walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Feed
Features
Reviews
Podcast
Global Warming Engine Unexpectedly Slows

As the world suffers through a mix of weather (warm winter temperatures) in the continental US and climate (cold weather) in Alaska and Europe, some interesting new numbers are starting to trickle in.

Preliminary reports from the Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Energy Outlook” (which will be fully published in April) suggest that any carbon crisis may not be quite as imminent as thought. Not so long ago, the EIA predicted carbon emissions levels would rise by 37 percent between 2005 and 2035. The EIA — get this — now thinks that global CO2 emissions in 2025 will be 6 percent lower than they were in 2005.

Check the report for yourself, but to Via Meadia and others this looks like a serious reduction in the forecast of carbon emissions over the next couple decades. There are likely numerous reasons for the change; easier access to cleaner fuel sources like shale gas, the rising price of oil and cheapening of solar and wind are but several.

And there is one other thing that is clear: the people who put these forecasts together have no idea what they are doing.  This is one of the cases in which the use of the word forecast should be banned; these are guesses, not forecasts, and it’s a big deal.

The Chicken Littles of the green movement throw a lot of statistics, trends and projections together and claim the status of scientific truth for whatever big and scary numbers they can coax out of their statistical black box.  But even if the climate models are infallible or close to it and will need no more revisions as more information comes in (something that would be almost unique in the history of science) the economic models and projections that go into future CO2 level predictions are no better than any other economic models — which is to say they are almost no good at all.

To predict the amount of CO2 that human industry will be emitting in 2050, you need a figure for the world’s GDP by then.  That means you have to have long range forecasts for China, India, South Africa, Russia, Brazil, Germany, the US, Canada and many other countries. Nobody has any forecasts of the 50 year GDP growth of any of these countries that is worth anything at all, because economic forecasting doesn’t work that way.  (It hardly works at all, but certainly not on this long term basis.)

And then you have to forecast how much CO2 will be emitted per unit of GDP.  That involves forecasting the rate and nature of technological change, the state and composition of world energy reserves in thirty years, and many other things which simply cannot be known by anybody living today.

An astrologer would throw up his hands in dismay at this sloppy reasoning and hazy science.

The truth is that forecasts about greenhouse gas emissions are basically worthless.  These recent forecasts certainly were; the difference between 37 percent growth and 6 percent decline is 43 percent.  That is about the level of accuracy you could expect from a blind monkey throwing darts at a wall.

But without those worthless forecasts, climate math falls to the ground.  If we can’t predict the future level of greenhouse gas emissions, we can’t predict the future temperature of the earth — even assuming that our atmospheric models work perfectly and haven’t left anything out.

None of this suggests that we should ignore climate and energy issues, but it confirms my belief that climate activists tend to be bad logicians, and that the way forward has nothing to do with the cumbersome bureaucratic power grabs, crony capitalist porkfests (ethanol, Solyndra, high speed rail) and economic controls that misguided greens hope will save the planet.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    You’ve seen the Light! Global Warming is the largest fraud in human history.

  • Gary Hemminger

    I liked what the late Michael Crichton said. He said that in the 1900s, NYC was shoveling literally tons and tons of horse manure out of the city. If someone back then had forecasted the rise of population from 1900 to 2000, they would have quickly come to the conclusion that NYC would be literally covered in horse … in the year 2000. 50-100 year forecasts are horse …!

  • Randy

    Dr. M,

    I believe the EIA projections you discuss are only for the U.S.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    Do not overlook that such a ‘forecast’ makes it possible for activists to claim a [spurious]link between steady carbon levels and the increasingly obvious steady temperatures observed for the last fifteen years or so.

    That’s what happens when you have a solution in search of a problem.

  • Darrell

    Gobal warming is politics, not science. It’s yet another way some people are trying to control how others live.

