Thursday, July 28, 2005

Environmental Cognitive Dissonance

Knowing something about nonlinear dynamical systems I immediately smelled a rat when the MSM began to retail various computerized global circulation models as reliable predictors of the Earth's temperature a century from now. It was clear to me that climatologists didn't know enough about key factors influencing climate to create trustworthy models and a century's worth of linear economic extrapolations were based on the assumption that there would be no significant innovations in energy production technology for the next 100 years. In order to predict the Earth's average temperature 50 years from now it is also necessary to predict the state of technology and characterize the global economy 50 years down the line. The foolishness of it all amazed me. How could anyone take any of this seriously?

Nonetheless, I dispassionately examined the science involved in the first and subsequent IPCC reports along with various doomsday predictions from environmentalist groups. The opinion I ultimately formed wasn't based on press releases but from a thoughtful scrutiny of peer-reviewed studies published in reputable scientific publications. I was helped by the fact that I have in the past been a published scientist and know a great deal about statistics and scientific method. In the end I concluded that the argument for significant anthropogenic sources of warming is weak, the climate is probably getting warmer in unexpected ways and that there was little we can do about it except to gradually adapt to changing circumstances.

Furthermore, it is entirely unclear to me whether further warming is bad or good. CO2 is plant food and necessary for almost all surface life on Earth. What concentrations are too little, too much or just right? There is an average surface temperature that promotes the greatest abundance and diversity of life on this planet. What is it? If you were made God for a day and given two knobs to tweak: CO2 as a percentage of the atmosphere and average surface temperature how would you adjust them in order to maximize plant and animal life on this planet? You don't have a clue, do you? No one else has one either. We are not alone.

Knee-jerk environmentalists who can't accept anything other than incipient ecological Armaggedon are immune to reason. Those who actually want to build a more realistic and dispassionate model of the state of climate prediction efforts are well advised to check out the following links:

  • The University of Calgary has produced a twenty minute or so video overview of some current scientific objections to claims that global warming is in large or significant measure anthropogenic. See it here Video.
  • The test of any mathematical model is predictive validity. Would you buy and sell stock based on a computer program that had in the past selected 3 winners, 27 losers and 1 stock that didn't move in either direction? I think not. Would you bet our economy on a global circulation model that did as poorly? You will find a summary of the accuracy of GCM predictions here: Scorecard.
  • Can you tell the difference between politicized junk science and objective sound science? The Junk Man will help you sort it out at Junk Science.
An enormous amount of grant money has funded a great deal of research since the initial IPCC report and Kyoto fiasco. Scientists have made enormous strides in reconstructing global mean temperatures and atmospheric CO2 concentrations over very long time spans. Their findings are incompatible with the notion that atmospheric CO2 concentration is the principle factor determining global mean temperature. As one would expect in a relatively immature area of scientific inquiry into a very complex phenomenon, the more we learn the less we know. That is as it should be. It also wise to refrain from betting the farm until we have a better understanding of how things really work.

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