In Pt 2 of this series I posted on the IPCC's lack of credibility. Now I want to touch on another lack of credibility, that of computer models. On September 22nd of 2004 I had the following op-ed published at the conservative web site OpinionEditorials.com. Although it was the culmination of my initial research into climate change, I used no data from any critic's websites. My sources were solely data from the government science establishment. These are the kind of caveats and uncertainties that science press releases and media reports generally ignore.
Models of Doubt
"Fools rush in" may be an appropriate line for a song, but it should not be descriptive of world governments responding to global warming.
When governments are faced with a problem they usually debate it at length, hold hearings, interview experts on both sides of the issue. At least that's the way you'd think it would work. But that's not what's going on.
Activists, the media, and lately even British PM Tony Blair has been pressing President Bush and Russian President Putin to hurry up and sign the Kyoto Protocol.
This hurried atmosphere reminds me of that commercial where the guys in the office are saying how they must get this parcel to their customer now or they are all "doomed", "doomed" "doomed."
It seems that all this gloom and doom is coming from a single source, computer models. Scenarios run on computers telling us what the future might, could, possibly, may, be like. None of this has been proven though, just guessed at.
I wondered if anyone was questioning the veracity of these models and I found quite a few who are. At the website of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) I found a March 15th press release which states "A NASA-funded study found some climate models might be overestimating the amount of water vapor entering the atmosphere as the Earth warms. Since water vapor is the most important heat-trapping greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, some climate forcasts may be overestimating future temperature increases." (1)
While still at NASA's site I linked over to the Goddard Space Flight Center where a section titled "Modeling Ocean Behavior" said "While lab and numerical simulations have brought to light several key features of DC (deep convection), the translation of this information into a reliable model usable in OGCM's (ocean general cirulation models) has not yet been achieved, with the result that Deep Convection is still poorly understood." (2)
So, should we be passing laws on a theory whose aspects are "poorly understood"?
At the website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) their section on global warming said "There is much need to refine our understanding of key natural forcing mechanisms of the climate, including solar irradiance changes, in order to reduce uncertainty in our projections of future climate change." (3)
One paragraph later "Climate models are constantly improving based on both our understanding and the increase in computer power, though by definition, a computer model is a simplification and simulation of reality, meaning that it is an approximation of the climate system." (3)
With all that uncertainty they would have to be approximations.
At the site of the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change (IPCC) I noticed that the panel was supposed to draw up new modeling scenarios called Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) and give these to climate modelers in time for the Third Assesment Report. But in their section titled "The Scientific Basis" they admit "Since the SRES was not approved until 15 March 2000, it was too late for the modeling community to incorporate the final approved scenarios in their models and have the results available in time for this Third Assesment Report." (4) They go on to say that they did give the modelers fours draft models, one from each storyline group. But the modelers were still using mostly scenarios from older reports.
At the end of the panel's chapter 14.4 "Outlook":
"In sum, there is a need for:
>more comprehensive data, contemporary, historical, and palaeological, relevant to the climate system;
>expanded process studies that more clearly elucidate the structure of fundamental components of the Earth system and the potential for changes in these central components;
>greater effort in testing and developing increasingly comprehensive and sophisticated Earth system models;
>increased emphasis upon producing ensemble calculations of Earth system models that yield descriptions of the likelihood of a broad range of different possibilities, and finally;
>new efforts in understanding the fundamental behavior of large-scale non-linear systems." (5)
With NASA, NOAA, the IPCC and many others calling for more knowledge and urging caution, it would indeed be foolish for legislators and even presidents to rush into signing Kyoto or any treaty whose estimations of the future are so heavily burdened with uncertainty.
Observe the sentence "Since water vapor is the most important heat-trapping greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, some climate forecasts may be overestimating future temperature increases."
So the next time you hear someone say that CO2 is the most important heat-trapping greenhouse gas, rest assured you are listening to someone who is well, less than informed. Most critics know that NASA is right: water vapor is the most important heat-trapping gas not CO2.
This also demonstrates that the caveats and uncertainties found in the IPCC assessment reports (ARs) are real. But you would not know it if all you read were the Summaries for Policy Makers (SPMs) written by bureaucrats in their capacity as government agents. It must be remembered that the scientists who write the assessment reports are for the most part, not the people who write the SPMs. It is the SPMs that your congressmen and mine get to read, not the actual ARs with all the caveats.
So the next time you hear that "models have shown" or "models predict" or the "models demonstrate" or "models have proven", just know that they are all "models of Doubt."