  • hortinone

    I’m not sure which is the biggest heresy you’ve committed: telling statists they can’t predict the climate based on primitive modern computer modeling, or telling them you can’t predict economics at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anybody-but-This-Guy/283689441688008 Biff Larkin, AFC

    This is a back-handed attempt, I assume, to question the integrity of the computer models that prove how CO2, various other greenhouse gases, airborne particles, water vapor, solar radiation, ocean currents and other fully understood constituents of the climate system will interact in 50 years time to produce cataclysmic global warming, unless the world economy be altered right now according to the dictates of people smart enough to ensure outcomes in both climate and economics.

  • Rich K

    Actually Walter, it absolutely means we should ignore all these unfounded claims about climate and energy except that we will need the latter to survive any change in the former.

  • J. Knight

    Yes, we’ve heard it all before. First, it was a new Ice Age, then Nuclear Winter, Population Bomb, Global Warming, and now Climate Change.

    All these have in common one thing, and that is that liberals use these tactics to control governments and people. After the global warming fiasco is over, it will be sustainability next. Mark my words. All used to enrich liberals at the expense of the taxpayer.

  • Robert Hanson

    Global Warming, the greatest threat to unicorns in the history of middle earth….

  • Rob Mandel

    Frederick Hayek

    Pretense of knowledge

    Enough said

  • elkh1

    Caped Crusader Al Gore will make his next billion fighting global cooling.

    Obama will raise taxes to combat global cooling. Billions of stimulus will be awarded to his billionaire bundlers Kaiser, Perelman, Buffett and Soros to ??? climate change.

    UN Climate-Change-whatever headed by a rail engineer from India will push for a global tax to fight climate change.

  • gs

    1. This is one of the cases in which the use of the word forecast should be banned; these are guesses, not forecasts, and it’s a big deal.

    What say we call them extrapolations?

    2. IMHO the difficulty is that the issue involves complex, incompletely understood effects which can offset each other. You have to figure out what’s left over after they do. Lotsa luck.

    3. Unfortunately, there are plausible things to be said for every position in the warming debate. Unfortunately, the potential importance of the issue is too big to responsibly ignore. Unfortunately, the turf- and pork-driven character of public policy does not readily adapt to boat-rocking new information.

  • http://www.tempeteaparty.org Lee

    Global Warming is nothing more than Marxism through other means.

    Agrarian feudalistic socieites are the only nations where Communism has ever emerged from within and achieve political supremacy. It is not a coincidence that Czarist Russia, a non-capitalist nation, that went Communist rather than the UK, which at that point was about as capitalist as you can get.

    Why does this matter? Because right now today there are many nations around the world that are every bit as economically backwards and politically repressive as Russia was in the early 20th century. The left holds out hope that Communism can rise from the ash-heap of history through these nations and once again terrorize the world.

    Globalization prevents this from even being possible by integrating backward nations into the global market economy and dramatically improving the lives and futures of the people in these nations.

    The left cannot come out and say that they are opposed to something that creates wealth and prosperity for the people living in these societies. They try to by saying that the people are “exploited,” but doesn’t really wash when you actually look at the outcomes.

    Globalization depends upon industrialization, and that is where they found an excuse to attack it. By pretending that the earth will be destroyed if industry is allowed to proliferate in the undeveloped world, they seek to ward off the threat of affluence to their lingering dreams of world-wide communism.

    This is why there is almost a 1-to-1 correlation between Communists (regardless of what name they call themselves by) and so-called Environmentalists.

    It is also why the fall of the Soviet union coincided almost exactly with the rise of these pseudo-environmentalists. Communism as Communism was dead politically, so they had to find some other flag to rally around.

    “Always after a defeat and a respite,” says Gandalf, “the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
    “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo.
    “So do I,” says Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

  • Edge

    They keep using that word unexpectedly I do not think that word means what they think it does

  • Toni

    Global warming is a religion pursued through political means.

    Reminds me of the guy carrying a sign, “The End Is Nigh.” When the prediction fails to materialize, believers tend to melt away. As it were.

