Doomed Planet

Climate Modelling: Rubbish In, More Rubbish Out

Complexity and perplexity go together like a horse and carriage, or in this case, the climate and a modeller. When probability claims masquerade as genuine predictions and international agencies and governments promote alarmism at every opportunity and confirmation bias distorts the search for truth, the outcome is today’s witch’s brew of “climate change” hyperbole and “save-the-planet” activism that is now disrupting every aspect of life.    

Consider the World Meteorological Organization’s press release of May 17, 2023: Global temperatures set to reach new records in the next five years. It warned that:

Global temperatures are likely to surge to record levels in the next five years, fuelled by heat-trapping greenhouse gases and a naturally occurring El Niño event, according to a new update issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 

There is a 66% likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year.  There is a 98% likelihood that at least one of the next five years, and the five-year period as a whole, will be the warmest on record.

A temporary reprieve from a french-fry fate is possible. But hold the champagne. The world is still going to exceed 1.5°C “with increasing frequency”. Unless we prostrate ourselves with more fervour at the altar of NetZero it could become permanent. Whatever happens, like Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca, we will always have Paris. 

WMO’s Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas:

 This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5°C level specified in the Paris Agreement, which refers to long-term warming over many years. However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5°C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency.

A warming El Niño is “expected to develop in the coming months”, he continues. So, dear reader, mark your calendar. It will “combine with human-induced climate change” and “push global temperatures into uncharted territory”. This will have “far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management and the environment. We need to be prepared.”

Have modellers so mastered the arcane art of calculating probabilities they can now conjure up such precise short-term predictions? Apparently so, as the WMO press release went on to claim:

There is only a 32% chance that the five-year mean will exceed the 1.5°C threshold, according to the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update produced by the United Kingdom’s Met Office, the WMO lead centre for such predictions.

The chance of temporarily exceeding 1.5°C has risen steadily since 2015, when it was close to zero.  For the years between 2017 and 2021, there was a 10% chance of exceedance.

Hold it right there. There apparently is “a 98% likelihood that at least one of the next five years, and the five-year period as a whole, will be the warmest on record.” Yet there is only a 32% chance the global temperature over this period will exceed the 1.5°C threshold. The probability of a two-sided coin landing on heads is 50%. Interesting.

A paper published three years ago concluded:

For the period 2017 to 2021 we predict a 38% and 10% chance, respectively, of monthly or yearly temperatures exceeding 1.5 °C, with virtually no chance of the 5-year mean being above the threshold.

We cannot directly assess the reliability of forecasts of the probability of exceeding 1.5 °C because this event has not yet occurred in the observations.” Predicted Chance That Global Warming Will Temporarily Exceed 1.5 °C  — Geophysical Research Letters, October 12, 2018

The authors, nevertheless, would update their forecasts “every year to provide policy makers with advanced warning of the evolving probability and duration of future warming events.” What if the planet does exceed an arbitrary number selected by UN agencies in Paris? Would the world be more afraid – or resigned – than it is today? What if the global “climate”, whatever that is, is beyond human control?  Surely that’s the biggest elephant in the greenhouse. The MSM, predictably, trumpeted the WMO’s alarmism. There was, with the ABC dutifully if selectively repeating the claim of a “98 per cent chance one of the next five years would be the hottest ever.”

As for the timing, cometh the hour, cometh the prediction. The WMO Global Annual to Decadal Update 2023-2027 was released just five days before the 19th session of the World Meteorological Congress began in Geneva this week. (See WMO events). One of WMO’s top priorities is implementing the UN Early Warnings for All Initiative. On World Meteorological Day last March, the UN Secretary-General announced “a new call to action to ensure every person on Earth is protected by MHEWS (Multi-hazard early warning systems) within five years: the Early Warning Systems Initiative (EWS4ALL)”. 

As mentioned above, the UK Met Office acts as the WMO Lead Centre for Annual to Decadal Climate Prediction. It now has to dance the MHEWS tango, as do 145 ensemble members from 11 institutes engaged in this global exercise. Too many cooks tend to spoil the broth. Perish the thought, but perhaps too many modellers are trying to predict the unpredictable: natural and climatic variability. Not so, says the WMO: “Retrospective forecasts, or hindcasts, covering the period 1960-2018 are used to estimate forecast skill. Confidence in forecasts of global mean temperature is high since hindcasts show very high skill in all measures.” Accurately forecasting the future, however, is surely a bigger challenge than hindcasting the past.

