CHRISTIE’S “FEELINGS”


Chris Christie was in the news again, stating that the climate has always changed, and he saw no crisis.  He wasn’t quoting any scientists about this, but he had a “feeling” that it wasn’t.  ISIS, on the other hand is a crisis.

What is ironic is that the existence of ISIS has a lot to do with climate change.  Syria is a dry country; from 1900 to 2005, six droughts occurred, and all lasted one season, with about a third of the normal rainfall.  From 2006-2010, four seasons of extensive drought occurred, which was unprecedented, leading to the displacement of 1.5 million people.  If I heard that, I must have forgotten it, but Syria was in the midst of a major upheaval in its economy before the recession which then led to the current situation.  Irrigation had not been completed, and addressing water shortages was poorly done.

The long range water outlook is not good for either Syria or the Middle East.  Had it not been for a change in the climate, that Governor Christie says is “the climate is always changing,” we might not have ISIS to deal with at all. Trust me, the US Defense Department believes in climate change and is actively trying to deal with a new reality when the Arctic is ice-free, and there are wars fought over fresh water.

Mind you, addressing climate change adequately is not going to happen.  That’s clear.  We have many vocal deniers, and I do fault the Associated Press for saying the proper term is “skeptics.”  No, a true skeptic will demand evidence and change his or her mind in the face of convincing evidence.  I will and have changed my mind in the face of convincing evidence.  The climate deniers I have known will not.  Ask for a margin of error or confidence, they will give either no answer or “100% confident,” which is impossible given the complexity of the atmosphere and one’s ability to understand all the factors.  What has been particularly pernicious has been the sowing of enough uncertainty that the average busy American thinks that the issue really isn’t settled and we shouldn’t change our lifestyles at all.  Gas mileage for cars should now average 60 mph, which I get on a 2003 Civic; instead, fuel economy languishes a bit over a third of that.

My computers have run 55.73 quadrillion points (that is 5, with 16 zeros after it) of climate models, as part of climatenetwork.net.  I am running Australia-New Zealand models that showed the Earth every 5 or 15 minutes for a few year period of interest. It’s something I can do right now to help the situation.  From these models, we know that the record October temperatures in Australia were 6 times as likely to have occurred because of global warming.  I know how complex these models are, which require up to 390 hours of computational time for each change a researcher does.  There are hundreds of these, changing variables of interest, in case emissions of CO2 decrease or methane increase, for example.  By doing this, we can make probabilistic statements about climate change vs. natural variability.  We know that up to a quarter of the severity of California’s drought is from climate change, and the least is still about 7%.  Notice the range of estimates, for uncertainty quantification is a big part of science.  Syria’s drought is less uncertain and almost clearly a result from climate change.  One drought on average every 17 years and then four straight years of drought is highly significant, meaning it is not a chance occurrence.  Something caused it with high probability, and we can quantitate that probability.

It is ironic that Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New Jersey, Christie’s home state, is part of  the new normal—storms that look the same as always but are not the same.   One of the things we have learned about global warming is that the ocean’s temperature has increased well below the surface, far further below than we thought.  That limits the atmospheric warming increase, but we have no idea what a deep warming of the ocean portends.  It may have been the reason Hurricane Patricia was so strong, because hurricanes require warm water, and the deeper the warm water goes in the ocean, the more the fuel for the hurricane.  We also don’t know what warmer oceans will do to the atmosphere over them.  The climate deniers don’t think there is a problem.  I think there is a problem; I just don’t know how it will manifest itself.  If I had a child or a grandchild, I would be very worried about their lives in a world whose climate is going to take a direction we have never seen as a species.  Put another way, if one has children and denies what is extremely likely, one is being unfair at best and cruel at worst to their progeny.

What good are models?  Indeed, I had one individual tell me to argue my case without using climate models.  What should I use?  Mr. Christie’s “feelings” that he knows he’s right?  Let’s look at feelings a little more.  Nate Silver runs fivethirtyeight.com, which predicts many events, including the elections.  In 2012, there were people who “had a feeling” how certain states would vote,  whereas Mr. Silver used weighting of polls based on past performance to make probabilistic determinations of how states would vote.  He wouldn’t say that North Carolina would be won by Romney; he said there was an 85% probability that it would be.  It was.  Silver got all the major contested states right; he got all the states right.  It wasn’t a feeling, it was statistics.  The others were dead wrong.  The “political sense” that Pennsylvania would go to Romney was completely erroneous.  Silver not only predicted it, his prediction of the popular vote percentage was almost completely accurate.

With weather models, we have extraordinarily high probabilities of knowing what is going to happen in the next 48-72 hours.  I don’t think we should be timing rainfall’s starting to the nearest minute or should give the probability of rain to the nearest per cent, but the idea of a major storm or heat wave can be seen by looking at the models.  Climate models aren’t perfect, but they are the best knowledge we have, and over decades, they are far more predictive than the weather forecasts.  All of the models are pointing towards a warmer Earth with consequences that are known and others that are not known.

I don’t know what is scarier to me, what will happen to the climate or the fact that the three major branches of government of the most powerful country on Earth will likely be controlled by those who believe that there is no problem at all.  They are wrong, they are foolish, they are arrogant, and they will be the cause of first the downfall of the country and then the species.

I’m sure I’ll be blamed, but I won’t be around to hear it.  The first steps of that have already occurred.

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