Minimisation Is The New Denial: Climate scientists and the false hope of net-zero

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I am a climate advocate and psychotherapist. I provide a psychological perspective on the collective madness that creates dangerous climate change and what can be done to provoke us all into meaningful action at last.

Jackson Damian

Mar 8, 2024

The temperature extremes of 2023 and those coming in 2024, tell us we face the possibility of climate catastrophes that cause the collapse of whole societies and threaten the lives of millions, not at some distant point in our children’s futures but within our own lifetimes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and public-facing scientists have raised awareness and concern but they failed to predict the speed of these accelerating changes and now minimise the immediate threats they pose.

In 2023 the average global temperature was close to 1.5°C above the 1850–1900 baseline, the limit which the 2015 Paris COP21 climate summit told us we had to avoid breaching — by the end of the century — to avoid calamitous global consequences. The 12 months to the end of February 2024 took us to 1.56°C and we’re still climbing fast. It is true, as the ‘expert minimisers’ rush to say, that when the current ‘El Niño’ ends temperatures will dip down but they will not get much below 1.5°C again, if ever. These extremes make a mockery of the underestimates in climate scientists’ models, on which humanity’s inadequate climate plans still rely.

This simple, devastating information should be on everyone’s mind, everywhere. Yes, terrible conflicts and injustices rage across the planet but none of them, with no disrespect to the suffering of the people involved, presents the same scale of risks as climate change, not even close. Everyone should be connecting this alarming heating to the increasing number of ever-worsening extreme events they cause, happening on every continent, plus those soon to come — but they are not. Instead, all politicians, the media and most people still just don’t get that we are right now in dangerous, ‘uncharted waters’ (the latest climate cliché no-one listens to) — without a paddle.

Some usual-suspects still spread denialist non-sense but most responsibility for humanity’s lethal ignorancenow lies with the IPCC and public-facing expert-minimisers; they downplay evidence of accelerating extremes and promote false hopein ‘solutions’ based on technologies so far away from being developed on the scale needed, they are no more than magical-thinking.

This article outlines the main ways these minimisers avoid communicating that the climate crisis is not only bad, it’s much, much worse. It concludes by considering why they engage in these dangerous behaviours — and what can be done to get them to provoke meaningful action by telling the truth.

Moving the goalposts — how scientists don’t tell us how bad, they know, things really are…

The 1.5°C ‘limit’

Nowhere does the scientific community twist and turn itself into more knots to avoid telling it like it is, than when talking about the ‘1.5°C above pre-industrial’, average global temperature limit.

The simple truth is not only have we breached 1.5°C over the last 12 months but the 9 months to February 2024 were each the hottest ever experienced in the history of the human race, averaging around 1.7°C above this limit (February itself saw 1.77°C) with more such extremes expected until at least June of this year.

Nonetheless, the minimisers deny the 1.5°C limit is gone — and the terrifying reality we are now heading towards 2.0°C — using five main, irrational methods, all routinely parroted by policymakers and the media;

1. They deny acceleration in temperatures rises and insist we’re not really over 1.5°C because only long-term averages count.

2. They pretend we will return below 1.5°C once the current El Niño phase is over.

3. They downplay the significance of catastrophic increases in ocean temperatures, the related reduction in ‘global dimming’ and increasing methane levels.

4. They dismiss well-supported, scientific criticisms of the IPCC’s failing climate models

5. They promote false hope in hopelessly-inadequate net-zero ‘solutions’.

1. We’re not really at 1.5°C — oh yes we are…

The minimisers insist, in spite of the observations of all the institutions providing real-life measurements going back 12 months to the contrary, we aren’t really over the 1.5°C limit for 2023/2024. They say, only ‘long-term’average temperatures over decades count because these reduce potential inaccuracies caused by ‘natural variations’ in given years. This may have been a defensible approach when the IPCC was formed in 1988 but, as you don’t need a PhD to understand, this method is guaranteed to give a false under-estimate when temperatures are increasing rapidly over much shorter timeframes because of human activity — as they undeniably are.

