After 30 years of failed climate politics, let’s try science!

Summary: The climate policy debate has raged for 30 years, consisting mostly of propaganda and political games, with few results. Let’s try science, instead. Here is a first step to transforming the debate.

“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”
– The basic text of Narcotics Anonymous. They know all about dysfunctionality.

Climate change choices - Dreamstime_50990297
ID 50990297 © Kiosea39 | Dreamstime.

The movement for public policy action to fight climate change hit the big time when climate scientist James Hansen testified before the Senate on 23 June 1988 (transcript). He stated the problem, the supporting evidence, and concluded with this.

“Finally, I would like to stress that there is a need for improving these global climate models, and there is a need for global observations if we’re going to obtain a full understanding of these phenomena.”

Unfortunately, his advice was not taken seriously. More money was spent on research, and the IPCC dutifully collected the results. But it was uncoordinated, with scientists focusing (rationally) on career-enhancing findings. For example, countless studies focused on headline-grabbing forecasts about the likely consequences of the RCP8.5 scenario (the worst case used in the IPCC’s AR5). It is either improbable or impossible (see here and here), but its propaganda value is high.

Research was not focused on systematically providing the answers desperately needed by policy-makers, in contrast to the Manhattan Project’s focus on a clear goal.

Greta Thunberg: Time Person of the Year

Worse, each year the propaganda campaign grew larger. Much of this was directed by people seeking to use climate change as a means to gain power and achieve large-scale social change. At some point, it overshadowed the science, and much of the news became misrepresentations and exaggerations of the science – or outright fiction. Critics were often met with personal invective. This is like the American tourist in France who speaks English slowly and loudly, hoping to be understood.

Now the climate change campaign has gone full ClownWorld: Greta Thunberg is TIME’s Person of the Year. A 16-year-old who parrots what she has been told. Parliaments pretend to take her seriously. Climate activists believe we should learn from her.

I and others have documented the rising tide of climate propaganda. Here are a few examples.

  1. A look at the workings of Climate Propaganda Inc.
  2. See how climate science becomes alarmist propaganda.
  3. Scary but fake news about the National Climate Assessment.
  4. Did the IPCC predict a climate apocalypse? No.
  5. Another climate scientist speaks out against the hysteria.
  6. Is climate change an existential threat to humanity?

What has three decades of playing politics accomplished in the US? Little policy action. Gallup puts a positive spin on the lack of change in public opinion with “Global Warming Concern Steady” and “Americans as Concerned as Ever About Global Warming.” We can continue the same tactics for another 3 decades and fail again. Or we try something different. Let’s try science!

“Probably {scientists’} most deeply held values concern predictions: they should be accurate; quantitative predictions are preferable to qualitative ones; whatever the margin of permissible error, it should be consistently satisfied in a given field; and so on.”
— Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

Karl Popper looks at the climate policy debate.

Karl Popper

How might science break the policy gridlock?

“First, science places the burden of proof on the claimant. Second, the proof for a claim must in some sense be commensurate with the character of the claim. Thus, an extraordinary claim requires ‘extraordinary’ (meaning stronger than usual) proof.”
— Marcello Truzzi in Zetetic Scholar, August 1987 (text here).

Imagine if climate scientists followed James Hansen’s recommendation by proposing a directed research program to produce evidence that would meet critics’ objections? Because any proposal to radically change the world economy – even society (go vegetarian!) – will meet fierce questioning. Rightly so. Obtaining funding for that would have been an attainable goal for climate scientists. The cost would have been pocket lint to the Federal government – and even less if other nations participated in the project. The cost of this research would have been microscopic compared to the stakes at risk for the world should the high-end impact forecasts prove correct.

There are some lines of research which might have had massive effects if done long ago – and might have big effects if done now. My guess as to the top priority: strongly validating the climate models whose predictions produce the warnings about climate change. So far models have been tested mostly by backtesting and increasingly complex math juggling. These are a weak form of model validation. Paul Krugman explains why in a 2016 presentation at CUNY about economics, but his insights as well apply to the public policy debate about climate change.

“Some annoying propositions:

  1. Complex econometrics never convinces anyone.
  2. “Complex” includes multiple regression.
  3. Natural experiments rule.
  4. But so do surprising predictions that come true.”

Tests should be made using data not used when building the model. This has been well-understood for generations, but ignored by climate scientists.

