Saturday, 27 October 2007

Climate Change officially becomes a Religion

There's been quite a bit to talk about on the world's most boring subject - global warming - lately.

As regular readers know, I am a harsh critic of climate models. None of them have ever been accurate even when hindcasting; that is, start the model in 1920 and see if it's accurate in 1950.

Now we have a series of articles reporting on research from Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker of the University of Washington in Seattle who say that not only are models not accurate but that they never will be.

Is this good news for Climate Blasphemers like myself? Well, yes and no, as we shall see.

From New Scientist:
Climate change models, no matter how powerful, can never give a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the Earth, according to a new study.

The result will provide ammunition to those who argue not enough is known about global warming to warrant taking action.

...It now appears that the estimates will never get much better. The reason lies with feedbacks in the climate system. For example, as the temperature increases, less snow will be present at the poles. Less snow means less sunlight reflected back into space, which means more warming.

...What is more, they found that better computer models or observational data will not do much to reduce that uncertainty. A better estimate of sensitivity is the holy grail of climate research, but it is time to "call off the quest", according to a commentary published alongside the paper.
Summary from Science magazine:
Uncertainties in projections of future climate change have not lessened substantially in past decades. Both models and observations yield broad probability distributions for long-term increases in global mean temperature expected from the doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, with small but finite probabilities of very large increases. We show that the shape of these probability distributions is an inevitable and general consequence of the nature of the climate system, and we derive a simple analytic form for the shape that fits recent published distributions very well. We show that the breadth of the distribution and, in particular, the probability of large temperature increases are relatively insensitive to decreases in uncertainties associated with the underlying climate processes.
From Nature magazine:
Climate models might be improving but they will never be able to tell us exactly what to expect. That's the conclusion of experts from the University of Washington, Seattle, who have set out to prove that predicting the exact level of climate change is by its very nature an uncertain science.

Over the past 30 years, climate models have not appreciably narrowed down the precise relationship between greenhouse gases and the planet's temperature — despite huge advances in computing power, climate observations and the number of scientists studying the problem, say Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker. The researchers now argue that this is because the uncertainty simply cannot be reduced.
That really is pretty unequivocal. The models are not accurate and cannot be relied upon, which is what I've been saying all along. Anyone with even a modicum of ability in mathematics and statistics would say the same thing.

So is the argument won? Not so fast.

The Nature article continues:

They and other climatologists are now calling on policy-makers to make decisive policies on avoiding dangerous climate change, even if we don't have perfect models. This means focusing on keeping the planet's temperature below a certain point (and being willing and able to adjust emissions targets to achieve that), rather than trying to work out far in advance the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that will produce that level of warming.
The models are meant to represent the whole of our understanding of the climate system. They are the basis for all predictions of future climate change. If they're wrong then it's clear that we do not understand the climate system. Clearly, if they're going to be as hopelessly inaccurate as they have been hitherto then only a fool would commit trillions of dollars of the world's economic growth based on their forecasts.

Now we have a situation in which the whole basis of the climate change argument has fallen apart - "the science is settled" - so what's the answer?

Throw the models out and continue the plan to restrict the world's growth anyway.


With the evidence - models, surface temperature record, the Hockey Stick, An Inconvenient Truth - crumbling around them they turn to the only thing they can - faith.

Thus, climate science becomes more like a religion - or cult - every day.

(Nothing Follows)


Francis W. Porretto said...

One of the most striking passages in Murray Rothbard's For A New Liberty is at the beginning of his chapter on environmentalism. He chronicles the shifts in leftist crisis-mongering, which, dramatic as they are both in orientation and in rhetoric, never seem to produce any change in their policy prescriptions. It's too long to reproduce here, but the concluding quote from the great Joseph Schumpeter is priceless:

"Capitalism stands its trial begore judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets. They are going to pass it, whatever the defense they may hear; the only success victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment." [Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy]

Anonymous said...

Your problem in understanding what the Roe and Baker paper is actually saying seems to stem from your apparent belief that 'uncertainty' and 'inaccuracy' mean the same thing. The paper talks about uncertainties in climate models, not inaccuracies. Have a good read of a dictionary if you're not sure of the difference. And be sure to read the definitions given for a scientific context.

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