Yes, climate change is bad — but scientists must ‘chill’ when it comes to doomsday scenarios, experts say

‘Right now, not as many climate models focus enough attention on middle scenarios. That should change.’

BOULDER, Colo. — There are many studies out there warning people that climate change could lead to the end of our world. Yes, climate change is very real and poses a serious threat to the health of our planet. However, researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder have a simple message for scientists who focus on the most dire effects of global warming: chill out.

In a letter in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors write that many scientists are focusing way too much of the worst-case scenarios of climate change and environmental shifts all around the globe. While the team notes that these problems are real, constantly preaching impending doom is counter-productive and overshadows the more likely outcomes of global warming. These more-likely outcomes fall into the middle of the climate change conversation — not good, but also not extremely bad.

“We shouldn’t overstate or understate our climate future,” says CU Boulder assistant professor Matt Burgess, a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), in a media release. “People need to think in terms of gradations, not absolutes. Yes, we need to be aware of the extremes, like climate solutions that get us to net zero before mid century, or on the flipside, global catastrophes. But it’s what’s in the middle that is more likely. And that deserves more research.”

The letter answers back to a recent study in PNAS called “Climate Endgame.” Led by the University of Cambridge’s Luke Kemp, the report argues that catastrophic climate futures need to be the main focus of climate research — including scenarios that predict human extinction.

Preaching catastrophe ignores what will likely happen

One of these worst-case scenarios is a climate change model called RCP 8.5. However, the CU Boulder team says there are many other models which will likely become reality over the next century. “Right now, not as many climate models focus enough attention on middle scenarios,” Burgess says. “The SSP2-3.4 scenario, which might be one of most plausible emissions scenarios, wasn’t featured at all in the IPCC’s latest impacts and physical science reports. That should probably change.”

Burgess admits that it’s still important to know what more severe climate change models say.

“We want to know what might happen in extreme scenarios, and physical climate cycle feedbacks might make warming worse than emissions would suggest. But for the emissions in that scenario to happen, all the regions in the world in 2100 would need to have over $100k GDP per capita, with no climate policy the whole century, all-in on coal, despite facing unlivable heat in tropical regions with the warming that scenario produces. That’s just not realistic.”

At the same time, the researchers note that models which come in on the low-end of the climate change spectrum are probably going to be incorrect too. These forecasts predict that temperatures will only rise by less than three degrees by 2100.

“That would be a daunting task to keep us that low—we are almost there now,” Burgess explains.

Where will climate change take us in the future?

The new report notes that several experts agree that temperatures will likely rise by 3.6 to 5.4 degrees by 2100. By focusing on these “middle-ground scenarios,” the team says scientists can focus on how that change will impact local communities and humanity as a whole. This includes the impact of more severe heat waves and the shrinking number of areas seeing snow in the winter.

Researchers also note that “climate catastrophism” has a significant impact on the youth mental health crisis. Over 40 percent of young adults say they dwell on climate change issues, and it negatively affects their daily lives.

“We don’t want to ignore the possibility of catastrophic societal collapse or human extinction, but it shouldn’t be our main focus right now,” Burgess concludes.

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  1. “Yes, climate change is very real and poses a serious threat to the health of our planet.”

    Yeah, and “climate change” was “very real” at the start of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, neither of which did any damage to “the health of our planet.”

    1. Eh it’s the rate I’d climate change that’s important you muppet. Look up the Permian extinction for a previous example that might be more apt to what we are discussing with “worst case scenarios”. – here’s a hint, it did untold damage to the health of the planet.

      1. It’s important to note that the Permian extinction occurred over a period of at least 10,000-20,000 years. If the CO2 injection into the atmosphere occurring now is similar to what it was during that extinction period (which has been expressed in some studies) then our current CO2 injection rate would have to continue for the next 10,000 to 20,000 years in order to have a similar result. I would propose that carbon-reducing technological advances made as soon as the next 10 to 50 years would make that extremely unlikely.

        1. And think, the world warms then humans don’t need to burn coal for heat etc. we will naturally produce less co2.
          Simply put we are just ants on this planet, Mother Earth will be just fine with or without us, we are insignificant to her.

  2. Actually, climate impacts are worse than scientists predicted at 1.2C of warming. The scientists were too conservative. Impacts seen today were not expected until mid-century. What is going to be like at 1.5 C Chris? From my location in Connecticut the growing zone in 1980 was 6A- today it is a borderline 7A/7B a profound change in just 40 plus years.

    1. Peter the author stated we should no longer dwell on worst case scenarios. I am 41 years old. Scientist have predicted the end of the world 3x in my life and of course none have come true. The author I believe is saying let’s focus more on the reality and stop the nonsense that make people fear life. He states clearly he believes it’s bad and needs our attention, but many will tell you that after years of hearing worst case scenarios and then not being true makes us just ignore the real info, we lump it all together as just nonsense so scientists can get paid to keep researching

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