    Of course, global warming has provided a handsome income for Al Gore, academics, UN bureaucrats and its other preachers. All the more reason to keep insisting that the prediction will come true soon. Eventually. Just keep the tithes flowing…

  • char

    Any reductions in carbon emissions stemming from unreliable solar and wind generation are easily offset by the voluminous dead tree and cyber cipherings, explosive growth in bureaucracy and new offices, and jetting and calvacading to international fancy hotel conferences in support of global warming hysteria.

  • http://www.reardenmedals.com egoist

    Darell, I’d say Global warming is nihilism, not politics.

  • Walter Cronanty

    “cheapening of solar and wind” – they ain’t that cheap, just subsidized by the government. From a Spiegel article discussing why Germany is losing faith in solar energy, one of my all time favorite quotes about “green energy:” “The costs of subsidizing solar electricity have exceeded the 100-billion-euro mark in Germany, but poor results are jeopardizing the country’s transition to renewable energy. The government is struggling to come up with a new concept to promote the inefficient technology in the future.” Reread that last sentence. Something only a government bureaucracy could say while keeping a straight face.

  • Tom Jones

    As the great Michael Crichton says :Aliens Cause Global Warming

    http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/Crichton2003.pdf

    The same fuzzy – and completely approvable – “math” that brought us the concepts of “nuclear winter” and “alien life studies” brings us Global Warming!

    It’s a long speech, but totally worth it.

    tom

  • Matthew Durbin

    The environmentalists are liars, and should be held accountable. Close to 10 meters of snow in northern Japan, record cold. I also write CSR reports for big Japanese componies who boast about their CO2 reduction. This has to stop. Manmade CO2 has nothing to do with the climate. Let’s get back to real science.

  • TANSTAAFL

    Malthus was right, dagnabit!

  • SteveP

    CO2 doesn’t regulate atmospheric temperature or climate and in fact has little or no effect on climate.
    While overall temperature change and CO2 levels have a clear correlation, it is impossible that CO2 causes temperature change because the historical record shows that temperature change always occurs first, followed by CO2 change.
    The present warming trend started about 1850 with the end of the Little Ice Age, followed 90 years later with the measurable increase in CO2 which began in 1940. We went through a 30 year cooling period starting in the 60s while CO2 levels continued to increase. We then went through a short warming period which ended about 15 years ago while CO2 levels continue to increase. We are now in another cooling period while CO2 levels continue to increase.

  • teapartydoc

    I hope folks are quicker to point out things like this when the chattering classes go on the warpath in the future. One has to wonder, however, if the shrillness with which this last disaster fabrication was advanced might indicate that it was perceived as a last-ditch effort by the perpetrators, seeing how they were looking forward to a time when public discussions are not going to be able to be confined to the province of establishment organs. The impending breakdown of the university model of education and the same in MSM portends a hard time ahead for manipulators of minds and opinion.

  • Andrew Allison

    Come, come gentlemen; surly you are aware that AGW (Al Gore’s Welfare) is settled “science”!

  • Richard Buck

    I suggest that everyone take Walter’s advice and read the article yourself because only then will you see through the bias of Walter’s and Via Meadia’s filter. The report clearly states that the projections for CO2 levels for the study period are based on assumptions that will ONLY manifest IF green energy policies are enacted.

    “Emissions per capita fall by an average of 1 percent per year from 2005 to 2035, as growth in demand for transportation fuels is moderated by higher energy prices and Federal CAFE standards. In addition, electricity-related emissions are tempered by efficiency standards, State RPS requirements, and implementation of the CSAPR, which helps shift the fuel mix away from coal toward lower carbon fuels.”

    No change to CAFE standards, no increase in energy prices, no changes in RPS requirements, no implementation of the CSAPR, no increases in efficiency standards etc. equates to different projections going forward, most certainly for the worse.

