The Climate Impact Lab has thrived on exploiting RCP8.5 to generate a steady series of media-friendly studies focused on projecting extreme climate impacts. Among them:
· 1.5 million more people may die in India by 2100 due to extreme heat by climate change
· Rising sea levels could swamp major cities and displace almost 200 million people, scientists say
· Rise In Climate-Related Deaths Will Surpass All Infectious Diseases
All of these reports are based on the misuse of scenarios, and especially RCP8.5.
Just last month the co-director of the Climate Impact Lab testified before Congress and argued that the “social cost of carbon” was far higher than previous estimates. In doing so he introduced a further methodological error by improperly pairing the extreme RCP8.5 scenario (again used as a baseline scenario in the underlying analyses) with the most pessimistic socioeconomic pathway (called Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 3).
Let me be clear about what is going on here. There is no hidden conspiracy, all of this is taking place in plain sight and in public. In fact, what is going on here is absolutely genius. We have a well-funded effort to fundamentally change how climate science is characterized in the academic literature, how that science is reported in the media, and ultimately how political discussions and policy options are shaped.
This effort has been phenomenally successful.
According to my search of academic citations (using Web of Science) about 12,000 academic papers have cited papers that mistakenly refer to RCP8.5 as “business as usual” and many improperly compare RCP scenarios as policy options. Of those 12,000 papers about 2,000 of them (involving just the two Risky Business lead researchers) refer to work originating in the investments of Steyer-Bloomberg-Paulson and continuing at the Climate Impact Lab.
Further, not only has the USNCA adopted the flawed methodology of the Risky Business projects, but so too has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, most notably in its 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. There can bee little doubt that climate science has been profoundly influenced by this campaign.
Of course, the Steyer-Bloomberg-Paulson investments are not solely responsible for the misuse of scenarios in the scientific literature, but they are clearly a significant part of the story.
The corruption of climate science has occurred because some of our most important institutions have let us down. The scientific peer review process has failed to catch obvious methodological errors in research papers. Leading scientific assessments have ignored conflicts of interest and adopted flawed methods. The media has been selectively incurious as to the impact of big money on climate advocacy.
This is a story of how wealth and power have corrupted science in pursuit of political goals. Climate change is important, there is no doubt. But the importance of climate change does not mean that we should abandon high standards of scientific integrity. We are going to need good science in the future — so it is best to keep it that way, no matter what cause it is enlisted to support.
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