Keys to climate change

While cheering for their faction of scientists, laypeople often lose sight of the big picture — the key things to know when making public policy about this important issue.

Truth Will Make You Free

Some basics that should have wide agreement

(a)  The work of the IPCC’s Working Group I (the physical science) and the major science institutes are the best guides for information about these issues.

(b)  The world has been warming during the past two centuries, in a succession of warming, cooling, and pauses. As for our influence, here is the consensus of climate scientists (as expressed in the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I):

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

Look here for more evidence that this is a consensus. For research about the 1951 date see When did we start global warming? See the surprising answer., October 2012.

(c)  There is a debate about the attribution (causes) of past warming. As usual in science, it is about magnitudes – the )varying) effects over time of natural drivers (e.g., rebound from the Little Ice Age, solar influences) and anthropogenic drivers (eg, CO2, aerosols, land use changes). Other that that stated in (b) above, the IPCC’s reports make mostly tentative (low confidence) claims about attribution of climate activity. This remains actively debated in the literature.

(d)  Warming of the surface atmosphere paused {or perhaps slowed) sometime during 1998-2000. Understanding this is becoming one of the foci of climate science literature, a debate about climate forecasts, both the extent of future CO2 emissions and the net effects of the various natural and anthropogenic drivers. The 2016-17 El Nino ended the pause. The reactions of both sides, activists and skeptics, deserve study – showing the dysfuncational nature of the public debate.

What should we do?

Since 2009 my recommendations have been the same about ways to respond to climate change:

  1. More funding for climate sciences. Many key aspects (e.g., global temperature data collection and analysis) are grossly underfunded.
  2. A review of the climate forecasting models by a multidisciplinary team of relevant experts who have not been central players in this debate. Include a broader pool than those who have dominated the field, such as geologists, chemists, statisticians and software engineers.
  3. Run government-funded climate research with tighter standards (e.g., posting of data and methods, review by unaffiliated experts), as we do for biomedical research.
  4. We should begin a well-funded conversion to non-carbon-based energy sources, for completion by the second half of the 21st century – justified by both environmental and economic reasons (see these posts for details).
  5. Begin more aggressive efforts to prepare for extreme climate. We’re not prepared for repeat of past extreme weather (e.g., a real hurricane hitting NYC), let alone predictable climate change (e.g., sea levels climbing, as they have for thousands of years).
  6. The most important one: try new methods to break the three decade-long gridlocked climate policy debate by focusing on validation of climate models (rather than repeating the tactics that have not worked.

What new methods?

Running a test of predictions by older climate models. The cost would be trivial compared to the potential benefits – and the funds that have been burned in the failed policy debates over 30 years.

Bring in a wider range of experts to review the models, tapping experts not involved in their creation (chemists, statisticains,  software engineers, etc.). Including experts in model validation, such as those on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) Verification and Validation Committee. See their Guide for Verification and Validation in Computational Solid MechanicsStandard 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 run a program for validation of climate models.

The tiny cost of these programs would be well-worth the money.

For more information

Posts about preparing for climate change:

  1. How can we save the world from climate change?
  2. Preparing for the future: should we be precautionary or proactionary?
  3. Let’s prepare for past climate instead of bickering about predictions of climate change.
  4. Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate & win: test the models!



2 thoughts on “Keys to climate change”

  1. “Here is the consensus of climate scientists (as expressed in the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I):

    “It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

    And here is the complete and utter predictive failure of AR5. When the CIMP5 models are compared to reality they fail. The IPCC “consensus” claims the average of their 73 models is the best prediction.

    The scientific method is crystal clear regarding failed predictions.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Call me when you have an actual scientist evaluate the models’s output. Try using actual statistical tools to evaluate predictions.

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