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Why in the sky

05 Jun 2024 | News Roundup

From the “now you tell us” file, The Atlantic “Weekly Planet” suddenly admits that “No One Really Understands Clouds/ They’re one of the greatest climate mysteries left.” Gosh. Are they now? Because they’re really important to patterns of warming and cooling. So if they’re doing something we don’t understand and it’s important then um CO2 isn’t the main issue and the science isn’t settled. Which is kind of important to the story.

The piece really is a giant step forward at least in admitting things already known to those who follow the science as opposed to “the science”. For instance it says:

“at all times of year, the behavior of tropical cloud systems drives global atmospheric circulation, helping determine the weather all over the world. And still, clouds remain one of the least understood – or least reliably predictable – factors in our climate models. ‘They are among the biggest uncertainties in predicting future climate change,’ Da Yang, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Chicago, told me.”

Uncertainties in predicting change? And here you all seemed so certain. We’ve been given predictions of temperature in 2100 to fractions of a degree if we do, or do not, meet our Paris Accord commitments. We’ve been assured the models are vindicated and the debate is over. And now you admit that water vapour has you baffled and it’s not the only thing?

It’s not the only thing we don’t know, and that we know we don’t know. For instance The Economist “The Climate Issue” recently asked “Is global warming speeding up?” and answered that it’s not settled, partly because 2023 actually was hotter than the models and their acolytes predicted ahead of time or could explain after the fact. Indeed the whole thing is a cloud of unknowing:

“Cue a flurry of theories about what else might be going on. Scientists are speculating about the impact of increased solar activity and radiation (part of the Sun’s natural cycle), a volcanic eruption in the Pacific that produced an unusual amount of water vapour (a powerful if short-lived greenhouse gas) and the effect of new rules aimed at reducing the amount of sulphur produced when shipping fuel is burned (such aerosols have a cooling effect). None of these theories is close to being proven. Doubt remains about whether they would collectively be enough to explain the rise in temperatures. That leads to questions about whether the planet is now heating up faster than in the past.”

Apart from that, we got this. Indeed it’s covered because:

“climate models do in fact project a degree of accelerated warming in the decades between 2015 and 2050, compared with past ones, partly because of efforts to clean up polluting (and, as previously mentioned, cooling) aerosols.”

But at the same time:

“this year the El Niño will be replaced by a La Niña, when temperatures tend to be lower than the running average. Scientists will be watching keenly to see what happens. If the world does not cool down a bit, in the manner expected, it will strengthen the possibility that important changes are under way.”

Got it? The models predict an acceleration but also expect a cooling back to the non-accelerating trend. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Likewise Reuters “Sustainable Switch” recently emailed of the 2023 anomaly that:

“Some of the extremes – including months of record-breaking sea surface temperatures – have led scientists to investigate whether human activity has now triggered a tipping point in the climate system. ‘I think many scientists have asked the question whether there could be a shift in the climate system,’ said Julien Nicolas, C3S Senior Climate Scientist. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are the main cause of climate change.”

So they granted vast uncertainty with one hand, then smashed down complete certainty with the other.

Perhaps we should not jeer. We do want to encourage frank debate, after all, and driving people back into their mental trenches isn’t the best way. But we’ve been taking abuse for decades for claiming this kind of thing and we do want some acknowledgement that we were, what’s that word, right.

The “Weekly Planet” piece fights a rearguard action on models:

“The cloud problem has persistently plagued climate models. Although these models do many jobs extraordinarily well – understanding the energy balance of the planet, describing a trajectory of warming from human-made greenhouse-gas pollution – they can’t seem to get clouds right.”

But it ain’t so. They had the energy balance wrong, and the trajectories they describe never happen. And how could they, when they “can’t seem” to get a crucial piece of the puzzle right?

Seem isn’t really the word. They don’t have the computing power to model clouds worldwide even if they did understand their micro structure and behaviour, which they don’t. As the piece says frankly. And it matters:

“Tiffany Shaw, a climate physicist at the University of Chicago, told me that some models are producing inaccurate visions of entire regions, possibly because of the cloud problem. For example, models predict more warming in the east Pacific than the west; the opposite is true in reality.”

Oh darn. Or possibly oh phew:

“One big question haunts all cloud research: Scientists know that there’s a lot of uncertainty about how to predict future cloud dynamics, and that those dynamics will likely have some bearing on how climate change progresses. But how significant of a bearing? For now, initial indications point to reassuring conclusions rather than catastrophic ones.”

Clouds matter. As the piece winds up:

“Clouds envelop two-thirds of the Earth in their moist embrace, and in every moment help determine our collective physical reality. Surely the quest to understand them is among the most salient scientific endeavors of our time.”

Surely. And at least until we get there, stop saying the science is settled and everything is worse than scientists thought.

10 comments on “Why in the sky”

  1. The High Priests of Climate Change are gradually comimg to the realization that CO2 is probably only a minor part of whatever drives change. Since their entire careers have been based on the demonization of the evil CO2, this is not a happy state for them to be in, which explains their stubborn rearguard actions.

  2. Just like the EV transition nonsense, reality is biting the global climate warming change goofs on their collective butts! BTW, what will all of these "scientists" do when the global climate warming change gravy train goes completely off the rails? Can they sing "you deserve a break today"?

  3. If a big enough volcano has a big enough "burp",any imagined or real climate change caused by humans would be moot.One major eruption in the
    early Middle Ages changed human history.And CO2 is only a minor factor in the climate,they are so many others.If we can't predict the weather a week
    from now with anywhere near 100% certainty,how can we possibly know what it's gonna be like in 2030,2050,etc?

  4. Alarmists should heed the lyrics from the Joni Mitchell song Both Sides Now: ... "I really don't know clouds at all...".

  5. I recommend watching "Svensmark: The Cloud Mystery". It is a bit dated but Svensmark's research since then has done a good job to close the gaps in his hypotheses. His real climate science is quite fascinating.

  6. I saw a very interesting talk by a chemist at SLAC many years (?15) ago. His job, if I recall correctly, was model evaluation, and for fun he looked at various climate models. Since they wouldn't give him the code, he built iterative models with some indeterminates, and then used half data he got from somewhere (probably the modelers) to solve for the indeterminates, and then looked at the quality of matching on the other data. You couldn't see the difference between his models and any of theirs on the scale of a slide show, though you could certainly tell theirs apart.

    There were 3 big points I took from his talk. First, his models were simple enough that you could compute everything on a pocket calculator and get the same results as these 'climate scientists' did with supercomputers, and because the models are iterative, the error bars are addition, meaning the models are worthless for prediction; which would be damning if the people believing in them knew anything about science. Second, the only really important quantity in the models was cloud cover, which nobody can predict. And third, when he submitted the results to a climate science journal for publication, the non-modeler referees all voted to have it published, and the modeler referees were all opposed; this isn't surprising, but what did surprise him was it being clear from the referee comments that the modelers (among the referees, though I suspect this is pretty common) didn't understand the difference between precision and accuracy.

  7. I think a lot of people, for quite a long time, have known that the climatologically most important molecule is H2O not CO2: water vapour: more significant green house gas than any other; snow and ice: reflectors of incident sunlight; and of course clouds: major reflectors of incident sunlight as well as contributing to the “greenhouse effect”; not to mention all those phase changes shifting energy around the system. Yet the science is settled? I think not.

  8. Now there are some "scientists" trying to make whiter clouds to increase reflectivity by seeding them with salt water in the Bay Area in California. Personsaly I think they should improve temperature data collection first before manipulating anything globally.

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