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Tuesday, January 23rd 2007

"The Smoking Gun" For Global Warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a large report on February 2nd. From the AP,

“The smoking gun is definitely lying on the table as we speak,” said top U.S. climate scientist Jerry Mahlman, who reviewed all 1,600 pages of the first segment of a giant four-part report. “The evidence … is compelling.”

Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist and study co-author, went even further: “This isn’t a smoking gun; climate is a batallion of intergalactic smoking missiles.”

Strong words from what is really a giant literature review.

The report will draw on already published peer-review science. Some recent scientific studies show that temperatures are the hottest in thousands of years, especially during the last 30 years; ice sheets in Greenland in the past couple years have shown a dramatic melting; and sea levels are rising and doing so at a faster rate in the past decade.

It is easy to challenge the semantics of these guys, and clearly this is just low grade name calling by myself, but still how can this be a “smoking gun?” I really think that is ridiculous terminology to be using considering most of the data it draws on is already available. We’re just reading interpretations and conclusions.

An interpretation can never be a “smoking gun.”

Hilarity: If Paris (Where The Conference Is) Suffered A Heat Wave So Hot That The Paper Copy Of The Report Burst Into Flames

In anycase, the AP piece spends a lot of time on quotes concerning the fact that Global Warming is here. But no skeptic denies that temperatures have risen recently (however you want to define the time frame). The AP piece provides no hints at any potential NEW evidence about what humans have contributed to this rise or about advances in modeling the consequences of Global Warming.

The absolute crap shoot that is these models is my major fault with the entire “hype.” You really have no idea what the consequences of Global Warming will be. The consequences of Global Warming could be so negligible to human existence as to make all the paper and words wasted on this “catastrophe” so far look absolutely ridiculous – not to mention the lives and efforts of hundreds and hundreds of climate scientists.

Predictions for the future of global warming in the report are based on 19 computer models, about twice as many as in the past, Solomon said.

In 2001, the panel said the world’s average temperature would increase somewhere between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit and the sea level would rise between 4 inches and 35 inches by the year 2100. The 2007 report will likely have a smaller range of numbers for both predictions, Pachauri and other scientists said.

The future is bleak, scientists said.

Wow. We should make it clear – twice as many as past IPCC reports. Twice as many and it doesn’t raise the accuracy one damn bit. I mean are you kidding me? These models have so few real world events, so few short term predictions to use to judge their accuracy that it seems laughable to place so much weight in them.

Imagine, you’re an oncologist, and you have a new chemo drug compound. You send 19 of your colleagues off with the chemical structure of the drug and try to predict how it will effect say, a Burkitt’s lymphoma.

They all come back and say it’ll save any patient. It is a wonder drug. Now you as an oncologist go in and say, “We trust these models so much, we’re going to hype this drug to no end!”

And you tell the patient, “No need for any other drugs, we’re going to give you this single drug chemo regime without any clinical trials! I promise it’ll cure you!!!”

And while not a perfect analogy, the sad part is we probably understand the workings of Burkitt’s lymphoma better than we do climate change.

To make it more analogous they build models of Burkitt’s lymphoma, and then plug in some variables seen in previous patient’s. And then the models spit out how aggressive the lymphoma was, how well certain drugs worked for this patient, how the patient did, etc.

Then they go to the patient’s chart and compare what really happened to what the computer predicted and it’s pretty accurate.

Based on being able to mimic the past somewhat they claim a validity for their computer’s predictions on future events and on this completely new drug.

Nevermind they probably had to tweak the model and put in some completely “subjective” figures into the equations so that their predictions of previous events matched up “reasonably” well with what actually happened.

What I mean is, imagine you actually knew an outcome you wanted while “building” an equation. You wanted the number 5, and so you put together:


But when the computer ran the equation it came up with:


So you go in and make it:


Now you run it and it comes out with:


And you go, “Now it works!!”

In reality, you don’t completely understand how the determinants of the variable X should really interact (which is why you can’t tell me with any certainty if it is going to even rain tomorrow). Thus, you simply had to add a “random” process to X to get the results you wanted. Of course, since that isn’t really a “fix” there’s no guarantee that as the determinants of X change in the real world that the outcome of equation will have any validity at all.

I’m uninformed and providing a gross simplification, I know. However, I imagine that is what climate modeling is like. You tweak it until it is in line with past events and can predict (some) simple future consequences of rising temperatures and then shout that you know exactly what is going to happen.

You start citing those with an agenda or on the fringe and you start raising issues with your own credibility (luckily, I have no credibility to lose on this particular issue), but I liked this write up by the Heartland Institute,

The problem with global climate modeling groups is some actually believe their own P.R. Yes, it’s possible to get a model to reproduce anything you choose merely by tweaking a few parameters and running it enough times. But the model that reproduces the temperature history screws up precipitation, and the model that gets rainfall correct can’t generate the proper wind or pressure fields.

The reason is actually quite plain: We don’t understand the physics of the atmosphere well enough to model climate change.

Indeed, there are substantial variations amongst models. But groups like the ICPP look at mean values from a number of models and figure they’ve solved any discrepancies. I don’t know how anyone buys that.

So a climate model predicted ice shelves would start falling off. Or that the sea levels would rise in the range of what they have in the past decade. Or some other garbage. How many things has it missed? How many specific occurrences have failed to come to pass?

The sum total is – we really do not have nearly enough real world observations (since many of these models are long term) to judge the accuracy of these models.

The Predictions Of One Model, As Sea Levels Rise

What I’m really looking forward to in this report is Chapter 10: Global Climate Projections, Section: Uncertainties In Global Model Projections.

Let me make it clear, I want debate and I want study. And while I’m not personally convinced by the “facts,” what I mostly take offense at is the incredible over dramatization of the entire thing. It is fed by the media and as we see with some of the quotes in the AP piece it is fed by men of science.


Stop speaking with certainty. Stop speaking of the end of the world. Stop distorting the scenarios. Keep up the good research, but stop feeding the media frenzy that is driving me bananas.