The Model Atmosphere and Global Warming
Last month, Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified before the Senate that the Department of Justice is considering taking legal action against energy industries dubious of the dire role of carbon emissions to change the climate. And Democratic attorneys general from numerous states are in hot pursuit of global warming heretics.
Before more partisan lawyering and congressional testimony clouds the climate change concern, let’s clear up what is known about this issue.
“Everything we know about the world’s climate -- past, present, and future -- we know through models.” So states professor Paul Edwards, a supporter of the “consensus” view of climate change, in the Introduction to his highly acclaimed book A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2010). He also notes that “without models, there are no data.” [italics in original]
Models have become integral to modern scientific practice. In many fields, Edwards says “computer models complement or even replace laboratory experiments; analysis and simulation models have become principal means of data collection, prediction, and decision making.”
Such is the contemporary world of science aided by the powerful tool of modern computers. The three basic components of the scientific method -- observation, hypothesis, and testing -- still hold, but in many cases the testing portion has been abetted, if not in some cases usurped, by models.
As many challengers of the manmade disastrous global warming hypothesis can attest, the “evidence” for a worldwide climate catastrophe is founded upon the results of atmospheric models. Yet, can such results be trusted enough to direct trillions of dollars in the years ahead to shift the energy sector and redistribute financial resources? After all, as University of Pittsburgh virologist John Mellors asserted in a recent article about HIV treatment in Science (“Researchers claim to find HIV sanctuaries,” January 29, 2016), “You can use a model to support anything you want, but you can prove nothing… You can model that the sun orbits the Earth.”
Atmospheric models have tremendous difficulty simulating key elements of the hydrologic cycle like cloud cover and precipitation patterns. Such components are obviously important to decades-hence projections heavily relied upon for drastic global public policy decisions.
Water in all its phases -- as invisible vapor in the atmosphere, as liquid in the vast oceans and condensed tiny droplets in clouds, as solid sheets of ice and crystals of snow -- water is the ultimate regulator of climate on earth. So-called greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane play a secondary role in climate control. Yet the focus of research funding is on “carbon pollution,” and largely only negative aspects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide are headlined in the popular and scientific press. The actual measured benefits of increased carbon dioxide, with increased greening of the globe for instance, have been summarily dismissed or simply ignored.
As I have indicated in the past, most of my nearly 35 years of professional life as an air-pollution meteorologist has been involved with atmospheric modeling in one way or another. And it’s clear from experience that the complexity of the earth’s climate is incredible. Forecasting the future of such climate in meaningful detail is incredibly challenging. And the level of training, depth of knowledge, and development of intuition to successfully even begin to achieve a semi-reliable long-range climate outlook is quite impressive.
Understandably, the vast majority of the public has to basically trust what climate scientists tell them about the future of this planet’s atmospheric conditions. Yet, that trust should be tempered with at least a modicum of incredulity, especially by contemplative adults. Thinking adults should know better than to simply trust even really smart scientists when it comes to what these scientists “confidently know” about earth’s climate in the far distant decades. Even really smart science sages cannot know the long-term state of the global climate, other than within a wide range of temperature and precipitation levels (a range too wide to be of much practical value). This lack of knowledge has been confirmed over the past 18 years as the modeled global average temperature trend has dramatically not matched reality.
So, when it comes to modeling Earth’s distant future climate, perhaps the eminent atmospheric scientist, Reid Bryson, said it best: Making a forecast is easy. Being right is the hard part.
Anthony J. Sadar is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist and author of In Global Warming We Trust: Too Big to Fail (Stairway Press, 2016)