Doomed Planet

Correlation, Causation and Catastrophists

It was World Environment Day on June 5 and UN Secretary-General António Guterres marked the occasion with a speech at the American Museum of Natural History. The “moment of truth” for climate action, he said, is now:

We are playing Russian roulette with our planet. We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell.  And the good news is that we have control of the wheel.  The battle to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees will be won or lost in the 2020s – under the watch of leaders today.

We have what we need to save ourselves. Our forests, our wetlands, and our oceans absorb carbon from the atmosphere. They are vital to keeping 1.5C alive, or pulling us back if we do overshoot that limit. We must protect them. 

It was déjà vu all over again. Guterres gave the same warning in November 2022 at the Conference of the Parties (COP27) in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh: nations must cooperate or face “collective suicide” from climate change:

Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a climate solidarity pact or a collective suicide pact. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.

The Secretary-General’s concern was based on a new report from the UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and data from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS). The WMO predicts there will be more record temperatures in the next five years. 

There is an 80 percent likelihood that the annual average global temperature will temporarily exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years. This is a stark warning that we are getting ever closer to the goals set in the Paris Agreement on climate change, which refers to long-term temperature increases over decades, not over one to five years. Key messages

♦ 80% likelihood of at least one year temporarily exceeding 1.5°C between 2024-2028

♦ Short-term (annual) warming does not equate to a permanent breach of the lower 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal

♦ Likely that at least one of next five years will be the warmest on record, beating 2023

♦ Report highlights urgency of climate action

The global mean near-surface temperature for each year between 2024 and 2028 is predicted to be between 1.1°C and 1.9°C higher than the 1850-1900 baseline, according to the WMO report. It says that it is likely (86%) that at least one of these years will set a new temperature record, beating 2023 which is currently the warmest year.  — WMO media release, June 5, 2024

The WMO clearly expects the planet to behave in a way that supports its alarmism. Such precision too! While the “global temperature” – whatever that is — is predicted to exceed 1.5°C above the “pre-industrial level” in the next five years, it will do so only “temporarily”. Indeed, “temporarily” is mentioned three times in the media release.

Gaia forbid, but if anticipated warming becomes a “permanent breach” of the Paris Agreement goal – a number conjured up by UN climate activists — for the next five years and beyond, presumably it would be game over: no point pretending  we can do anything about it, no “urgency for climate action” and. mercifully. no more Net Zero targets. 

Every religion has to preach a message of redemption, especially a new one. If the WMO’s predicted temperature rise is only temporary, presumably salvation is still possible: but only if we all sing more loudly from the UN song-sheet, commit to the faltering energy “transformation” with renewed vigour, deepen our belief in a future RE utopia, and transfer many more billions to the developing world.

Consider, dear reader, an alternative moment of truth: that the Secretary-General’s “highway to climate hell” is not only paved with good intentions. Imagine it is also paved with hyperbole, projections masquerading as predictions, confusion about causation, and  money being squandered pursuing a delusion: that human control of the planet’s climate, on any and every scale, is somehow possible.

How can we distinguish a projection from a prediction? At the risk of offending modellers and ministers of climate change everywhere, the former is speculation in the same category as astrology, with or without computers and AI. As for the latter, they are invariably based on laws derived from nature and validated by observation. There are no laws of climate change, no Newton or Einstein, but plenty of simulations of “counterfactual worlds”.

Most unfortunately, in the climate sciences, no such sample of Earth-like climate systems is accessible to natural observation and even less so to experimental testing….. With such strong limitations on the natural observation side and with in situ experimentation inaccessible, we are left with the only remaining alternative: so-called in silico experimentation [computer modelling.] — A Hannart, et al., American Meteorological Society, 2016

Fortunately, The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change defines them for us. It also gives three intriguing statements from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). No longer easily accessible, perhaps they are another casualty of agency anxiety about “climate change”:

1/ A projection of the future response of the climate system to emission scenarios of greenhouse gases and aerosols, or radiative forcing scenarios, based on hunches, guesses, gut feeling, confirmation bias, etc., and model simulations.

2/ A semantic tactic to ensure that when an outcome diverges from reality, the orthodoxy can claim it was not a prediction.

“Climate projections are not predictions,” explains the IPCC ‘s glossary from 1997, “as they depend upon the emission/concentration/ radiative forcing scenario used, which are based on many assumptions, concerning, e.g., future socio-economic and technological developments, that may or may not be realised, and are therefore subject to substantial uncertainty.” It continues:

A process is called non-linear when there is no simple proportional relation between cause and effect. The climate system contains many such non-linear processes, resulting in a system with a potentially very complex behaviour. 

