Quote of the Week: 'Climate Hawk' says [it's] 'insane to try to predict what’s going to happen in 2100'

Photo: Martin Koser of Denmark

Photo: Martin Koser of Denmark

WUWT readers may remember ultra climate activist David Roberts, a self described “climate hawk” who wrote regularly for Grist, and became so burned out he had to take a year off from the “climate wars” to recharge. It seems that hiatus may have done him some good. In case you’ve never heard of it, the web magazine “Grist” is  sort of like a Pravda version of the Whole Earth Catalog. They have a staff, a budget, and a swanky downtown office. Unlike climate skeptics, it’s a well funded organization.

Roberts as you may recall, once called for Nuremberg style trials for climate skeptics. Here’s what he wrote in 2006:

When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these [climate skeptic] bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg.

Over on Vox.com a few days ago, David Roberts wrote an essay about climate modeling uncertainty loops. In his Vox essay, Roberts noted that climate modeling didn’t really have any skill out to the year 2100::

Basically, it’s difficult to predict anything, especially regarding sprawling systems like the global economy and atmosphere, because everything depends on everything else. There’s no fixed point of reference.

Grappling with this kind of uncertainty turns out to be absolutely core to climate policymaking. Climate nerds have attempted to create models that include, at least in rudimentary form, all of these interacting economic and atmospheric systems. They call these integrated assessment models, or IAMs, and they are the primary tool used by governments and international bodies to gauge the threat of climate change. IAMs are how policies are compared and costs are estimated.

So it’s worth asking: Do IAMs adequately account for uncertainty? Do they clearly communicate uncertainty to policymakers?

The answer to those questions is almost certainly “no.” But exactly why IAMs fail at this, and what should be done about it, is the subject of much debate.

One of the other things he notes is that climate model uncertainty is probably underestimated. Bold mine.

Or to put it another way: Think about how insane it is to try to predict what’s going to happen in 2100.

There is a school of thought that says the whole exercise of IAMs, at least as an attempt to model how things will develop in the far future, is futile. There are so many assumptions, and the outcomes are so sensitive to those assumptions, that what they produce is little better than wild-ass guesses. And the faux-precision of the exercise, all those clean, clear lines on graphs, only serves to mislead policymakers into thinking we have a grasp on it. It makes them think we know exactly how much slack we have, how much we can push before bad things happen, when in fact we have almost no idea.

In the view of these researchers, the quest to predict what climate change (or climate change mitigation) will cost through 2100 ought to be abandoned. It is impossible, computationally intractable, and the IAMs that pretend to do it only serve to distract and confuse.

Yep, but as we head into Paris and COP21, will anybody be able to stop the freight train built on this uncertainty? Perhaps, there are signs it may already be coming off the rails. Climategate 4 anyone?

Stay tuned.

Note: within about 10 minutes of publication, the first paragraph was updated to include a link to the “climate hawk” label mentioned in the title.

68 thoughts on “Quote of the Week: 'Climate Hawk' says [it's] 'insane to try to predict what’s going to happen in 2100'

    • The difference between a prediction and a “projection” is pure sophistry. They still use it just like a prediction, demanding extreme poverty creating measures based on it.

    • 4. A prediction or estimate of something in the future, based on present data or trends.
      How are they going to argue that it is different in court? If they are going to describe it as an extrapolation, they have waffled too long about it being from first principles.

  1. Mark Steyn had similar comments.
    “Mr Roberts is almost certainly right. But he’s unlikely to find any takers for that line among the warm-mongers at next month’s Paris climate jamboree.As I explain in my new book, the IPCC used Michael E Mann’s ridiculous hockey stick to sell certainty: 1998 is the hottest year of the hottest decade of the hottest century in, like forever.
    “Given the zillion-dollar alarmism industry it fueled, it would be asking a lot for its beneficiaries to back away from that to something more qualified. And thanks to the cartoon climatology of Mann’s stick, there are millions of starry-eyed activists who now think the very concept of “uncertainty” is a denialist plot.”

  2. Imagine, in 1815, year of Napoleon’s final defeat, trying to predict 1900. How could anyone of that year imagine steam railways, iron battleships with 16-inch guns, the telegraph,undersea cables, internal combustion engine cars, and the system of industrial mass production that made it all possible?
    Truly, predicting future climate is insane.

  3. Yep, but as we head into Paris and COP21, will anybody be able to stop the freight train built on this uncertainty? Perhaps, there are signs it may already be coming off the rails. Climategate 4 anyone?
    Stay tuned.


