Lennart Bengtsson: My view on climate research

From the Uppsalainitiativet Blog where you can read the whole article:

… Words and concepts have different meanings and are interpreted differently depending on one’s background and knowledge. Sometimes such misunderstanding can be disastrous.

This is also true for concepts such as climate and climate forecasts. Climate is nothing but the sum of all weather events during some representative period of time. The length of this period cannot be strictly specified, but ought to encompass at least 100 years. Nonetheless, for practical purposes meteorologists have used 30 years. For this reason alone it can be hard to determine whether the climate is changing or not, as data series that are both long enough and homogenous are often lacking. … Because of chaos theory it is practically impossible to make climate forecasts, since weather cannot be predicted more than one or several weeks. For this reason, climate calculations are uncertain even if all model equations would be perfect.

Despite all these issues, climate research has progressed greatly, above all through new revolutionary observations from space, such as the possibility to measure both volume and mass of the oceans. Temperature and water vapor content of the atmosphere are measured by occultation with GPS satellites. Our knowledge of earlier climate has increased substantially.

It is not surprising that the public is impressed by this and that this trust transfers to climate forecasts and the possibility to predict the earth’s future climate. That all this occurs within a context of international cooperation under the supervision of the UN, and with an apparent unity among the scientists involved has created a robust confidence in IPCC’s climate simulations, in Sweden not the least. SMHI’s [Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute] down-scaled climate simulations for 100 years are impressive and show in detail and with splendid graphics how the climate will turn out both in Östergötland and in Västerbotten. This is invaluable for municipality climate experts and planners who are working feverishly to avoid future floods and forest fires. The public is in good hands in the benevolent society.

Unfortunately, things are not as splendid as they seem. As a result of chaos theory, weather and climate cannot be predicted, and how future climate will turn out will not be known until future is upon us. It would not help even if we knew the exact amount of greenhouse gases. Add to this the uncertainty about the future of the world. This should be clear to anyone, simply by moving back in time and contemplating what has unfolded from that viewpoint. As Daniel Boorstin put it: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”.

(emphasis mine)

My 2 cents: The purple text is reminiscent of the cold-war sarcasm behind the iron-curtain era; concealed as plaudits. I’m only a little surprised to see it coming out of Sweden.

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