    Don’t be a Sheeple … Read, study, think for yourself …

  • Mike

    My only disagreement with your article is the little phrase “misguided greens think will save the planet.” I am a bit more cynical, and I have concluded that the leading lights of the global warming nonsense (like, say, Al Gore, or Pres. Obama) have absolutely no interest in “saving the planet.” Their interest is to use the climate change issue to line their pocket, those of their friends, and to feed their boundless narcissism (i.e., the belief that what the world needs now is not love, but more of them… in control).

  • Toni

    I love “Aliens Cause Global Warming”!

    Here’s the background. Michael Crichton, an MD by training, planned to base his next thriller on global warming. Then he started researching the topic and was alarmed not by GW, but by GW “science.” He became a crusader for the de-politicization of science and even gave Senate testimony on the issue.

    That testimony, “Aliens Cause” and other science-related speeches (plus other Crichton links) can be found here:
    http://kahlessa.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=mcref&thread=59&page=2

    I happened to catch one of those speeches on Book TV (C-SPAN 2 on weekends), related to his book State of Fear. I didn’t realize it was a novel because his presentation was so fact-based. Booklist’s review:

    “Crichton’s novels often tackle cutting-edge technology and its implementation, but his latest addresses an issue that’s been around for a bit longer: global warming. Millionaire George Morton is about to donate $10 million to the National Environmental Research Fund (NERF) when he suddenly decides against it. His lawyer, Peter Evans, is as surprised as anyone and is drawn into a web of intrigue after Morton’s car careens off the road and Morton is presumed dead. Just before his “death,” Morton was in contact with Dr. John Kenner, a researcher at the Center for Risk Analysis, who opposes NERF’s agenda and presents Evans with some startling evidence about global warming. With Evans and Morton’s assistant, Sarah, in tow, Kenner travels to Antarctica, where he learns that a group of environmental extremists are planning several attacks of environmental terror to convince the world of impending ecological disaster. The thrills in Crichton’s latest are interspersed with fascinating but occasionally dense ecological facts and data, but he backs his assertions about the unpredictability of climate change with copious research and footnotes. Perhaps his most serious and important book yet. Kristine Huntley Copyright © American Library Association.”

    Not surprisingly, State of Fear is the sole Michael Crichton novel (Juraissic Park, Sphere, Rising Sun etc.) NOT optioned by Hollywood.

  • ddh

    Prof. Mead left out a major source of uncertainty that makes nonsense of long-range macroeconomic models. Technological progress changes almost everything about an economy in ways that become increasingly difficult to anticipate the farther into the future one looks. And worse for forecasting, it never takes effect evenly over time or across different industries at any point in time.

  • econrob

    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact. — Mark Twain. Life on the Mississippi

  • Douglas

    Biff Larkin- You can’t be serious about “fully understood constituents of the climate system.” Possibly understood, maybe, but the truth seems to be that the computer modelers have constructed the algorithms to fit certain (not all, conveniently omitting, for example, the medieval warming period) past data, without necessarily being able to explain all the interactions and feedback loops they are supposedly modeling, but the models don’t seem to work very well in predicting future events, see, e.g., the divergence over the past ten years between what the then model predicted and what actually happened.

    The AGW model, for what it’s worth, depends almost entirely on “forcing” – the term used for feedback loops that magnify the relatively small greenhouse effect of C02 by itself. Apparently the modelers are confident that they understand cloud formation and other weather patterns well enough, far enough into the future, that they can predict that the very slight degree of warming caused by increasing C02 concentration will cause the amount of H20 in the atmosphere to increase, which will trap additional heat (H20 being a much more powerful greenhouse gas than C02) but will not create high clouds that would reflect solar radiation back into space and cause the earth to cool. (Gee, maybe the EPA should regulate H20 as a pollutant, too!) If you think that the science about how and when and in what quantities water moves from the oceans into the atmosphere, and from there forms clouds and sometimes falls to the earth as “rain” or “snow,” is “fully understood,” perhaps we have different understandings of that phrase.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anybody-but-This-Guy/283689441688008 Biff Larkin, AFC

    Correct Douglas, I wasn’t serious about any major parts of the climate system being understood. Your understanding of the science is superior to mine, so your smackdown of me was a good job anyway. I hope some of the fools who argue from authority and consensus read it.

