Cataclysmic Climate Change


Damn, I am pissed. I was supposed to be dead by now. Hell, we all were.

Baby-boomers weren’t supposed to live longer than their parents’ generation. Experts expected pesticides and other synthetic chemicals to kill us. We would be killed by the very technology meant to save us—hoisted with our own malathion petards.

Rachel Carson predicted dire cancer consequences from chemicals, primarily DDT, though it might have been ozone or acid rain or cooties. Who remembers? I mean if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. Right? Anyway she said:

“`No longer are exposures to dangerous chemicals occupational alone; they have entered the environment of everyone-even of children as yet unborn. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we are now aware of an alarming increase in malignant disease.” [There wasn’t–other causes of death had dropped]  She expected “practically 100 per cent of the human population to be wiped out from a cancer epidemic in one generation.” [Editor’s note: It didn’t.]

Later on, doomster Paul Ehrlich hedged:

“the U.S. life expectancy will drop to forty-two years by 1980, due to cancer epidemics.”

If the cancer didn’t kill us, according to Ehrlich, the population bomb would by causing a worldwide famine.

But wait there’s more! Because we humans were so damned greedy (present company excepted, of course) forests were being decimated; acid rain falling on the forests would obliterate what forest remained, the earth was losing species at a spectacular rate—though no one could say by how much—deserts devoured fertile land by a mile or two a year each year. Oil was predicted to dry up within a decade making the Mad Max dystopian future look like a Sunday school picnic. And, for our grand finale, the earth was entering a new ice age due to the particulates we tossed into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, thus blocking the sun’s life-giving rays.

We knew that our parents and ancestors had ruined earth for us, and in the Church of What’s Happening Now, we recited our eco-litany:

“The water is polluted and the air is worse. We’re washing away topsoil from our farmland; and what we aren’t washing away, we’re paving over. The more technology we manufacture, the less livable becomes our world. Humans produce too many babies. Our exploding population increases poverty and misery and decreases habitat for every other living thing that we share this tiny and fragile world with.”

Thanks to our parents, we had an overcrowded planet, short on food, short on oil, and global cooling would finish us off (just look at the droughts, the signs are all around us). We were completely, absolutely, and irretrievably, boned.

That was more nearly fifty years ago and we Boomers are still here.

…Well, a lot of us anyway. Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, and Jimmy Hendrix bit it long ago. And Keith Richards may or may not be dead; who can tell?

Here is what I am getting at: Not only did humanity survive all of those apocalyptic prophecies; life is better than it has ever been.

“In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: ‘dentistry’”

– P.J. O’Rourke, All the Trouble in the World

And yet, Apocalypticists keep tossing up more clay pigeons to be shot down by anyone willing to do minimal research. These pigeons are foisted in the name of ‘saving the earth’s environment for coming generations,’ always call for everyone, though not themselves (see examples of diCaprio and Gore, hereafter listed as exhibits A and B), to live frugal and simple lives of less.

Interestingly, they take us for pigeons. One need only get on the mailing list of the Sierra Club, Audubon, or Friends of the Earth, to see that money is their lifeblood and they will tell you the direst or worst-case scenarios to get a transfusion of cash. This tactic doesn’t work on everybody. For instance, if you tell P. J. O’Rourke “By the end of the century, New York City could be underwater,” he will say, “Your point is?”

Catastrophic climate change appears to be the latest pigeon du jour.

Its staying power has been amazing. ‘That’s because it’s Science,’ I hear you saying.‘ So for purposes of argument, let us stipulate that anthropogenic climate change has scientific bases. I agree. I hope you do.

I will further stipulate:

  • Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas,
  • The amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is increasing,
  • The primary reason for the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels,
  • On average, our world is warmer than it was 50 to 150 years ago,
  • Our burning of fossil fuels–thereby increasing CO2 in the atmosphere–has contributed to the warming of our atmosphere.

That, in a nutshell, is the 97% consensus. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising and we are putting most of it there and CO2 contributes to the warming of our planet (for a fascinating write-up on how we know of CO2’s rise, its fossil fuel origins, and the warming, see Brian Dunning’s explanation

Easy peasy: throttle up CO2 in the atmosphere to make it warmer, throttle back on CO2 to cool. Kick back. Put your feet on the desk. it’s Miller Time.

Wait there’s more! There’s a whole theory on how global warming works.

Climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer has an understandable explanation at his website ( I’ll quote the parts I think are critical to this discussion.

“Global warming theory starts with the assumption that the Earth naturally maintains a constant average temperature, which is the result of a balance between (1) the amount of sunlight the Earth absorbs, and (2) the amount of emitted infrared (‘IR’) radiation that the Earth continuously emits to outer space. In other words, energy in equals energy out….As we add more CO2, more infrared energy is trapped, strengthening the Earth’s greenhouse effect. This causes a warming tendency in the lower atmosphere and at the surface….the lower atmosphere must then respond to this energy imbalance (less IR radiation being lost than solar energy being absorbed) by causing an increase in temperature (which causes an increase in the IR escaping to space) until the emitted IR radiation once again equals the amount of absorbed sunlight….”

Does CO2 control everything? No. It turns out that there are plenty more knobs and these control other stuff. In fact, according to the theory, doubling the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration causes less than one degree centigrade of surface warming (about 1 deg. F). So why the fuss? It’s all about the feedbacks, which are processes, which cool or warm the earth. For instance, evaporation occurs as the sun warms a surface of water. This water vapor may either hold heat or condense into clouds that cool the affected area by reflecting sunlight back into space. Feedbacks are the turbochargers of climate change theory. I had a turbocharged Volvo 240 GT once. It ate transmissions like Orson Welles ate Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.

Spencer points out that, “clouds, water vapor, and precipitation systems can all be expected to respond to the warming tendency in some way, which could either amplify or reduce the manmade warming….the sum of all the feedbacks in the climate system determines what is called ‘climate sensitivity’.”

It is this climate sensitivity that settled scientists are arguing about. How do the models (and there are more climate models that Zsa Zsa had husbands) test whether they are right or not? I, and others, like the Richard Feynman method:

“In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it…Then we compute the consequences of the guess…to see what it would imply and then we compare the computation results to nature, or we…compare it directly with observations to see if it works.”

Has this been done with climate models? You bet your sweet bippy it has.

Here is a graph of 102 model runs for the tropics by Dr. John Christy. The red line is an average, and the blue circles and green squares are balloon and satellite readings. The tropics are “the key region in which climate models respond to greenhouse gas warming with a large and distinct signal.” Dr. Christy testified to congress in 2013. “The focus on the tropics is important because of the consistent and significant warming that climate models indicate should have already occurred as a result of the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases we have put into the atmosphere. It also represents a part of the global atmosphere in which the critical water vapor and cloud feedbacks have major influences. In addition, changes in this region were determined by the EPA [Ed note: EPA is the US Environmental Protection Agency] to be a key line of evidence of greenhouse gas caused climate change. Finally, the tropical atmosphere is also a huge and easy target for modeling projects to hit if the physics are well represented….The comparison shows that the very latest climate model simulations used in the IPCC Assessment released two months ago indicate that their response to CO2 on average is 2 to 5 times greater than reality.” (emphasis added)

The models are, as Bob Euchre said in Major League about Wild Thing’s first pitch, which missed the strike zone by about ten feet, “just a bit outside.”

Let’s go back to Feynman’s method: You guess. You make computations. You predict results. You compare your predictions to your observations. If the predictions do not match your observations, you are wrong. “If it disagrees with the experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with the experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

There is another method and it’s the one that is apparently in vogue (meaning it’s popular, not that it has a spread in the magazine Vogue). It relies on multiple runs of the models. Dr. Kerry Emanuel is a proponent, so he can explain it better than I can.

“[We] have built over the years a hierarchy of increasingly complex models that really are some of the most complicated pieces of software that the human race has ever constructed. They have their origins in models that were built for a much more pedestrian but important purpose, which is weather forecasting. And they are very complex. In the case of weather forecasting, arguably you can test them twice a day and see how well they are doing. With climate, it’s much more difficult to test them because we don’t have that many climate states….We try to hold certain variables constant, like sunlight. And vary another external factor, like carbon dioxide, to see how the system responds….[These] models are not just run once. They are run many times, to try to account for their own internal random variability. And you can find 15, 20, 25 year stretches in all of these projections where the temperature not only flattens out but it actually goes down a little bit. So, if you take the ensemble mean, then it’s correct that the last 30 years, the models have overpredicted the temperature. I might add that 30 years before that, they underpredicted it. And this is what happens when you superimpose natural variability on forced variability.” (

I encourage you to listen to the whole EconTalk podcast. I came away almost liking Kerry Emanuel. He came across as a decent guy. My take away message for his view that global warming was a threat was that it was a feeling and not one he could produce much evidence for.

