The more things change, the more they stay the same

A long time ago I knew a pilot, a fellow student who flew to university from his home somewhere, and parked his plane at the local airport, using it infrequently because it cost a lot to fly. One day there was a plane crash elsewhere in Australia, and he refused to fly his plane until there had been two more. Fatal crashes came in threes, he told me, and he did not wish to be one of this three. I was still learning to be a social scientist at that time, and did not ask why the recent one was not the second or third of an earlier series rather than the first of a new one.

As retailed in my last post, the death of a family member terminated our cruise. When we arrived home from the funeral there was an email telling me of the death of a friend of some standing. Yes, he was old, but we had been at the same lunch only a month before. The next day a phone call told of the death of a much younger woman I had worked with in the music domain in 2013. That’s three deaths in three days, at least in my knowledge of them. No more for a while, please.

Three weeks away were a puzzle for me. Had anything happened in that time? The ship had a daily newspaper for each of the USA, Canada, Britain and Australia, but I decided that a holiday meant that I didn’t want to know. That was fine while on board, but meant that when I got home I had no idea what if anything had happened; I still don’t, and probably never will, in any detail. I was out of Australia for the whole of 1965 and the whole of 1975, and for some months on either side of those years. Australian history in that time is still a bit of a mystery for me.

But some things haven’t changed much, especially in the ‘climate change’ area. My emails are now full again of what is happening there, and it is as though I was never absent. Here is Larry Kummer, editor of the Fabius Maximus website, with a suggestion that since ‘hindcasting’ models (running them to ‘predict’ the average global temperature of past decades) is not a true test of their skill, the US Government should fund a proper test.

Take the models used in the First Assessment Report (FAR, 1990), the Second (SAR, 1995), and the Third (TAR, 2001). Run those models using actual emissions as inputs, with no changes of the algorithms or baselines. How accurately will the models’ output match the actual global average surface temperatures? This has been done before in rough form, but never completely and recently – as warranted by the scale of the threat. It’s not the time for short cuts and partial tests.

The resulting predictions would provide fair tests of the models’ skill over significant periods: 25 years since FAR, 20 years since SAR, and 15 years since TAR. The top line results would be useful for the public and our leaders, and also provide the basis for more sophisticated analysis by scientists.

If those early models worked well, then we can assume later models work even better. If those models could not successfully predict over several decades, then the public could reasonably require more evidence before spending trillions of dollars — or even making drastic revisions to our economic system, as urged by Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate and Pope Francis in ‘Laudato Si’.

Good idea? Of course, but why would those in authority want to do it? They are happy with the way things are. Now here’s another one from the USA, a big-wheel funds manager, excoriating President Obama and those who have signed the President’s ‘pledge’ in support of a climate deal in Paris next month. Our corporate leaders would rather cave in to political pressure that is based on pop science and emotion than focus on creating shareholder value? How sad… Shareholders should seriously question executives who appease such environmental extremism and zealotry. Amen to that, say I.

He went on: Man-made climate change was not proved by the data, and the politicisation of the issue, particularly in the US, has made it impossible for other voices to be heard. Anyone questioning the science is met with a chorus of abuse by opponents. Their answer is ‘X per cent of scientists’ and ‘Big Oil’. My answer is ‘data, data, data.’ Amen to that too.

Meanwhile, Anthony Watts, of WUWT, has been running stories about the scare articles leading up to Paris and the 21st Conference of  the parties. These are dutifully picked up be the media. I saw the headlines while I was away, but was unable to read the stories in full. The most recent ones refer to a paper suggesting that global warming will lead to more kidney disease, and to  another that the optimum temperature for human productivity is 13 degrees Celsius*. I doubt that I would be at all productive at that temperature, but the inference we are intended to draw is that if the world grows warmer GDP will fall.

Graham Lloyd of The Australian (24/25 October) has written an admirable piece about the coming Paris Conference, emphasising that the fuss will not be about the science, but about the money. The notion that $100bn should annually be handed over to developing countries to compensate them for the ‘damage’ caused by global warming, which in turn is said to be the result of the high standards of living of developed countries, is the centrepiece of the ‘Agreement’ that is still being contested.

I don’t know what our new Prime Minister thinks about this, but I would be surprised if Australia agrees that it should do anything of any consequence here. Given that Chinese emissions are expected to go on increasing steadily until 2030, and that India has now said much the same about its own, there seems no prospect at all that emissions can be contained or controlled. Of course, emissions have been going up for 18 years now without much response from global temperature. And I saw a figure somewhere that suggested that small thousands of coal-fired electricity generating plants were planned for the next decade or so. Maybe emissions will postpone the cooling that some see in prospect.

All in all, things seem to be much the same, despite all the change (and Mr Turnbull is in favour of change). For those who agonise about the failure of Western governments to do anything really serious in combatting the climate hysteria, it is well to remember that no party in power will do anything that is likely to cause a substantial fall in its poll ratings We would need several years of really cold weather, poor crops, starvation and death  before those in power would begin to say that perhaps the ‘consensus’ got it wrong, and we need to drop all that warming stuff and concentrate on real problems right now.

Footnote The Lloyd piece is really good, and worth buying the paper for, if you can still find a copy. A shorter version can be found at the Global Warming Policy Forum, to which I subscribe.

  • I won’t go on doing this every day, but today’s WUWT has a piece about how global warming will make things worse for women, because men (in the third world especially) are such misogynists.

Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • Fabius Maximus (Ed.) says:


    I just saw your article. You ask a important question: “why would those in authority want to do it? They are happy with the way things are.”

    The pubic policy debate is gridlocked. To over-simplify, the Right is attacked in the mainstream media for their views — often correctly (attempting to debate technical matters beyond the speaker’s expertise), while the Left is unable to pass their desired policies.

