what the Hell who likes cold winters anyway? No, I’m making a simple statement of fact here. The report is using the wrong prediction about the future.
That’s the problem. Not that all the math is wrong, nor that the linkages between emissions and temperature are. But because the predictions of emissions are those we know to be wrong.
The point being that there’s absolutely no way at all that RCP 8.5 is going to happen. For if it were to happen then we’d need the following things to have happened. We would need to reverse globalisation. Return to a much more regional and localised economy where technological dispersion slows markedly. We would also need to curb, substantially, economic growth. It would be necessary for the fall in fertility rates to go into reverse. Women would need to start having more children as the society around them becomes richer. Not something we’ve ever seen in any portion of human history ever. We’d also need to be using more coal. Not just a larger economy using more coal, but humanity gouging more of it out as a portion of total energy supply. We would need to have solar energy as expensive as it was 40 years ago – no, really, that is so. We’d need to entirely ignore all that we’ve gone these recent decades in making renewables cheaper.
This simply isn’t a future we’re going to have. Therefore predictions based upon it are wrong.
Instead this is something much less controversial. It’s a standard insistence that all of these are possible. They’re all, in fact, business as usual. It just depends upon what happens to things like population, technological advancement, globalisation and so on. As you will note there’s quite a spread there of radiative forcings – and all should be described as business as usual. Further, when we work out what might happen as a result of climate change we should in fact be looking at what will happen under each of the four sets of assumptions. Because that’s actually how you do it – we’ve some unknowns. Therefore we prepare the results of our modelling according to those varied unknowns. When you don’t do this you get Jim Hanson’s famous result, that the carbon tax should be $1,000 a tonne CO2-e. That’s not actually what he found. He found that the correct carbon tax could be up to $1,000 per tonne CO2-e. But that was the extreme value if everything, but just everything, went wrong. What we want to know for policy purposes is what is the accurate weighted value of the carbon tax? There’s – to invent numbers – a 1% chance that it should be minus $100, a 1% chance that it should be plus $1,000 and a 98% chance it should be $80. OK, sure, we can adjust for those two 1% possibilities. We could even accept Marty Weizman’s point about fat tails in the probability distribution and so on. But the carbon tax shouldn’t be at $1,000, it should be around and about $80. This is exactly what our intrepid researchers are not doing here. They are not adjusting for the probability among the varied business as usual pathways. They are only giving us the outcome of the one, the most extreme, pathway. Sorry, that’s lying.
And I’m afraid that it really is up there as a lie.
A1FI there is global free market capitalism with intensive use of fossil fuels. Actually, really intensive use of fossil fuels. It assumes that the oil will run out and we’ll turn back to coal to power civilisation. As does the newer RCP 8.5 in fact. It also assumes that we don’t get anywhere in making renewables cheaper. Also that we’ll not use nuclear instead of coal and so on. And sure, A1FI leads to serious problems with warming. Yes, OK, please note, this is running with their arguments, not talking about whether there is warming or not. Stick with their own logic, please. But look at A1T. That’s also global free market capitalism. But we, gradually enough, make the switch over to non-fossil fuel methods of powering civilisation. At which point we’ve a mild problem and nothing to worry about for the long term. Again, note, bene, that these are the underlying models of the IPCC process itself. And which path are we on? Well, we’re closing down coal much faster than either of those scenarios predict. We’ve made solar cheaper much faster than either predicted from their starting point in the 1990s. We’re not going to go back to coal in the manner that A1FI assumes. We’ve switched to natural gas in a manner neither assumed. A1FI simply isn’t going to happen and there’s a damn good chance that A1T is still too pessimistic. Another way to say the same thing is that the original IPCC models said that all we need to do is make renewables cheap enough for all to use in preference to fossil fuels and we’re done, we’ve solved and cracked climate change. We pretty much have done that – some intermittentcy issues aside – and thus, by that original IPCC analysis, we’re done. We’re on A1T or better which means climate change is licked.
We’re simply not going to have an RCP 8.5 world. Therefore predictions based upon the idea that we will are wrong. Which does mean that, remarkably, the Trump Administration is right about climate change here. No, not right about everything, of course not, no government is ever going to achieve that. But this specific criticism is indeed correct.
Climate change reports which assume that we’ll never do anything about climate change are wrong. Because we’re already doing quite a lot, in fact we’ve already done enough that those wilder claims are indeed wrong. So, can we stop making them? Or at least stop using such errors as inputs into the public policy process?