  • theBuckWheat

    Global Warming is no more about winter cold or summer heat than Peak Oil is about the price of gasoline. All these are mega-myths invented to destroy the liberty and prosperity of western societies.

  • Jim.

    @Biff –

    I like the website, by the way.

    If you don’t like backhanded attempts to question the validity of stochastic computer models, then how about a frontal assault by someone who’s worked on those sorts of models professionally?

    A number of years back I worked on high-precision orbit determination software. We too had a complex model that took into account a multitude of variables.

    In one case I ran some numbers and pointed out that one of our most important measurements had a correlated error in it, amounting to significantly more than the margin of error we had thought the measurement had.

    We figured out how to model the phenomenon that caused the error. Then we ran the model using actual historical data. Didn’t make a damn bit of difference in the model’s accuracy. Isaac Newton himself would have said, “Yeah, you need to include that in your model.” But to the computer model? Not the slightest bit of difference.

    It gets worse.

    At one point, we had the relativity term in *backwards*. (Relativistic effects are noticeable and critical, at the range and velocity you’re working with for satellites.) The sign was swapped. Very embarrassing. So we fixed it, then ran some historical data back through our model.

    Guess what? Our results got worse. Albert Einstein himself would have said, “Yeah, you need to put that fix in.” But when we fixed it, that *actually hurt* our model’s accuracy.

    Now, can you actually use this model to fly the mission it was designed for? Sure, and it works nicely. Just, if you ask it to propagate the satellite’s ephemeris for more than, say, a couple hours, don’t assume that the numbers you’re getting out bear much of any resemblance to reality. And don’t assume that anything you do to fix the model will actually make the model better. At some point you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, I think this is about right.” If it turns out to work often enough, your customers will be happy to sign your paychecks.

    The ClimateGate emails included a line about it being “a travesty” that climate models can’t account for the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period. Now, I could actually feel a bit of professional sympathy for the guy at this point, getting a stochastic model to give you *any* useful data is a tough job… except that he turns around and says that this model’s results have to be used for immediate and drastic cuts to the world’s industrial economy… cuts that would probably leave tens or hundreds of millions to starve, and definitely condemn billions more to dire poverty.

    Wall Street thought they had the most brilliant “quants” in the world making the most accurate models in the world, and they couldn’t possibly be wrong.

    They were wrong. Very wrong.

    Computer models — particularly, computer models that claim to predict the distant future — need to be taken with a very large grain of salt, that’s all there is to it.

  • gringojay

    How will those who foisted “warmista” policies
    ever compensate for their fallacies? Sentence them
    & their heirs to listening in perpetuity at the base
    of windmills, obliged to eat all the birds it knocks from
    the sky and using only the electricity from a solar
    panel worn on their heads.

  • Delfin J Beltran MD

    It was judicial idiocy for the Supreme Court to support the EPA to call carbon dioxide a ‘toxic’ material. It is the agent that controls the acid-base balance and permits life to exist.

  • Kris

    Jim@34, interesting anecdote. I’ll probably steal it.

  • http://chittendencommunications.com Harry Chittenden

    Why haven’t we been skeptical that some folks are comfortable with predicting the temperature 50 years hence when we rarely get it right two weeks from now?

    Why aren’t we more skeptical of anyone who claims to predict the future of anything?

  • dperry

    “(Gee, maybe the EPA should regulate H20 as a pollutant, too!)”

    Shame on you, Douglas! How dare you make light of the threat posed by dihydrogen monoxide? :-)

    http://dhmo.org/

  • Jim.

    @Kris-

    Feel free to use it, that’s why I post it.

    If you want some from a better known source, try Burt Rutan. If you’re interested in some serious science counteracting the warmists, try Shattered Consensus – http://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Consensus-State-Global-Warming/dp/0742549232 .

    Why Mann is still in the business after the Hockey Stick fiasco is beyond me.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2014 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service