Climate prediction, n., a futile activity or ritual claiming to produce a “most likely” description of the Earth’s future climate, generally sufficiently distant to be incapable of testing in a human half-life time.

 In climate research and modelling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. — IPCC 3rd Assessment Report, 2001

For a theory or a model to remain credible it has to predict something and that prediction must be compared to reality. Every scientist knows the remark that ‘many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact.’….To my mind the most powerful and convincing proof of a theory or model is what it says about the future… Nature has a way of humbling even the best “state-of-the-art” predictions. — Dr D Whitehouse, astrophysicist, 2016

Causation is another tricky concept. The rooster crows every morning. The sun comes up without fail. Yet the crowing rooster did not cause the dawn. Correlation is not causation.

The concept still causes anxiety in climate researchers, who tend to replace it with “causal inference”, “is consistent with”, “can be attributed to”, “is in keeping with”, or a similar phrase. As A Hannart, et al., suggest below, the “emergence of clear semantics for causal claims and of a sound logic for causal reasoning is relatively recent”.

Among other lacking items, perhaps the most important one regards the absence of definition for the word cause. Several recurrent controversial arguments in the realm of [climate] event attribution may possibly be related to this lacking definition of causality: for instance, an argument often made (Trenberth, 2012) is that any single event has multiple causes, so one can never assert that CO2 emissions, nor any other factors, have actually caused the event. A Hannart, et al., American Meteorological Society, January 2016

A causal inference asserts that one factor has influence over another. Note, however, the influence must be inferred because it cannot be observed directly, as philosopher David Hume suggested almost three centuries ago.

When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the otherBut I keep my mind still open to instruction. — David Hume, 1737

Reasoning often proceeds from cause to effect, as in a “climate prediction”; or from effect to cause, as in explanations for changes in the weather.

So a causal inference is that doing something will lead to something else. Keeping our minds open to instruction, consider the case of climate change. Any claim about the impact of carbon dioxide depends crucially on whether all other possible influences can be identified and quantified, presumably still a huge challenge despite agency and expert claims that it is being or has been done.

So a valid causal inference must satisfy several tests. Has a correlation been confused with a causal relationship? Has an explanation been missed because of a spurious cause-effect relationship? Has temporality been confused with causality, the post hoc fallacy, as in the rooster case above? While a cause must precede an effect, preceding it is not a sufficient condition for something to be a cause. And so on and so forth.

For me, the more complex a problem the more daunting the task of finding an unambiguous solution not corrupted by confirmation bias, especially in manufacturers of “counterfactual worlds”. The sceptical response: “climate models are not evidence, just calculations.”

Under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization, forecasts of the near-term climate (1-5 years lead-time) are now routinely produced by several international operational centres. CSIRO is a leader in this area having generated a massive data resource of the climate over the past six decades comprising close to one hundred replicant “digital” earths generated through assimilation of a comprehensive set of atmospheric, ocean and sea-ice observations and a state-of-the-art global climate model. — CSIRO media release,2022

Consider this recent paper: Inferring causation from time series in Earth systems science. Detection and attribution researchers are attempting to “quantify the evidence for a causal link between external drivers of climate change and long-term changes in climatic variables. The goal is to first detect a change and then attribute this change to the contributions of multiple anthropogenic and natural forcings, and from internal variability. Such research questions require counterfactual worlds, which can only be constructed with climate models that are then statistically analysed.”

Good luck with solving such riddles, surely a task comparable to finding a tortoise with a moustache. That said, the CSIRO is attempting to do something even more ambitious in an AI for Missions Program. Its Causal inference and prediction in complex multiscale systems project “seeks to identify robust relationships between climate and socio-economic impacts. The challenge is looking at all the noisy data and identifying features in time that are evolving and causally linked to the climate change signal.”

This project aspires to deliver a world-first ML software platform for the effective estimation of climate risk via early detection and predictions of systematic changes to the physical system integrated with socio-economic, eHealth and financial databases for the delivery of impactful climate services.CSIRO media release, 2022

Good luck with that exercise too. At least the CSIRO admits “the identification of climatic regimes and attribution of the factors driving transitions between periods of drought or increased rain associated with persistent synoptic patterns embedded within our vast data sets represents a huge challenge.”

Somewhere a rooster crowed: “correlation is not causation”. Few folk with serious skin in the renewable-energy game heard it.  So Net Zero continues to accelerate down the highway to Pandemonium and oblivion, especially in countries like this one. As Shakespeare had Edmund say in Act I, Scene 2 of King Lear:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in mind – often the surfeits of our own imaginings – we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the climate and the carbon atom: as if we were villains on necessity; fools by a diabolical compulsion; knaves, thieves, prognosticators and promulgators of false facts by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, cheats, dissimulators, proselytisers, slime balls and all that we are evil in, by an enforc’d obedience of atmospheric influence: an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to blame his earthly afflictions on a molecule in the air. 