  4. The “saddest of the sad realities” on the ground is this: insofar as I know, no climate model yet developed even grossly ‘rearcasts’ (oppose of forecast, … retro-casts / rear-casts / back-casts / before-casts / aft-casts (fore :: aft on ship)) the existing well regarded and measured last 250 to 350 years of the State of the Climate on this here planet.
    Oh, I bet there are a number of readers here would could almost effortlessly cobble together pretty graphs of Milankovic cycles, of Solar Sunspot cycles, of the phase of Jupiter and the precession of the center-of-gravity of the Solar system itself, and demonstrate that there ARE definitely closely correlated cycles and meanderings that tie to the general state of the climate on Orb Earth. I’m sure of it. Vulcavic, Tisdale, more.
    (TRUST: I’m totally with you guys… but is any of the correlations also mechanistically inclusive of the trends for the future which must also include elevated CO₂ levels along with the secondary consequences of the same?)
    My point is perhaps just an overheated acknowledgement of the main entry’s point: it is patently ridiculous to predict the climate in 100 years. In 85 years (2100 CE). And by interpolation, it is almost as patently ridiculous to project climate in the next 50 or even 25 years. 10? Not so ridiculous, because one can always get away with … “the changes in the next 10 years will be approximately on the trend-line of the last 50 years”, and have it be almost certainly true.
    Which if it is … points to the fact that the world in 2020 or 2025 or 2030 isn’t going to be a sweltering hot-box, but a modestly greener, modestly warmer, modestly more clement place to live. And I’d bet good money on that outcome.

    • Tell that to ISIS, they seem to have a death wish.
      Damn near everyone in the civilized world is willing to grant it.

  5. A Climate Saul on the road to Damascus? Fact has, for the moment, triumphed over faith and Mr. Roberts is sore beset. There are plenty of former Believers posting on this and other blogs. Anthony, Judith and Jo are all persuaded by the science. Such an agony of Doubt in Climate Change™ deserves better than merely reiterating past sins.

  6. Within the frame-based scientific domain, accuracy is inversely proportional to the product of time and space offsets from an established reference. Predictions of events 100 years, 10 years, even one year into the future are tantamount to prophecy; albeit possible in shorter frames due to the reasonably narrow envelope that bounds likely evolutionary paths. The system is chaotic by virtue that is incompletely and, in fact, insufficiently characterized and unwieldy. Climate change is not a scientific, but rather a risk management problem.

  7. If Ridley is correct, then funding for climate change research should be stopped. If the consensus is correct, and the science is settled, there is nothing left to research and hence funding for climate change research should be stopped. The only case one can make for funding climate change research is that this site (wattsupwiththat) is correct and there are gaps in the science and uncertainties in those areas without gaps. That is. If you believe that climate change research should be funded, you are, by definition, a denier.

    • They seem to be trying to prove to us 3%’ers that they are correct, and to convince us by making ever more crazy claims. The world burns and they are paralized because we are unconvinced (or something).

  8. Just to be clear — Roberts is questioning Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) used to estimate social and economic effects of climate change.
    He is not questioning the foundation on which the climate change debate rests: global climate models. Without confidence in GCMs, IAM’s would get little interest. Challenging GCM’s would make Roberts a heretic.
    Here’s a description of the difference:
    “Integrated assessment models generally include both physical and social science models that consider demographic, political, and economic variables that affect greenhouse gas emission scenarios in addition to the physical climate system.
    General Circulation Models (GCMs), however, focus on the physical climate system alone. Many IAMs do include some form of climate modeling scheme in their routines, such as zero-dimensional or 2-dimensional energy balance models, but due to computing time limitations it is currently infeasible to integrate a full 3-dimensional GCM with a human dimensions model to create an IAM.
    “Until computers become fast enough to significantly reduce computation times, IAMs will not be able to configure a full GCM into their model structure, and must rely on simpler forms of climate models to forecast changes in climate based on future scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions and other significant variables.”

  9. I hate to burst the bubble here, but Roberts is talking about asseessment models (ones that incorporate economics), not climate models.
    Maybe the criticisms he raises about models apply to both kinds, but that is not what he is saying.

  10. Wait for the believers in CAGW to use this uncertainty to support more stringent regulations – “Well, with this uncertainty, we might have +5C by 2050 – so we need to outlaw private vehicles today and restrict jet travel to governmental officials…”

  11. PREDICTING THE FUTURE is a dangerous business.
    Predicting local weather conditions just a week in the future is difficult enough.
    My own climate predictions, however, are 100% accurate.
    Here is my climate prediction for the next 150 years:
    The climate will change.
    Here is my climate prediction for the past 150 years:
    The climate will change.
    Now, you might accuse me of being pretty dumb for not knowing exactly what the past climate was … but … goobermint bureaucrats keep changing the past climate, so it is impossible for me to be more precise.
    It is possible that in 100 years, after many adjustments to “cool” a decade that seemed hot to the people who lived through it, the 1930s will be in the history books as a mini ice age, with snow bowls, not dust bowls.
    And climate change will be said to have started in 1975.

