New global warming model highlights strong impact of social learning


Researchers account for feedback between climate change and human behavior


Protestors at the People's Climate March in DC on April 29, 2017 Credit: Mark Dixon/Flickr
Protestors at the People’s Climate March in DC on April 29, 2017 Credit: Mark Dixon/Flickr

A new climate modeling approach suggests that social processes strongly affect global warming predictions, and mitigation efforts should account for this influence. Thomas Bury of the Universities of Waterloo and Guelph, Canada, and colleagues present these findings in PLOS Computational Biology.

Human behavior influences a wide range of complex systems, including ecosystems, social networks, and the climate. Moreover, these systems impact human behavior, creating a feedback loop. Human behavior is a driver of climate change, but climate models often neglect how climate change in turn affects human behavior.

In an effort to improve climate change predictions, Bury and colleagues developed a mathematical model that captures key features of social and climate systems, while also incorporating how climate change and mitigation efforts impact human behavior. The researchers then used the model to investigate how human behavior might influence climate change dynamics.

Their analysis suggests that the rate at which people learn about climate mitigation strategies via social interactions, such as hearing that a friend bought a hybrid car, strongly influences climate outcomes. Social learning takes time, so plausible values of this rate alone could raise warming predictions by over 1 degree Celsius.

On the contrary, the model suggests that social norms do not protect against rising temperatures. They initially act against adoption of mitigation behaviors, even when such efforts are strongly justified by rising temperatures, and they do not significantly speed the transition to an emission-free world once mitigation becomes the norm.

The researchers also ran the model with different parameters to explore how mitigation efforts could be optimized. “Our socio-climate model indicates that an increase in social media and other campaigns to raise awareness, such as climate marches and international reports, should ideally be followed by governmental and other incentives to reduce carbon emissions,” Bury says.

Senior author, Madhur Anand states that “There are pathways for humans to mitigate climate change, but processes driving behavior and norms at the individual and societal level will be essential to all of them, and our longstanding work on coupled human-environment systems applied here to climate change is providing direction in this regard”.

The researchers note that their model is relatively simple and future research efforts should assess whether models of a higher complexity produce different forecasts. Collaborating author, Chris Bauch says “Mathematical models that capture social dynamics and their interaction with climate trends will become increasingly used in climate research”. Models that accurately capture the interplay between population behavior and climate change could improve predictions and inform mitigation strategies.


Peer-reviewed / Simulation/modeling / N/A

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS Computational Biology:

Citation: Bury TM, Bauch CT, Anand M (2019) Charting pathways to climate change mitigation in a coupled socio-climate model. PLoS Comput Biol 15(6): e1007000.

Funding: This research was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants to CTB (RGPIN-04210-2014) and MA (URL: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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Tom Halla
June 7, 2019 2:11 pm

So it really is models, all the way down?

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 7, 2019 3:07 pm

Not just all the way down, but all the way side to side as well.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 7, 2019 3:11 pm

Models are cool. You can prove whatever you want and no pesky data to get in the way.

Reply to  Sheri
June 7, 2019 3:18 pm

Models are great! Love models. This morning I had a B 17 fly over my house. Show me a model that can do that, till then I will not destroy my energy production, agriculture and manufacturing systems for a lie. Computer models are even more useless than a plastic airplane.

Reply to  2hotel9
June 7, 2019 4:24 pm

Models are selected for their looks, not their brains.

Both types

Reply to  MarkW
June 8, 2019 5:45 am

Bingo! All about appearing to show something.

Reply to  Sheri
June 7, 2019 6:24 pm

In engineering, models are exceptionally useful design tools.

In electronics, as you go up in frequency, measurements become more difficult. By the time you get to microwaves, the stuff you do at lower frequencies totally doesn’t work. Not only that but every tiny bit of metal makes a big difference. Simulation software allows us to try designs before we start carving copper. Then you stand a chance of having your circuit work. I love models.

On the other hand, one of my buddies was an early numerical modeller. He managed to find thousands of ways a model could blow up. My favorite was a hundred foot high wall of water moving across a flood plain.

