Last March the Washington Post reported that climate change was raising flight turbulence risks. Earlier this month, the World Economic Forum repeated the story in a blog stating that “erratic” clear air turbulence is expected to increase by two or three times in the coming decades. Climate change is said to be making flights a lot bumpier. Not considered worthy of mention in either tale was a caveat pointing out that there has been no increase in accidents or injuries due to turbulence over the last 30 years. During this period, according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, passenger numbers have quadrupled, meaning there has been a relative decline in harmful turbulence activity.
So where does all this deliberately alarmist guff come from? Both stories referenced the work of Professor Paul Williams of Reading University. He suggests that atmospheric dynamics have changed significantly since scientists first observed them via satellite data in the late 1970s. Using climate models and the RCP8.5 scenarios, he forecasts huge increase in clear air turbulence. Note the use of RCP8.5, the most extreme IPCC climate scenario along with the later variant SSP5-8.5. It assumes high greenhouse gas emissions causing 4-5C temperature rises within less than 80 years. Few scientists believe these climate pathways are remotely plausible, and even the IPCC refers to them as “low likelihood”. These reservations, however, are not shared with politicians, nor with the IPCC’s trusted messengers in the press.
Yet it seems these implausible scenarios are so addictive for climate alarmists that about half the impact mentions in both the IPCC reports and across the wider scientific community still incorporate them. This of course feeds through to most of the alarmist copy produced by mainstream media, who reproduce the ‘settled’ science messages necessary to hype alarm and promote the collectivist Net Zero political agenda.
In May 2021, Fiona Harvey reported in the Guardian that “a third of global food production will be at risk by the end of the century” due to climate change. A paper produced by Finnish researchers is referenced and this talks about the loss of 31% of the global food crop and 34% of livestock by 2081–2100. Unsurprisingly, this is all based on SSP5-8.5. Earlier this month, the BBC reported that climate change could curtail life in the ocean’s ‘twilight’ zone between 200–1,000 metres by “as much as 40% by the end of the century”. This is said to be due to new research from ocean modellers. The excited press release from Exeter University goes even further adding, “And in a high emissions future, life in the twilight zone could be severely depleted within 150 years, with no recovery for thousands of years.”
Fed on this rich 8.5 catastrophe diet, mainstream journalists pump out increasingly unhinged copy. Introducing the recent ‘synthesis’ compiled from the last six years work of the IPCC, the Guardian’s Fiona Harvey reported it was a “final warning” and only “swift and drastic action can avert irrevocable damage to the world”. Only marginally less hysterical, Matt McGrath of the BBC said the report was a “survival guide to avert climate disaster”.
There is increasing interest in the role these 8.5 scenarios are playing in climate science literature. Temperature increases up to 5C by 2100 are difficult to take seriously, given that global warming ran out of steam over two decades ago. Apart from small upticks in warmth due to powerful and natural El Nino events, the recent warming is barely measurable within any reasonable margin of error. The recent Clintel report investigating the work of the IPCC notes the corruption of almost half the literature by these extreme scenarios. The former economics professor and science writer Roger Pielke accepts that scenarios can be useful in academic work, but notes “the world imagined in RCP8.5 is one that… becomes increasingly implausible with every passing year”.
The use of scenarios is justified if climate models are simply scientific tools aimed at exploring a variety of conditions as a way to test various climate hypotheses, notes Pielke. But climate models are now seen as providing “predictive information about plausible futures”. Promoting RCP5-8.5, a scenario useful for scientific exploration, as an accurate predictor of the future is “highly misleading when applied to projecting the future to inform decision making”, he says.
Of course, there is support within academia for using extreme forecasts of climate catastrophe to trigger political action. In a paper published last year, lead author Luke Kemp from Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk claimed that the world could enter a climate ‘endgame’ at even modest levels of warming. Knowing the worse cases can compel action, he observed: “Exploring severe risks and higher-temperature scenarios could cement a recommitment to the 1.5C to 2C guardrail as the ‘least unattractive’ option.”
This is precisely what is happening. Global populations are being subjected to constant improbable climate scare stories to promote Net Zero. For his part, Pielke replied to Kemp’s work by noting that exaggerating the likelihood of apocalyptic scenarios materialising can be used to support despotism and rashness. In addition, climate catastrophising may be contributing to the mental health crisis afflicting young people. According to a recent international survey, 45% of young people reported that thinking about climate change negatively affected their daily lives and 40% reported being reluctant to have children.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.
Stop Press: On the subject of climate alarmism, here’s a clip of John Kerry, then President Obama’s Climate Envoy, claiming that “scientists’ predict” the Arctic would have its first ice-free summer in 2014.