17 thoughts on “Correlation, Causation and Catastrophists

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “The WMO clearly expects the planet to behave in a way that supports its alarmism. Such precision too! While the “global temperature” – whatever that is — is predicted to exceed 1.5°C above the “pre-industrial level” in the next five years,…”
    The global temperature is pretty easy, because Planet Earth is itself a huge thermometer in its own right. The ‘mercury’ of this thermometer is the global ocean, which is rising, repeat, rising; as the mercury in a thermometer on the wall of a steadily-warming room. And the best scientific team I know of that is keeping track of this ‘mercury’ as it rises is the Sea Level Group at the University of Colorado.
    Our continual burning of fossil fuels will have short-term gains and likely long-term losses. Meanwhile, the smart money (Trump included) is buying up real estate in Greenland, Iceland and Patagonia, in anticipation of their becoming like unto nothing so much as South Sea Paradises, with coconut palms and hula dancers galore. I urge Michael KIle to get in, invest early and invest often, and then to sit back and let the money slosh in, as like unto nothing so much as a Lismore flood.

    • STD says:

      Ah Ian ( the Guardian) you got in pretty quick- Truth denied – job done.

      “The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there could be 17.5 billion undiscovered barrels of oil and 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off Greenland, although the island’s remote location and harsh weather have limited exploration.”
      Is there a Doctor in the house ?Ian’s going green!

      I take it you are on the side of those hopeful of the subsidised backing and monopolisation of big solar and big wind -and a little someone left out big lithium,big cobalt and big nickel.
      And last and not the least bit least, big copper, of which there is not enough of any of these on the planet to realise your utopian ‘e’ dream.
      Oh, Ian, what’s Tim Flannery equivocating these day’s; could the green Nostradamus’ nostrums becoming back to haunt him?
      Ian has he still got that place on the water at the Hawkesbury?
      By the way won’t Trumps real estate Nirvana be at your perilous risk of being inundated with your tidal predictions and at tremendous risk of going down the gurgler? Ah see happy at last.


    • Elizabeth Beare says:

      Lismore flood? Peanuts, Ian. It is as nothing to the 1956 Maitland floods that I remember so well happening before flood mitigation was introduced. Lismore was built on a watercourse. We’re a land of bushfires, droughts and ‘flooding rains. Aussie Climate 101. Early settlers in the Nepean and Hawkesbury flood plains, same river, found out this out to their detriment in the first years of the Colony. Ever ’twas thus.

      • cbattle1 says:

        Ancient agricultural civilisations developed on flood-plains because of the deep alluvial soils and of course the availability of water for irrigation, particularly where those rivers run through desert lands such as the Nile valley and Mesopotamia. Living with floods was a way of life for thousands of years.
        In the town of Urunga, NSW, at the mouth of the Bellinger river, there are signs on telegraph poles showing the level of the the 1950 flood; it seems the 1950’s were a high water decade, at least on the NSW Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Nice article, thank you.
    You quote Runge on causation. It is both quite important and mathematically possible to discern for plant Earth if heating causes more atmospheric CO2; or the converse.
    Prominent mathematician Demetris Koutsoyannis et al wrote some papers 2020 and later themed “hen and egg”. Easy search, hard reading.
    Nick Stokes is a CSIRO medallist for valuable computerised fluid dynamics, mathematics in a related field. On a blog I asked him if he agreed with Koutsoyannis that heating comes before CO2 change. His response was free of math and full of personality criticism.
    Currently, we have a problem that many professional folk in a position for useful debate decline in one way or another. CSIRO should by now have volunteered a neutral, clear, simple professional recommendation about this causation question. It is almost as clear as “Is the Pope a Catholic”.
    There might need to be a change of direction from those who pay CSIRO, such as to try the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Like it was when I worked there.
    Geoff S

  • Daffy says:

    Well, what to do, if the mouthy UN panic-merchants are right?
    Here’s Daffy’s action list:
    >ensure we have cheap, reliable and plentiful energy, particularly in poorer and more populous nations;
    > make sound use of our water resources: dams, irrigation systems and low cost reuse systems;
    > genetically modify plants to handle the changes
    > pump CO2 like mad into the atmosphere to increase plant flourishing.
    and, for Australia particularly
    > build our (detached) dwellings and plan our towns for our climate and not for the Cotswolds in summer, which has been our error for the past couple of hundred years.