    As for mainstream climate scientists, this is an opportunity to be proven correct.

    Perhaps more importantly, after 2 or 3 decades of debate I believe many participants want some resolution. This is a first step, one both sides can agree is more-or-less fair.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Yes, I agree. I guess my point was that I saw no obvious sign that anyone in authority would agree with you that the time has come to drop the intransigence and find other ways.

      • David says:


        You state that you agree. Agree with what exactly? What confidence intervals would you accept? Go ahead and nail your colors to the mast.

        • David says:

          As I understand it your current fall back position is that CO2 is good to plant growth. And armed with this factoid you dismiss any concerns for AGW.

          You don’t agree with Fabius Maximus you are just making a strategic back down.

        • Fabius Maximus (Ed.) says:


          It’s not that kind of test, like grade school where a teacher gives the scores. This is politics. The results will be posted for everyone to discuss.

          If they are dramatic — the models clearly accurate or inaccurate — the public policy debate might be transformed. If they are less clearly so, then that too is useful information — that the models of the first three IPCC assessment reports were not reliable predictors over significant periods.

          There are other possibilities. Each “generation” of models might produce more accurate predictions than earlier ones — showing progress, building confidence that current models are even better.

          It’s a potentially powerful test, with outcomes difficult to even list let alone predict. Which is why it is worth doing. I see no other way to break the policy gridlock, until Nature does so for us — one way or another.

          • David says:

            Yes, and part of that political discourse would be to determine some agreed to criteria ex ante. IMO this would be a useful tool to discriminate between those who are willing to debate in good faith and those who have no interest.

            What would be the point of demonstrating a positive relationship between CO2 and AGW through hind-casting etc to someone who thinks that an increased temperature would be good for the planet?

          • Fabius Maximus (Ed.) says:


            Good luck with that. There are no defined teams, no mutually trusted institutions to act as agents. The test could be run and public opinion changed *long* before any such formal negotiations were completed.

            Keep it simple. Let the existing groups and institutions comment on the results. Trust people to make up their own minds.

          • David says:

            I am not against the idea of the your proposed test. Sounds good. I look forward to seeing the results, etc.

          • Fabius Maximus (Ed.) says:


            Unfortunately, Don was right. Until something changes neither this nor anything else useful will happen. The public stage is dominated today by activists screaming at one another, confidently. My guess is that we’ll do nothing to prepare for the future or even the past — and that the weather will decide this debate, eventually. The delay might prove expensive.

          • David says:


            You need to check your “grammar”. 🙂 It is not “weather will decide” it is the “weather has decided”

            Here is a free bit of advice. If you want to disprove AGW as well as tire-kick the current models you need to develop a better model. One with demonstrably better predictive capabilities (R2) with a reduced coefficient on CO2.

            And if the current models as “poor” as you suggest this should be a relatively easy task. The reality is that skeptics have been promising the “knock out blow” for years. Their my dog ate my funding excuses are not going to wash.

            The current great white hope is David Evans. His credibility issue is that while he has published a result he is still working on his “method” .

          • Fabius Maximus (Ed.) says:


            Your comment makes no sense at all to me.

            “It is not “weather will decide” it is the “weather has decided””

            Since the public policy debate about climate continues, that’s obviously false.

            If you want to disprove AGW”

            I don’t.

            “as well as tire-kick the current models you need to develop a better model.”

            You appear unclear about the meaning of “test”. It does not require building something new, let alone better.

            “if the current models as “poor” as you suggest this should be a relatively easy task.”

            The current generation of tokamak nuclear fusion reactors work poorly. By your logic, it is “relatively easy task” for you to build a better one.

          • David says:

            1. The “:)” indicates that a sense of humour is required. The choice of “will” versus “has” is central to the debate.

            2. You claim that you don’t want to disprove AGW. That’s the statement of a sociopath. We should all want to disprove AGW. I do. Then we could continue to use cheaper fossil fuels.

            3. You appear unclear about the meaning of “test”. It does not require building something new, let alone better.

            Agree. My sentence needed a comma.

            “If you want to disprove AGW [,] as well as tire-kick the
            current models you need to develop a better model.”

            4. There are lots of better options than a Tokamak reactor e.g. solar.

          • aert driessen says:

            Why do we have to look to models? Science demands that we test evidence, even says that evidence trumps everything else. There is no evidence in the geological record that CO2 has ever driven climate change, ever. This statement is based on real evidence.

          • David says:

            Because if you want to predict a future outcome you need a model. No one has future data.

          • aert driessen says:

            You obviously don’t understand what science is. If you have a model that can generate future data about anything, you should patent it; you’ll make a lot of money. Studying evidence (data about past processes), one might look for correlations, trends, whatever that might suggest cause and effect. Anyone can do that and formulate a hypothesis which will stand until someone else produces contradictory data. I can point you towards evidence (data) from the geological record that show that CO2 has not ever driven climate change.

          • David says:

            Its quite reasonable to ask what you define as “clearly accurate or inaccurate” If you are unable to interpret you own results how can you expect others to do the same?

      • Fabius Maximus (Ed.) says:


        I agree. Activists on both sides dominate the field; almost everybody else has taken shelter or left. But the situation is imo unstable, and easily could be changed by a bold move by a political or (less likely) leading scientist.

        • aert driessen says:

          Leading scientist?? Does Freeman Dyson not qualify?

          • Fabius Maximus (Ed.) says:

            What bold proposal to resolve the public policy debate has Freeman Dyson made?

            Expressing support for one side does nothing. Opinions are cheap in both science and politics, no matter how eminent the speaker.

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    God bless French mathematicians.

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