Thursday, January 18, 2007

Predicting The Future

If you read my whiny post last week, you know that I was very frustrated that weather forecasters are wrong so much of the time. Even with all their fancy radar and satellite images, the possible permutations in local weather patterns, let alone global ones, thwart predictive accuracy on a very regular basis. (Unless, as I rantingly suspect in my previous post, the reporters are intentionally messing with our heads for their own amusement.) Yet, long-term prognosticators would have us believe that they not only know what's coming, but they can map its effects for the next hundred years. According to Kate Ravilious, at, scientists in Switzerland have created a series of maps to show the ways in which Global Warming Will Rule The World:

Think back to the hottest summer you can remember. Now imagine a summer like that every year. For those of us who are still around by the end of the 21st century, this is what we can expect, according to a new index that maps the different ways that climate change will hit different parts of the world. The map reveals how much more frequent extreme climate events, such as heatwaves and floods, will be by 2100 compared with the late 20th century. It is the first to show how global warming will combine with natural variations in the climate to affect our planet.

"We hope it will help policy-makers gain a quick overview of the scientific facts without getting lost in the detail," says Michèle Bättig of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who created the index with colleagues after talking to delegates at the 2005 UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal, Canada. The index allows anyone to compare the severity of the predicted effect of climate change on a chunk of the Amazon rainforest, for example, with its effect on a corner of Antarctica.

I'm not buying it. Note how, in its very first paragraph, the article states with authority what will happen, and references pretty global charts to make it more convincing, but, as I've noted here at the Meow before, "all right thinking people" do not agree that this view of the weather world is accurate. Just last week I linked to a speech by Michael Crichton about the weaknesses in the "everybody knows this" approach to science and the issue of global warming, and only three days ago I sent you to another article, coming out of Russia, about how scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences are concerned, not with global warming, but with global cooling. The New Scientist article, of course, conveys the standard calls for all the usual limits on greenhouse gasses, and speaks of all the science that shows how many weather crises we are in for, without providing any of that supposedly overwhelming science to back up their position. As is often the case with claims about global warming, it is simply treated as fact, and something that, since every "right thinking person" clearly already agrees, there is no need to provide actual scientific proof, and the maps provide all the credibility and solemnity deemed necessary to carry their point. However, pretty graphics, created to show what a certain set of people postulate is going to happen, are still somebody's guess, based on computer models that extrapolate current weather trends out for a hundred years.

They can't be accurate over a year, and they think they can get it right over a hundred years? I remember reading dire warnings about what a bad hurricane season the U.S. could expect in 2006. Needless to say, that didn't materialize. Why? Because weather patterns shift and change over time. You can't plug the weather data for a year, or ten, or even fifty, into a computer, and then expect it to spit out the forecast for the next hundred. It'll do a bang-up job of making the pattern clear over the course of the period of data you already know, but that's not very predictive, is it? Do we know yet what all the things are which affect our climate? (Besides the uber-culprit of human existence, I mean.) Solar flares, cosmic rays, the Sun's magnetic field, and volcanic activity have all been fingered by various scientists as playing an important climate-shaping role. (As a science refresher, go have a look at this post about scientists in Denmark who have proven a link between cosmic rays and cloud formation.) Other weather influences may still be out there undiscovered. If we don't even know yet all the factors that influence our weather, how can we possibly be making maps of what will happen a hundred years from now in terms of the consequences of global warming?

I usually love New Scientist, despite their tendency to buy into some scientific fads, but this treatment of global warming as a fact that can be charted into the distant future, without providing actual proof, really set me off today (as I'm sure you can tell.) I really loved (sarcasm making a brief appearance here) how in the quote above, the Swiss scientist hopes his maps "...will help policy-makers gain a quick overview of the scientific facts without getting lost in the detail." In other words, he doesn't think leaders--policy-makers--need to really understand the issue, as long as he can tell them what they're supposed to believe, and scare them into acting on it with his "guessing at the future in pretty pictures" maps. Such "science" is irresponsible, and the more of it there is, the more possibly unnecessary and rash actions could be taken by world leaders, stifling economies and leaving underdeveloped nations in poverty, for fear that bringing them into the twenty-first century will somehow damage the climate and hasten our doom--in which case, lots of people will die, thus no longer harming the planet, and allowing it to return to its natural state, whatever that is--so I don't see the problem, really. (Okay, another sarcastic moment over.) I'm not saying there is no global warming. I'm not saying there is. We don't know yet, because, besides the fact that enough time hasn't gone by to really understand the patterns, scientists are spending their time making maps to show how things will look in a future that they can't possibly know at this point, rather than proving their theories right or wrong by engaging in investigative science, and truly understanding what has happened already. I'm saying they should gather all the relevant data before they start prognosticating and demanding proscriptive changes. For all they know, greenhouse gasses are the only thing holding off another ice age.

Update: A reader just left a link that is a good one for this topic. It's a blog post from Marc Morano at the U.S. Senate committee on Environment & Public Works site, looking at efforts to silence global warming sceptics:
The Weather Channel’s most prominent climatologist is advocating that broadcast meteorologists be stripped of their scientific certification if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming. This latest call to silence skeptics follows a year (2006) in which skeptics were compared to "Holocaust Deniers" and Nuremberg-style war crimes trials were advocated by several climate alarmists.
Not only is there no science in some of their science, now they want to shut up any opposition to their take on things. Read the rest. It's an eyeful. (note: For some reason the link isn't working right, nor is the one in the comments. Hope they fix it. It's quite a read.)

Update II: Just checked again (Jan. 19, at 4:44pm) and Morano's post was up and running. Here's the link to an update on the topic of decertification of global warming sceptics. I hope this one is a bit more reliable than the last one.