Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Cure Worse than the Disease?

The trouble with weather forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it. ~Patrick Young

The Copenhagen Consensus Centre, whoever the deuce they are, commissioned a study to see how much we could totally screw up the climate. Well, not really. What they said they were looking for, I guess, is a way to combat global warming. What the group came up with is a fleet of ships spritzing salt water into the air to create clouds which would cool the planet. The cost is a mere bagatelle, under $10 billion. It is especially cheap compared to the other idea they were given, to deploy lots and lots of little sunshades into space, which would have pushed $500 trillion.

There are only two little problems with this kind of thinking. First of all, it assumes man-made emissions as the evil that is causing global warming. Second, it assumes that, since we created the warming, our puny efforts can reverse it.

Odds are the think tank and other "mankind is evil" supporters are probably as wrong as they can be. I've written before (here and here, for example) about how there's more to the global warming picture than a lot of people like to consider. Since I raised those points there have been more.

A recent study has raised significant issues as to whether our current climate models are accurate. It turns out they don't do a very good job of accounting for the last big warming episode, which occurred about 55 million years ago. Basically, the study shows that carbon dioxide can't account for the amount of warming that was observed. Therefore, there was some other agent involved, but, as yet,no one has determined what that could be.

(There's a great opportunity for a joke about dinosaur flatulence here, but they had been gone for 10 million years when this warming event occurred, so I'll have to let it pass. Durn it.)

Then there's this article in which we learn that ice ages are quite probably caused by one of the wobbles in the Earth's tilt. What does the wobble do? It changes the amount of sunlight that certain parts of the Earth receive. The changes in warming patterns generate the ice ages. In between the ice ages, of course, we have warming.

One of the things most people like to ignore is that over most of the Earth's history, the planet has not had polar ice caps of any significance. The reason we have them is that we are at the tail end of an ice age.

Okay, you say, but global warming appears to be a fact, so a fleet of cloud-making ships still might be a good idea. Well, it might be if we actually had a clue how the climate worked. Given that we can't even make a decent prediction of how many hurricanes will occur in a given year, it's hard to see how we can actually be sure that a) global warming really is happening, and b) our cloud making will not create some worse situation.

The fact is that, when it comes to the climate and weather, meteorologists are taking stabs in the dark. Take hurricane track prediction. NOAA and others will go on about how great their predictions for where a hurricane will land have become. They get their predictions by averaging around 30 computer models. One of the weather web sites, a couple of years ago, added a map showing the predictions of all the models. It was comical.

The majority of the models would have the storm tracking in generally the same direction, although "generally" meant the storm could could land anywhere along a 1000-mile stretch. But what was hilarious was that some models predicted totally outrageous paths (including one that showed the storm remaining a hurricane after passing over the entire midwestern US and entering Canada). This is dart board stuff.

When a science is so weak that it can't accurately predict the path and strength of a hurricane accurately over a 72-hour period (or for a 24-hour period if you mean really accurately), you don't want its practitioners offering suggestions to alter the climate.

The Earth wobbles on its axis (known as precession), it's orbit wobbles around the sun, and the sun itself varies in brightness. Oh, and don't forget that the continents are moving around, altering ocean currents and atmospheric movement. All of these things impact our climate. I suspect no model ever created has ever taken all of these effects into account.

Chances are good that whatever cloud-making ships would do, it wouldn't be what the weather-guessers would be expecting.

It's clear that we need to be aware of climate change and that we should be taking action to be prepared for, say, the rise of the oceans in coastal areas. We should also be conducting tests into the effects on crops, working to create drought-resistant heat-tolerant food crops. If we don't need them, there will always be areas on the planet that could benefit from such research.

If we want to reduce carbon emissions along the way, that's okay because there are good reasons to do so, most of which have to do with less dependence on expensive (not scarce, just monopolisticly expensive) fossil fuels.

But we should quit kidding ourselves that we can modify the climate through our puny efforts. All I suspect that we're capable of is creating catastrophic weather conditions that none of those inaccurate models have predicted.

Until they can pass the test of predicting the past, climatologists should quit mucking with our future.