“Model validation is the process by which model outputs are systematically compared to independent real-world observations to judge the quantitative and qualitative correspondence with reality.” (T. Jager, 2016).

Milton Friedman in “The Methodology of Positive Economics“ from Essays in Positive Economics (1966).

“To avoid confusion, it should perhaps be noted explicitly that the “predictions” by which the validity of a hypothesis is tested need not be about phenomena that have not yet occurred, that is, need not be forecasts of future events; they may be about phenomena that have occurred but observations on which have not yet been made or are not known to the person making the prediction.”

In a WaPo op-ed on 6 Sept 2016, Lawrence Summers discussed how models can help public policy decisions better manage the economy.

“There is an important methodological point here: Distrust conclusions reached primarily on the basis of model results. Models are estimated or parameterized on the basis of historical data. They can be expected to go wrong whenever the world changes in important ways.”

From “Assessment of the first consensus prediction on climate change“ by David J. Frame and Dáithí A. Stone in Nature Climate Change, April 2013.

“However, the passage of time helps with this problem: the scientific community has now been working on the climate change topic for a period comparable to the prediction and the timescales over which the climate is expected to respond to these types of external forcing (from now on simply referred to as the response). This provides the opportunity to start evaluating past predictions of long-term climate change: even though we are only halfway through the period explicitly referred to in some predictions, we think it is reasonable to start evaluating their performance…

“One of the main problems faced by predictions of long-term climate change is that they are difficult to evaluate. …Trying to use present predictions of past climate change across historical periods as a verification tool is open to the allegation of tuning, because those predictions have been made with the benefit of hindsight and are not demonstrably independent of the data that they are trying to predict.”

A practical philosophy of complex climate modeling” by Gavin A. Schmidt and Steven Sherwood in European Journal for Philosophy of Science, May 2015 (ungated copy).

“…results that are predicted “out-of-sample” demonstrate more useful skill than results that are tuned for (or accommodated).”

We can run the models as they were originally run for the IPCC in the Second Assessment Report (1995), the Third Assessment Report (2001), and the Fourth Assessment Report (2007) – using as inputs observations of actual forcings after they were created (instead of scenarios). Then compare the models’ forecasts of temperature with observations since then. If accurate, it would provide a robust validation. For more about this, see …

  1. Daniel Davies’ insights about predictions can unlock the climate change debate.
  2. Karl Popper explains how to open the deadlocked climate policy debate.
  3. Milton Friedman’s advice about restarting the climate policy debate.
  4. Deborah Mayo’s “Severe tests, arguing from error, and methodological underdetermination” in Philosophical Studies, 1997.

These older models were considered skillful when published, so a determination of their skill will help us decide if we now have sufficiently strong evidence to take large-scale policy action on climate change. As Karl Popper said, successful predictions are the gold standard of science. Success can have a transformative effect on the public policy debate. See more about this proposal …

There are other promising lines of climate research. They require only money to set them in motion, and the will to make that happen. Let’s not continue our political bickering for another 30 years, then wonder what we could have done differently.

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge.”
— Historian Daniel J. Boorstin, interviewed by the WaPo in January 1984 per The Quote Investigator. Copy here.

See part two:
The guilty ones preventing good policy about climate change.

What do we do if models fail to validate?

We much plan for the possibility that models do not adequately validate (i.e., not to a degree useful for guiding public policy). Climate scientist Judith Curry explains why this might be so in “Escape from Model Land.” For a more complex explanation of why models might not “work”, see “Nonlinearities, Feedbacks and Critical Thresholds within the Earth’s Climate System” by Jose A. Rial et al. in Climate Change, July 2004 (open copy here).

Even if models do not work, AGW could still be a threat. We need a Plan B, an alternative framework to manage climate risks. Such as that given in “Dealing with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability perspective” by Roger Pielke Sr. el al. in Extreme Events and Natural Hazards: The Complexity Perspective (2012), a Geophysical Monograph of the American Geophysical Union.

More about model validation

Climate scientists could learn much from the work of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Verification and Validation Committee. See their Guide for Verification and Validation in Computational Solid Mechanics, Standard for Verification and Validation in Computational Fluid Dynamics and Heat Transfer, and An Illustration of the Concepts of Verification and Validation in Computational Solid Mechanics. Better yet, NOAA or the NAS could commission a group from ASME and other relevant professional associations to craft processes to validate climate models. To save the world, the tiny cost would worthwhile.