The new update includes a section evaluating forecasts for the previous five years (page 16). A mixed bag of outcomes indeed. The “ensemble” models, for example, did not “capture” the “cold anomalies in Antarctica and eastern Asia”. And so on and so forth. As for complexity, there’s never been any shortage of it in the climate change space. According to UK Met Office:

The evolution of climate in the near term, out to a decade or two ahead, is the combination of natural climate variability and human-forced climate change. Changes in natural variability are large enough from one decade to the next to temporarily exacerbate or counter underlying anthropogenic trends [presumably assumed in model simulations].

How the two phenomena are quantified remains a mystery, at least to me. Even after reading the World Climate Research Programme on the Grand Challenges of Near-Term Climate Prediction I am, alas, none the wiser. For some reason, they ended last year, possibly because too many experts had COVID or apocalypse fatigue syndrome. Hardly surprising, given this ambitious “concept note'”.

One aspect most modellers seem to agree on is that “decadal predictions need to take into account both initial conditions of the climate system as well as the evolution of long-term forcings. (See Fig. 2 (Box 11.1) in AR5-WG1.) The Barcelona Supercomputing Center describes their dilemma here and here:

Certain limitations, such as imperfect parameterizations and inaccurate initial conditions, introduce biases in the climate models, i.e. cause them to have differences with the observations. All models exhibit to some extent biases.


at sub-seasonal to interannual time scales, climate predictability is thought to arise significantly from the knowledge of initial conditions. Initializing climate models with observationally-based estimates is a very challenging task scientifically, but also technically.

Accurate near-term predictions from climate models rely, among others, on a realistic specification of initial conditions. The problem is simple to state, but difficult to address for two reasons: (1) the observational coverage is sparse, (2) climate models “live” in their preferred state.

Such perplexity is not new. A lot of folk have had it, including the late Stephen Schneider (1945-2010). A distinguished environmental researcher at Stanford University’s Woods Institute, he was an author for four early IPCC assessment reports, a “core member” for two of them. When the UK Royal Society published a commemorative volume of essays in 2010, Seeing Further – The Story of Science and The Royal Society, it included this one by Schneider: “Confidence, Consensus and the Uncertainty Cops: Tackling Risk Management in Climate Change.” At the time, he was perplexed by the “significant uncertainties” that “bedevil components of the science”, “plague projections of climate change and its consequences”, and challenge the traditional scientific method of directly testing hypotheses (‘normal’ science). Schneider’s solution: to change ‘the culture of science’ by developing a language that would convey the gravity of the situation “properly” to policy makers.

As climate uncertainty was (and for me still is) so intractable — and incomprehensible to the public — Schneider introduced the rhetoric of risk management – “framing a judgement about acceptable and unacceptable risks” – and pseudo-probability. While he claimed he was “uncomfortable” with this “value judgement” approach, he was even “more uncomfortable ignoring the problems altogether because they don’t fit neatly into our paradigm of ‘objective’ falsifiable research based on already known empirical data.”

He proposed a new subjective paradigm of “surprises’ in global climate scenarios, one with “perhaps extreme outcomes or tipping points which lead to unusually rapid changes of state”; while admitting that

by definition, very little in climate science is more uncertain than the possibility of ‘surprises’.

According to Schneider,

despite the worry that discussions of surprises and non-linearities could be taken out of context by extreme elements in the press and NGOs [but apparently not by the IPCC], we were able to include a small section on the need for both more formal and subjective treatments of uncertainties and outright surprises in the IPCC Second Assessment Report in 1995.

As a result the very last sentence of the IPCC Working Group 1 1995 Summary for Policy Makers addresses the abrupt non-linearity issue. This made much more in-depth assessment in subsequent IPCC reports possible, simply by noting [that is assuming, not proving] that: ‘When rapidly forced, non-linear systems are especially subject to unexpected behaviour.

This was a pivotal moment in the history of climate alarmism. Schneider had smuggled a Trojan horse into the IPCC, with a contrived “language for risk” inside. It was a language derived from his personal (and the IPCC’s) “value frame” and was adopted in subsequent reports. They now had, he wrote triumphantly, “licence to pursue risk assessment of uncertain probability but high consequence possibilities in more depth; but how should we go about it?” How, indeed?

It took a long time for him to “negotiate” agreement with climate scientists on precise “numbers and words” in the Third Assessment Report cycle.

There were some people who still felt they could not apply a quantitative scale to issues that were too speculative or ‘too subjective’ for real scientists to indulge in ‘speculating on probabilities not directly measured’. One critic said:Assigning confidence by group discussion, even if informed by the available evidence, was like doing seat-of-the-pants statistics over a good beer.’

