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Does Gaia Like It Hot?


Earth’s surface temperatures have defied the predictions of climate models for the past decade, coming in considerably cooler than expected. The climate science community is stumped about this. One possible explanation is that oceans are “storing” much of the heat that would otherwise have warmed the atmosphere. There are other possibilities as well. What this uncertainty means for future climate models is unclear. What is clear is that we should take the predictions of climate models with a grain of salt. The system they are attempting to represent is ridiculously complex; we will probably never do better than a rough approximation. The imperfections of climate modeling, however, don’t mean we don’t need to think about what happens if the warming resumes.

Most of the focus tends to be on how warming will mess things up, but it may not be the all-out catastrophe that many predict. Some things will undoubtedly change for the worse, but others will change for the better. Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, for example, are predicting that rain forests will have their day in the sun if temperatures rise. Newsroom Panama reports:

[Researcher Carlos Jaramillo] said that the fossil record shows that tropical forests thrived under global warming conditions and diversity increased, since larger forested areas generally have a level of diversity that is higher than in smaller areas.

The research showed that rainforests expanded into more temperate zones as temperatures increased.

Of course, this conjecture is just as uncertain as most other climate predictions. But it’s an important reminder that the effects of climate change will be more of a mixed bag than hysterical greens have admitted in the past. If the alarmists are right, island nations will be hit especially hard by the effects of climate change. But other parts of the world are going to enjoy more arable land.

Greens have framed this issue in the worst possible light in the hopes of pushing a particular maximalist policy agenda. They’ve aligned themselves with science and wagged their fingers at the consuming public for pushing the world to the brink of disaster. That approach might help grassroots fundraising from people already inclined to agree with the cause, but it alienates the moderate public and ultimately hurts the likelihood of coming to workable agreements. People know when someone is trying to scare them by telling only half the story and holding back the information they need to make an informed decision.

Climate policy, like climate science, is complicated. Treating it as a black-and-white issue does no one any favors—not the greens, not sinful consumers, and certainly not the earth.

[Taman Negara rainforest image courtesy of Wikimedia]

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  • Anthony

    Though not my area of expertise, I have an observation: how right or wrong have predictors been and what are scientists really agreed upon given complexity of climate forecasting.
    Equally, “it is one thing to be alert to uncertainty and another to actually estimate it properly…. Although climatologist might think carefully about uncertainty, there is uncertainty about how much uncertainty there is.”

  • Andrew Allison

    Given that, “Earth’s surface temperatures have defied the predictions of climate models for the past decade, coming in considerably cooler than expected” is it perhaps time to stop referring to climate alarmists as climate “scientists”? Science is about proving hypotheses, and the AGW hypotheses have uniformly failed the test.

    Furthermore, given that Earth’s temperature has actually declined (albeit slightly) since peaking in late 1996, should we not acknowledge the fact, rather than fudging with, “cooler than expected.” In terms of the climate change debate, there’s a huge difference between “not rising as much as expected” and declining.

    • Kavanna

      Temperatures have been trending downward since the late 90s. But there’s no average temperature of the Earth — this is a meaningless concept. Nor is heat a “thing” that can be “trapped.”

      Indeed, no one has a good definition of climate, so we don’t even know what we’re talking about. Certainly, the atmosphere-ocean system is chaotic and has no long-term average. A more subtle and robust definition is needed, so we can talk sensibly about what’s “changing.”

  • bigfire

    AGW isn’t about science. It’s about how much money can be taxed out of Rich nation into the pocket of NGO and third world countries. It doesn’t matter if it’s getting warmer or colder, so as long as they can identify the cause of Western evil, they can fix it with tax.

    • Kavanna

      It’s all about grabbing control, of many things: the economy, politics, intellectual and scientific culture, etc., etc.

  • Nick Bidler

    It’s almost as though a poorly-understood branch of science is being used as a catch-all for pushing greater government control of public life.

    Coincidentally, many of the people who think global warming is a pressing issue would prefer greater government control of public life anyway.

    Something something, I’m not cynical enough.

    • Kavanna

      No, you’re not 🙂

      It’s the great substitute religion of our time, now that socialism is dead.

  • Corlyss

    “Earth’s surface temperatures have defied the predictions of climate models”
    Easy to do when bad data is fed in to faulty models. Models that can’t predict known, observed events are worthless.

    • Kavanna

      It’s worse than that. This year’s climate models are updated with last year’s data, to “predict” next year’s climate. But that’s essentially cheating, and such models are not predicting anything. They’re retroactively updated with the right answer.

      If such corrections were NOT applied, the resulting original/unchanged models from the 1980s and 90s would be way off in everything: temperatures, rainfall, storms, whatever.

      The situation with climate models is much worse than most people realize. The climate modeling establishment has avoiding discussing this fact, to keep the money coming.


      • Corlyss

        Climate hysteria has always been about two related things: money and power (literal and figurative). The Greens for the most part have consisted of unregenerate and unapologetic Marxists/Utopians who were bereft of their ideal state when the Soviet Union collapsed. If they could gain control of energy policy, they would become the de facto rulers of the economies and money and more political power would flow to them. That goes for the bearded professorial munchkins laboring feverishly in laboratories to cook up data to feed into models that were preprogrammed to give them the answer they needed to unleash even more money for their projects. It wouldn’t bother me at all if they all disappeared tomorrow. They’ve so badly damaged the reputation of science as the last pristine, politics-free field of expertise that it may be another 200 years before science recovers.

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