My experience is that models can be wonderful tools, but they always, always, always, have to be compared to the observed results. Without feedback from the real world, to refine their designs, the computer models are just mathematical magic eight balls: giving answers down to the ten thousandth decimal point but lacking any accuracy. The climate models are “just a bit outside.”

And to circle back to where I started, they are being used once again, to predict doom to the human race in the not too distant future. To scare us into giving up, repenting for our sins of hubris, thinking we could be like gods, and turning back.

Many [people, even those with digital watches,] were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Catastrophic Climate Change is another example of the Precautionary Principle—“don’t try anything new, it might be dangerous.” It’s just another clown in the Rodeo of the Apocalypse.

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A warmer and wetter world

I found a link the other day to a government website with global mean precipitation data from 1900 to 2000. Of course, I can’t find the link now (please comment if you have the link, but first see the note at the end of the post).

Anyway, I put the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and graphed the data and added a trendline. (If you would like a copy of the xls file, please ask for it in the comment section below.) As the world warms it is getting wetter. As Matt Ridley writes in his book The Rational Optimist:

If you take the IPCC’s [International Panel on Climate Change] assumptions and count the people living in zones that will have more water versus zones that will have less water, it is clear that the net population at risk of water shortage falls by 2100 under all their scenarios. (emphasis added)

Global mean precipitation (1900-2000)

10 yr average-global mean precipitation (1900-2000)

Even the EPA cites the IPCC (2007) to say much the same thing:

As global mean temperatures have risen, global mean precipitation also has increased. This is expected because evaporation increases with increasing temperature, and there must be an increase in precipitation to balance the enhanced evaporation (IPCC, 2007). Globally, precipitation over land increased at a rate of 1.9 percent per century since 1901, but the trends vary spatially and temporally. Over the contiguous U.S., total annual precipitation increased at an average rate of 6.1 percent per century since 1901, although there was considerable regional variability. The greatest increases came in the South (10.5 percent per century), the Northeast (9.8 percent), and the East North Central climate region (9.6 percent). A few areas such as Hawaii and parts of the Southwest have seen a decrease.

Crops may flourish with warmer climes and more CO2. There is some indication that in California some trees are increasing their ranges in response to this change. While increasing temperatures do have their downside, they also have positive benefits as well.

Continue reading

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Gaming Malthus with “Fate of the World”

I have submitted this to the Record-Bee for my December Green Chain column.

“I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.” – John Stuart Mill

In 1901, while searching for giant clams for dinner, a Greek sponge diver named Elias Stadiatos found an encrusted bronze device near the wreckage of a 2,100-year-old Roman merchant ship. It was discovered off the southern coast of Greece near Antikythera (an-ti-ki-theer-uh) Island, so it became known as the Antikythera mechanism. Sophisticated imaging has revealed its elaborate gears and the inscribed names of places and months. It is an orrery—a mechanical model of the solar system. In a letter, Cicero describes such a mechanism which, “at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon, and the five planets that take place in the heavens every day and night.” It also computed equinoxes, solstices, phases of the moon, and eclipses of the moon and sun and, as an added benefit, the timing of future Olympiads. The Antikythera mechanism was a computer.

Stadiatos dived for dinner and discovered the past, now you can dive into the dystopian future—which a new video game purports to reveal—unless you can prevent it. The scenario for Fate of the World (FotW) starts in the year 2020 when climate change induced disasters strike. Then the “World Environment Organization,” (a turbo-charged United Nations), makes you the climate czar to “decide how the world will respond to rising temperatures, heaving populations, dwindling resources, crumbling ecosystems and brave opportunities.” Here’s an example from a review in Britain’s Guardian:

“Put an emissions cap on a growing economy, stifling growth, and they’ll get fed up and throw your agency out of the area. Encourage investment and prosperity and there’ll soon be environmental consequences. Each turn sends you forward five years – and you’re informed as the game progresses of the many changes that take place in the world as temperatures increase.”

Gabion Rowlands of Red Redemption, the game’s development company, claims FotW provides realistic glimpses at scary futures because it relies on current scientific models. He believes climate change will cause “population issues, land issues, possibly resource wars, mass migration; a whole range of disasters and impacts, in fact.”