The convoluted ‘long-term’ calculations allowing minimisers to claim we were only at 1.17°C above baseline in January 2024, rely on their insistence that temperatures increases are not accelerating but instead are ‘steady’ decade-to-decade. Even the conservative World Meterological Organisation’s (WMO) director general Celeste Saulo (finally) confirmed this is nonsense in December 2023, when she presented their detailed study finding, ‘the rate of climate change surged alarmingly between 2011–2020’. Not that detailed study was needed — as this graph featured by the New York Times shows:

The NYT still felt the need to say warming ‘may’ have accelerated, in deference to the promoters of ‘long-term’ averages no doubt but the fact is, long before the further surge in late 2023/early 2024 not plotted on this graph, that arguing against acceleration has been ridiculous for years. Michael Mann, the world’s expert-minimiser-in-chief admitted, following Canadian ‘heatdomes’ in 2021, that climate models had failed to predict such extreme events happening so fast. Perhaps his reluctance to acknowledge acceleration relates to his high-profile insistence that modelled predictions of average global warming, at least, are reliable — they really are not.

2. ‘It’s just an El Niño’ — oh no it’s not…

The argument that the heating we have seen in 2023–2024 is simply consistent with the levels forecast by climate models plus the ‘El Niño’ event in progress, ignoring the evidence that previous El Niños did not raise temperatures anything like as much, is espoused by Mann and the IPCC at every opportunity.

The reaction of many, less public-facing scientists, however, is less complacent. This is typified by the Finnish Meteorological Institute who found the 2023 temperature extremes ‘astonishing’, prompting them to review the accuracy of climate models. They focussed on September 2023 and found this broke the global mean temperature record by a ‘staggering’ 0.5°C — i.e. way more than explicable by ‘just an El Niño’ — and subsequent months did so by still more. The lead author, Mika Rantenen, concluded this difference was ‘extremely unlikely’ (a 1 in a 100 chance) to be due to ‘internal climate variability’ i.e. the El Niño alone. Other human-caused factors, the severity of which was not predicted by climate models, had to be responsible.

3. ‘Rising ocean temperatures and methane emissions don’t count’ — oh yes they do…

Most alarming of all in 2023/2024 is ocean warming which, as this graphic using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) data shows, is literally heading off the charts.

It is hard to overstate how devastating the consequences of the awesome forces responsible for this increased heating could be, they include:

1. Ever more extreme temperatures (February 2024 alone saw 140 countries breakmonthly heat records) — causing ever more extreme events including record hurricane numbers and Category 6 storms,as well as more, unprecedented, mega-catastrophes like the enormous, still-smouldering 2023 Canadian wildfires and Lebanese floods that killed 15,000 people.

2. Yet more chaotic variations in the jet streams leading to wild fluctuations in weather with disastrous impacts on agriculture — as witnessed across the planet in early 2024.

3. The apocalyptic possibility of the shutting-down of the ‘AMOC’, the ocean currents system in the Atlantic. Exactly how this plays out is unknown but there is a consensus this would be a ‘game-over’, collapse-level event. Minimisers are quick to stress this possibility is calculated as low (not nil) for now but increases during this century — not reassuring, especially as their models consistently fail to predict the related extent of Greenland ice melt.

4. The acceleration of ice melt at both poles; record ocean heating contributed to record low Antarctica ice extent in 2023 and to the alarmingly low thickness of Arctic Sea ice (highlighted by the University of Bremen) in early 2024.

The precise causes of accelerating ocean temperatures are, as Joel Herschi from the UK National Oceanographic Centre says, the ‘subject of ongoing research’ (academic-speak for, ‘we don’t know’) — but no-one is suggesting this is not climate change in action. One possible explanation is these are underlying increases, much stronger than climate models predicted, ‘masked’ by the cooling effects of the last ‘La Niña’.

A more radical suggestion links higher ocean temperatures to a rapid decline in atmospheric ‘aerosol loading’, in particular due to reductions in sulphur oxide emitted by shipping. New legislation implemented on January 1st 2020 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) reduced, by 80%, bunker-fuel sulphur oxide emissions from shipping in the interests of human health. Further recent studies ignored by minimisers found this caused a significant decline in the atmospheric ‘dimming’ effect these aerosols provided, especially over the oceans. ‘Dimming’, in contrast to greenhouse gases, lowers global temperatures because these aerosols reflect light/heat (energy basically) back into space.

Whatever precisely is going on in the oceans, it is several alarming orders of statistical significance in excess of the mean expected in an El Niño event. The response of the expert-minimisers so far seems to be cross their fingers and hope it’s a ‘temporary anomaly’.

Methane

Methane emissions are shorter-lived but more powerful than CO2 and were all but ignored by the IPCC prior to being significantly under-estimated in their 2023 ‘Final Synthesis’ report. More studies too recent for the IPCC’s slow consideration, report atmospheric methane concentrations are rising faster than predicted from melting wetlands. Most recently in February 2024 Torben Christensen at the Arctic Research Centre, found rapidly-accelerating levels in the Arctic. These are deeply alarming as they are not something we can easily control or ‘reverse’ — like the methane emissions from human agricultural and industrial activities which are all that feature in current climate plans.

