Making the Theory Work

Charles Kettering, a former head of General Motors Research once observed, ( in theory)“There is no difference between theory and practice. ( in practice) There is one difference. Practice won’t let you forget anything or leave anything out. In theory, problems are easily solved because you can leave something out.”

While he made that statement at least 72 years ago, climate advocates have latched onto the part about problems being easily solved by leaving something out. What they leave out is observational data that conflicts with their preferred assumptions.

Those who rely on the climate orthodoxy to promote their agenda are wedded to the results of complex computer models that have been constructed to demonstrate that the increase in CO2 emissions inevitably leads to dangerous warming. What they leave out is the fact that their model projections overstate warming. This is shown in the following graph produced by Professor John Christy.

The explanation for this difference is that the models assume a greater climate sensitivity than is demonstrated by the climate itself. According to the National Academy of Sciences, climate sensitivity is “the equilibrium global mean surface temperature change that occurs in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration. Climate sensitivity is a function of numerous feedbacks among clouds, water vapor, and many other components of the earth’s climate system. It is presently one of the largest sources of uncertainty in projections of long-term global climate change.” The NAS went on to say that some uncertainties could be reduced or removed if there were better temperature records and better estimates of past radiative forcing. That falls into the category of wishful thinking because the records and estimates cannot be rehabilitated. There are too many variables involved with past temperature records to significantly improve their accuracy.

Analysis by Professor J. Ray Bares, University College Dublin, concludes that models underestimate the amount of heat radiated into space from the tropics. This conclusion is consistent by Dick Lindzen’s research demonstrating an “iris” effect in the tropics. In addition, Pat Michaels’ work on climate sensitivity shows that studies since 2011 estimate a lower sensitivity than the IPCC or the models that are used to project warming.

So, why do advocates of the climate orthodoxy cling to predictions of catastrophic warming when more recent research confirms a lower climate sensitivity as does the climate itself? There are several plausible explanations. One is that many are very risk adverse and believe in the Precautionary Principle which in Dick Lindzen’s words, “Everything is uncertain, thus anything may cause anything, and thus we should do something about it.” This is taking an abundance of caution to the extreme.

Another explanation is that some environmentalists have strong objections to economic progress and the way in which it is achieved. They want to control the means of production and how the economy evolves. Of course, they also happen to be high up on the economic ladder, so they can be cavalier in wanting to deny the benefits of economic growth to others.

In the end, if extreme energy policies are the mechanism for responding to climate change, resources will be wasted and the impact on warming and its climate effects will be imperceptible.


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

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