What Are The Problems with Climate Change Modelling?

Climate Change

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Today, it’s very common to hear analysts discuss climate change based on a series of modelling completed by the United Nations. Collectively known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the modelling includes a series of measurements that attempt to predict the future warming patterns of the earth. The IPCC prepares comprehensive reports on the overall state of climate change, its impacts and future risks. As well, the IPCC puts forward options governments should take on the way forward.

Could the modelling put forward by the IPCC be flawed? And if so, what are the implications for us? When scientists openly challenge the modelling of the IPCC, they risk their careers and livelihood as the topic has become highly politicized.

Judith A. Curry is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Professor Curry’s open criticism of the dominant discourse on climate change and its modelling has cost her tenure and reputation. Yet, Professor Curry maintains her position and continues to post educational content on her blog Climate Etc. 

Why has Climate Change Become Politicized?

Other things being equal, humans have caused warming. Forced variability starting in the 1970s. The issue is more on the magnitude of human-made climate change in comparison to other events happening in the climate. Measuring the actual impact of human-made climate change is more challenging for scientists to understand. For example, if humans stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, sea levels would keep rising.

What Are the Problems with Climate Change Modelling?

The most consequential applications of climate models are to tell us what causes the 20th Century Climate Change, how much the climate will continue to change and what is causing the extreme weather events. Climate models are not fit for these purposes. As well, climate modelling is less reliable for regional variations and results in climate change being the dominant narrative for all of the bad things happening(!).

The way the IPCC has used climate models has been to use climate simulations that do not match what is being observed. Climate modelling cannot resolve extreme weather events, nor ocean circulation patterns that determine the location of these extreme events.

There are fewer universities studying ‘Climate Dynamics’, which is the interaction with the atmosphere and oceans producing our climate. Less students are in these research groups as well, studying the geophysical analyses. Climate model taxonomy today rules over climate dynamics.

Finally, the climate modelling looks at human-made emissions and are not predicting solar variability or volcano eruptions. As a result, human-made emissions become the basis for predicting future events, which is only one of many variables that should be factored in.

What Should Governments Focus On Instead?

Governments should focus on reducing vulnerability to extreme weather events.For Curry, we should focus on our vulnerabilities to wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and more. Instead of spending money on reducing CO2 emissions, we should pivot to making sure areas are protected from floods.

Second, clean up the real dirty stuff like air pollution. All fossil fuels are terrible – some are worse than others. Acknowledge the importance of natural gas and transition away from coal, which includes all type.

Finally, more Research and Development (R&D) that can manage our water and building an adaptable electricity grid will be critical. Helping to electrify places in the Developing World, including Africa and Central Asia is absolutely essential as some communities still depend on diesel or wood-burning for home heating. As well, helping communities become less vulnerable to extreme weather events would be another area for governments to focus on.

Setting targets and enforcing them will be an opportunity loss where we can make a real difference.

And when it comes to both Wind and Solar energy, large land use will be required for wide scale adoption. For Curry, this is a very important point that should be included in the discourse too.