A way to break the gridlock on the climate change debate

Summary: The public policy debate about climate change consists largely of people tossing confetti at one another, with the reasonable people either pushed to the sidelines or buried. There is a simple step that both sides can agree on, with the potential to break the gridlock. Here’s a brief version of my proposal.

Trust can trump Uncertainty.”
Presentation by Leonard A Smith (Prof of Statistics, LSE), 6 February 2014.

The most important graph from the IPCC’s AR5

Figure 1.4 from the IPCC's AR5
Figure 1.4 from AR5: Estimated changes in the observed globally and annually averaged surface temperature anomaly relative to 1961–1990 (in °C) since 1950 compared with the range of projections from the previous IPCC assessments. Click to enlarge.

After 26 years of debate, US public policy on climate change remains paralyzed. Polls show that it ranks near the bottom of American’s concerns. We even remain poorly prepared for a repeat of past extreme weather, such as a major hurricane hitting an East coast city – let alone future climate. Both sides rehash their arguments, accomplishing nothing.

Climate scientists can begin to restart the debate and rebuild public confidence: re-run the climate models from the first three IPCC assessment reports (ARs) with actual emission data (from their future). See if they can show that models predict the observed global temperatures with reasonable accuracy. The cost of this project would be small compared to the overall funding of climate research and a dot compared to the potential costs of climate change.

The famous “spaghetti graphs” — one the most-cited graphics from the ARs — shows the forecast of models used in each report vs. actual global average atmospheric temperature. They tell us little, as in the above graph from the most recent AR. It packs too much information into one graph, but does not show what we most want to know: the accuracy of their forecasts. Each line represents a temperature forecast with specific assumptions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

How well do the models work if input with accurate GHG emissions? The answer can provide a fair test of the major climate models, one acceptable to both sides in the policy debate. A brief explanation of the models shows why.

{Read the full article at Climate Scepticism.}

“In an age of spreading pseudoscience and anti-rationalism, it behooves those of us who
believe in the good of science and engineering to be above reproach whenever possible.“
P. J. Roach, Computing in Science and Engineering, Sept-Oct 2004 — Gated.

Other posts in this series

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. A new response to climate change that can help the GOP win in 2016.
  3. The full version: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.