Schneider’s Royal Society essay nevertheless concluded: “Despite the large uncertainties in many parts of the climate science and policy assessments to date, uncertainty is no longer a responsible justification for delay.”

How can one argue the more uncertain a phenomenon, the greater the risk to us and the planet? Yet they did and are still doing it today.

That said, at least Schneider was sceptical about modelling”

There are many scientists who dispute that it is only humans controlling the climate thermostat,” he wrote. “Heat exchanges from the tropics to the poles, ocean currents of countless durations and size, changing amounts of heat from the sun, all operate in a chaotic non-linear manner to make climate modelling a largely fruitless, if politically necessary, activity.

As for his “own personal value position”, Schneider stated it emphatically in this 2003 paper: What is the Probability of “Dangerous” Climate Change?

Given the vast uncertainties in both climate science and impacts estimations, we should slow down the rate at which we disturb the climate system — that is, reduce the likelihood of “imaginable conditions for surprise”. This can both buy time to understand better what may happen — a process that will take many more decades of research, at least — and to develop lower-cost decarbonization options so that the costs of mitigation can be reduced well below those that would occur if there were no policies in place to provide incentives to reduce emissions and invent cleaner alternatives.  Abating the pressure on the climate system, developing alternative energy systems, and otherwise reducing our overconsumption (see Arrow et al., 2003) are the only clear “insurance policy” we have against a number of potentially dangerous irreversibilities and abrupt nonlinear events.

To deal with such questions, the policy community needs to understand both the potential for surprises and how difficult it is for integrated assessment models (IAMs) to credibly evaluate the probabilities of currently imaginable “surprises,” let alone those not currently envisioned.

As for “abrupt nonlinear events” that would “qualify as dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” use your imagination. It’s easy to find an “extreme weather event” in natural variability. They happen somewhere in the world almost every day. Bamboozling folk with data or simulations that may, or may not, describe reality can be fun too. Astrologers, readers of entrails and other prognosticators made a lucrative living from it, even when their so-called facts and predictions were “value-laden”, and riddled with confirmation bias.

Schneider again:

Whether a few generations of people demanding higher material standards of living and using the atmosphere as an unpriced sewer to more rapidly achieve such growth–oriented goals is “ethical” is a value-laden debate that will no doubt heat up as greenhouse gas builds up…and references to the “precautionary principle” will undoubtedly mark this debate.

The rest is history: the history of how dodgy “post-normal” science joined up with a pseudo-scientific “precautionary principle” to corrupt the UN, IPCC and WMO and, despite the “vast uncertainties”, ultimately created the NetZero decarbonising monster that is disrupting countries — and energy markets — everywhere on the bogus pretext of “fighting climate change”.

19 thoughts on “Climate Modelling: Rubbish In, More Rubbish Out

  • Mark Dawson says:

    I agree with the general pre-text here. Is climate change real … of course, because it’s a naturally occurring phenomena. It’s hard to refute that our climate is changing … because it’s supposed to do so. The real question is whether human activity is impacting that evolution. If you accept the answer to that is yes (and I’m not saying you should, but maybe it’s also irrefutable) then: (I) how is it impacting climate change; and (ii) to what extent.
    I accept that human activity is accelerating climate change and that as a consequence temperatures are rising as a consequence. What I don’t accept is the panic response to do something about it which is bound to cause greater geo-political and economic upheavals than the perceived problem itself. The so-called climate ‘strategists’ (or whatever you wish to call them) are nothing short of modern day Bolsheviks who are using ‘climate’ as their agent of political change from a liberal democratic free trade environment to a more extreme left wing ideology of big government and central control.

    • leabrae says:

      Mark, “I accept . . .”. On what grounds?

      • john mac says:

        Yes , Mark lost me at “I accept”. That half the western world has fallen for the greatest hoax ( and , let’s be honest , a power grab of our freedom) ever foisted on humanity is a sad indictment of us . Totalitarianism in drag , “climate change” , or as IMac likes to snark , “whatever you want to call it ” is the Trojan horse of choice , with blm/antifa , covert 19 , and the ‘voice’ rounding out the field to shame , curtail freedom of movement , and impoverish the pesky middle classes of the western hemisphere . Huge power bills just around the corner , as Albo promises cheaper more reliable energy for us all with no media scrutiny to call out this most obvious of cons .