  • Stephen Ireland says:

    NASA scientists are suggesting that the removal of a significant amount of human-caused aerosols, by converting from dirty heavy fuel oil across much of the world’s shipping fleet over the last five years, may have been responsibly for the recent warming that is causing Mr Guterres’ nightmares. NASA might be slowly facing up to reality.

  • STD says:

    And of course Micheal Mann ESQ, (feudal title) kicked the whole game off with a whopping big hockey stick ……. Scientific and intellectual….. FRAUD.
    News Weekly had an interesting article on ; Climate : The Movie [The Cold Truth]. with an interesting footnote on YouTube editorialising. “ Climate change refers to long term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.” Interpretation:(The general nature of climate). ( The verbal {pronounced, ver- bull} narrative)…”Human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal oil and gas.” ( by capitalist economies no doubt)..
    When I was at school the Cold War anxiety was in full swing: Nowadays it has metamorphosed into the junk science anxiety of global warming.
    Political………… SETS.
    “The global mean near-surface temperature for each year between 2024 and 2028 is predicted to be between 1.1°C and 1.9°C higher than the 1850-1900 baseline, according to the WMO report. It says that it is likely (86%) that at least one of these years will set a new temperature record, beating 2023 which is currently the warmest year. — WMO media release, June 5, 2024”
    2023 no doubt being the starting point ….. (der)…. and the years 2024 – 2028 will be a completely new data set… a once in a lifetime temperature recording on record!
    Ah , where’s Timothy Flannery when we need him? ….……. “ it’ll never rain again”… and we all believe that Orwell’s pig’s are flying higher than the ballooning subsidies in the renewables (sustainability) sector. Follow the money Marge.
    Instead of gearing up our military defences to curtail the belligerent overtures of China, our politicians are more interested in the climate fairy tale of solar panels windmills and make believe climate extinctions and navel gazing about same sex marriage and the engendered BS that is transgenderism and the counterfeit confused kaleidoscope of the alphabetically sexual confused and their human right to anally conspicuous respect and recognition .

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    ‘In climate research and modelling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. — IPCC 3rd Assessment Report, 2001’
    This should be taught to every science student in Australia, so that the next generation refuses to make the mistakes of the past in climate understanding and end up being materially poorer as is the present young generation.
    For the CSIRO to run a hundred earth planet models would seem a good idea, however at least one should be our own homeland.
    Australian geologists have looked at the previous climate history of our earth and found it has never run away with global heating or boiling oceans, CO2 induced and that we are at the moment in an interglacial.
    That’s very reassuring.
    Lets see how many of the CSIRO Earth climate models agree.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    ‘in silico experimentation’ – love it! These earnest attempts at grabbing statistical logistic hold of a chimera, a non-linear chaotic system, mean your variable results are worth a poofteenth of nothing.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    i.e. Modelling, is chimeric, seeking something impossible, in its attempt to find a predictable set of climatic indices operating in predictable ways. A non-lineal chaotic system is also chimeric by its nature, in that it doesn’t offer predictability in its constituents or processes., so imaginative constructs are all we have.

    Something rather religious is going on there with great unknowables and unknown unknowables as well as known unknowns.

    • Sindri says:

      The religious impulses at work in all of this are almost comically obvious. The need for forgiveness and redemption, to assuage feelings of guilt and sin.
      Abandon religion as we may for the sunny uplands of reason and universal brotherhood – believe that and you’ll believe anything – the urge seems to be hard-wired and will manifest itself in other ways. Metaphorically it reminds me of trying to squash an octopus into a box.

  • Ken McNamara says:

    Just a reminder that the last time the planet warmed by 6 degrees C over just 10,000 years, about 95% of all species died.

    • Jose De Souza says:

      But you survived?

    • Searcher says:

      The warming of 10,000 years ago was from a glaciation to an interglacial. An interglacial is a more or less stable warm state, not susceptible to another warming, but susceptible to a cooling back to another glaciation. Such cycling, between glaciations and interglacials , constitutes the present million-year ice age. Dear Ken McNamara, your further 6°C warming is a fantasy — a fantasy beloved of warmists, but still just a fantasy.

  • pmprociv says:

    Naughty fake news, Michael — Edmund did not say quite that. Although he might have, had Shakespeare had the benefits of our education — but, then again, maybe not, especially if he’d been taught in today’s schools.

  • Searcher says:

    Causality is a fundamental concept. It can be described and defined, but its essence cannot be traced to more fundamental concepts. It explains other things, but other things don’t explain it. Hume criticised it, but could not exorcise it.

    Empirically, one can try to verify its occurrence if the experimental method is available. Even when empirical procedures provide part or fragmentary verification, full empirical verification may be practically impossible. Then the best that is available is understanding of the relevant mechanisms.

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