It’s an inconvenient time for world leaders to be speechifying about global warming — earlier this week at the United Nations, today and tomorrow at a G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh. The supposed certainty behind their push for new eco-regulation is melting faster than the Arctic ice.
Global temperatures have held steady for several years, contrary to the expectations of statistical models. This month, a leading German user of these climate models predicted temperatures would fall for “one or two decades” to come.
Why the reprieve? The German, Mojib Latif, cited changing currents in the northern Atlantic Ocean. He even went a step further, saying the currents were also responsible for an unknown portion of the warming in the late 20th century.
Perhaps sensing that a future filled with research grants was about to go up in smoke, Latif hastened to clarify that 20 years of cooling would not mean “global warming [was] disappearing.”
But of course. Only someone in Latif’s line of work would make such a confident prediction about the effects of his very own prediction.
In fact, the value of Latif’s work lies in the uncertainties.
The German seriously undercut the idea that global warming will continue unabated as long as emissions of carbon dioxide rise, a cherished claim of climate alarmists. Nature, he acknowledged, can overwhelm or amplify whatever heating effect CO2 has. We’re still learning how.
There’s more. Writing in the journal Science, a group of scientists has offered a new explanation of how the sun affects the Pacific climate system.
Climate models missed this effect, the scientists said, because they accounted for two different climate mechanisms separately. But the two may work together.
Climate models have missed a lot, including the recent plateauing of temperatures. As with any crystal ball, the people who use them might accurately forecast the future. Or they might not.
The hubris of climate modeling may have been summarized best by Vicky Pope of Britain’s weather authority, the Met Office. “In many ways,” she said at the same conference where Latif made his remarks, “we know more about what will happen in the 2050s than next year.”
Pope was trying to reaffirm confidence in climate modeling, but her comment would have been better delivered with tongue in cheek. Is there any other subject where we claim to know more about what will happen in the distant future than in the near future?
There are limits to the models that climatologists use with supreme confidence. Climate alarmists are trying to be like the one-armed economist that Harry Truman wished for — one who wouldn’t counter his own opinion by saying, “On the other hand …”
When predicting the future, there’s always another hand.
Now, the Earth’s climate may well change for the worse regardless of what we do. There is a good case to be made for trying to avoid the worst consequences.
But the way to do that is not to regulate our economies to a halt. Instead, we should work to solve problems that might worsen if the atmosphere gets warmer for whatever reason. Adaptation has always been man’s best bet.
This approach has been the very logical campaign of Danish professor Bjorn Lomborg. His Copenhagen Consensus Center periodically enlists top-flight economists to review the cost-effectiveness of proposals that would be beneficial come warming or cooling.
The top priority from the 2008 exercise was increasing poor children’s intake of vitamin A and zinc. Investing in R&D for low-carbon technology ranked 14th out of 30 options — about where it deserves to be.
If only the world leaders in Pittsburgh this week would take such a tack. But that would mean they had forgone granting new regulatory power to themselves.
In other words, don’t hold your exhalation of CO2.
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