This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
An influential report aimed at business leaders re-labelled an implausible, far-fetched scenario as ‘our current path.’
In an article published late last year, analyst Roger Pielke Jr. demonstrates that the US National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have placed an extreme and unlikely vision of the future at the center of their recent reports.
Known as the RCP8.5, this hypothetical scenario was never rooted in reality. It was an implausible hallucination. What if absurd amounts of fossil fuels were burned? What if population trends reversed? What if technological innovation stalled? (see my previous post)
Despite it’s improbable and extreme nature, Pielke says RCP8.5 got mentioned “more than 470” times in a 2017 US government report. And “more than 580 times” in a 2019 IPCC report.
In a subsequent article, titled How Billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg Corrupted Climate Science, Pielke explains some of the reasons RCP8.5 began appearing everywhere. This is a story, he says, of “privilege and conceit.”
If you’re mindbogglingly wealthy like Steyer and Bloomberg, you hire groups of consultants to write a custom report aimed at business leaders. Titled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States, its impressive-looking pages contain the names of rich and famous people. They also feature a highly misleading graphic.
The original, below, comes from a 2011 paper that guestimates the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere according to four fairy tales developed by the IPCC.
The red line is RCP8.5. If that highly unlikely scenario were to hypothetically come true, the parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would hypothetically exceed 1,000 around the year 2100 (the tan-coloured bar represents the years 2000 to 2100). Currently, there are 414 parts-per-million of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Risky Business tells us its own graphic – which appears at the top of this blog post – is based on this paper. But the new version takes a highly implausible scenario – the red line that is RCP8.5 – and calls it Business as Usual: Our Current Path.
This is absolute nonsense. Utter chicanery.
A few pages earlier, Risky Business tells us:
Our research combines peer-reviewed climate science projections through the year 2100 with empirically-derived estimates of the impact of projected changes…on the U.S. economy. [bold added, first page of the Executive Summary]
So let us be clear about what has happened here. The 2011 paper is about imaginary scenarios. Calling those scenarios science is a stretch.
The fact that those scenarios are discussed in a peer-reviewed journal tells us nothing about their accuracy. Let us not forget Lancet editor Richard Horton’s famous declaration: “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.”
So the Risky Business report not only re-labells a dystopian climate hallucination as our current path, it calls this ‘peer-reviewed climate science.’
That’s how you fool people. That’s how you frighten and manipulate them.