4. The models are right — oh no, they really are not…

The biggest contributor to global heating remains carbon dioxide (CO2) and that’s still going up too. In January 2024 CO₂ emissions were at 422.80 ppm, a significant 3.32 ppm gain over the previous 12 months — February 2024 saw a further unprecedented spike.

Ominously, 2023 research led byJames Hansen, the ‘godfather’ of climate science, indicate the failure of IPPC-favoured climate models to predict current extremes relates to fundamental errors in their calculation of how ‘sensitive’ the climate is to increased CO2 levels. Michael Mann’s response was to accuse Hansen of being ‘outside of the mainstream’ — while failing to provide an alternative explanation for the planet’s accelerating temperatures. Perhaps it is again significant that reductions in human-caused dimming and the climate sensitivity argument, also provide evidence that the climate models we are relying on and which Mann still defends, are so significantly flawed.

5. The ‘energy transition to net-zero’ will save us — oh no, it really won’t…

The UN defines net-zero as ‘cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible’ via a combination of an energy transition from fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ and CO2 removal (CDR) from the atmosphere.

Minimisers claim this ‘transition’ is well underway when, in fact, renewables still make up less than 20% of total energy use — and more than 50% of those are biomass i.e. burning wood mostly, now totally discredited given this process increases atmosphericCO2 way more than ‘replanting’ absorbs. The loud claims for solar and wind hide the fact these still make up only around 5% of the total and usually refer only to global electricity consumption, of which in 2023 they made up just 12%. The planned increases of these still won’t have a significant impact on total emissions; there is no prospect of them replacing fossil fuels for mining, heavy and manufacturing industry, construction and related transport. The hard truth is, under current net zero plans, renewables will remain for years ‘additional’ fuel sources that, at best, slightly reduce ongoing increases in emissions.

Net zero plans also rely on us removing carbon dioxide (CDR) from the atmosphere, in addition to the capacity of the planets’ natural sinks — but even the most optimistic proponents of emerging CDR technologies envisage these will remove less than 2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050. 2 billion tonnes of CO2 are how much theCanadian forest fires added on their own in 2023, in addition to the 40 billion tonnes human activity emitted in the same year, bringing the total still up there added by humanity to around 1400 billion tonnes.The idea CDR is a realistic response to reducing CO2 levels on the scale needed is mathematically-laughable, or it would be if we weren’t gambling our survival on this. Equally unfunny is the capacity of natural sinks diminishing fast because warming oceans absorb less CO2 and fire, drought and deforestation are shrinking the planet’s forests.

40 billion tonnes of CO2 is also the amount we will emit this in 2024 and for years to come — debunking the recent false-hope claims highlighted by minimisers that we are ‘on the right track’ because GHG emissions are increasing ‘slower than forecast’.

Unsurprisingly, net-zero plans also ignore reduced ‘dimming’ from aerosol emissions, not only from shipping but from other industrial activities (the IMO regulations affected only 10% of the total). If fossil fuels emissions are reduced or further cleaned up, the additional loss of dimming will cause further blistering surges in temperatures. Scientists and the IPCC know this but they don’t account for it, apparently reasoning, ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ — even now our experience with shipping shows, that when we get to that bridge it will very likely be on fire.

IPCC-endorsed net-zero calculations take none of this into account but even then require CO2 emissions to halve by 2030, for us to ‘stay under 1.5C’ (honest). This halving is equivalent to the same reductions caused by the Covid19 slowdown — increased by the same amount every year, starting in 2024. Existing international action and plans are, of course, not remotely contemplating actions to deliver this.

The unavoidable truth, known to but never told by scientists, is only massive cuts in non-essential human activity could produce meaningful emissions reductions from this point.

Scientists — other than Michael Mann — do admit that even such drastic reductions only might see temperatures come down because the immense natural forces we have set in motion now have their own warming momentum, so there are no guarantees there either. This means they also know, that the ‘overshoot’ argument suggesting we can exceed 1.5C ‘temporarily’ before seeing temperatures decrease again when our plans deliver net-zero, is just more magical-thinking.

Cause and effect — the consequences of false hope…

Thanks in large part to the expert minimisers, it is impossible to overstate just how catastrophically ignorant most people still are of the imminence and scale of the climate threats we face.

