In a recent post I gave several reasons to explain why having a ‘climate policy’ was a waste of time, energy and money for any country. In part I said this ‘…Fourth, but we can’t stop weather, or even predict it with any great success, because we lack deep knowledge about the basic components of weather (and climate). Fifth, it may be that we will never possess such knowledge…’ JoNova built one of her posts around this one of mine, which made me feel most honoured, since her website is on my Blogroll.
Over the weekend I receive another, this time less-than-gruntled, mention from another respected climate sceptic, Jennifer Marohasy, also on my Blogroll. She wrote that she was disappointed in those words, and that I was repeating statements that had been made frequently at the recent 9th International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas (the annual climate sceptics conference). And she set out her objections in a long essay on her website, which is well worth reading.
Jen is a first-rate scientist herself, and she has published (yes, in a peer-reviewed journal), a weather-forecasting technique based on artificial neural networks that she claims provides more accurate medium-term forecasting of rainfall than the forecasts issued by the BoM. The paper is behind a paywall, but you can listen to Jen summarising it, with some slides as well, here. Artificial neural networks are a form of artificial intelligence, in which a model is trained to find patterns in observed data. I have no competence in this area at all, but if Jen and her colleague John Abbot have been able to produce forecasts that are systematically superior to those issued by the BoM we will all be in her debt. There are of course other people who issue medium and long-term weather forecasts. I think it fair to say that none of them has yet proved to be right all the time.
A quick word or two about weather before I move to her long paper. As anyone knows who is interested in weather forecasts and their accuracy, current official forecasts decline in accuracy quickly after three days. They are usually also given in terms of probability, which means that they are hardly ever completely wrong. My remark above I think stands as accurate: we do not know everything about the components of weather and climate, and we may never possess that knowledge. But of course that might happen, if someone unlocks the regularities that some feel are there inside the chaos. I wasn’t consciously repeating statements made at the ICCC, since I wasn’t there, and I wasn’t following it online.
Let me now turn to Dr Marohasy’s paper. She did go to the 9th ICCC, and she came away feeling that the air of victory she observed there was premature. It was repeatedly suggested at the ICCC9 conference that those sceptical of man-made global warming have some how won the scientific argument. This is nonsense.
Why so? Because governments everywhere, even here, where the carbon tax has been thrown out, are still apparently committed to the consensus view that carbon dioxide is the villain — and they do so because all the official sources, like learned academies, say so. Well, I’m with her, in part. But the reasons governments behave this way is that they are conscious of the electorate, and there is a substantial body of passionate opinion out that ‘believes’ in ‘climate change’. She didn’t say so in her paper, but it is not going away at all quickly.
So government will do what they think they have to to balance the books, get the budget into shape, and so on. But they won’t frontally say that the science has moved on. They will throw out carbon taxes, and they will abolish subsidies for expensive alternative energy, and they will block demands for more wind turbines. But they’ll do so without saying that ‘climate change is crap’, as somebody once said — but that was before he became PM.
Her second point is that rebuttals don’t overthrown paradigms, and again I’m with her. There are abundant articles that are not ‘consistent with’ the current AGW orthodox, but the IPCC is able to ignore most of them. The retreat from the AGW scare will be a slow one, though I expect it to pick up speed. The paradigm might change, too, since so much of it is expressed in terms of measurements, as in the case of temperature itself, and ‘climate sensitivity’.
Her last point is that ‘natural variability’ is not a convincing explanation, and since I have said almost that myself, I can only agree with her. She writes: the claim is that ‘nature not human activity rules the climate’. But this tells us almost nothing. In many ways it’s a cop-out. It’s like a theory of electricity without any explanation of charge, voltage or magnetism. My position is a bit milder. While I would currently accept that the CO2 control knob is not a convincing explanation, and that there is something out there in nature which is more powerful, I would very much like to know what that something is. Not to know is intellectually unsatisfying.
Like Jen, I would like to see much more spent on real research into climate and weather than does not start with the propositions that carbon dioxide is a villain, or that fossil fuels are bad, or that we don’t need any more research.
I haven’t been to any of these ICCCs, so I don’t know exactly why Dr Marohasy was so nettled. And I do look forward to seeing her neural network approach to forecasting established as the best system now available.