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Weird Science

Jun 10, 2022

John Hughes’ 1985 fantasy comedy film, Weird Science, is about two unpopular teenagers who create Kelly LeBrock, the perfect woman with a weird science application on their computer. Of course, the experiment leads them on unexpected adventures and gets them in a number of tight spots before the expected happy ending.

However, weird science applications don’t always lead to happy endings. A climate broken by human carbon emissions is blamed for almost any adverse weather event. The media, politicians, and even some scientists indict human influences as the cause of heat waves, droughts, floods, storms, and anything else the public fears. Immediate action is demanded to change human behavior and avert climate disaster. Even the Wall Street Journal, a conservative publication, stated last week in an article about potential electrical grid outages: “Large sustained outages have occurred with greater frequency, with an uptick in severe weather events exacerbated by climate change.”

Steven Koonin’s book, Unsettled, says science – real science – suggests a different story. Mr. Koonin is a physicist who served as Under Secretary for Science in President Obama’s Department of Energy.

Unsettled provides a strong argument that observations extending back over a century indicate that most types of extreme weather events don’t show any significant change as human influences on the climate have increased. It expands on climate reports, including the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC) Assessment Number 5 (AR5) and the IPCC Working Group I (IPCC WGI), which is a basis for the IPCC AR5 report, among other government sponsored reports and studies.

The IPCC reports are sponsored by the United Nations and are referred to by many as the “Gold Standard” for climate studies and modeling. I am less bullish on the IPCC reports because the summaries written for policymakers are too often skewed from the actual findings of the underlying studies and models. However, they are the most frequently cited resource on climate change.

The IPCC reports address many different elements associated with greenhouse emissions and the changes to the climate that may be associated with human emissions. Confidence-ranking system are used to assign levels of confidence to elements studied in the reports. The levels range from very high confidence (nominally 90%-100%) to very low confidence (nominally 0%-10%).

Unsettled references surprising findings from the IPCC’s AR5 WGI report concerning the impact of climate change on extreme weather events:

  • Low confidence (0% – 33%) regarding signs of trends in the magnitude and frequency of floods on a global scale. (IPCC AR5 WGI, section 2.6.2.2)
  • Low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century. (IPCC AR5 WGI, section 2.6.2.3)
  • Low confidence in trends in small-scale severe weather phenomena such as hail and thunderstorms. (IPCC AR5 WGI, section 2.6.2.4)
  • Low confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones (hurricanes) since 1900. (IPCC AR5 WGI , section 2.6.2.4)

Additional studies also cast doubt on the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. The IPCC 2012 Special Report on Extreme Events states, “Many weather and climate extremes are the result of natural climate variability (including phenomena such as El Nino). Even if there were no anthropogenic changes in climate, a wide variety of natural weather and climate extremes would still occur.” The National Climate Assessment issued as the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) by the Federal Government in 2017 states at section 9.2, “There is still low confidence that any reported long-term increases in Tropical Cyclone (hurricane) activity are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.” The World Meteorological Organization stated in a 2020 report, “…any single event, such as a severe tropical cyclone (hurricane or typhoon) cannot be attributed to human-induced climate change, given the current status of scientific understanding.”

All of which raises the question of how the connection between climate change and extreme weather events has become so accepted and is substantiated. Media and climate change activists have worked hard to connect extreme weather events to climate change to further their interests in forcing fossil fuel usage reductions and human behavioral changes. To substantiate the connection, Event Attribution Studies have become a growing branch of climate science by combining climate modeling and some level of historical observations to attempt to determine the role human influences play in any event. However, Event Attribution Studies do not have the standing of climate science.

Releasing and publicizing conclusions attributing extreme weather events to human influences with short and low-quality historical records, high natural variability, confounding natural influences, and disagreements among many of the models used in the studies, especially in light of evidence to the contrary, is “weird science.” Following the path to Net Zero movement by 2050 at a cost of $275 trillion as estimated by McKinsey & Company, despite doubtful findings of many studies and reports, will most likely not be as enjoyable as having Kelly LeBrock jump out of the computer.

I hope you have a good month.   

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