Climate Change Researchers Suggest a Middle Course

Focusing on worst-case scenarios is unwise, group of scientists suggests
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2022 7:15 PM CDT
Climate Change Researchers: Don't Focus on Worst Outcomes
Skiers make the most of little snow on Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand, last month. Climate change appears to be involved in causing a disastrous snow season, leaving two of the nation's largest ski destinations nearing bankruptcy.   (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

Researchers in Colorado don't dispute that climate change could have catastrophic effects before long. But concentrating on worst-case scenarios can be counterproductive, they said in urging colleagues to focus more on middling potential outcomes, Study Finds reports. "We shouldn't overstate or understate our climate future," said Matt Burgess of the University of Colorado-Boulder in a statement. "People need to think in terms of gradations, not absolutes." Possibilities at the extremes should be understood, Burgess said. "But it's what's in the middle that is more likely," he said. "And that deserves more research."

The argument was in response to a University of Cambridge-led study advocating for keeping the focus of research on the most damaging end of the spectrum, all the way to the possibility of the extinction of humans. That team wrote that despite decades of study, "climate catastrophe is relatively under-studied and poorly understood." Knowing more about the "extreme consequences" of climate change could spark action, the study says. It contends that the study of possible effects of a global temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius has been insufficient compared with its likelihood; research has been concentrated on potential increases of 1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees.

Burgess said "climate catastrophism" does other harm, including adding to the youth mental health crisis. More than 40% of young adults report dwelling on climate change issues, which can have a negative effect on them, per Study Finds. "We don't want to ignore the possibility of catastrophic societal collapse or human extinction," said Burgess, a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, "but it shouldn't be our main focus right now." (Read more climate change stories.)

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