Since the 1970s and the limits to growth alarm, we have been subjected to an endless series of predictions of doom. Since the late 1980s, it has been global warming morphed into climate change. In spite of dire predictions such as the ones in the latest report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the public has not responded as advocates would want.
Unrealistic predictions of doom sow seeds of doubt and help explain why alarmism has failed. In the case of this government report, those who wade through its 1,600 pages learn that it is based on worst-case assumptions — temperature increases faster, population grows faster than expected, and advances in technology and energy efficiency are slower.
Climate change advocates are inclined to go beyond what data support and common sense makes more reasonably obvious. Predictions of climate catastrophes are driven assumed unprecedented temperature increases. These come from climate models that continually fail the basic test of validation.
Not only can they not replicate past temperatures without adjustments but they overpredict recent temperatures in part because historical temperatures are portrayed with an unjustified level of accuracy. All too often temperature history is presented as a narrow line on a graph.
With some digging, you discover that the narrow line is a result of averaging a lot of data from different places on the earth. As professor Richard Lindzen has shown, the raw data going back to 1840 reveal no trend and vary for the most part by plus or minus 2 degrees Centigrade. Averaging and changing the scale of the graph make temperature increases look more ominous than they really are.
We know that temperatures have increased since the end of the Little Ice Age, around 1895, and the best estimate is a little over 3 degrees Fahrenheit, but there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding that estimate. The annual rate of increase since 1895 has been in tenths of a degree, sometimes well within the range of measurement error. Since the world was coming out of the Little Ice Age in 1895, an increase from 51.3 degrees Fahrenheit to 54.6 Fahrenheit in 2017 is not alarming, especially since there has been a pause since 1998.
None of this is intended to mean that we should ignore climate change. It is intended to demonstrate why we should be at least a little skeptical about the type of alarmism contained in the most recent government report and the scary scenarios offered up by advocates.
Climate change has impacts that should be taken into account in our national research program and in policymaking but there is no need to over react. We should focus research in reducing uncertainties about climate sensitivity, solar impacts, aerosols, clouds, oceans and the actual warming effect of increased carbon-dioxide concentrations. Placing all or most of our eggs in the carbon-dioxide emissions basket will continue to waste of resources and continue to lead us down the wrong road.
Technology exists to address sea level rise. Just ask the Dutch. Technology exists to make crops more weather resistant. And, technology will continue to evolve to use energy more efficiently and to continue the decarbonization trend that is taking place.
As a society, we will do much better in addressing climate change if those who claim expertise are more honest in discussing data and measurement problems, especially of the distant past, the limitations of complex computer models caused by reliance on too many assumptions, and the fact that the climate is a chaotic system.
Distinguishing between known facts and “expert judgment” will help policy makers and the public better understand the extent of risk and the appropriateness of proposed actions.
Rational decision making is given lip service by advocates who prefer the strategy of the late environmentalist Stephen Schneider who in a moment of brutal honesty said, we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have.”