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.

Post to Twitter