This ignorance is understandable, given the positions of trusted messengers the IPCC, and the likes of Michael Mann, are assumed to hold. Most policymakers, corporations, media articles and most in the green movement still reference the impossible ‘net-zero’ plans minimisers endorse. Worse, all the talk of crisis and emergency and averages has lost its wider impact — most people, many of whom are struggling with the stress of other immediate and worsening crises, discount scientist’salarming vocabulary, not least because it is invariably linked to the false-hope that net-zero plans are ‘the solution’.

The ‘1.5°C limit’, although referenced everywhere, never meant much to the public anyway. The minimisers could still, however, use the fact we’ve smashed through this, 75 years ahead of schedule, as a way to communicate their fears and promote understanding that radical new plans are needed — but their minimising and obfuscation means the ‘average temperature increases’ narrative is fast losing whatever power it had.

Hence Mann was unchallenged when he told the world we were at 1.0C above the pre-industrial average in October 2023 (writing in ‘The Hill’), and neither was the IPCC when they referred to a 1.1C increase at COP28 a few weeks later.

Michael Mann is the ringleader of this strange minimising circus, but there are many other performers and for global media, there’s no other show in town. Richard Betts at the UK Met Office, themselves famously reticent about the imminence of climate change threats, speaking in November 2023 to ‘The Carbon Trust’ said,‘to have any chance of limiting warming to below 1.5°C we have to bring emissions to zero or Net Zero by the middle of the century at the latest.’Nothing in this sentence made sense in the context of observable reality but the interviewer didn’t challenge Betts, nor did editors at other agencies who picked up his comments.

In January 2024 Betts was back, genuinely worried by live data no doubt and perhaps aware his previous messaging was incomprehensible, saying, “We can still limit the extent to which extremes get worse if we urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero.” So, 1.5°C and the reassuringly-distant ‘middle of the century’ were gone, replaced by ‘urgently’ and ‘worsening extremes’ we could only ‘limit’. Crucially, however, there was still false hope in Betts’ opening, ‘We can still…’ and nothing that followed to communicate what he had to know; that existing net-zero plans were catastrophically inadequate.

The wider scientific community — although routinely reported to be ‘scared’, including one scientist the BBC reported who was, ‘so extremely worried and completely stressed’ by ocean temperatures they could not talk ‘on the record’ — doesn’t help much either. Every new, shocking, ‘faster-than-expected’ climate study unfailingly concludes with standardised pleas to ‘reduce emissions urgently’ but never challenges the IPCC-endorsed, net-zero plans these highly-intelligent people also know are meaningless.

Some senior groups, like those who produced a ‘Special State of the Climate’ report led by William J Ripple in December 2023, acknowledge we are in ‘uncharted territory’ i.e. because the climate models supposed to have done the ‘charting’, relied on by the IPCC and net zero plans everywhere, have been proved so wrong. This acknowledgement obliged Ripple’s group to recommend our global economic system must radically change to abandon ‘growth’ and provide equitably according to need. They still buried this crucial information and the seismic consequences for societal change it implied, however, in detail that went unnoticed by the media before returning to their own privileged lives that do not model what they discretely preach. James Hansen and his colleagues, by contrast, tend to divert attention from the drastic economic system changes needed by promoting the deployment of ‘Hail Mary’ geo-engineering projects, themselves fraught with massive risk.

These groups are, anyway, exceptions; cryptic hints, standardised, clichéd alarms no-one listens to and meaningless references to net-zero are now the norm — the minimisers have won, their narrative dominates every climate change media story. From the business press to those who claim to lead on climate coverage like The UK Guardian; they all deliver the same message — our net-zero plans will save us.

Even those in the climate ‘bubble’, the green charities and pressure groups, promote actions linked to our fraudulent net-zero plans; they focus on campaigning and personal lifestyle choices. These professional greens avoid communicating that none of these net-zero-targeting good deeds (however genuine their intentions) have any impact on our apocalyptic trajectory — because only radical system change delivering reductions in all non-essential human activity, could do that now. To be fair, in common with corporate and most media employees, they would be out of a job if they did.

IPCC chair Jim Skea, in advance of COP28, announced exceeding 1.5°C was ‘not a cause for despair’ or an ‘extinction-level threat’. He called instead for ‘balance’ and pointed to the progress on ‘electrification’. With messages like that from the chair of the organisation representing climate scientists plus the ongoing efforts of expert-minimisers — it’s inevitable so few understand our existing climate plans have zero value.

Could expert-minimisers ever tell the truth — and finally provoke meaningful action?