To learn more about model validation, Wikipedia provides links to a wide range of authoritative sources. See here and here.

For More Information

Ideas! For your holiday shopping, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a story about our future: “Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see the keys to understanding climate change, and especially these …

  1. Paul Krugman shows why the climate campaign failed.
  2. Fix the mistakes that killed the climate change campaign!
  3. Scientists show us why the climate change campaign failed – so far.
  4. A crisis of overconfidence in climate science.
  5. About the corruption of climate science.
  6. The noble corruption of climate science.
  7. A demo of why we do nothing about climate change.
  8. Climate science has died. The effects will be big.

Activists don’t want you to read these books

Some unexpected good news about polar bears: The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened by Susan Crockford (2019).

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr., professor for the Center for Science and Policy Research at U of CO – Boulder (2018).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.


40 thoughts on “After 30 years of failed climate politics, let’s try science!”

  1. It’s fun, a gallows humor kind of way, to see the responses to this proposal (which I’ve made several times in the past five years).

    The most common is that It Won’t Work So We Will Keep Repeating What We Have Done Unsuccessfully For 30 Years.

    Others are long exercises in digged through the chaff to find people’s true beliefs. A typical response was a scientist who didn’t see the need for All That Science. Just vote for Bernie! Climate Change Fixed and Social Justice Too! Unfortunately, it took a score of tweets to dig down to that point thru the pretense that the science mattered.

  2. Tony Heller on YouTube does an excellent job of debunking these malevolent leftist eco terrorists. Spend an hour or two on his site and you’ll learn all you need to know about these fascist, dictatorial climate alarmists. ‘Climate Change’ has nothing to do with climate and everything to do with socialism, aka forced wealth transfer. The useful idiots think the wealth will be forcefully transferred to themselves. They think this because they are in fact idiots in the classical sense.

    1. Using Tony Heller for a climate reference is the equivalent of asking Mafia mob bosses/consiglieres/capos to uphold law enforcement.

      Tony Heller is a malcontent who has a long history of fabricating false information. For example, he has lied about his name (He used to pretend his name was Steve(n) Goddard and that “Tony Heller” was another person.) and continues to lie about where he lives. He pretends he lives in Boulder, CO, but he actually lives in a HUD subsidized (low income) 704 sq. ft. apartment in Columbia, Md. Something has happened in his life to cause him to despise the technological world that he was once a part of.

      Details and evidence at

      Those individuals who believe him do so because Heller promotes what they want to believe – and not what real world evidence shows.

  3. Good common sense approach–but of little interest to politicians and academics who don’t want to lose an appealing issue than transforms them in saviors of mankind. As long as the public doesn’t have to pay for it the dire prophecies will continue until sufficient boredom sets in.

    1. Michael,

      “but of little interest to politicians and academics who don’t want to lose an appealing issue than transforms them in saviors of mankind.”

      I disagree with that, on several levels.

      First, the proposal has to come from climate science’s leaders. For whatever reason, they have not done so. We see the seeds of this in Hansen’s speech 30 year ago – in which he gives his findings as certain facts.

      Second, I think this proposal would have been difficult to refuse. Esp given the small cost. Congress has funded vastly larger climate science projects.

      Third, every single reform proposal I’ve made has received the same response. Every Single One of the thousands. “It can’t happen.” That’s the sure road to national decline, and the opposite of the attitude that built America.

      1. Michael,

        “I’m talking about the present reality. You are talking about the ideal future.”

        No. I’m explicitly talking about the past and present. Nothing remotely like about an “ideal” future.

        If Americans put 10% of the effort they now put into defeatism into action, we’d be much better off.

      2. Larry–

        “If Americans put 10% of the effort they now put into defeatism into action, we’d be much better off.”

        A good example of the “ideal future”. You make my point.

        My comment relates to the perceived political present made up of charlatans, true believes, folks that think man made climate change is real, and those, like myself, who think it mainly a hoax or at least appears to be a hoax.

  4. The left has become very good at railroading their agendas on a public that is indifferent or even unwanting of said agendas. The transsexual agenda is a good example. I have yet to meet a moderate who thinks that men should be able to compete in women’s sporting events, yet we will have trannies in next years Olympics (while the Russians are banned for doping). We will get to watch the TV commentators refer to these men as “she” with a straight face.

