• Jim Kelly

The Greta Leap Forward

Updated: Jun 20

I used to accept the consensus that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) poses a real threat...but nervously. Believing something because everyone else believes that everyone else believes it can’t be a reliable guide to physical reality.

Eventually my nerves got to me, and I put my stack of physics degrees to work reading IPCC reports. I soon beheld the emperor—not as bundled-up as one expects—and changed my mind.

I don’t presume to change yours. Most people are where I was, figuring they lack the background or the mettle to check the science themselves, and therefore yielding to consensus and authority. To those satisfied with consensus as told by NPR and Hollywood, deeper wisdom may not be accessible, at least not until Leonardo DiCaprio gets it first.

I can only tell you what changed my mind. And if you’re anxious as I was for a clearer view of the emperor, I can recommend some good vantage points.

Wait, this doesn’t read like science...

I expected the IPCC’s scientific body to sound scientific. Searching for truth, not pushing an institutional narrative.

So imagine my surprise at Chapter 8 of the First Assessment Report (FAR), “Detection of the Greenhouse Effect in the Observations.” With bottomless climate data, you can find some to confirm any hypothesis. We call this procedure confirmation bias, and it's the opposite of the scientific method.

Or consider page xxv of the FAR summary for policymakers:

Although scientists are reluctant to give a single best estimate…, it is necessary for the presentation of climate predictions for a choice of best estimate to be made.

I sense a bureaucrat peering over the scientist’s shoulder, demanding edits to his scientific findings to meet the needs of “the presentation.”

The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) makes qualitative pronouncements more befitting a pulpit than a scientific paper. Like Bible verses, they are helpfully numbered. Here is A.1.5:

Human influence is very likely the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea ice area between 1979–1988 and 2010–2019…. There has been no significant trend in Antarctic sea ice area from 1979 to 2020 due to regionally opposing trends and large internal variability.

The Antarctic is not melting as the global warming models predict. Which means either the models are wrong, or the Antarctic is wrong, or perhaps both. But rather than acknowledge the conflict, the IPCC papers it over with conspicuous qualifiers, oddly selective date ranges, and truisms like "regionally opposing trends." Now I sense the scientist has left the room entirely, leaving a team of bureaucrats to torture the language until it means nothing at all.

Wait, they can’t predict the climate?

The money shot of any scientific paper is the graph where the authors compare what they predicted to what they observed. I would expect predictions to be narrow enough to be useful and authors to be upfront about their model’s shortcomings.

AR5 presents such a graph in chapter 9, “Evaluation of the Models,” reproduced below because AR6 doesn’t seem to have an update. Temperatures leveled out during this 15-year period, catching the models by surprise.

There isn’t even a consensus among the researchers running these numerical simulations. Redrawn from AR5, WG1 report, page 771.

The red curve on its own says the models don't work. The IPCC published not one model but an ensemble of models that predict wildly different temperatures. They span such a broad range that they virtually can't be wrong, but equally they can't be right: they are too vague to have any predictive value.

I wouldn’t expect models to work perfectly. Trying to predict Earth’s complex climate as a function of a single CO2 concentration variable was always a labor of optimism. But 30 years along, the predictions span a 10x range? And still miss? This isn’t promising-start bad, this is get-out-of-my-office bad, especially given what’s riding on these models. If they can’t get the warming right, all the derivative claims about melting ice caps and fires and mass extinction are just catastrophizing, with no scientific validity.

We have a word for scary causal narratives that can't predict better than random guessing: superstition.

If the IPCC were honestly reporting the state of the science, its top headline should say “Scientists do not yet understand what makes the Earth warm or cool." Policymakers and voters need facts, not whitewash, greenwash, or hogwash.

Wait, there’s no plan for fixing the climate?

In the IPCC’s WG3 report Mitigations of Climate Change I expected to read a plan for fixing the climate—a set of achievable steps that will solve the problem.

For example, “Build 3000 nuclear plants” is plan-shaped: specific, focused, feasible, and impactful. We can imagine a future day when the last plant glows to life and we cross climate change off our worry list.

Instead, WG3 approaches it from the opposite direction. It catalogs the global economy—power generation, housing, etc.—and proposes how governments might intervene in each sector. Although it frames its analysis around the UN’s 1.5°C target, it doesn’t recommend particular interventions sufficient to meet it, nor describe any done state when we can declare the crisis over.

