Principles of Climate Science Estimation Theory

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At the People's Climate March last month, a throng of boisterous protestors trudged through the streets of Manhattan, demanding that elected officials finally begin treating climate change as a top priority. "Climate Action Now," demanded a popular sign. Accompanied by such climate change luminaries as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, comedian Chris Rock, and actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, the climate cause message would be heard loud and clear, at last. The size of the crowd (estimated to be tens of thousands to 400,000, and according to MediaMatters, "by far the largest climate-related protest in history") moved NYC mayor, Bill De Blasio, to hope that this time it would be a “turning point moment” in sounding the alarm of climate change — an outcry that, to De Blasio and fellow climateers, had the auditory effect of "the science is settled" being shrieked 400,000 times.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who has equated global warming with weapons of mass destruction, was also hopeful. In town to attend a separate, private climate-change event, Kerry expressed an optimism "that world leaders [would] come to the United Nations to recognize this threat [global warming, not WMDs] in the way that it requires and demands." An ardent believer in settled science, Mr. Kerry may have overestimated its power when he urged governments to exploit "the small window of time that we have left in order to be able to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from already happening." Few stand in greater awe of science than John Kerry.

And there was no shortage of Superstorm Sandy reminders, testifying to the rising sea levels that will inundate such cities as New York. "We're seeing storms that are devastating the East Coast and the Gulf Coast,” cried Ricken Patel, the executive director of the march. “We're seeing flooding that's threatened this city and many others.” “Cut your emissions or you'll sleep with the fishes," warned a popular sign. To all in attendance, it was time to build dikes.

Who cares if the models are deeply flawed? It feels like they are accurate.

How high should we build them? The current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate is about two feet, unless one is designing for the worst case scenario, which is three feet. These are estimates (from the IPCC's latest climate assessment report, AR5, released in September, 2013) for global mean sea level rise (GMSLR) by the year 2100. More recently, the Obama administration's National Climate Assessment (NCA) has given two, much higher, estimates. The first, which assumes that humanity will adopt NCA recommendations for curbing CO2 emissions, is three feet. The second, which assumes that humanity will ignore its recommendations, is six feet. That is, the dikes should be six feet high.

In his 2006 Academy Award winning documentary,An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore estimated a 20-foot sea level rise, driven by rapidly melting Arctic ice. In 2007, as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate change speculations, Gore exclaimed, "The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff," estimating that "it could be completely gone in summer" by 2013. James Hansen, the father of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), estimated a similar, but more sinister, rise: the current linear GMSLR trend will change to exponential growth (a dog-whistle term, invoking unimaginable imaginary rage from the climate cult), with the approach of 2100.

But the accuracy of such estimates — of accelerated ice melt flow abruptly raising global sea levels — is not without controversy. In a 2007 hearing by the House Committee on Science and Technology, IPCC scientist Richard Alley testified that "on this particular issue, the trend of acceleration of this flow with warming, we don’t have a good assessed scientific foundation right now."

Testifying again, in 2010, Dr. Alley discussed climate "tipping points" (another cultist dog-whistle), stating that "available assessments . . . do not point to a high likelihood of triggering an abrupt climate change in the near future that is large relative to natural variability, rapid relative to the response of human economies, and widespread across much or all of the globe. However, such an event cannot be ruled out entirely."

Antarctic sea ice, which has been increasing since sea ice extent measurements began in 1979, reached a record level in 2014.

Then there is the suite of General Circulation Models (GCMs) — climate simulations used by scientists to estimate the magnitude of future climate havoc, and used by politicians as the scientific basis for estimating the magnitude of their agendas. Such simulations have demonstrated little predictive value. Despite the IPCC's resounding 95% certainty (the gold standard, said CNN) of AGW and Kerry's assurance (another gold standard) that "the science has never been clearer," levee designers would do well actually to read AR5, especially where it states that “there remain significant errors in the model simulation of clouds. It is very likely that these errors contribute significantly to the uncertainties in estimates of cloud feedbacks and consequently in the climate change projections.”

Nevertheless, many of us are reluctant to dismiss the infernal claims of the catastrophists. After all, their estimates are generated by highly sophisticated and complex computer simulations. Who cares if the models are deeply flawed? It feels like they are accurate. How else can extreme weather events (storms, droughts, wildfires, famines, violent crime, terrorism, etc.) be explained? Besides, we've seen the melting Arctic — over and over again, every summer. And, God have mercy, the beleaguered polar bears, waiting despondently for the ice that will never return, and their consequent extinction. More alarming is some scientists’ claim that West Antarctica is beyond saving. Are we only left to hope, along with John Kerry, that science can prevent it "from already happening"?

