Can Climate Models Predict Climate Change?

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Feb 5, 2018

Predicting climate temperatures isn't science – it's science fiction. Emeritus Professor of Physics at Princeton University Will Happer explains.

Why do long-term climate models continue to be so wrong? Because the earth’s climate is too complex to be accurately predicted. 

  • Climate models have failed due to air temperature measurement error, high sensitivity in measuring the sun’s energy output, wide variation in cloud-pattern modeling, among other issues.View Source
  • Many climate scientists have been forced to admit the inaccuracy of climate models, and that better computer models will not necessarily make predicting future climate change easier.View Source
  • The number of factors that influence climate: the sun, the earth’s orbital properties, oceans, clouds, and, yes, industrial man, is huge and enormously variable.View Source
  • Related Reading: “The Climate Surprise” – William Happer, et al, CO2 CoalitionView Source

Climate models have particular trouble dealing with one key factor: water, which impacts the climate far more than CO2.

  • Water, in all its phases, has huge effects on atmospheric heating and cooling. Compared to water, carbon dioxide is a minor contributor to the warming of the earth.View Source
  • We can’t predict what effect the atmosphere is going to have on future temperatures because we can’t predict cloud formations, which greatly affect incoming and outgoing radiation.View Source
  • One notoriously inaccurate aspect of many climate models are measurements of ocean temperatures, which are often fudged by climate scientists.View Source
  • WATCH: “Climate Change: What Do Scientists Say?” – Richard Lindzen, PragerUView Source

Inconvenient fact: Climate scientists often fudge measurements of ocean temperatures through dubious recording methods. 

  • A major aspect of climate involves the complicated interaction between two very turbulent fluids: the atmosphere and the oceans. Water has huge effects on atmospheric heating and cooling—far more than carbon dioxide.View Source
  • Climate scientists often fudge measurements of ocean temperature through dubious recording methods such as engine intake data, which is higher due to heat from ship’s engines.View Source
  • WATCH: “Do 97% of Climate Scientists Really Agree?” – Alex Epstein, PragerUView Source
  • Related Reading: “Climate Change: The Facts” – Bjorn Lomborg, et alView Source

One reason we can’t predict what effect the atmosphere is going to have on future temperatures is that we can’t predict cloud formations. 

  • We can’t predict what effect the atmosphere is going to have on future temperatures because we can’t predict cloud formations, which greatly affect incoming and outgoing radiation.View Source
  • Climate models have failed due to air temperature measurement error, high sensitivity in measuring the sun’s energy output, wide variation in cloud-pattern modeling, among other issues.View Source
  • WATCH: “Climate Change: What’s So Alarming?” – Bjorn Lomborg, PragerUView Source
  • Related Reading: “The Climate Surprise” – William Happer, et al, CO2 CoalitionView Source

Climate models simply cannot accurately predict how the oceans and atmosphere will interact over long periods of time on a planetary scale. 

  • Trying to figure out what the oceans and the atmosphere will do in interaction with each other on a planetary scale over long periods of time is close to impossible.View Source
  • Using computer models that are not based on physical data does nothing to shed light on the complicated interactions of oceans and the atmosphere.View Source
  • In 2017, even with massive amounts of real-time data, computer models still could not accurately predict the hurricane Irma’s path two days in advance.View Source
  • Despite the infinite complexity of fluid dynamics on a global scale, the Left has pushed policy changes based on less than settled science.View Source
  • Related Reading: “The Skeptical Environmentalist” – Bjorn LomborgView Source

Global warming based on increased CO2 levels is a hypothesis. It is impossible to test using controlled experiments.

  • Global warming based on increased CO2 levels is a hypothesis. It is impossible to test using controlled experiments.View Source
  • Using computer models that are not based on physical data does nothing to shed light on the complicated interactions of oceans and the atmosphere.View Source
  • Climate models have failed due to air temperature measurement error, high sensitivity in measuring the sun’s energy output, wide variation in cloud-pattern modeling, among other issues.View Source
  • WATCH: “Climate Change: What Do Scientists Say?” – Richard Lindzen, PragerUView Source
  • Related Reading: “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” – Dr. Craig Idso, et al.View Source

No rational person should believe that computer models can precisely predict temperatures decades from now.

  • Over the last 30 years, one climate prediction after another – based on computer models – has been wrong.View Source
  • They’re wrong because even the most powerful computers can’t resolve the many uncertainties surrounding feedback loops that complicate the goal of creating accurate climate descriptions.View Source
  • “The scientific method requires that your hypothesis and theories be confirmed by physical data,” explained retired NASA physicist Hal Doiron. “Computer models are not physical data, although I think many in academia don’t understand that.”View Source
  • Instead of waiting for more accurate predictions, policymakers have decided to go ahead with plans to lower CO2, while ignoring its benefits.View Source
  • Related video: “Climate Change: What’s So Alarming?” – Bjorn Lomborg, PragerUView Source

No climate model is complex enough to take into account all the variables that impact planetary climate.

