By Michael Kile
(This is an edited version of an essay that appeared in the April 2018 edition of Quadrant magazine)
There is mounting pressure on warmist researchers to come up with arguments, if not evidence, that will stand up in court.
As climate models continue to get it wrong, often spectacularly so, the carpetbaggers’ various lawsuits are in dire jeopardy, but that doesn’t mean they won’t stop trying With the international political, financial and reputational
stakes so high, it was only a matter of time before climate change appeared in the dock, handcuffed to its partner in
prognostication, the dodgy discipline of extreme weather attribution.
To make sense of the climate change scene today, it is best to begin with the end game: the orthodoxy’s search for an argument, however abstruse, that will stand up in court. It needs one sufficiently “robust” to ensure developed countries—still effectively on trial in the United Nations, where a protracted “loss and damages” claim awaits resolution—and fossil fuel companies are legally liable to pay multi-billion-dollar “climate reparations” to the alleged victims of “carbon pollution”, be they in the developing world or in the path of a natural disaster.
How did we get to this point? When the climate change meme was planted successfully in the collective mind a decade ago as the most serious existential threat facing humankind, the orthodoxy wanted it to stay there. A sense of public anxiety had to be maintained, despite the risk of apocalypse fatigue syndrome.
So it created an Attribution of Climate-related Events (ACE) initiative. The international research agenda gradually
shifted to the tricky territory of extreme weather attribution.
ACE’s first workshop was held on January 26, 2009, in Boulder, Colorado, at the Pei-designed National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Mesa Lab. Attendees included Myles Allen (Oxford University), Martin Hoerling (NOAA, USA), Peter Stott (UK Met Office, Hadley Centre), Kevin Trenberth (NCAR) and David Karoly (University of Melbourne). Its objective was to:
“develop a conceptual framework for attribution activities to be elevated in priority and visibility, leading to substantial increases in resources (funds, people, computers) and both a research activity and a framework for an “operational” activity, that sets forth a goal of providing a lot more concrete information in near real time about what has happened and why in weather and climate.”
ACE later released a four-paragraph statement. Its mission would be: “to provide authoritative assessments of the causes of anomalous climate conditions and EWEs” (extreme weather events), presumably for government agencies and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013/2014 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
But just how “robust”—one of the orthodoxy’s favourite adjectives—was the climate modelling underpinning this grand design? How could it be sold to the public, given the challenging uncertainties? ACE participants agreed they would need “increased real-time numerical experimentation activity” and something else too, a narrative that would ensure public interest.
To succeed, everyone would have to sing from the same song-sheet. There would have to be consistent use of terminology and close collaborative teamwork “to maintain an authoritative voice when explaining complex multifactorial events such as the recent Australian bushfires” (my italics).
Three years later, Dr Peter Stott, the UK Met Office’s head of climate monitoring and attribution, again stressed the
importance of reining in mavericks and having a unified voice, this time in a conference paper:
“Unusual or extreme weather and climate-related events are of great public concern and interest. Yet there are often
conflicting messages from scientists about whether such events can be linked to climate change. All too often the
public receives contradictory messages from reputable experts. If the public hears that a particular weather event
is consistent with climate change they may conclude that it is further proof of the immediate consequences of humaninduced global warming. On the other hand, if the public hears that it is not possible to attribute an individual event, they may conclude that the uncertainties are such that nothing can be said authoritatively about the effects of
climate change as actually experienced.”
Above all, then, ACE’s experts must not confuse the public.
Imagine the furore if too many folk begin to suspect that nothing “can be said authoritatively about climate change”;
other than that (unpredictable) change is what the planet’s climate (and weather) does and always has done. As for not seeing EWEs as “consistent with” an alleged human cause— namely the presence of an atmospheric trace gas vital for all organic life—few paid-up members of the Carbon Cargo Cult Club wanted to go there.
Stott did admit, however, that the initial studies “highlight many of the challenges still to be faced”, the “considerable
uncertainties that remain”, the uncertainty around alleged “causal links” and “whether relevant processes are captured adequately” by models. Several years later, he was still concerned that “many questions remain as to current capabilities to robustly attribute the contribution of anthropogenic climate change to the risk of many extreme weather and climate events”.
Shifting the focus from long-term climate change—say a French-fry fate in 2100—to yesterday’s weather enabled
the orthodoxy and its cheer squad—a decarbonising political elite, carbon capitalists, renewable energy aficionados, militant environmentalists and worried religious groups—to promulgate ambiguous “probability” attribution statements after every hurricane, storm, flood, drought and bushfire.
There is, however, a key challenge facing folk who believe that “climate change” is responsible for everything bad:
persuading a court to accept the so-called detection-andattribution community’s probability games as compelling
The orthodoxy’s reaction goes to the heart of the controversy. David Karoly insisted climate modelling showed that “cold snaps” are becoming less common as a result of global warming. With “rapid attribution analysis”, experts apparently now know that “climate change is linked to a dangerous pattern of major weather events”. But precisely how, and by what kind of link, seems as vague and contestable as ever.
The current prognosis for Planet Earth, then, is based less on empirical science and more on computer modelling and contestable probability analyses. Frustrated by the inability of the modelling to validate its ambitions, the detection-and-attribution community has focused on developing more arcane theory.
Is a cautiously balanced assessment of the evidence possible? The orthodoxy has insulated itself from deeper scrutiny for years with a cordon sanitaire of unaudited blackbox models and “consensus” science. In any case, given the revelations earlier, is it in a position to evaluate objectively—that is to say scientifically—“each and every possible alternative explanation”? Or has it become so affected by confirmation bias that it devotes too much energy to ensuring the “probability of necessary causality” is sufficiently high to indicate human responsibility?