Title: Apocalypse now? Communicating extreme forecasts

Authors: David C. Rode; Paul S. Fischbeck

Addresses: Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA ' Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA; Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA; Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA

Abstract: Apocalyptic forecasts are unique. They have, by definition, no prior history and are observed only in their failure. As a result, they fit poorly with our mental models for evaluating and using them. However, they are made with some frequency in the context of climate change. We review a set of forecasts involving catastrophic climate change-related scenarios and make several observations about the characteristics of those forecasts. We find that mentioning uncertainty results in a smaller online presence for apocalyptic forecasts. However, scientists mention uncertainty far more frequently than non-scientists. Thus, the bias in media toward coverage of non-scientific voices may be 'anti-uncertainty', not 'anti-science'. Also, the desire among many climate change scientists to portray unanimity may enhance the perceived seriousness of the potential consequences of climate catastrophes, but paradoxically undermine their credibility in doing so. We explore strategies for communicating extreme forecasts that are mindful of these results.

Keywords: apocalypse; climate change; communication; extreme event; forecast; forecasting; global warming; media; policy; prediction; risk; risk communication; uncertainty.

DOI: 10.1504/IJGW.2021.112896

International Journal of Global Warming, 2021 Vol.23 No.2, pp.191 - 211

Received: 16 Apr 2020
Accepted: 02 Aug 2020

Published online: 20 Jan 2021 *

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