Scientific information

by David Zetland

I began this project after reading Martin Weitzman’s 2011 paper “Fat-tailed uncertainty in the economics of catastrophic climate change” [pdf] and Hansen et al.’s 2016 paper “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous.”

The two papers lead me to believe that our economic models severely understate the risk from climate change and that the IPCC’s estimated increase in sea level (“1 meter by 2100” [pdf]) is far too optimistic as Hansen et al. say that sea level may rise by 6-9m by 2100 (sea level rise since 1870 is 20cm [pdf]).* Even worse, that rise may arrive in an abrupt shock (e.g., “3-4m in a couple of years“) that would make retreat, rather than adaptation, the only response. This puts me in the “warmist” camp.

NB: Risk and uncertainty are often used interchangeably, but economists use “risk” to refer to events with known probabilities (“known unknowns”) and uncertainty to refer to events with undefined probabilities (“unknown unknowns”). Models and predictions are wrong when they assume risk and uncertainty is actually appropriate. Read Weitzman’s paper or this post for more.

These scenarios imply that we should consider taking stronger actions to avoid those greater risks. Although the most effective action is to mitigate climate change by reducing deforestation and fossil fuel consumption, it seems that mitigation has failed on a global level (current atmospheric CO2 levels). Our next best option, therefore, is adaptation to changes in the water cycle that will affect temperature fluctuations, storm activity, flood risk, sea level rise, and so on. (National Geographic has a series of +1C, +2C, etc. videos on climate change impacts that might help you visualize these changes.)

This project, therefore, assumes that anthropogenic climate change (ACC) is occurring, that mitigation will be inadequate to reverse ACC, and that we must plan for a different world. 

This project will propose a number of visions of how a future of Life Plus 2 Meters may affect us and how we might live in it. Roman Krznaric describes a rationale for creating these visions in his 2011 essay [pdf]:

Without a time machine, it is impossible to give people direct experience of the future. But we can find ways to simulate the projected realities of every day life a century from today. …A Climate Futures Museum would… develop our empathy with future generations who will have to live with the impacts of climate change if we fail to take concerted action in the present. The museum would… house experiential exhibitions that allow visitors to understand in reality what it would be like to have their homes flooded, to be faced by drought, or to experience a hurricane… Creative minds would be needed to design an empathetic experience that would be etched in your memory for ever.

“Creative minds” will help readers understand and engage with visions of life in a climate-changed world (aka Cli-Fi). These visions may not agree with each other. Authors will come from different academic, social and philosophical backgrounds. These visions will not provide 100% accurate predictions. Life reflects a complex mix of environmental, social, political and economic forces. These visions will not change your mind. Everyone will read and interpret them differently [pdf].** These visions will not determine action or response. Adaptation starts with a guess of what will go right — or wrong.

NB: I may add more science to this page, but most science will be debated within individual blog posts.

* You can visualize sea-level rise via Climate Central’s “surging seas” tools,, and Google Earth

**  Irish humanities professors, a public radio station in Chicago, an Arizona water resources manager, and Dutch engineers are also using stories, models and visions to help people understand climate change impacts.