Magicians and Climate Modelers

Magicians possess skills that make us want to believe that their illusions—pulling a rabbit out of hat, making someone disappear, or sawing them in half—are real. Climate modelers possess similar talents. They build elaborate and complex computer models that are used to forecast what the climate will be like decades in the future. The forecast is always gloomy and they and the climate establishment want us to believe that the forecasts are accurate..

Over the past 28 years, these models have been used to tell us that the globe’s temperature would increase more than 6 degrees C, that coastal areas and cities like New York and Washington DC would be underwater, and that there would be increases in extreme weather events like hurricanes. These forecasts have been consistently wrong and yet policy makers, the media, and climate advocates continue to push a message of doom because their real agenda is to increase central political power and to wage war on carbon.

This may seem like a harsh indictment but environmental zealots have been using computer model wizardry since the time of the Club of Rome, which also predicted doom–famine, the exhaustion of natural resources, and population growth that would outstrip the world’s capacity to sustain it. The forecasts of dread are wrong for at least three simple reasons—advances in technology, complexity that defies the ability to capture it in a model, and the “fatal conceit” of those who believe that they are smart enough to reduce a complex world to a mathematical model and develop policies for how the world should work and how we should live our lives.

The climate system is one of the most complex systems being studied. It is comprised of the atmosphere, oceans, ice, and land surface. Each of these components is comprised of complex, interconnected parts and workings that are not fully understood. Lack of understanding about these components and how they interact make it impossible to write the thousands of equations that are needed to construct an accurate climate model.

The International Panel on Climate Change in its most recent report lists 11 factors that contribute to warming—CO2, other greenhouse gases, aerosols, ozone, clouds, land use, water vapor, and solar effects. It then ranks the understanding of them from Very High to low. Of the 11, only 5, or 45%, are ranked as high or very high. Translating the uncertainty associated with these processes and other variables into the probability that models accurately represent how the climate system operates would show that it is quite small. For example, if a model contained just the 11 factors listed by the and the probability of each being correct was .75, which is a generous assumption, the probability of the model output being correct would be 0.04223513603210449. But, models have many more than 11 variables, which means that the probability that its output is correct is close to zero.

As demonstrated by Professor Ed Lorenz of MIT and the father of chaos theory, the climate system is chaotic—being non-linear where small changes can have large effects. Sensitivity to initial conditions, according to MIT’s Technology Review “has a profound corollary: forecasting the future can be nearly impossible.” Lorenz in his work reached the following conclusion, “In view of the inevitable inaccuracy and incompleteness of weather observations, precise very-long-range forecasting would seem to be nonexistent.”

There is only one reason why the climate establishment uses models as its foundation. To create illusions like magicians, so that their policy prescriptions and limits on fossil fuels appear justified to avoid catastrophe.




Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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