  12. Any person can prove that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict future climate events from temperature records. Just take a graph of paleo temperatures, cover up some of the right hand side (no peeking!) and try to predict by extrapolation from the earlier temperatures – the ones you can see.
    This difficulty applies with any multi-factorial system when you try to predict from the dependent variable with only partial knowledge of the system drivers. As K. K. Steincke said (but attributed to many people): “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

  13. ‘Think about how insane it is to try to predict what’s going to happen in 2100.’
    actually it is rather smart for you know that you will not be around to be reminded of your BS claims and so have to answer as to why you got it so wrong . Where as if you make a predict for for the short term , say 5 years time, then it is very likely you will be .
    If your going to get paid for these then its doubly smart has you can always get your money no matter how badly wrong you are.

  14. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    No kidding. Computer models are only effective in constrained environments with defined boundaries and few variables, like flow inside a duct. Using them to model climate and actually expect anything useful beyond a week or so is fooling ourselves.

  15. Value of IAM’s: Combine Economic Models which don’t reflect economic reality and GCM’s which don’t reflect climate reality. How can you combine two invalid models to = a valid model?

    • I know, it’s lost me why no one seems to want that.
      Especially as the warmer weather appears to consist mainly of not quite as cold night time temperatures, and Winter starting a little later, and lasting not quite so long such that Spring arrives a little sooner.

  16. That’s a spurious question, more CO2, more sunshine, more rain equal faster growing lawns and trees, which in turn means more staff to take to the dump, bigger and better lawn mowers and more fuel to power them. We are trying to shut down the evil Hydrocarbon industries not make them bigger!!! Some people…..

  17. Roberts better be careful as a ‘Climate Hawk’, he better watch out for those pesky Bird Blenders, AKA Windmills. One of those favored renewable energy sources that are 3 times as expensive as coal, and beak down too often. Windmills don’t discriminate …

  18. I agree that trying to predict the climate in 2100 is futile.
    How about next Monday?
    The weather service doesn’t appear to get that right very often.

  19. As with most predictions, especially about weather (Climate which is the 30 yr average of weather apparently), is that those making the predictions reliably get them wrong most of the time. So I simply look out the window these days.

  20. The desperation of Leftist warmunists is palpable.
    None of their projections are coming even close to matching reality.
    All the warmunists can do is come up with dog-ate-my-homework excuses for why their projections are so hilariously wrong, and to fiddle with the raw data to make their huge errors less laugh inducing…
    Under any metric of the Scientific Method, the CAGW hypothesis is already disconfirmed, and should be run through the wood chipper…
    But, alas, the Paris Climate Circus awaits to negotiate even more government tyranny for a problem that doesn’t exist, to steal more money and power from their citizens.

  21. What Roberts is saying about the economic projections modelling is so obvious that it is blindingly obvious, and what we are saying about climate modelling is equally obvious.
    The only explanation I can think of to explain why people like him do not see this, is that it is an act of faith. it is simply unquestionable

    • You seem to think that they are looking for truth, when they are really trying to find an excuse to control people and whole economies.

  22. So David Roberts took a year off and became skeptical of the alarmist propaganda on global warming. I would guess that he spent quite a bit of time viewing WUWT (as well as other realist sites) and contributed to the current count of 249,443,240 views of WUWT. By the way, that’s nearly a ‘half a billion’.
    Ignorance can be cured by knowledge.

  23. You can only forecast the climate, if you understand the mechanisms involved. But what if these so-called ‘scientists’ have chosen the wrong climate drivers and feedbacks?
    Take a look at the following Vostok temperature graph. Note that all the Interglacials warming periods terminate at about the same temperature. That cannot be a coincidence. So what are the drivers and feedbacks that ensure that the max Interglacial temperature is always the same, even when hundreds of thousands of years apart?
    The driver or forcing of Interglacials is obviously the precessionary Great Year summer season in the NH. Take a look at the following graph, where all the recent Interglacials (red diamonds) occur at the peak of an (idealised) Great Year summer season. So the primary driver of Interglacials is axial precession, not axial obliquity or orbital eccentricity – because all Interglacials occur at the peak of a precessional Great Year summer season.
    (The Y-axis insolation curve is the same as the precessionary Seasonal Great Year, which is why it has a 21.7 k year cycle. NH summers at the top, NH winters at the bottom. Each Interglacial starts at a red diamond and moves to the left for a few thousand years, and terminates at the appropriate green circle.)
    And the reason for the Interglacial warming always stopping at the same temperature, is that all the ice sheets have melted at the peak of the Interglacial. Ergo, the primary warming feedback during Interglacials has to be reducing albedo via reducing ice, not CO2.
    In which case, CO2 is merely a bit-player in this climate drama, and the star of the show is actually albedo. And if albedo is the Interglacial feedback mechanism our current climate cannot get any warmer than at present, because there is very little ice left to melt. Which would mean that ALL of the climate models are totally wrong, because they have misunderstood the fundamental mechanism.