The allegiance of climate scientists to the idea they must not confront people with reality, aka tell the truth, for fear of them losing ‘hope’, seems to originate from the doctrine of ‘stubborn optimism’, championed by Christiana Figueres, lead architect of the Paris Agreement and the writer, Rebecca Solnit. As Rupert Read says these stubborn optimists, ‘urge upon us endless hope and forbid any despair… no matter what.’ When, as Read adds, what’s urgently needed, in the face of our extreme situation, is ‘stubborn realism’.

Read is a professional philosopher and a long-time climate campaigner who got his highly-intelligent brain around the climate problem decades ago — but you don’t need a PhD to understand this. Every mechanic, nurse, project manager, parent, schoolchild — everyone — knows step one in response to a serious problem is you make a realistic assessment. Hope doesn’t come into it. Hope would not have prevented the Titanic from sinking — only an accurate assessment of the problem that led to the ship slowing down or changing direction could have done that and, make no mistake, we’re doing neither.

But still the minimisers hold back. Since the unmitigated failure of COP28 — legitimised by their out-of-date, under-estimated evidence — the IPCC has disappeared down the rabbit hole of another, tortuous, self-imposed ‘7-year reporting cycle’, which everyone knows has no chance of keeping up with the rate of change or enabling them to provide realisticclimate risk assessments.

Instead of facing up to their (forgivable) mistakes — and the consequences — minimisers double-down on their attacks on denialists and the oil companies, including by scapegoating individuals such as the Oil Company CEO President of COP28, Sultan El Jaber. Everyone knows oil-execs are contractually locked-into their insane, destructive roles — and cannot change their nefarious behaviours even if they wanted to, until the system changes — but that’s irrelevant because the minimisers’ pointing at them is intended only to deflect from their own responsibility. This deflection masks an uncomfortable truth; minimisers are terrified people will realise their endorsement of spurious net-zero plans is as catastrophic for humanity as the oil companies’ promotion of more fossil fuel consumption. El Jaber claimed at COP28, as he had all year, that economic ‘growth’ wasn’t possible while ‘phasing out’ fossil fuels — and that anyone who disagreed was condemning humanity to live as ‘cavemen’. This provoked outrage from Mann and others but their protests obscured the fact the Sultan’s opinions were consistent with IPCC-endorsed ‘net-zero’ plans — they both commit humanity to the same desperate trajectory.

This posturing as a warrior for truth, Mann also diverts time to court cases against US denialists, is shared by other minimisers such as Katherine Hayhoe — but cannot protect them from reasoned critiques referencing the facts catching up with us all. Mann makes increasingly-unconvincing dismissals of these; ‘I have 3 degrees in physics’, was his unscientific latest, when challenged again about Hansen’s findings.

Others who highlight reality get labelled as ‘doomers’ who are ‘as dangerous as oil companies’. These mysterious doomers — who appear to be only a few individuals with enough time and education to engage with the scientific papers and live observations — go un-noticed by most and are very rarely quoted in the media or anywhere, making it impossible to know how they are supposed to be so influential. The truth is ‘doomers’ exist only as strawmen targets for minimisers to further deflect attention away from themselves; minimisers project onto ‘doomer’ bogeymen their intolerable shame for the consequences of their fatally-flawed narrative. The absence of evidence for their alleged menace hasn’t stopped this sinister-doomer-threat narrative being enthusiastically picked up by commentators everywhere, from the corporate world to Prince William. No surprise; the doomer label is useful to dismiss anyone trying to promote engagement with the facts and the drastic system changes this engagement implies.

Probably the only group who could hope to challenge the expert minimisers — because professional status is of paramount importance to them — is their peers i.e. other climate scientists. Many of them do reference objective commentaries like this one; they are aware that a much stronger power-group from within a fracturing scientific community needs to emerge to take this problem on — and fast. This discussion has roots in the individual and collective subconscious processes of the scientific community — which maps onto the challenge of getting all of society to collectively change and is worth another article in itself (coming soon). The professionally-ingrained ponderousness of scientific behaviours, however, doesn’t inspire confidence in their capacity for assertive action or rapid change. As such, tragically, perhaps the best hope for meaningful action is another of the unpredicted mega-catastrophes — that we will soon experience — finally shocks these influential minimisers, not least the IPCC, into telling the truth.

Michael Mann likes to say when attacking realists/doomers, ‘the truth is bad enough’. Well yes, Professor, it is; if only you could use your prized status and influence to tell it, humanity might start devising responses that could at least reduce some harm.

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