  • Michael says:

    Water vapour, said to be responsible for about 60 per cent or more of the greenhouse effect, has an ambiguous role, with clouds the wild cards. The implications of the wild-card clouds for computer prediction of climate were considered by Patrick Frank from the Stanford Linear Accelerator. He concluded that:

    “At the current level of theory an [anthropogenic global warming] signal, if any, will never emerge from climate noise … because the uncertainty width will necessarily increase much faster than any projected trend in air temperature. Any impact from [greenhouse gases] will always be lost within the uncertainty interval. Even advanced climate models exhibit poor energy resolution and very large projection uncertainties.”

    Patrick Frank, “Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air Temperature Projections”, Frontiers in Earth Science, September 2019.

  • Michael says:

    “The beauty of the precautionary principle for the socialists is that [it] lets them occupy the high moral ground while they demand complete control over society.”

    Sanjeev Sabhlok, in his 2020 book The Great Hysteria and the Broken State,

  • Stephen Due says:

    “Computing has replaced bull entrails”. Love it!
    Ditto computer ‘modeling’ of the ‘pandemic’. Its innards were piously examined by the high priests of science, and imminent doom was announced to the public. There is an entrenched religio-scientific class with strong financial and career incentives to ‘believe’ the auguries – and shape government policy accordingly. For some 14 years (2008-2022), the University of Melbourne ran its campaign to raise funds using the motto “Believe”. Just the one word. Not every religion is so undiscriminating.

    • irisr says:

      At least, once they read the bull’s entrails, quite a few families would have been feeding on the carcass!
      Much more useful than the computer models, IMHO.

      As for the other statistic, it bears repeating : ” The probability of a two-sided coin landing on heads is 50%”. That’s what I say every day or so when getting the weather forecasts : it will either rain tomorrow or it won’t.

  • Stephen says:

    The crazy activists, the renewables carpet baggers and the lying, self promoting, scientists have already convinced the so called first world countries to destroy their economies and societies in the futile persuit of net zero. The political fight is over.
    Meanwhile the developing world, lead by China and India are building coal fired power plants whilst pointing and laughing at us.
    Maybe it will change when the general public can see and feel the damage being done? That’s our only hope, our only relief from total despair.

  • akellow says:

    Schneider once considered that a doubling of carbon dioxide would produce warming of 0.8°K.
    Rasool, S. Ichtiaque, and Stephen H. Schneider. “Atmospheric carbon dioxide and aerosols: Effects of large increases on global climate.” Science 173, no. 3992 (1971): 138-141.
    Then he changed his mind after Carter’s energy policy proposed an expansion in coal use, and is notorious for stating”
    ‘So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.’

  • rod.stuart says:

    “It’s hard to refute that our climate is changing … because it’s supposed to do so.”
    It is astounding that many people don’t seem to understand the meaning of the term “climate”. Even learned types are prone to reference to a “global climate” which is no more a part of reality than a “global currency” or a “global language”.
    When most people envisage “climate change” they are not thinking of changes in regional weather over a period of millions of years; rather in the past that they can remember.
    The issue is that the term “climate change” is vague and essentially meaningless. In the 70’s, when the “global cooling” scare fizzled, the deception quickly changed to “global warming”. At the turn of the century, that was obviously nonsense, so the vague term “climate change” was introduced. s
    “Climate is a REGIONAL parameter and refers to the typical weather over several decades in a particular locale or region.
    In determination of “change” it is necessary to have:
    a) the PERIOD over which it occurs i.e. a start and end time.
    b) a METRIC so that some comparison is possible of the parameter at these two end points. The only parameter that can reasonably be applied to climate is a CLASSIFICATION:, either Koppen-Geiger or Trewartha.
    “Climate change” in the vernacular is generally construed to be some sort of change in a few years or something. In fact it has no specific meaning. Some seem to interpret it as “global warming” or other such nonsense. How is it possible to BELIEVE i.e. to have faith in something which is so ill-defined? It is exactly like believing in the Great Pumpkin, the Bunyip, or the Ogopogo.
    Setting aside a few instances in which land use has altered a regions climate, and examining a period from the beginning of the twentieth century until now, it is difficult to identify a region anywhere whose climate classification has been permanently altered.
    The mythical “global warming” that the hoi poloi imagine to be “climate change”.is in fact a record of temperature that varies chaotically but only slightly up and down with no particular trend.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    ‘Global temperatures are likely to surge to record levels..’
    Only they are presently scraping along the bottom end of the planetary temperature for the last 500million years.

    In the meanwhile the models are poor fits for the data measured of temperature.
    If so the IPCC is unable to make any accurate call on future atmospheric temperature.

