Summary: The first few decades of the 21st century appear to be dominated by experts steering public policy using their theories. The rest of the century might be dominated by the effects of their success — or failure.
So far America in the 21st century has driven by theories, in a way seldom seen in history (distinguishing experts’ theories from religions and political doctrines). For example,
- our invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, relying on COIN theory for success (despite no relevant past successes its long history of use),
- massive multi-year long unconventional monetary programs, based on untried economic theories (details here), and
- massive programs to mobilize public opinion to implement government policies to limit CO2 emissions, based forecasts of untested theoretical climate models.
In all three cases we were assured by a consensus of the relevant experts (a narrow range of experts) that their theories were accurate and reliable. None of these theories had a history of success. In that sense, all three are experiments.
What might be the consequences of these experts’ failures? Might that weaken or even shatter America’s confidence in experts? That might have horrific implications for the future, allowing cranks and con men even greater roles on the public stage — making US public policy even less effective than it is today.
The first experiment — COIN theory — failed us in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with as yet no visible effects on public confidence in our military’s leadership.
The second is still running. Intense monetary policy called qualitative easing has run since 2001 in Japan, and since 2008 in the USA. They have produced stability and slow growth, but no recoveries. Now both the Bank of Japan and the Fed have taken it to a new and unprecedented level. The next few years will show the results.
As for the third, we will not know the accuracy of climate models’ forecasts for years, probably decades. They are based on data from the largely natural warming during the century-plus before WW2 and the largely-human-caused warming in the six decades after WW2 (see details here).
But the pause in warming since roughly 2000 (depending on the data series used; see below) raises the possibility that these models might be wrong. Mentioning that scientists see the pause brought down the wraith of lay climate warriors. Saying the that these models might be inaccurate brought down denunciations as “deniers” and enemies of humanity.
But data continues to accumulate, scientists continues to work, and slowly journalists become confident enough to discuss these things. As in “Climate change: A cooling consensus“, The Economist, 20 June 2013 — which raises some difficult question. Unless the warming trend resumes soon, we will hear more mention of them. Excerpt:
Nate Cohn of the New Republic reports: “Since 1998, the warmest year of the twentieth century, temperatures have not kept up with computer models that seemed to project steady warming; they’re perilously close to falling beneath even the lowest projections”.
Mr Cohn does his best to affirm that the urgent necessity of acting to retard warming has not abated, as does Brad Plumer of the Washington Post, as does this newspaper. But there’s no way around the fact that this reprieve for the planet is bad news for proponents of policies, such as carbon taxes and emissions treaties, meant to slow warming by moderating the release of greenhouse gases
The reality is that the already meagre prospects of these policies, in America at least, will be devastated if temperatures do fall outside the lower bound of the projections that environmentalists have used to create a panicked sense of emergency. Whether or not dramatic climate-policy interventions remain advisable, they will become harder, if not impossible, to sell to the public, which will feel, not unreasonably, that the scientific and media establishment has cried wolf.
… if the consensus climate models turn out to be falsified just a few years later, average temperature having remained at levels not even admitted to be have been physically possible, the authority of consensus will have been exposed as rather weak.
This article is a follow-up to The Economist’s
first second mention of the pause: “A sensitive matter“, 30 March 2013 — “The climate may be heating up less in response to greenhouse-gas emissions than was once thought. But that does not mean the problem is going away.”
For More Information
All these posts rely on, and extensively cite, the IPCC and peer-reviewed literature.
Posts about the pause (I’ve posted excerpts from these in the comments):
- Good news! Global temperatures have stabilized, at least for now., 3 February 2012
- Still good news: global temperatures remain stable, at least for now., 14 October 2012
- When did we start global warming? See the surprising answer (it’s not what you’ve been told)., 18 October 2012
- The IPCC sees the pause in global warming!, 18 December 2012
- Update about global temperatures. Watch our world warm!, 5 January 2013
- Secrets about global warming that you must not know, least they ruin the narrative, 22 January 2013
Posts about climate forecasts:
- More forecasts of a global cooling cycle
- More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century
- Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses
- What can climate scientists tell about the drivers of future warming?
- What can climate scientists tell us about the drivers of future warming? – part two of two
- Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future
- An optimistic & successful (so far) forecast by an eminent climate scientist