    And as we have already seen, when scientists who remain impartial (as scientists should) have a conference, the antifa thugs come out of the woodwork and shut them down with threats of violence, while government leaders look the other way, doing their version of Sgt. Schultz’s “I see nothing”.

    Scientists are already giving non hysteric forecasts, with reasonable actions that can be done. But the hysteric left will have nothing short of banning fossil fuels, One would think and hope that reasonable people would push back, rightly pointing out that civilization would collapse without fossil fuels and that it will take time and effort to slowly make the switch. But the zealots aren’t interested in negotiation or compromise. They want it their way and they want it now. Some zealots are saying that it’s already too late to save civilization, which makes me wonder what their proposed solution will be for that.

    1. Frank,

      Nicely said.

      “Scientists are already giving non hysteric forecasts, with reasonable actions that can be done.”

      But fewer do so every year. Crossing the line into questioning or moderation risks career suicide. End of the game for younger scientists. Whereas no degree of extremism or alarmism is considered too much. Indeed, it is the fast-track to publication and fame.

      1. I will be keeping a close eye on the solar panel/battery market, and will possibly have a system installed should the “greens” take the reins of power, They might not actually ration power on a per user basis, but I could see incentives to not consume, based on severely tiered pricing systems and even rolling blackouts, should they get their way.

      2. Frank,

        I suggest not acting based on fears of what extreme laws might be passed. Left and Right, such predictions have almost perfect failure rates. Should they actually pass, there will be ample opportunity to act.

      3. For now, where I live, solar doesn’t pencil out. If I was paying California utility rates it would be another matter. I have Bay Area colleagues who tell me that their summer electric bills can exceed $600 per month. For me bad month is about $180.

      4. Pacific Gas and Electric charges 29.8 cents per kwh for Tier 2 (which is over the baseline allowance, usually 300 kwh per month)ab) and can be as high as 50 cents for even higher consumption. My colleagues said that running the A/C in the summer will quickly send you into a higher tier pricing,

        I think those “average rates” in California are the baseline rates.

      5. Frank,

        That’s apples and oranges. State comparisons are usually for electricity. States also charge for distribution, plus many surcharges. The base PGE rate for retail electricity is $0.13336 in the summer and $0.09322 in the winter.

        The total cost for electricity at Tier one is ~$.22. Tier two (>100% to 400%) is ~$0.30. High use (>400%) is ~$0.50. The full schedules are bewilderingly complex. The usual number I saw for the average PG&E bill (elec and gas) in the Bay Area is very roughly $200/month per thousand square feet of home. Our home was very energy efficient, and that was our typical peak monthly bill (twice per year, in the summer and winter). We were never close to getting out of Tier 1, and that was with a stay-at-home wife and two homeschooled kids (ie, using power pretty much 24-7).

        Here is their rate schedule page. It has links drilling down to the many specific rate schedules.

      6. The schedules are very complex. Which is why I ask my bay area colleagues how much it costs to A/C the house in the summer. And I often hear $600+ per month.

        I turn the thermostat down to 72 when it’s 90+ outside, and my worst bill is usually $180. Just had the A/C replaced, 20 years old and it gave up the ghost at the very end of the season. Was told my A/C bill should drop next summer as the new unit is far more efficient. We’ll see how it goes.

        But when I tell the Bay Aryans how little I spend on electricity, they turn green with envy.

      7. Frank,

        I doubt you can provide any support for those numbers.

        The average bill for a residential PG&E customer in California is $118.03 for electricity and $54.91 for gas (per Sacramento Bee, Sept 2019).

        Our average PG&E bill (gas and elec) in California for a 1,050 sq ft home was ~$185. (Our average bill in Iowa for a somewhat larger home is $146/month.)

        Perhaps your friends have big homes (very popular in California). Or they have not done much to make them efficient (landscaping is a big factor). Or they’re just exaggerating. In my 30 years in finance, I found that people are unreliable sources of info about money. Either way, the numbers you are tossing out do not appear to be correct.

