Guest essay by Charles Battig, M.D.
There are reams of publications devoted to the mechanics of computer modeling of global climate dynamics, and the predictive results derived therefrom. Mathematicians, experts in chaos theory, fluid dynamics professionals, climatologists, geologists, oceanographers, satellite-data analysts all toil away at constructing a computer model which will accurately embody these sciences in a faithful representation of the global energy interplay known as climate. No one has quite succeeded yet, even with ever faster and more complex computers. The actual observed climate behavior of our planet continues to confound the very best efforts of the very best computer modelers and their models to replicate it.
True climate denial is the real-world denial by mother earth of faulty ersatz computer representations and impersonations.
Science and the arts have different ways of viewing the world, i.e. reality. It is in the field of visual fine arts that an elusive truth of climate dynamics has already been identified and documented. Long ago, an artist portrayed what many in the field of computer modeling of climate have not noticed, or have refused to acknowledge. Yet, his message is often ignored by the computer modeler whose passion for his program blinds him to the truth embodied by this artist. Ardent climate modelers have proclaimed their allegiance to their computer model, rather than to reality.
This icon of visual truth hangs in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a few miles away from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Just recently, a group from UCLA issued a report exploring climate mitigation via a number of modalities. Had members of that report visited the nearby County Museum, perhaps they might have tempered their enthusiasm for the reported findings, all based on studies…studies being shorthand for computer simulations.
“Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or “This is not a pipe,” painted by René Magritte in 1928 shows a perfectly recognizable smoker’s pipe. Suppress that urge to declare that painter to be out of touch with reality. His painting is more in touch with reality than some climate modelers, for example Prof. Chris Folland, Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research who illustrates such affection for his computer generated world that he proclaims: “The data doesn’t matter. We’re not basing our recommendations on the data. We’re basing them on the climate models.”
Such blind love of one’s own creation is immortalized in Greek mythology by the tale of Pygmalion. Falling in love with your own creation makes for interesting philosophical debates when it is a statue; when it is a climate model, it is science gone awry. It is no longer science but a fanciful detachment from reality.
Magritte’s visual message is that a copy or rendition of an object is not the original object itself. David Blakesley and Collin Brooke’s commentary on visual rhetoric notes that:
“Magritte highlights for our consideration the idea that an image of a pipe is not the same thing as the pipe itself (or the letters p-i-p-e). It is a representation of a pipe, once removed from its referent, the object to which it refers. He also forces us to consider our own reaction to the painting by suggesting that our compulsion to call the image a pipe reveals our predisposition to confuse the image with the thing it represents.”
Here then is the lesson offered by Magritte for the global climate modelers. The computer model is not reality; it is just your attempt to replicate reality. In the complex system known as global climate dynamics, the models are not reality on a computer chip. They are scenarios akin to the fabled three blind men describing an elephant. Stephen Few has used this tale as the starting point for his essay on perception and business intelligence. Each modeler may, or may not, capture a small piece of the climate puzzle correctly, but no one has gotten the whole picture reduced to a valid computer representation. The climate system is so complex and chaotic, that computer modelers have to settle for simplified constructs with open-ended assumptions (parameterizations). Like Magritte’s pipe, the final result is even further removed from reality.
Recently, the National Climate Assessment was released and claims to “detail(s) the multitude of ways climate change is already affecting and will increasingly affect the lives of Americans. Institutionalized computer forecasting masquerading as scientific fact does not make it fact.
Extending the reach of Federal control not only over us, but also over future global climate, the EPA has a new slogan: “Thirty per cent less by 2030.”
Perhaps the “30 by 2030” was chosen by a focus group because it has a rhythmical ring to it, or perhaps a computer projected it to have mass appeal.
Expectations of realistic research results and future climate states based on faulty underlying models are, well, just so many pipe dreams.
Charles Battig, M.D. , Piedmont Chapter president, VA-Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment (VA-SEEE). His website is www.climateis.com