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Comment: When in doubt, assume the worst case scenario

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Comment: When in doubt, assume the worst case scenario

When climate scientists predict a temperature rise of, say, 1 to 3 degrees, there are two typical reactions among the usual suspects. Firstly: “What then? 1 or 3 degrees? So they don’t know exactly themselves. Then they should just research further.” Secondly: “So it can only be 1 degree? Then what’s the fuss about? It’s not all that bad.”


It’s just unfortunate that it could also be 3 degrees with the same probability. There are increasing examples of where exactly this happened – where projections were still too cautious. As early as 2011, researchers discovered that sea levels were rising more than expected. And recently the physicist Sabine Hossenfelder pointed out that some climate models are predicting a significantly greater increase in temperature than the previous consensus.

Part of the explanation is pure statistics. Although extreme values ​​are less likely to occur than the average, they sometimes do – on both sides of the spectrum. But what is even more worrying is that there appear to be certain mechanisms that are systematically making the situation worse. The most well-known of these mechanisms are the so-called climate tipping points, which are particularly easy to observe on the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. There may also be other, as yet unknown effects. “The extent and duration of the events speak for this [Temperatur-]Anomaly,” writes Spectrum of Science. “Every single month since June has been the warmest since records began, sometimes by a remarkable margin.”

Gregor Honsel has been a TR editor since 2006. He believes that many complex problems have simple, easy-to-understand but wrong solutions.

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This means that uncertainties in climate models are not an argument for delaying countermeasures until there is more clarity. On the contrary: it would be a useful working hypothesis to assume the worst case scenario when in doubt. You can still be pleasantly surprised.


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