Climate communications: Media and some climate researchers misleading the public

Climate communications: Media and some climate researchers misleading the public

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From a note published in Nature, from two respected climate scientists:

Another paints a dystopian future that is fossil-fuel intensive and excludes any climate mitigation policies, leading to nearly 5 °C of warming by the end of the century. That one is named RCP8.5.

RCP8.5 was intended to explore an unlikely high-risk future. But it has been widely used by some experts, policymakers and the media as something else entirely: as a likely ‘business as usual’ outcome. A sizeable portion of the literature on climate impacts refers to RCP8.5 as business as usual, implying that it is probable in the absence of stringent climate mitigation. The media then often amplifies this message, sometimes without communicating the nuances. This results in further confusion regarding probable emissions outcomes, because many climate researchers are not familiar with the details of these scenarios in the energy-modelling literature.

Source: Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading

Scenario planning is used to consider possible future outcomes when the future cannot be reliably predicted. Climate scientists and policy makers established scenarios to describe possible future outcomes. These scenarios include assumptions, such as we increase coal consumption by 500%, or perhaps instead, we take drastic actions to reduce carbon equivalent emissions. (A 500% increase in coal burning requires more coal than some estimates of coal reserves in the entire world.)

The worst case scenario used in climate planning is “RCP8.5”, and which assumes a massive increase in burning coal (as one example). This worst case scenario – which scientists say is unlikely, and which real world data available now says is highly unlikely – is the scenario frequently used in media reports, portraying this worst case as the most likely scenario.

Based on available data, the most likely scenarios are more benign than the worst case.

Presenting a worst and unlikely scenario as the most likely outcome is a  reason one third of children believe the world will end in ten years, and a majority of adults aged 18-34 in the U.S. believe humanity may be extinct in ten years. There is zero evidence to support these fears – but there are substantial propaganda messaging campaigns underway that have created this mental health crisis. Climate communications, not climate change, is injuring people.

Of interest, while some are angrily demanding government action, the private sector has been acting on its own. Since 2005, US electrical utilities have reduced their carbon emissions by 40%. Businesses are actively working to reduce their own emissions, as illustrated by these snapshots of CNBC headlines during the last week of January 2020:

Standard Disclaimer Applies: How to Do Climate Communications – Never Cry Wolf

As I previously wrote

The Nature Conservancy should focus on facts of atmospheric CO2 levels rising, land and sea surface temperature anomalies, ice pack changes, ocean Ph and sea level change (IPCC Synthesis Report, Figure SPM.1) – as reported by reputable scientific bodies, but they did not. Instead they went straight for hyperbole and making untrue claims to promote fear and hysteria.

or

Stick with the facts of CO2 rising, sea level ice and temperature changes, ice mass changes or risk tuning all of us out. Shrill terminology designed to create emotional outrage and responses is a total turn off.

and

The facts are sufficient. The impacts of untrue propaganda hysteria, on the other hand, are to turn off the target completely. We have learned nothing from the parable of the boy who repeatedly cried Wolf!

The propaganda messaging methods in use are leading to public opinions that are not based in facts, logic or evidence. In the U.S. 51% of those aged 18-34 believe humanity may become extinct within 10-15 years, even though there is zero evidence to support such a conclusion. This disconnect between belief and reality risks the potential for major backlash against taking action to reduce CO2-equivalent effects on climate.

Some suggest focusing on solutions and opportunities – instead of unrealistic, dystopian catastrophes designed primarily as click-bait – would be a more effective and positive way forward for climate communications. Instead, we get intense negativity – and falsehoods – that have led to children and adults to seek mental health treatment for induced anxiety.

Personal Notes on Climate Realism

We are taking direct actions to reduce our CO2-equivalent emissions. In late 2019, we spent US$18,000 (before credits) to install a solar PV array that will reduce our home’s annual grid-provided electricity to net zero (likely less). Our utility generates 56% of its electricity by burning coal and 14% by burning natural gas (about half the emissions of coal). – total of 70%. Our solar PV directly cuts our portion of those GHG emissions to zero.

We spent $5,000 to upgrade 40 year old R-19 attic insulation (which has settled such that it is less than that) to R-60 building code standards. For an all electric house, and before the updates, we already used 1/3d the amount of electricity of similar homes. We heat using locally sourced wood pellets (UN says biomass is carbon neutral) and our home is kept at a low temperature every winter day. I drive a Honda Fit averaging about 42 mpg. While spending an amount similar to a low end electric vehicle, our solar and attic upgrades will have a far greater reduction in CO2 emissions than buying an EV.

Up to half of an EV’s lifetime CO2 emissions occur during its manufacturing and future disposal/recycling and if you live where your electricity to charge your EV is generated by burning coal, your overall CO2 emissions reductions are small or non-existent. While EVs will generally reduce CO2 emissions, for many they are primarily a virtue signaling device (a survey by Volvo found about 75% of purchasers said this, and selected an EV because paradoxically it “helps them to feel better about making less environmentally conscious decisions in “other areas of life.”.)

According to the International Energy Agency, the lifetime CO2-equivalent emissions of an EV are about the same as a hybrid car (e.g. Prius) or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and only slightly less than an internal combustion engine vehicle of a similar size (which is likely a big surprise to those buying EVs thinking they are “zero emission”).

I post this at the end of each climate communications post because merely mentioning climate results in being called a climate denier or a Nazi.

I am a climate realist, not a denier or a Nazi.

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