Climate Pessimism Ignores Past Action, Future Options to Limit Warming
A widely-reported study last week that projected only a 5% chance of keeping average global warming below 2.0°C is taking heat of its own for failing to account for efforts already under way to put a brake on the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
The response to the paper by University of Washington statistician Adrian Raftery’s paper is partly a reprise of conversations around the national commitments behind the Paris agreement—while Paris alone won’t be enough to stabilize the global climate (nor was it expected to be), it’s still progress countries can build on as they prepare to boost ambition in the next round of negotiations.
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“Political will depends on many factors that cannot be predicted based on past behaviour,” said Penn State University climate veteran Michael Mann. “The increased market share of renewables over the past few years has exceeded the very pessimistic forecasts made by many energy industry prognosticators.”
The Paris agreement itself, he added, “could not have been predicted using (Raftery’s) statistical model.”
Carnegie Institute for Science climate scientist Ken Caldeira added that “in science, the leap from model to reality is always a dangerous leap,” noting that “few predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, the unprecedented rapidity of the rise of China, or the election of Donald Trump.”
Mann, Caldeira, and Raftery himself agree that faster action is needed to avert climate catastrophe. “If we don’t change those patterns, then the world is likely to get very hot,” Caldeira told Gizmodo. “However, we will change those patterns. The question is whether we will change those patterns before we radically damage our environment, effectively forever.”
“Overall, the goals expressed in the Paris Agreement are ambitious but realistic,” Raftery told Forbes. “The bad news is they are unlikely to be enough to achieve the target.”
Washington Post climate specialist Chris Mooney sums up that “climate pessimism has indeed had a strong run lately—but you have to keep it in context. It’s pessimism that we’ll hit our current goals. It’s not fatalism, or the idea that we’ll accomplish nothing, or that present momentum doesn’t matter.”