The Great Reset roadmap. Table TS.3, AR5 WG3 Technical Summary

In other words, WG3’s report invites maximal disruption in every aspect of life—for parties unnamed to re-engineer where we live, what we eat, how much energy we use, etc., on an ongoing basis. A roadmap for everything but fixing the climate.

In 1958, in the original Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong shut down China’s privately-owned farms to spur development of industrialized farming collectives. Millions shortly starved.

Western governments are now shutting down power plants and disrupting energy supply chains, precipitating energy crises and freezes and blackouts. People die when it gets cold, and in the wars provoked in the course of the green transition. Is that part of the plan? If the IPCC isn’t defining the plan, who is, and may we see it please?

No trillion-dollar problem is ever solved

In trying to make sense of the reports, it helped me to notice the IPCC’s mission. Not scientific understanding of the climate, but to inform climate interventions:

The objective of the IPCC is to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies.

The IPCC’s 1988 founding resolution took AGW as fact demanding government action. It was tasked not with figuring out whether that was true, but with studying greenhouse gases and recommending lockdowns governments could impose to slow the spread.

Since then climate alarm has snowballed and threatens far more disruption than rising seas ever did. When politicians destabilize the world's energy supplies, they create threats or opportunities for everything that runs on energy, which is to say the entire global economy.

Having put energy generation and transportation and housing and food and everything else up for grabs, climate alarmists have launched the biggest corporate welfare program in history. Naturally every tin cup has come a-banging. AOC wants to build her political career by making Americans fund a Green New Deal. Bernie Sanders was bidding $16 trillion (of taxpayer money, obvs) for an Oval Office view. Industrialists want subsidies for their solar panel companies and their cheap, reliable fossil-fuel competitors shut down. Anticapitalists see their chance to expropriate the industrialists. SJWs see a lever for more wealth distribution. And they all want normal political processes preempted because Science.

Less disruptive proposals for cooling the Earth are quietly ignored. Climate optimists are squelched and suspected of financial motivations, if you can imagine.

Despite the failure of CO2 models, the IPCC doesn’t look for other climate drivers. That’s odd behavior if the powerful are genuinely worried about Earth, but perfectly sensible if they’re counting on the robust growth of climate alarm. Could it be that the only thing in Davos scarier than climate change is climate stability?

Clickbait Science

AR6 is an intimidating 4000-page document, but it follows the pattern I've become familiar with from countless climate news stories. A scary headline announces dire climate developments. "Mays" and "coulds" creep into the first paragraph. By the fifth paragraph the headline has been almost entirely walked back.

AR6 opens with bold words like "unequivocal" and qualitative claims calibrated to stoke alarm but not provoke lawsuits. As one reads further into the more scientific material in the later chapters, one finds more scientific nuance, and it becomes clear how equivocal the headline claims really are. But one doesn't find the dissent one expects in a scientific community; obviously the scientists are serving the bureaucrats, not the other way around.

Pushing an institutional narrative, denying dissenting views oxygen, even denying the existence of dissenters, is not how science works. It didn’t used to be how journalism works, or NASA, or Twitter. The West is in the throes of a proper Maoist cultural revolution, purging the pluralism and tolerance that liberal societies have long valued.

I understand the reasoning, sort of, behind trying to silence dissenters. If people hear climate change isn't a problem, it might be harder to solve the problem of climate change. We have a word for circular justifications: theology.

Sooner or later karma catches up to dogma. If we abandon public debate and other adversarial processes for discerning truth, we’ll get more fake news, gratuitous wars, nonsensical public health policies, power shortages—and increasing pressure to pretend not to notice. At a societal level that’s cruel, at a personal level deranging.

Freedom from the cataclysm catechism

I’m happy to be called a denier if that frees me to think for myself. I’m in good company with atmospheric physicists, Nobel laureates, geologists, geophysicists, and other heretics preaching optimism and tolerance.

And in any case, I can’t unsee the emperor’s bare kneecaps. Either scientists understand the climate, or they’re continually finding “it’s even worse than we thought,” but they can’t do both. If you have deniers, you don’t have a consensus. Either you believe climate change threatens humanity’s survival, or you prioritize it with subsidized broadband.

I can’t accept the contradictions any more than Greta Thunberg can. The Man terrorizes her with climate catastrophe without an immediate green leap forward, yet refuses to leap. I share her anger if not her conclusion. We don’t need more action, we need less terrorism. And a leap backward to practical rather than ideological electricity, to institutions that inform rather than manipulate, and to the liberalism that powered the West for centuries.

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