  • The number of factors that influence climate: the sun, the earth’s orbital properties, oceans, clouds, and, yes, industrial man, is huge and enormously variable.View Source
  • Climate models have failed due to air temperature measurement error, high sensitivity in measuring the sun’s energy output, wide variation in cloud-pattern modeling, among other issues.View Source
  • Related Reading: “The Climate Surprise” – William Happer, et al, CO2 CoalitionView Source

If a climate model doesn’t line up with reality, scientists can “tune” results to produce any outcome they want. 

  • Discarding the unmanageable details, climate modelers “tune” their simplified equations with adjustable inputs that can be changed to produce whatever result the modelers want.View Source
  • These “tuned” results can have disastrous policy outcomes, ignoring the benefits of fossil fuels, especially to developing countries, and the benefits of CO2 to plants and crops.View Source
  • Models that line up with physical evidence predict much less warming than unvalidated computer models.View Source
  • WATCH: William Happer at the Heritage Foundation’s Energy and Climate Policy SummitView Source
  • Related Reading: “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” – Dr. Craig Idso, et alView Source

Inconvenient fact: Climate models that line up more closely with physical evidence predict much less warming than unvalidated models. 

  • Climate models that line up with physical evidence predict much less warming than unvalidated computer models.View Source
  • Discarding the unmanageable details, climate modelers “tune” their simplified equations with adjustable inputs that can be changed to produce whatever result the modelers want.View Source
  • According to Princeton physicist William Happer, “warming from more CO2, predicted by establishment models, has been exaggerated by a factor of three or more.”View Source
  • Related Reading: “The Climate Surprise” – William Happer, et al, CO2 CoalitionView Source

Let’s talk about climate models.

Specifically, let’s talk about the climate models that attempt to predict the future temperature of the planet. But before we do, it’s important that you know a little about me.

I’m a physicist.  I taught at Columbia University and then at Princeton for five decades.

I have published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers. I have coauthored several books, including one of the first on how carbon dioxide emissions—CO2—affects the climate.

I served as the director of the Office of Energy Research at the US Department of Energy.  And before that, I invented the “sodium guide star,” which is still used on most big astronomical telescopes to measure and correct for atmospheric turbulence—that is, for the unpredictable movement of air and water. This turbulence blurs the images of stars and other space objects.

One more thing: I care deeply about the environment. We live on a beautiful planet. I want to keep it that way. I’ve spent a lot of time working to do just that. 

In short, I know a lot about the earth’s atmosphere and climate.  I also know a lot about long-term predictive climate models.

And I know they don’t work. They haven’t worked in the past.  They don’t work now. And it’s hard to imagine when, if ever, they’ll work in the foreseeable future.

There’s a common-sense reason for this.

Aside from the human brain, the climate is the most complex thing on the planet. The number of factors that influence climate—the sun, the earth’s orbital properties, oceans, clouds, and, yes, industrial man—is huge and enormously variable.  

Let me try to narrow this down. For the purposes of illustration, let’s just focus our attention on water.

The earth is essentially a water planet. A major aspect of climate involves the complicated interaction between two very turbulent fluids: the atmosphere, which holds large amounts of water (think rain and snow), and the oceans, which cover fully 70% of the earth’s surface.

We can’t predict what effect the atmosphere is going to have on future temperatures because we can’t predict cloud formations.

And the convection of heat, oxygen, salt and other quantities that pass through the oceans, not to mention weather cycles like El Niño in the tropical Pacific, make predicting ocean temperatures an equally difficult business. We can’t predict either side of the atmosphere/ocean equation.

But we can say this with certainty: Water—in all its phases—has huge effects on atmospheric heating and cooling. Compared to water—H20, carbon dioxide—CO2—is a minor contributor to the warming of the earth.

It's devilishly difficult to predict what a fluid will do. Trying to figure out what two fluids will do in interaction with each other on a planetary scale over long periods of time is close to impossible.

Anyone who followed the forecast of Hurricane Irma’s path in the late summer of 2017 should understand this. First, the models predicted a direct hit on Miami and the east coast of Florida. Then, defying these predictions, the hurricane suddenly veered to the west coast of Florida. In other words, even with massive amounts of real-time data, the models still could not accurately predict Irma’s path two days in advance.

Does any rational person believe that computer models can precisely predict temperatures decades from now?

The answer is, they can’t. That’s why, over the last 30 years, one climate prediction after another –- based on computer models -– has been wrong.

They’re wrong because even the most powerful computers can’t solve all the equations needed to accurately describe climate.

Instead of admitting this, some climate scientists replace the highly complex equations that describe the real-world climate with highly simplified ones—their computer models.

Discarding the unmanageable details, modelers “tune” their simplified equations with lots of adjustable inputs—numbers that can be changed to produce whatever result the modelers want.

So, if they want to show that the earth’s temperature at the end of the century will be two degrees centigrade higher than it is now, they put in the numbers that produce that result.

That’s not science. That’s science fiction. 

I’m Will Happer, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Princeton University, for Prager University.

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