  • STD says:

    Untruthful climate ‘models’ of self interest – rubbish out, rubbishing honesty, truthfulness ,rationality and in due course reason.
    The truth we’re now told is an insult to deplorable intelligence.

  • ianl says:

    >”How the two phenomena [natural and “anthropogenic” climate variability] are quantified remains a mystery,” [quote from Michael Kyle above]

    Subject to much activist arm waving, but basically this is done in circular fashion. “First, we assume the temperature increases modelled by atmospheric CO2 additions are viable, then we subtract these forecasts from actual metrics”.

    Like the economist’s assumption of a can opener to survive a shipwreck on a deserted island.

    The influence of non-linear interactions (ie. those that cannot be modelled with any confidence – “skill” in the activist language) are dealt with by cherry picking time scales. As are hindcasts.

    So, QED.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Good piece. Schneider’s trojan horse was there for all to see of course, for those with eyes that wanted to see.
    Unfortunately at the time, I think, those who thought it was all one great big beat up over nothing just assumed it would go away and be forgotten as there was obviously nothing to worry about with this scare….like all the other scares before it.
    However the new god of science didn’t really leave any alternatives, especially for scientists, because they want a god, like most people I think, and this is the only one they’ve got….so it was on with the show and I think that now there could be quite a few in the science world who are a bit bewildered, because it’s obvious that the scenario is still the same… for those with eyes to see.
    There’s still nothing to worry about, but they desperately seem to want something to worry about. Coleridge’s fiend is still treading along closely behind.
    What to do ? My suggestion would be to try turning around andface the fiend, and see him disappear, like all scary false fiends, but Schneider’s trojan horse makes this difficult without a mental reset.
    To get around this they could also start to dismantle the horse, and I’d start with a rethink on all this homogenizing of the temp records, and decadal averaging. These sorts of tricks just let them keep on doing the same silly thing in presenting an upward moving graph line, fooling everyone including themselves….. forever.
    Regardless of what the real weather or climate outside is doing.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Monthly official satellite temperatures over Australia.
    Geoff S

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Thanks for that Geoff.

  • Lawrie Ayres says:

    There is no point using science to convince the scientifically ignorant. Not only do they not understand they haven’t the ability to understand; use Chris Bowen as exhibit one. As for the media that repeats this mush you need to remember that many of our MSM, led by the ABC and SBS, belong to the Global News Cartel AKA the trusted news initiative or TNI. Those who still bother to watch free to air or read the local rags will note that the talking heads use the same words to describe the latest “news”. This was most prevalent during the Covid crisis but also applies to the Climate scam.

    Last night for example Channel Nine news had an extensive piece on extreme heat in the Siberian Arctic. Frightening except it was based on a report written in 2020 using graphs of ice extent from 2012. They did not mention that it was old and superseded news. Nor did they mention the latest news from around the world of severe cold, very late frosts, late snows and other climate catastrophes for the climate scammers.


    The models did not predict that.

    The better argument to use against the ignorant is to ask them what prediction has come to pass. Flannery’s and the BoM’s never ending drought. The CSIRO’s no snow season. Sea side towns have not been inundated. Electricity did not get cheaper after we installed all those windmills. Solar panels rely on slave labour. EVs need kids to mine cobalt in the Congo.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    MK: “……on the bogus pretext of “fighting climate change”.”
    Here’s yet another politician at it again last week:
    “Resources Minister Madeleine King: “We need to help young people understand that a career in the resources sector is making a positive difference in the fight against climate change,” she said last month. “The road to net zero runs through Australia’s resources sector.” (AFR, 22 May, 2023)

  • mmcolley says:

    As a physiscist who has studied the basics of atmospheric physics but keeps abreast of the monthly satellite measurements of tropospheric temperature over the last 50 years and average ocean heights in Sydney harbour I cannot but be skeptical about the claims of atmospheric models. In physics the key properties of gases- temperature, volume and pressure can be measured at bulk gas level or a scientist could model the properties of some 10 to the power 23 gas molecules to calculate the key properties and how these change with temperature. Clearly modelling all the variables in the earth’s lower levels is like looking at all the individual gas molecules, In other words impossible and the modellers would be better off simply measuring actual temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations and forecasting the variations based on actual measured variations taking into account reduced impact as the effect falls off exponentially with gas concentration increases. Similarly with ocean levels where variations in ocean height due to atmospheric warming are far less than natural variations throughout the year. Due to gravity etc. Doing this is likely to suggest there is no dangerous warming in the next 50 to 100 years as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

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