It’s OK to try to use models to try to understand stuff. Those models should not be mistaken for the reliable models used in engineering work.

Experts are somewhat the same. Surgeons and airline pilots and symphony musicians can repeat a performance they have practiced. It’s easy to tell when they get things wrong. That’s one kind of expert.

The other kind of expert knows a lot but his predictions are no more accurate than those generated by a dart-throwing chimp. That’s OK, we need folks who know a lot. The trouble is that these folks think their prognostications are reliable. They then say things like, “Believe me. I’m an expert. Would you trust Joe Public to do your heart surgery or would you call an expert?” They are mischaracterizing their expertise. Similarly, climate scientists who insist that we should accept their models are deluding themselves. It’s something like the Kruger Dunning effect.

Reply to  commieBob
June 8, 2019 12:27 am

No one can make a computer model of social change , no one has a working model of climate. Good luck with make a model which gives useful information about how the two interact.

But, hey if you can get a grant , why not?

George Daddis
Reply to  commieBob
June 8, 2019 6:00 am

In Engineering school 55 years ago they taught us that a model is defined as:
“a small imitation of the real thing”

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 7, 2019 7:46 pm

Fun with numbers. Mathematical onanism.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
June 7, 2019 7:50 pm

Someone came up with a great written pun-mathterbation.

Charles Higley(@higley7)
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 8, 2019 6:55 pm

First you make up a clown-based model and then populate it with completely made up factors. I would love to see how they convert behavior into warmer climate. I imagine they interpret everything in terms of CO2 emissions and take it from there. The fun part is that, since CO2 and water vapor cannot warm the planet, they are telling us that human activities have no effect on climate. Glad we got that out of the way.

Dave Fair
June 7, 2019 2:16 pm

Western white-bread sociology doesn’t apply to China, India, Africa and other Third World countries. The amount of stupidity allowing something this puerile to see the light of day is mind-boggling.

“The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.” Yet the Canadian taxpayer footed the bill for this nonsense. What does the “Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants to CTB” do, just shovel money out the door to anybody that walks by?

David Guy-Johnson
June 7, 2019 2:19 pm

BS of the highest order

Dave Fair
Reply to  David Guy-Johnson
June 7, 2019 2:26 pm

Another sign of CliSci practitioners’ hysteria surrounding the scientific collapse of CAGW; the Third World is not going along with this rich socialist plaything.

Reply to  David Guy-Johnson
June 7, 2019 5:07 pm

This is what Canada’s PM and environment minister spew forth all the time.

John V. Wright
June 7, 2019 2:29 pm

And this is how we spend the money.

Paul S
June 7, 2019 2:30 pm

I could tell before reading the first paragraph that this was a EurekAlert

Kerry Eubanks
June 7, 2019 2:34 pm

I just hate that my tax dollars help pay for so much of this kind of drivel.

Clyde Spencer
June 7, 2019 2:53 pm

They left out that sticking pins in dolls will cause pain in the person the doll resembles.

June 7, 2019 3:01 pm

Propaganda is as propaganda says. Reality has NO place in the discussion.

June 7, 2019 3:01 pm

The model is not just relatively simple it is completely stupid but they want more money to build a more stupid model. At some point you would think these dropkicks might test whether the model might actually just be a model of there figment of there imagination.

The public aren’t doing what the dropkicks want because they can see thru the complete garbage being peddled and until you add that into the model it will always be wrong.

Sweet Old Bob
June 7, 2019 3:02 pm

What a load of tosh !

Neil Jordan
June 7, 2019 3:17 pm

Alternate paper title: “New global warming rainfall model highlights strong impact of rain dances”.

June 7, 2019 3:22 pm

They should do one on the effect of funding on the production of studies such as this.

John Bell
June 7, 2019 3:33 pm

I am so curious to meet the kind of people who write this stuff, what their model looks like and what numbers they put in to it, and do they think publishing such rubbish makes them lofty intellectuals? The paper is a big belly laugh. The twisted circular logic is palpable.