Color me skeptical.

I could point out that 98.5 per cent (210 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide (CO2 is the greenhouse gas most mentioned) entering the atmosphere comes from natural sources in the world’s carbon cycle, while people add only 1.5 per cent (3.2 billion metric tons) to the total.(Christy 2002) (The IPCC says the the human caused CO2 figure is 7.2. Still a small fraction of natural.)

I could point out global warming is not likely to precipitate world chaos; after all, using previous warm periods as guides, the earth should be wetter (because of greater evaporation from the oceans), with fewer droughts, with more drinking water, and with higher crops yields. (Ridley 2010)

And, I could point out that all the models use a positive feedback to amplify effects. Without these yet unproven feedbacks doubling CO2 produces a 1C degree change over the coming century—hardly cataclysmic. (Lindzen 2010)

I will point out FotW’s undercurrent of misanthropy—people are the problem. FotW beats a familiar rented mule: overpopulation. Boil down the babble, this drives FotW: lower the number of people and you lower the output of CO2 thus saving the world. One of the game’s producers posits that a player could fix things by deciding to decimate much of the planet’s population with an engineered super-virus. “The first thing to say about this is the obvious, that killing every last person in Africa would have less impact on climate change than getting Westerners to use 10% less energy.”

So that’s the idea: damage occurs in direct proportion to the number of people and their affluence and technology. More effluence with affluence. It is “not rocket science,” according to biologists Anne and Paul Ehrlich. “Two billion people, all else being equal, put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than one billion people. Two billion rich people disrupt the climate more than two billion poor people.” Which is why North Korea makes a shining example and Eden-esque paradise.

The idea of people being mere consumers and not innovative producers is probably as old as humanity. In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote, “The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death (through famine, war, or disease must) visit the human race.” In other words, people breed until they exhaust all available food and all natural resources; so keeping human population in check is necessary. Note that in Malthus’s time, population stood just shy of one billion. Today it exceeds six billion.

Malthus went onto computer chips in 1972 when a think-group calling itself the Club of Rome published “The Limits to Growth.” It is based on World3, an MIT professor’s computer model. The code that girded World3 followed the precepts of Thomas Malthus. Author Peter Huber explains one of World3’s subroutines: “Agricultural investment increased agricultural output, which increased birthrate but also pollution; pollution decreased agricultural output, and so on.” Instead of predicting higher temperatures as FotW does, the Limits to Growth predicted crippling shortages of gold, mercury, tin, zinc, petroleum, copper, lead, and natural gas within a decade. The shortages never happened.

To me, FotW looks like Malthus on a computer chip again—it is misanthropy cloaked in science. They conjure climate change as the latest trump card requiring draconian remedies. And, for being ‘just’ a game, it’s serious stuff. According to an opinion piece in the journal Nature, “Over the past decade, evidence has grown that computer-based play can support learning in schools.” A British government study “found that students whose lessons included interactive games were more engaged in curriculum content and demonstrated deeper understanding of concepts than those who did not use games.”

Now I have no window into our future and we should not be complacent, but let us consider what has actually occurred on this earth—not a model—since 1970. Despite the world’s population nearly doubling since 1970: we are three times richer (in real terms); the percentage of people in abject poverty has dropped more than two-thirds; we are better fed (the average person in a developing country eats nearly one-third more calories); forests still cover 99% of what they did in 1970; known mineral reserves have not grown too scarce; and, rather than shrinking, petroleum and natural gas reserves have more than doubled and quadrupled respectively. By the way, the world’s population growth rate has been falling since the 1970s; it is not expected to double and reach 12 billion, ever.

The users of the Antikythera mechanism set their model of an earth-centric universe in motion by turning a crank. At the front, pointers indicated the future location and phase of the planets and sun and moon. Because they had the earth at the center, planets went into “retrograde,” that is they appeared to move backward in the heavens. The most learned minds fashioned the orrery to mimic the way they believed their celestial sphere worked. (Though many had speculated about a heliocentric system, it took more than 15 centuries to upend the old model with Copernicus declaring the sun to be the center of our solar system.)

So too, do World3 and FotW give flawed answers via their electronic gears and cogs.

I am recommending a “Don’t Buy” for Fate of the World. Get a DVD of the old Soylent Green instead; in 40 years FotW futures will look as realistic as that movie does now.

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