August 31, 2004

Trying Times

Though the new U.S. Climate Change Science Program report concedes numerous climate modeling unknowns, a New York Times editorial misrepresents it as a “striking shift” by the Bush Administration.

Well, you can’t fault the New York Times for trying—that is, trying to move its global warming agenda forward by any means necessary. On August 26, a routine federal report on climate change research was hailed as “a striking shift” of the Bush Administration, and then used as the basis for a masthead editorial August 27 calling for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

In reality, the report, Our Changing Planet: The U.S. Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005 (OCP ) resembles a jillion other climate reports with interminable titles emanating from our Washington agencies. University faculty mailboxes groan with this overload. (Whatever became of the paperless office, we ask?)

Doesn’t anyone, much less the Times, understand how Washington works? The Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) is in competition with many others for a finite number of our tax dollars. That includes AIDS, cancer, nutrition science, and a host of other science “issues.”

CCSP wants a little more than $4 billion per year. That’s still a lot of money, and no one ever jacked this amount of dough out of D.C. by saying that their issue wasn’t the most important one in history, or that not knowing more about it (about $4 bil per year’s worth) will expose us to all variety of harm, potential or otherwise. It’s just the way the game is played.

So, no one should be surprised that all issues must be defined as terrible problems: Whatever administration is in charge, the scientific actors remain the same, and they will always behave the same when envisioning large amounts of our money.

What the Times found interesting was largely in Chapter 4, the section on 20th-century climate, which says computer models can simulate the climate history of the last 100 years when fed solar variation, greenhouse effect changes (which warm things), and anthropogenic dust, which cools things.

This is not news. People have been “tuning” computer models with these variables for years to somehow explain why the Northern Hemisphere cooled in the mid-20th century. Seeing as every scientist admits we haven’t a clue how much cooling is actually caused by human dust, selecting the “right” value simulates the climate history. Climate scientists are not rocket scientists.

In fact, a substantial portion of the CCSP effort is to quantify the cooling effect of dust. If that were already so well known, why spend dozens of millions of dollars finding the answer? Clearly, that request is an admission that every computer model that uses anthropogenic dust to explain climate history is merely selecting one value for cooling out of a unknown and large range.

The same approach can be applied to North American temperatures, as noted in the report. Again, the same problems accrue. We really don’t know the cooling effects of human dust. And, in the paper that CCSP claimed properly simulated the North American climate, two wrongs were added to make a right.

That model underestimates the warming of the early 20th century, which has little or nothing to do with human greenhouse emissions, and overestimates the second warming of the century, which took place in the last 30 years. Add together those two and you’ll come up with the correct overall trend. If the true value of warming was “4” in both the early and later parts of the century (and they were both equal), adding the two together gives “8.” If the model said “2” early on, and “6” later, it would still get a total of 8, but be right for the wrong reasons (for more detail see: http://www.co2andclimate.org/wca/2003/wca_12a.html).

CCSP rightly makes no claim that we can simulate United States (lower 48) temperatures for the last 100 years. The Clinton Administration tried to do this its infamous National Assessment of global warming. When it was found out that the models employed simply did not work better than consulting a Ouija board, the government was compelled to warn people that the Assessment does not meet the current legal standard for federal science quality (see: http://www.co2andclimate.org/wca/2003/wca_11a.html).

So, our advice to anyone who thinks there’s a lot of news here is to cool it. This is same-old-same-old climate modeling, which claims to work because it picks a number for human-induced cooling that works. But the true number for aerosol cooling is unknown, as pointed out repeatedly in Our Changing Planet.

And to anyone who is surprised by scientists who emphasize that, unless their work is funded, society will have heck to pay, well, perhaps you don’t understand the way Washington works. And to the Times, keep trying. Last we heard, the big “news” on global warming and the subsequent masthead editorial prompted neither a peep from Mr. Bush nor a squawk from Mr. Kerry.

Reference:

Karoly, D.J., et al., 2003. Detection of a human influence on North American Climate. Science, 302, 1200-1203.




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