    • Yeah, “ALL of the climate models are totally wrong, because they have misunderstood the fundamental mechanism”, but?
      What was the position in the Holocene Optimum with regard to the ice sheets?
      There is good reason to consider that Holocene temps have peaked, and were at their peak at the time of the Holocene Optimum. Of course, that is not known for sure.
      There have been a number of warm periods during the Holocene, which we do not know or understand what drove them, but it may well be material that each of these warm periods appear to have peaked at a slightly lower high than the previous warm period, such that it appears that the planet is on a downward trend back into the throes of the ice age, that the present inter-glacial has (fortuitously for mankind) interrupted.
      Consider that; the Holocene Optimum was warmer than the Minoan Warm Period, which was warmer than the Roman Warm Period which was warmer than the Medieval Warm Period, which was warmer than the present late 20th Century Warm Period.
      Of course, we do not know yet whether the present late 20th Century Warm Period is over, and perhaps it will carry on warming into the 21st Century and if it does so, possibly it may exceed the warmth of the Medieval Warm Period. But if there is no resumption of warming, the possibility exists that temperatures may decline and the present warming will have peaked at the end of the 20th Century at a level below that of the Medieval Warm Period. It may be that for some time temperatures will decline and it may be a considerable time before there is another bout of inter-glacial warming.
      Since we do not know or understand enough, we do not know how the Holocene will develop.

      • >>Since we do not know or understand enough, we do
        >>not know how the Holocene will develop.
        Oh, I think we have quite a good idea. During an interglacial, world temperature follows the Seasonal Great Year’s NH summer and autumn season, as the following graph shows.
        (This image is Milankovitch insolation at 65N, so it includes precession, obliquity and eccentricity. But by far the biggest effect is the precessional Seasonal Great Year (SGY), which is why the peaks here are 21.7 k year apart and substantially replicate the SGY cycle. So maximum NH insolation and forcing equates with the NH SGY mid-summer.)
        NH insolation vs temperature. The insolation is proportional to the SGY season.
        Since we have long passed the mid-summer of the SGY, which peaked some 11,000 ears ago at the start of the Holocene, it is not surprising that temperatures have fallen slightly over the last 10,000 years. We are in the SGY autumn season, and we should expect cooler temperatures in the autumn. In fact, it is amazing that world temperatures have withstood the negative forcing of the SGY autumn so well.
        In which case, there is a distinct possibility that the max interglacial temperature peak 125 k years ago, in the graph above, should be slightly to the right of its present location. In reality, insolation may need to fall quite substantially, during the SGY autumn, before the temperature follows. Which would make sense. So there may be a 5,000 year counting error in the ice-core layers, and the last interglacial peak should be displaced to the right. (I did see this error speculated in a geological paper somewhere.)
        From this, we can make some future predictions.
        As can be seen on the following graph, we have already reached the lowest point in the current SYG cycle. Because of orbital eccentricity there is no deep SGY winter this time around, and the seasons of the SGY become very shallow for the next 50 k years. So if the climate requires the full negative forcing of a SGY winter, before the temperature falls into an Ice Age, then we are not going to see another Ice Age for another 50 k years or so.
        But we may see a gradual decrease in temperature to reflect that we are firmly in the SGY autumn, with much less NH forcing than earlier in the Holocene. So if CO2 is a warming agent (and I think the claims for CO2 are grossly exaggerated) then we should be releasing as much CO2 as possible, to counter the continuing Holocene cooling.
        NH insolation into the future. The insolation is proportional to the SGY season.
        Greater amplitude equals greater seasonal strength or variability.

  24. A simply procedure that must come into place is to ban all climate related models in political issues or research papers until they can be shown accurately enough with observed data to predict a set numbers of years within reasonable required standard. This still promotes the use of models as a reasonable tool, but eliminates them until they can be shown valuable. This procedure is required for the sake of future science and reversal of the increasingly pseudoscience, where the modeler can show absolutely anything and not be criticized for any of it. This leads to a current model procedure based on huge assumptions/faith by the modeler with no resistance to any possible insanity of the claims.

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