Flight Level
June 7, 2019 4:07 pm

And they get paid for that ? Give them shovels, there’s enough potholes to fix after whatever that unforgiving wither did to our roads…

June 7, 2019 4:25 pm

Hey, I’m fairly good with Excel. Give me a couple of variables and I’ll create a graph. Maybe get it published in a “peer reviewed” journal?? That’d be cool.

June 7, 2019 4:32 pm

PC Models are in most cases just “” Make work”” schemes, paid for as
usual by the taxpayer.

More of a reasonable question, what are the demonstrators dong, don’t they
have jobs to go too ?

Not sure that we have changed all that much from the mobs in Paris, the
earlier ones that a young Napoleon fired buckshot at. Now that’s the way
to clear a way, so it can be used by law abiding people.


Bruce Cobb
June 7, 2019 4:33 pm

Ah yes, they created a mathematical model. Garbage in, gospel out.

June 7, 2019 4:55 pm

For something this silly, a silly response.
I prefer ‘supermodels’, they don’t talk too much.

Gary Pearse
June 7, 2019 5:00 pm

Note the terminology used by these sociologists. ‘pathways’ to mitigation ‘ social ‘feedback loops’ social learning affects ‘complex climate dynamics’. This could have been written by an electronic algorithm. This is what happens when journal editors are afraid to turn down PC papers like “Feminine Glaciology”.

June 7, 2019 5:43 pm

“Mathematical models that capture social dynamics and their interaction with climate trends will become increasingly used in climate research”

Next: no media coverage of their article increases the risk of catastrophic warming… However, Greta’s Amnesty prize will help contain temperatures to safe level in 2100…
Tomorrow’s forecast: increased readership of WUWT today will unfortunately lead to a heat wave somewhere.

Dave Fair
Reply to  TomRude
June 7, 2019 5:45 pm

Please note that econometric models make similar mistakes when trying to predict social movements.

Jerry Palmer
June 7, 2019 6:03 pm

So they managed to crowbar climate change into sociology. Sounds like the gravy train just gained another carriage. What’s next? Media studies? Choreography? Can I get a grant for “Climate Change – The Ballet”?

Jerry Palmer
Reply to  Charles Rotter
June 8, 2019 5:52 am

Woohoo! On my way to the NSF now!
Where did I put my tutu?

June 7, 2019 6:20 pm

It would not surprise me if this paper turned out to be one of those hoax submissions intended to show the gullibility of the journals who published it as well as their peer reviewers.

Joel O’Bryan(@joelobryan)
Reply to  Kurt
June 7, 2019 9:01 pm

PLOS journals seem to do an excellent job of catching the attempts to Prank them, … so far.

Patrick MJD
June 7, 2019 6:29 pm

Some people think GCM’s are the best when it comes to climate.

nw sage
June 7, 2019 6:41 pm

They are developing justification for a new model system which will properly account for the effect of pronouncements by approved gurus. A strong pronouncement will result in a sharp reduction in global warming – a weak one or one made by an unapproved guru will have the opposite effect. Since none of the strong pronouncements will be projected to have any effect for at least 50 yrs (no matter how dire) no one will be around to be accountable for the collapse of society. Success!!

June 7, 2019 6:53 pm

Human behavior is a driver of climate change…”

Show me the study that actually proved this; i.e., this amounts to speculation. I stopped reading there.

Joel O’Bryan(@joelobryan)
June 7, 2019 8:08 pm

”climate modeling approach suggests that social processes strongly affect global warming predictions,”

All that does is Strongly support the view that climate modeling is junk science. Next up, Ben Santer climate modeling How many angels can fit on a CO2 molecule and finding a fingerprint somewhere in that.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 9, 2019 10:06 am

The social process of paying people to come up with catastrophic global warming predictions.

June 8, 2019 9:11 am

The desperation has reached record proportions. what next the climate and my bowel movements the real story.

June 8, 2019 9:49 am

“New global warming model highlights strong impact of socialist learning”

June 10, 2019 2:55 pm

What rising temperatures? The rebound from the little ice age? We’re still less warm than the Roman, Minoan and Middle Ages warm periods.

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