      8. Given my current costs (about $70/month for 4000 sq ft), there’s no way to financially justify installing solar panels. Now if my electric bill were to double or triple, that would be another story. Could it happen? Who knows? Hopefully not, though in a neighboring city they already have tiered pricing. In the meantime I will periodically check what solar costs. Contrary to many predictions solar prices are still high. I could easily spend $15,000 and that doesn’t include batteries.

  5. “We can run the models as they were originally run for the IPCC in the Second Assessment Report (1995), the Third Assessment Report (2001), and the Fourth Assessment Report (2007) – using as inputs observations of actual forcings after they were created (instead of scenarios). Then compare the models’ forecasts of temperature with observations since then. If accurate, it would provide a robust validation.”

    No that would not be a robust validation. For such a complex, chaotic system, looking at a single variable over a short period of time would not prove much of anything. But FM is right in that there is a disgraceful lack of rigorous model validation.

    A great deal of money has been spent following Hansen’s advice. We now have enormous amounts of climate relevant satellite data as well as new in situ data, particularly as regards the subsurface ocean. Those should provide detailed tests of climate models. The models have huge variance in such things as cloud radiative properties, precipitation patterns, seasonal variations, and ocean heat uptake. But little work seems to have been done in using the data to rigorously test and falsify models. Instead, IPCC just treats all models as equally valid. That is a massive fail in climate studies (I have given up on calling it science).

    1. Mike,

      “For such a complex, chaotic system, looking at a single variable over a short period of time would not prove much of anything.”

      You have absurdly high standards. A successful 25-year prediction of tempeatures would be an epochal development. Ignoring the models’ warnings after such validation would be insane. I suspect few would agree with your mad perspective.

      “A great deal of money has been spent following Hansen’s advice.”

      Did you read my post? We could spend 10x times that, continuing the scattershot research, and still have no policy-relevant conclusions. Failure to plan is planning for failure. And no, that was not “Hansen’s advice.”

  6. OKBoomer into the Wood Chipper with you

    “A 16-year-old who parrots what she has been told. ” – This is prejudice, pure and simple.

    1. OK Boomer,

      “This is prejudice, pure and simple.”

      Fact. She is a high school dropout who has shown little knowledge about climate change or economics, or anything. Under questioning, she cannot reply to even simple questions.

      1. She (her family) is clearly being financially supported by interests in the “climate change” hysteria movement. The fact that she is a minor speaks poorly of her parents. I have also read that there may be other underlying “behavioral” issues she has to deal with, but I have not confirmed. If that’s true, it’s doubly sad to put her in the public in this way.

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  9. Many years ago I had the chance to review the source code for a major climate model run on a national lab supercomputer. Most of the code as actually run focused on making the model parallel and thus run-able on this machine. Most of the rest consisted of hundred of patches applied by grad students over many many years, some modifying parameters, others adding detail, and a few directly injecting data into the output to fit data against which tests were then run. What was left as a handful of f4 – with watfor – modified to f66/77 , of basic equations from 1960s card decks. A decent core, plus geological layers of gigo bits and make-it-works.

    Want to validate models? Start with a 100% rewrite.

    1. The fact that the citation(s) about ways to validate (e.g. ASME), is a significant suggestion from the Fabius Maximus blog, tells you all you need to know about the bias and or incompetence of these “scientists”. It really is pitiful.

      Real scientists frantically try to find ways to “prove their models” wrong- because being exposed as wrong by others is the thing a scientist wants to avoid- on a visceral/(emotional?) level.

      These people don’t care enough about this part of the scientific method- and as such are lousy scientists.

      1. wkevine,

        “The fact that the citation(s) about ways to validate (e.g. ASME), is a significant suggestion from the Fabius Maximus blog”

        You are unclear about the nature of this post, probably deliberately obtuse. It is a summary, drawing upon the foundation laid of hundreds of previous posts. I could repeat the documentation of each point – and have this a 30 thousand word-long complex post. But you still wouldn’t read it, and just make silly sneering replies.

        “Real scientists frantically try to find ways to “prove their models” wrong-”

        Let’s see an example. The thousands of comments by alarmists here during the past decade have almost been all wrong. Let’s see if you can break the trend.

        “because being exposed as wrong by others is the thing a scientist wants to avoid- on a visceral/(emotional?) level.”

        You’re just making stuff up (as most alarmists do). Decades of research into the actual workings of “science” show that is not so. Read Karl Popper’s work. Or Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions – for decades one of the most-cited science books.

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