Climate Sense and Nonsense

Since today is Climatepalooza at the UN and in the streets of DC (aside: how many Nobel Peace Prize nominations will Greta Thunberg receive this year?), it might be worth checking in on a couple of serious questions. Like climate modeling on the science side, and decarbonization on the policy side.

In conjunction with the climate hijinks, The Economist put out a special climate change issue, and much to my surprise, The Economist, which usually just parrots the party line, includes a pretty good article explaining the basics of computer climate modeling, and especially their large limitations and defects. Although the magazine tries hard not to sound openly skeptical, it is hard for any unbiased reader to finish this piece and think “the science is settled.” Some useful samples:

[Modeling] is a complicated process. A model’s code has to represent everything from the laws of thermodynamics to the intricacies of how air molecules interact with one another. Running it means performing quadrillions of mathematical operations a second—hence the need for supercomputers. And using it to make predictions means doing this thousands of times, with slightly different inputs on each run, to get a sense of which outcomes are likely, which unlikely but possible, and which implausible in the extreme.

Even so, such models are crude. Millions of grid cells might sound a lot, but it means that an individual cell’s area, seen from above, is about 10,000 square kilometres, while an air or ocean cell may have a volume of as much as 100,000km3. Treating these enormous areas and volumes as points misses much detail. Clouds, for instance, present a particular challenge to modellers. Depending on how they form and where, they can either warm or cool the climate. But a cloud is far smaller than even the smallest grid-cells, so its individual effect cannot be captured. The same is true of regional effects caused by things like topographic features or islands.

Building models is also made hard by lack of knowledge about the ways that carbon—the central atom in molecules of carbon dioxide and methane, the main heat-capturing greenhouse gases other than water vapour—moves through the environment. Understanding Earth’s carbon cycles is crucial to understanding climate change. But much of that element’s movement is facilitated by living organisms, and these are even more difficult to understand than physical processes.

This is only the beginning of a catalogue of scientific challenges to accurate climate prediction. This passage was especially interesting:

Satellite records of the area covered by ice in the Arctic, for instance, stretch back only to 1979, and it was not until 2002 that researchers were able, courtesy of some new satellites, to estimate how the thickness of that ice varies over time and from place to place. Applied to land-covering ice sheets as well as the floating ice of the Arctic Ocean, this revealed that Greenland was losing more than 200 cubic kilometres of ice (though only 0.007% of its total volume) a year—three times previous estimates. (Emphasis added.)

Wait—hold on a minute: Greenland is losing only 0.007 percent of its ice per year right now? That’s what we’re supposed to be panicking about? At this rate, it will take 7,000 years for Greenland to lose half of its ice mass. Even if the rate more than doubles, it will still take around 3,000 years. Trump better lower his bid for Greenland.

The article starts to get more watery as it moves into the policy domain. It gives lots of gauzy credence to various national pledges to be carbon-free by the year 2050, but without much in the way of description what rate of de-crabonization would needed to meet any of these targets.

For this we need to consult Roger Pielke Jr., writing in Forbes the other day on the fantasyland of climate theology:

Global decarbonization – the rate of reduction in the ratio of carbon dioxide emissions to GDP – was 1.6% in 2018. That is identical to the average rate of decarbonization from 2000 to 2018.

To put these numbers into context, PwC explains that to achieve emissions reductions consistent with a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature target would require an annual decarbonization rate of 11.3% per year for the remainder of this century, and 7.5% per year to meet a 2 degree Celsius temperature target.

Obviously, the world is nowhere close to meeting these rates of decarbonization, and even worse, shows no evidence of an acceleration in that rate in the climate policy era, dating to 1992 and the Rio Earth Summit. In fact, my own research indicates that the rate of global decarbonization in the two decades prior to 1992 was identical to the rate since. Climate policies have achieved many things, but accelerating rates of decarbonization is apparently not one of them.

Read the whole thing if you have a moment. I’ll add one aspect of this story: the only nation that has ever achieved a sustained rate of decarbonization even close to this was France, back when it was going big for nuclear power in the 1970s and 1980s. And that turned out to be a relatively short-lived time period, and their annual rate of decarbonization was something like 6 – 8 percent per year—not the 11 percent we need to have every year, worldwide, through 2050. And despite the major gains from going nuclear, France is far from carbon neutral in its energy profile today.

Meanwhile, nearly all the leading climatistas today demand that we close down our existing carbon-free nuclear power plants. This is the sign of deeply unserious people.

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