Accuracy in Media

BuzzFeed treats us to an apocalyptic vision of what will happen when the oceans rise. The problem being that the vision doubles the effect of something that might happen in two thousand years, of something that we already know isn’t going to happen anyway. Which really does seem to be scaring the readership for no good reason.

The claims are made here, with lovely pictures of what global landmarks will look like if we don’t all stop emitting that pesky carbon. This is what will happen, we are told, if the Earth remains upon the current emissions path and the temperature rises 3°C.

As it happens the first of those global landmarks is Buckingham Palace, in London, England. They show the waters lapping 3 meters deep at the walls. Except the palace is already roughly 10 meters above sea level.

Except, the original scientific “paper” describing these perils doesn’t in fact say that. Via Climate Central, we get this:

Using state-of-the-art new global elevation and population data, we show here that, under high emissions scenarios leading to 4°C warming and a median projected 8.9 m of global mean sea level rise within a roughly 200- to 2000-year envelope,

The claim is 4°C, not 3°C. This is important, as 4°C comes from the climate change projection known as RCP 8.5. This is generally agreed now to be one of the projections that simply will not happen. We’ve invented renewables and curbed the growth in emissions. In fact, from the original model description, the invention of fracking was enough to ensure this would never happen. Even then it was only put into the calculations to give us the really scary forecast of what wouldn’t happen, but just might, maybe, be the worst that could happen.

We might also note that 2,000 years is about the time since the Emperor Augustus handed over to Tiberius, or four times longer than the gap between today and Columbus sailing the ocean blue.  Not exactly a time span that we think has much relevance to actions we take this day.

So BuzzFeed has doubled the effect of a sea-level rise that isn’t going to happen, that isn’t going to happen in the next 20 generations even if it did, and used the wrong temperature to worry about it anyway. We’ll ascribe it to bias because of that big COP 26 meeting next week – gotta scare the folks, right? – rather than the more logical conclusion that they simply haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.




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