Quite some time ago, I had the realization that as the warming of our planet became too obvious to deny, those who made their money denying, downplaying, or ignoring the problem, would switch to blaming others for failing to convince them. What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that this message would not necessarily come from those exact same people. I’m sure it will, at some point, but the most recent example came from a fellow writing for The Hill, whose main focus is climate reporting. Specifically, his article’s headline reads, Catch-22: Scientific communication failures linked to faster sea level rise.
Scientists failed for decades to communicate the coming risks of rapid sea-level rise to policymakers and the public, a new study has found.
That has created a climate catch-22 in which scientists have soft-pedaled the kinds of catastrophic risks most easily headed off by cutting emissions.=
While scientific communication has improved in the 2020s, this trajectory led policymakers to make decisions based on risks that are better understood, easier to quantify — and also easier to write off as an acceptable long-term risk.
This, in my estimation, is bullshit. Scientists have been warning about this for longer than I’ve been alive, they’ve been screaming about it for the last two decades, and they have been routinely dismissed as alarmists. Moreover, the paper in question isn’t focused on scientists, but on the IPCC, as you can see in the abstract:
Future sea-level change is characterized by both quantifiable and unquantifiable uncertainties. Effective communication of both types of uncertainty is a key challenge in translating sea-level science to inform long-term coastal planning. Scientific assessments play a key role in the translation process and have taken diverse approaches to communicating sea-level projection uncertainty. Here we review how past IPCC and regional assessments have presented sea-level projection uncertainty, how IPCC presentations have been interpreted by regional assessments and how regional assessments and policy guidance simplify projections for practical use. This information influenced the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report presentation of quantifiable and unquantifiable uncertainty, with the goal of preserving both elements as projections are adapted for regional application.
It’s a look at IPCC reports, their effectiveness at communicating uncertainties, and at efforts to communicate better. It does look at way in which past efforts fell short, but it’s ludicrous to say that’s to blame for faster sea level rise. Stepping outside the scope of this paper, I think that it is reasonable to say that IPCC reports have downplayed the dangers of climate change, but that’s not on the scientists. For those who are unclear, the IPCC is a political organization, formed by participating governments. Scientists play a major role in it, and we’d be better off if the nations of the world had better heeded that organization’s recommendations, but the scientists aren’t the only ones at the table:
Increasing evidence is emerging that the policy summaries on climate impacts and mitigation by the UN Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were significantly ‘diluted’ under political pressure from some of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, including Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and the United States.
Several experts familiar with the IPCC government approval process for the ‘Summary for Policymakers’ (SPM) reports – documents summarising the thousands of pages of technical and scientific reports for government officials – have spoken out about their distortion due to political interests.
According to David Wasdell, who leads on feedback dynamics in coupled complex global systems for the European Commission’s Global System Dynamics and Policy (GSDP) network, “Every word and line of the text previously submitted by the scientific community was examined and amended until it could be endorsed unanimously by the political representatives.”
This is just one part of the decades-long effort by the fossil fuel industry and their lackeys to mislead the world about climate science, which has also involved the demonization and harassment of climate scientists and other advocates. I think it also makes it clear that, since representatives of those governments were deliberately distorting facts, they knew the scale of the problem, they just didn’t want the general public to know it. The people with the power to act knew the scale of the problem, and tried to hide it. If any communication is to blame for sea level rise, it’s this stuff, and the tireless efforts of news corporations – not just Fox – to downplay, dismiss, or ignore the problem. There is plenty of blame to go around for the current crisis, but blaming it on scientists is inexcusable. It’s a shame, because after the first couple paragraphs, I think the Hill article actually provides a pretty decent overview. I honestly wonder whether the bit blaming scientists was added or mandated by someone higher up. You can check that out, or the research team’s press release, or you can check out Rebecca Watson‘s video on the subject, in which she goes over the paper, and provides some context of her own: