The UN’s Terrifying, but Ever-receding, Human-caused Climate Catastrophe

by Caleb S. Rossiter

(Dr. Rossiter, the director of the American Exceptionalism Media Project, is a former professor of statistics at American University) 

Just in time for Hallowe’en, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released yet another in a 30-year stream of ghost stories: Global Warming of 1.5 Degree Celsius, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.  Like its five predecessors, it has been presented to the public as making terrifying predictions about human-caused climate catastrophes that are just about to occur, unless governments reduce the level of the harmless trace gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from its current four-hundredths of one percent to the three hundredths it was before industrialization. 

Notice that the title chosen by the UN gives the game away, presenting correlation as causation by clearly implying that all the warming since pre-industrial times has been caused by industry.  No room here for a natural oscillation back from the well-documented lows of the 1700’s, which themselves were a rebound from a higher temperature period in the 1400’s.  (See this NOAA chart.

So how do they do it?  How does the UN get citizens to be so afraid that they will agree to stop using fossil-fueled electricity to halt “climate change?”  After all, the phrase in itself is benign and natural.  With enough repetition as images of hurricanes play on the screen, however, climate change has come to be short-hand for fossil-fueled, civilization-threatening storms, droughts, and destruction of coastal cities and islands, a dubious hypothesis on which we are hilariously told “the debate is over.” 

For years I assigned statistics students to pick any “end-of-times” climate claim in the media and trace it back through the UN reports to its genesis in a scientific study.  I knew they would discover that these reports are not scientific documents based on the peer review process, but political documents “approved by governments” and intended to scare the public into supporting constraints on the production and use of energy.  A powerful publicity machine magnifies the alarm, relying on a hierarchy of certainty that cascades rapidly down from what citizens are bombarded with in the media to what is actually claimed by researchers. 

The studies referenced in the footnotes are often “peer-reviewed” and generally make cautious claims about a possible trend spotted in one or a small number of locations or in a global computer model.  Both types of studies are more speculative than definitive because, as always acknowledged in the fine print, they are based on highly-uncertain measurements of highly-complex phenomena with many interacting causes, of which warming gasses generated by human activity are only one, and often a minor component.  

The serial release of UN reports obscures the fact that the climate catastrophes they predict never occur.  As the data contained deep in the bowels of this latest report again acknowledge, Mother Nature is simply not cooperating with the UN.  There has been no positive trend in hurricanes, floods, and droughts as carbon dioxide levels continue moving up. 
Even the average global temperature whose rise is supposed to increase disasters has barely budged, only rising a third of the amount that has been repeatedly been predicted by the IPCC computer models.  Sea-level, which is very difficult to measure due to human use of land and even to the natural rise and fall of land itself, chugs along at the same inch a decade that it has for thousands of years, not the terrifying ten feet in a century warned about in previous reports.  The islands and polar ice that we were repeatedly told would be gone by now are still there, and no closer to destruction.

The UN’s response to its failed predictions is simply to move the goal-posts, and make new dire predictions for some future date – in this case 2030.  There is no reason to believe that this speculation is any better than the ones that predicted human-induced climate catastrophes by certain dates, now passed.  Here’s how the horror show was generated this time:

At the top level, former vice president Gore went on the PBS Newshour and claimed that the energy theoretically generated by carbon dioxide amounted to “400,000 Hirsohima bombs, every single day.”  Interviewer Judy Woodruff let him get away without comparing his calculations (which have a huge error margin, down to well below zero) to the energy generated on earth by the Sun, about 86 million Hiroshimas a day.

At the UN author level, Cornell physicist Natalie Mahowald did not hurl about nuclear weapons, but did say: “For some people, this is a life or death situation without a doubt.”  Well, if African countries are denied World Bank financing for power plants because of climate alarmism, their water will continue to be dirty, certainly lowering life expectancy. 

At the press release level, things were more staid: “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes.”  Indeed, but associated risks are still not causal reality.

The summary for policy-makers was calmer still: “Projections from climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics: heavy precipitation in several regions (medium confidence), and the probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions (medium confidence).”

The chapter level backed off even on “robust” CO2 effects: “(F)indings based on multiple lines of robust evidence for which quantitative probabilistic results can be expressed may be few…Recent publications based on observational and modeling evidence suggest that human emissions have substantially increased the probability of drought years in the Mediterranean region (Gudmundsson and Seneviratne, 2016...).

The study cited turns out to be, as usual, purely speculative.  It appeared in the Journal of Environmental Research Letters.  First it admits its weaknesses: “The advantage of climate model based approaches is that large samples of climate with and without human emissions can be simulated, which in turn can be used to estimate the probabilities.  Climate models, however, suffer from incomplete process knowledge and other model uncertainties.  The advantage of observational approaches is that they can utilize the power of real-world observations.  This comes, however, at the cost of strong simplifying assumptions, which may introduce biases to the analysis.” 

At this point, despite this sensible warning, the authors go right ahead and combine the two uncertain methods.  “Assume that the occurrence probability of climate extremes can be modeled by allowing the parameters of the underlying distribution to depend on indicators of global mean temperature anomalies (TG) and indicators of large-scale climate variability. The rational for considering the effect of TG is that its increase is attributed to human emissions (Bindoff et al 2013) and it is thus a reliable indicator for anthropogenic climate change.”

That is, they assume that all temperature changes in Europe over the past 100 years are due to human emissions, even before they run their complex calculations. That, of course, contradicts the purpose of their inquiry – to separate natural from human influences!  We should all dress like Alice’s Red Queen this Hallowe’en: “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”

The conclusion of the study is that drought is down in Northern Europe and up in the  Mediterranean, and by assumption, “despite the large combined parameter and model uncertainty,” both are due to industrial emissions, not natural fluctuation: “As global mean temperature change has been attributed to anthropogenic climate forcing (Bindoff et al 2013), it is possible to invoke the two-step attribution procedure (Bindoff et al 2013) and claim that the identified changes in European drought risk are attributable to human effects on the climate.”

What a long way we have come from Hiroshima to “model uncertainty.”  For governments to make policy on such a hierarchy of exaggeration brings to mind James Madison’s warning: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.”  

But don’t be too scared: the same governments who authorize the UN reports never take the steps needed to reduce the supposedly horrifying carbon dioxide level.  Hidden behind their teeth-chattering fear of fossil fuels is their awareness that oil, gas, and coal have helped bring dramatic improvements in health, welfare, and life expectancy, and that alternative methods of generating power are currently available only at unacceptable economic and hence political cost.  Happy Hallowe-en! 

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