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Climate Predictions? Climate Predictions????

My comment posted to Nature News’ “Australian bushfires rage“:

People that could know better should also really refrain from using words such as “prediction”. I cannot believe we still have to discuss this, but here we are…there is no such a thing as a “climate prediction”. The IPCC is not in the “prediction” business, and it has never been.

What climate models do is run “scenarios”, “what-ifs”, computations in which some parameters get changed, and everything else remains equal. That is a normal way of conducting risk analysis, but only if everybody keeps in mind that OF COURSE in the real world everything changes, and nothing remains equal.

Climate models are therefore tools to probe risks and sensitivities, not crystal balls. As a matter of fact, they can’t, won’t and never will tell us anything precise about future weather, weeks, months, years or centuries in the future: just as no donkey will ever win the Kentucky Derby.

That doesn’t mean climate models (or donkeys) are useless: rather, they should be used for what they are worth using.

So much has to be agreed by all, otherwise what are we discussing about, I do not know. And I invite Quirin Schiermeier to correct the article accordingly. Then and only then we can talk in a sensible fashion.

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  1. The Plumber's Mate
    2009/02/18 at 14:09

    It’s very naive to think that every living thing on the planet does not contribute to a change of some sort. The change may be good, it may be bad – two might produce balancing effects. What is good for some may also be bad for others!

    We are affecting the climate! I don’t think that is debatable. Like Newton’s first Law of Motion (paraphrased here and there) – “a body continues in a state of equilibrium unless acted on by an external force”. The problem is noone can tell if we are affecting for good or ill, let alone quantify the goodness (or badness)!

    One thing is certain, the magnitude of the “forces” we impress on the planet will be significantly smaller than the forces of nature – the Sun and the rest of the universe.

  2. 2009/02/13 at 12:12

    Check out the BBC’s recent story “Emperor penguins face extinction” – in this article, they use the word “projections” just once, but “predictions” no less than three times, in relation to climate and population dynamics models.

  3. dvalluzzi
    2009/02/12 at 05:54

    very true, climate models are used just as you stated. although a black swan can throw off the best of models. let’s hope no black swans are lurking anywhere near these models, i like having a fairly stable lifestyle…

    -Giraffe Speak

    • 2009/02/12 at 06:10

      thank you Giraffe Speak.

      one may also forgiven to think that, if all scenarios just include entire flocks of black swans, then…

  1. 2010/08/06 at 10:55
  2. 2009/02/16 at 01:10

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