Sunday, October 18, 2015

Why I'm a "climate change" skeptic

I've been keeping up with science, generally, since I was a kid. I'm an engineer because physics, mathematics and the application of these to making things in the real world is fascinating and fun. (For me, anyway.)

My job involves writing a program used by other engineers to simulate the operation of integrated circuits. The program sets up and solves large systems of differential-algebraic equations. The equations come from the topology of the network of connections and from modeling the physics of the devices involved (transistors, resistors, capacitors, etc). If we get the physics or mathematics wrong, the chips in your washing machine, car, camera, cell phone, or Internet router won't work, or die young. Ultimately, the program must match reality or what we do is worse than useless.

With the above as a preamble, it appears to me that the "climate change" crowd is off in the ozone.
  • They're still arguing about the data. The surface temperature data appear suspect (especially after being "adjusted"). Data from satellites are more reliable (more accurate; avoids "heat island" distortions and arbitrary data adjustments) but doesn't show a warming trend. In fact, researchers have looked at satellite data and noted no global warming for between 16 and 26 years. Using different datasets over a somewhat longer periods there is a slight (under 0.2C/decade) warming trend, but that trend stopped for at least 16 years while CO2 emissions continued apace.
    Remote Sensing Systems troposphere temperature data, Oct 1996 to Sept 2014 
  • Questionable methodology: The University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, among others, made the news with "adjustments" to data, lousy statistical techniques, and concomitant conclusions. It looks like lying with data.
  • The models don't match reality. The models used in various IPCC reports just don't fit reality. If your program's results have no predictive ability, you don't understand the physics. Which introduces the next point...
    John Christy, PhD, University of Alabama, Huntsville 
  • The models' physics are suspect: Looking at the above, it does seem plausible that the models are off -- way off. Freeman Dyson, heir to the "smartest man in the room" title in the physics world after the death of Albert Einstein, famously called out climate models as being full of "fudge factors." Phenomenological and empirical models can be useful, but Dyson's mention of fudge factors points out their lack of understanding of the basic mechanisms. The list of poorly understood effects (as regards their contribution to warming) is long, and most of these effects are not included in the models: sunspot cycles, ocean oscillations, ocean currents, Milankovich cycles, even El Nino. One thing that is well understood is carbon dioxide's contribution, but that is under 40% of the model's overall response.
  • Proposed solutions ignore the obvious: The "solutions" to global warming all seem to involve the developed world impoverishing itself to reduce carbon emissions. The 80% reduction goal for the USA would have us roll back our carbon emissions to levels not seen since around 1905, which could take trillions of dollars to accomplish. What will this do to global CO2 levels? Essentially nothing. The reality is the United States can't unilaterally make much change in global CO2. China and India are the number 1  and 3 emitters now, and they're just getting started. They have billions of people, many of whom would very much like to just have heat and electricity. The only "solution" that would work to affect global CO2 levels would be a mass extinction of humans. Personally, I object to that as a solution.
Back in 2007, the IPCC Working Group 1 published this gem“The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” As I mentioned earlier, this is quite close to what I do for a living, and is absolutely true. The initial conditions of such a system wildly change the solution. Factor in the possibly major contributions of poorly modeled effects and missing effects, and it's little wonder that there is no predictive ability in the models.

And as a parting shot, from one of my favorite economists, Thomas Sowell:
Would you bet your paycheck on a weather forecast for tomorrow? If not, then why should this country bet billions on global warming predictions that have even less foundation?
Why, indeed.