An “Attack On Climate Science”? It’s Nothing Of The Sort

  • Date: 28/05/19
  • Andrew Montford, GWPF

The Trump administration is not attacking climate science, it’s recognising its shortcomings

Yesterday, the New York Times got rather upset over changes to President Trump’s climate policy, which it represented a hardening of his “attack on climate science”.

Interestingly though, you have to read quite a lot of words before you actually get to the point – usually a sure sign that there is actually nothing much by way of news and quite a lot by way of hand waving. It turns out that Trump’s attempt to “undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests” is down to this:

[Director of the US Geological Survey,] James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments … use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously.

To describe this as an “attack” is obviously absurd. Reasonable people can question the ability of climate models to give us useful information about the climate in 20 years’ time, let alone 80.

In a GWPF paper published last week, it was pointed out that climate models are overestimating warming in the tropical troposphere by a factor of three. With errors of that magnitude, how much trust can we really put in projections for the end of the century? You would have to be quite an innocent to take them at face value.

In another GWPF paper Professor Judith Curry points out that the climate may be fundamentally beyond our ability to predict it:

Arguably the most fundamental challenge with [climate models] lies in the coupling of two chaotic fluids: the ocean and the atmosphere. Weather has been characterised as being in state of deterministic chaos, owing to the sensitivity of weather forecast models to small perturbations in initial conditions of the atmosphere…A consequence of sensitivity to initial conditions is that beyond a certain time the system will no longer be predictable; for weather this predictability timescale is a matter of weeks.

To describe the Trump administration as “attacking” climate science when it doubts projections out to the end of the century is therefore clearly nonsense. Indeed, the administration should probably be congratulated for recognising the powerlessness of the field in the face of an overwhelmingly complex climate system.

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