In late April Climate Home News bravely announced that it was finally time to talk about climate change, specifically “the climate overshoot,” which is apparently the worst thing ever that, if they don’t start talking about now, you might not notice when it happens. AP chimed in on May 9 with “Earth given 50-50 chance of hitting key warming mark by 2026” and the next day the BBC went “Climate change: ‘Fifty-fifty chance’ of breaching 1.5C warming limit”. A Google search of “Climate overshoot” produced about 3,800,000 results in under half a second. And The Economist reached for our wallets with “The world is failing to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – and the consequences are dire” but “you can enjoy an immersive experience of our award-winning journalism with 50% off an annual digital subscription.” Enjoy seemed an odd word. But it’s also odd to have the herd of independent minds all stampeding off over something that hasn’t happened and wouldn’t matter if it did.
The overshoot has been rumbling on the horizon for a while. But what got the herd moving and bellowing in unison, the Beeb explains, is that
“As levels of warming gases in the atmosphere have accrued rapidly over the past three decades, global temperatures have responded by rising in step. In 2015, the world’s average temperature first went 1C above the pre-industrial levels, which are generally thought of as the temperatures recorded in the middle of the 19th century. That was also the year that political leaders signed the Paris climate agreement, which committed the world to keeping the rise in global temperatures well below 2C while pursuing efforts keep them under 1.5C.”
Saved? Not really. It concedes that “At COP26 in Glasgow last November, governments re-iterated their commitment to keeping ‘1.5C alive.’” Though what steps they could take to change the weather measurably in the next four years wasn’t totally clear. The UK government media outlet then committed a true howler, conceding that there’s been a “hiatus” in warming in which as levels of “warming gases” rose, global temperatures responded by doing nothing. “For the past seven years, global temperatures have stayed at or around that 1C mark, with 2016 and 2020 essentially tied as the warmest years on record.”
Of course we’re doomed. And not later but now. “Scientists say that with around 1C of warming the world is already experiencing significant impacts such as the unprecedented wildfires seen in North America last year, or the drastic heatwaves currently hitting India and Pakistan.” Scientists say. So how could it get worse?
Well, “This update from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), carried out by the UK Met Office, says that the chances of temporarily going over 1.5C in one of the next five years have never been higher. The study suggests that temperatures between 2022 and 2026 will be between 1.1C and 1.7C higher than pre-industrial levels.”
Which means either nothing will happen or something will, with a level of uncertainty approaching infinity since the starting point is no change and the top point is a lot of change. Or not, since 0.6 of a degree is not something you’d notice in your house. (Or your body; in the course of 24 hours your temperature typically fluctuates by a full degree. And typical body temperature appears to have fallen by a degree since pre-industrial times, something hard to blame on CO2 that nobody really noticed either.)
At this point the article slips in some characteristic mathematical pseudo-precision: “The Met Office researchers predict that for any one year in the period, the likelihood of breaching the 1.5C level is around 48%, or close to 50:50.” It’s not clear what “around 48%” is meant to mean: is it between 43% and 53%, between 47.9 and 48.1 or between 8% and 88%? It sounds better than “just a guess dressed in mathematical garb” but the number of necessarily imprecise assumptions that went into constructing an estimate of what global temperature might reach in 2025 means that the accuracy to two decimal places, which an 8 in a percent amounts to, is an imposter, as they admit with their “50:50” which is a coin toss.
Over mighty little. The article concedes that “The researchers say that going over 1.5C for one year isn’t the same as a sustained rise where temperatures don’t fall below this figure.” But of course “there is now little room for complacency.” OK. When’s the last time you told us there was room for complacency? 1987?
Then they quoted someone from the WMO that
“For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise. And alongside that, our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise and our weather will become more extreme.”
Especially, of course, in the Arctic, where “The researchers say that the difference in temperatures from the long-term average will be three times as large in these areas. The researchers also believe that one of the coming years will likely break the 2016 and 2020 record for warmest year.”
Over at AP we hear that
“The world is creeping closer to the warming threshold international agreements are trying to prevent, with nearly a 50-50 chance that Earth will temporarily hit that temperature mark within the next five years, teams of meteorologists across the globe predicted.”
And after citing the 48% number they call breaching 1.5C “a bright red signal in climate change negotiations and science”. Oh, so negotiations weren’t already being conducted in an atmosphere of panic? Thanks for the hot tip.
Well, gotta keep the hysteria going, right? “The odds are inching up along with the thermometer. Last year, the same forecasters put the odds at closer to 40% and a decade ago it was only 10%.” So with no change in temperature at all, the odds of it going up a bunch soon went from around 40 to around 50? What changed?
Not much. Though apparently we should panic calmly: “In 2018, a major United Nations science report predicted dramatic and dangerous effects on people and the world if warming exceeds 1.5 degrees” but “The global 1.5 degree threshold is about the world being that warm not for one year, but over a 20- or 30- year time period, several scientists said.” The report of which they speak has only one chapter (Chapter 3) which discusses forecasts of the effects of 1.5 degrees warming, and the word “dangerous” does not appear in it. But we quibble.
National Geographic chipped in a fundraising pitch that “Glaciers are melting. Our ocean is warming. Species are going extinct hundreds of times faster than ever before. Our planet is at an inflection point. The increasing threats demand urgent action.” So we suppose the overshoot doesn’t matter now, since we’re already in the boiling hot soup. Indeed, a study from the University of Hawaii at Manoa tells us “World’s ocean is losing its memory under global warming” which sounds pretty bad until you realize it’s more Andrew Lloyd Weber than Albert Einstein.
According to Climate Home News “A recent study gives only a 6-10% chance of staying below 1.5C warming, based on national targets. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says sucking carbon dioxide from the air is ‘an essential element’ to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Lamy [“Pascal Lamy of the Paris Peace Forum” – don’t ask] will next month launch the Climate Overshoot Commission, a group of 15 brave and/or pragmatic leaders, to ask the hard questions. Who will pay for carbon dioxide removal? What are the ethical and technological limitations? Is solar geoengineering ever a good idea?”
We can help. Nobody; you might make a huge mess of it; and no. Next please.