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Climate Catch 22: big bucks, big bets and big mess

By Michael Kile - posted Monday, 16 September 2013

Even the UN-funded World Climate Research Programme describes the quest for a EWE science as a "Grand Challenge"; with its “climate information service” concept only at "first draft" stage.

Any improvement in predicting changes in EWE frequency and intensity would require “improved representation of key processes in climate models” and resolution of other complex issues; with “much work needed to take careful account of uncertainty when delivering forecasts of extremes [EWEs] to users” (Karoly, WGSP, 2012, white paper, I3).

Nevertheless, ARC is claiming success in its recent EWE research.


AP: “ARC has now got to the stage of being able to attribute specific extreme events to specific causes. For instance, the heatwave event that hit Australia in January, we can now show that it wasn’t possible without the additional warming associated with global warming [DAGW]” (35.41min).

People often say you can’t attribute a single event to DAGW. That is a myth. It is not true. It just takes a year or so of bloody hard work to do it. And you cannot do it when the media asks you fifteen minutes after the cyclone has hit whether that cyclone was linked to DAGW. You have got to do the year’s work.” (36.20min.)

I asked Pitman if there was any research documenting successful prediction. Could he expand on his closing remark: “We’ve done all that – prediction”?

Apparently not; he provided links to only these two research papers: “Anthropogenic contributions to Australia's record summer temperatures of 2013” and “Local sea surface temperatures add to precipitation in northeast Australia during La Niña”.

Yet explaining away a EWE a year after the event, - as these papers do – is a different exercise from predicting a specific EWE. And “probabilistic” statements - such as “EWEs will be more prevalent in the future because of dangerous anthropogenic global warming (DAGW) and climate change (DACC)” are unhelpful.

Comparing “simulations with natural forcings” to “simulations with anthropogenic and natural forcings”, assumes both can be identified - and quantified – easily; and that climate models doing the simulating accurately describe reality. But is it, and do they?


Not for Robert Pindyck. As he recently explained in US National Bureau of Economic Research working paper 19244, Climate Change Policy: What do the models tell us?: “the physical mechanisms that determine climate sensitivity involve crucial feedback loops, and the parameter values that determine the strength of those feed-back loops are largely unknown.”

The night’s big surprise was Pitman’s admission that the orthodoxy is facing some “truly scary” challenges.

Professor Pitman:"What are the problems ahead? (37.20min.) Firstly, everything we do is extraordinarily computationally expensive. Not as expensive as the astronomers, but we are working really hard [to get there] (laughter).”

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About the Author

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature's Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. He has an MSc degree from Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London and a Diploma from the College. He also has a BSc (Hons) degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Tasmania and a BA from the University of Western Australia. He is co-author of a recent paper on ancient Mesoamerica, Re-interpreting Codex Cihuacoatl: New Evidence for Climate Change Mitigation by Human Sacrifice, and author of The Aztec solution to climate change.

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