Hope may not be enough. The phrase "cannot be ruled out entirely" leaves the door open for larger estimates. It is the door to cataclysm, through which Dr. Alley — the voice of reason, under oath — scurried in a Mother Jones interview last May, when he estimated that the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet "will unleash a global Superstorm Sandy that never ends." Combined with a Greenland ice melt (next in line for catastrophe), which will be equivalent to "the storm surge caused by Supertyphoon Haiyan," this could produce, according to Alley’s estimates, a sea level rise of 33 feet — apparently unleashing a Super Hurricane Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan that never ends. Alley went on to claim that if governments continue to "fiddle and do nothing," then the entire continent (Antarctica) would melt; he estimated that "someday, it would reward you with as much as 200 feet of sea level rise."

It seems that the scientific foundation Dr. Alley discovered as a basis for these estimates, the foundation that was missing in 2007, was lost again the following month, when it was reported that Antarctic sea ice, which has been increasing since sea ice extent measurements began in 1979, reached a record level. And, while it is true that the Arctic sea ice extent has been decreasing since 1979, it began to rebound in 2013 — ironically, the very year Mr. Gore picked to mark the end of its summer ice. The Arctic sea ice extent at the end of this summer's melt season was 48% greater than that of 2012. Over the past two years, annual Arctic ice has increased dramatically in both area (up 43 to 63%) and volume (up 50%).

These developments have led some scientists to conclude that "the Arctic sea ice spiral of death seems to have reversed." Yet they have led others to invoke CO2, ecologism's god of climate, which is supposedly planning to rid the Arctic of summer ice "by September 2015" — just in time for next year's ice melt season, and, given the now-expected resumption of Arctic summer tours,idyllic climate change vacations, with happy climate changers photographing forlorn polar bears and retreating glaciers.

Such a rapid climate reversal would be seen as a mystical event by climate cultists. It would certainly mystify John Kerry, not to mention Al Gore, whose standing as a climate prophet would be restored (what's a two-year error in climate forecasting?). It would end the warming pause — now in its 16th year, befuddling our best climate scientists, who can't explain how the more than 100 billion tons of CO2 that have been belched into the atmosphere since 1998 have produced no warming — and the yearning of catastrophists for the return of rising temperatures. In that coming warmth, they will revel in their bombastic estimates of danger and their equally alarming prescriptions (i.e., humanity's penance) for saving the planet.

Politicians jump with alacrity to unprincipled estimates of human attribution and government remedies of future warming — all of them inexplicably precise.

But there is growing evidence that next September may be too early for celebration. The apocalypse might be postponed. The sluggish rise in sea level that began around 1850 (at the end of the Little Ice Age, when sea level was low, and could be expected to rise) remains sluggish. Many people (possibly everyone who actually read AR5) should find that the IPCC's estimate of GMSLR is not supported by the evidence it provided. For example, the IPCC analysis assumes that the accelerated sea level rise beginning around 1970 was the result of anthropogenic forcing. But the sea level rise from 1910 to 1950, a period during which human influence was not "the dominant cause of the observed warming," was of similar magnitude. Several recent studies (e.g., American Meteorological Society, Environmental Science, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) agree, finding no evidence of a global warming influence on sea levels, and estimating a GMSLR of less than 5 inches per century.

Thus, after more than 25 years of intense climate research, the estimated end-of-century sea level rise is somewhere between 5 inches and 20 feet; but it could be 33 feet, and 200 feet cannot be ruled out entirely. Thanks, climate scientists, for settling the science. But what's the safe dike height?

Unfortunately, politicians, the de facto gurus of climate science, think that they know. Trampling over the principles of climate science (principles for estimating the rate of warming and its human component), they jump with alacrity to unprincipled estimates of human attribution and government remedies of future warming — all of them inexplicably precise. But the vast majority of climate scientists agree, we are told.

The search for scientific truth to inform climate change policy has become, however well-intentioned, a campaign of public deception to promote a political agenda. Can an agenda whose success depends on unrelenting estimates of looming catastrophe, ceaseless exploitation of fear, and infantile suppression of debate (the “consensus,” the “settled science,” the vilification of skeptics, etc.) be expected to do more than provoke record-breaking climate change marches, demonstrations of science-illiterates and the willfully uninformed? Is climate change policy based on sound science, designed to ensure our safety, or is it based on green hysteria, maintained to ensure an omnipotent government state? Liberal French philosopher Pascal Bruckner (in “Against Environmental Panic)suspects the latter: a cynical ideology in which "All the foolishness of Bolshevism, Maoism, and Trotskyism are somehow reformulated exponentially in the name of saving the planet."

Are the new climate Cassandras (Obama, Gore, Kerry, et alia) principled climate change heroes, seeking scientific truth? In Bruckner's estimation, it might be that "these are not great souls who alert us to troubles but tiny minds who wish us suffering if we have the presumption to refuse to listen to them. Catastrophe is not their fear but their joy." It cannot be ruled out entirely.

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