In Climate Science, Predictions Are Hard, Especially About The Future

You probably think that the classical reference in the title is to a saying originating from baseball humorist Yogi Berra.  But Quote Investigator traces the origin of the saying back to an unnamed wag in the Danish parliament in the 1930s.  Early users of the phrase included Danish atomic physicist Nils Bohr and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn.

As hard as they may be to get right, predictions about the future are the core of the field that goes by the name of "climate science."  Because of predictions about the future by climate scientists, everybody knows that human burning of fossil fuels will cause world temperatures to increase by multiple degrees over the coming century, leading to a series of calamities ranging from sea level rise to droughts to floods to hurricane and tornadoes.  After all, the climate scientists have sophisticated computer models!  If you don't believe the predictions of the models, you must be a "science denier."  The predictions of significantly rising temperatures are so certain that you are to be required by government coercion (unless President Trump can head it off) to dramatically reduce your use of fossil fuels and restrict your lifestyle.

You and I are not going to be around in 2100 to see if any of these predictions about the future have come true.  But meanwhile the climate alarm crowd obliges us with shorter term predictions to help us get some handle on how reliable they are.  Unfortunately, nobody seems to be doing a very good job of keeping track of these predictions and seeing how they are turning out.  So once again it falls to the Manhattan Contrarian to do some leg work.  On this subject, I am assisted today by some very useful work from my friend Benny Peiser and the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the UK.

For example, there was the prediction that our national weather bureaucracy (NOAA) came out with back in October as to the severity of the upcoming winter.  How do they come up with that prediction?  Eric Niler at Wired wrote a post on the prediction on October 29 that revealed that the seasonal predictions rely on models using the same theories of "heat trapping" greenhouse gases as they use for the longer-term models:

NOAA climate scientists incorporate heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels when they run the models that produce their seasonal climate predictions.

So what was the prediction?

Warmer-than-normal conditions are most likely across the southern two-thirds of the continental U.S., along the East Coast, across Hawaii and in western and northern Alaska.

Oops!  For those who haven't checked up on the weather on the East Coast of the U.S. lately, it's been record-breaking deep freeze around here for the last week, and expected to go even lower over the approaching weekend.  It has snowed as far south as the Florida panhandle.  Well, fortunately, the NOAA guys were ready with plenty of hedging language when Niler asked about their official prediction:

Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center [said], “There is a lot of natural climate variability in the system that can trump any kind of background signal.” 

Or in other words, predictions are hard, especially about the future.  At least when the predictions are for a short enough term that anybody might check up on them.

And here's a related question:  Have you heard much lately about how the polar bears are about to go extinct due to global warming?  No?  Better check up on that prediction and how it has turned out.

Susan Crockford is a scientist specializing in polar bears, who writes scholarly articles on the subject, and also has a blog called Polar Bear Science.  She has been making a thing lately about taunting the alarm community for their failed polar bear predictions.  For example, Crockford points to this report in Canada's National Post in May 2007 of a presentation by Al Gore:

[Gore pointed to] an iconic photograph that was distributed worldwide last month by Canada's Environment Ministry, . . .  The photo, taken in the summer, shows two polar bears on a melting ice floe in the Beaufort Sea, north of Barrow, Alaska.  "Their habitat is melting -- beautiful animals, literally being forced off the planet," Mr. Gore said, with the photo on the screen behind him.  "They're in trouble, got nowhere else to go."  Audience members let out gasps of sympathy . . . .

Crockford also points to scholarly articles, particularly by a guy named Steven Amstrup, predicting rapid decline of polar bear populations if sea ice levels reach . . . levels that they actually did reach in years including 2012.  But unfortunately, from Crockford's blog on December 21:

This is the truth the world needs to hear: the experts were wrong. Polar bears have not been driven to the brink of extinction by climate change, they are thriving. This is the message of each of my two new books.

 And from Crockford's blog on January 4:

Polar bear experts who falsely predicted that roughly 17,300 polar bears would be dead by now (given sea ice conditions since 2007) have realized their failure has not only kicked their own credibility to the curb, it has taken with it the reputations of their climate change colleagues. This has left many folks unhappy about the toppling of this important global warming icon but ironically, consensus polar bear experts and climate scientists (and their supporters) were the ones who set up the polar bear as a proxy for AGW in the first place.

So now, how much faith are we to put in the predictions of climate armageddon by 2100?  Enough to shut down the fossil fuel industry?