- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 12, 2002

Environmentalists' forte is fearmongering. Scaring the public with apocalyptic environmental horror stories in order to raise funds for their lobbying efforts. The most popular of the environmental bugaboos is global warming.
As with many persistent horror tales, global warming theory is based in reality or at least reality as simulated in various models of the global climate. Yet two papers were recently brought to my attention that clearly, and lucidly, detail the significant weaknesses inherent in these models. Their authors argue, that since the models are flawed, their predictions of climate catastrophe can't be trusted.
Both reports an NCPA analysis by David Legates, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Climatic Research, and a paper published in the Fraser Institute's Fraser Forum by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, both of the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics argue that general circulation models (GCMs), a k a climate models, are limited in important ways.
The result is that predictions of future climate change based on their simulations are too uncertain to justify economically restrictive climate policies, such as the much-ballyhooed Kyoto Protocol.
Mr. Legates points out that the climate system is extremely complex, and even the world's best scientists have an incomplete understanding of how the various atmospheric, land surface, oceanic and ice components interact with one another. But even if they had a perfect understanding of the climate system, expressing this knowledge mathematically is very difficult.
In addition, the models have varying space and time limitations. Real-world processes operate on a variety of scales from a molecular to a global-spatial scale, and from a near-instantaneous to a geologic time scale. Restrictions on computing power and complexity reduce the model's simulations to coarse generalities. Thus, many small-scale features in both space and time cannot be represented, even though they impact the local, regional, or even global climate.
Given these limitations, these climate models cannot reliably reproduce global climate. Commonplace events like precipitation and the passage of typical weather fronts are difficult enough; truly complex phenomena (e.g., hurricanes, thunderstorms, and tornadoes) may be represented poorly or not at all. Worse, complex climate patterns like El Nino and La Nina are inadequately reproduced or completely absent.
In addition, both reports point out that the GCM climate models do not accurately reflect measured global temperatures. Whereas, both the global satellite network and weather balloon observations show a modest cooling trend during the past 25 years, the ground-based thermometers show a modest warming of approximately 0.13 degrees Celsius per decade. GCMs, however, neither simulate the temperature differences nor the direction of temperature change within various levels of the atmosphere. Nor do they show the actual amount of temperature change, even at the Earth's surface representing as much as threefold the warming actually measured at the surface.
Finally, GCMs ignore the interconnected nature of climate processes and how an inaccurate simulation of one process introduces errors into every related process. A simple model for precipitation involves many variables. Yet a single error, say in representing atmospheric moisture or deciding what is causing precipitation, will make the simulation wrong.
For example, precipitation requires moisture in the atmosphere and a mechanism to force it to condense (i.e., by forcing the air to rise over mountains, by surface heating, as a result of weather fronts or by cyclonic rotation). Any errors in representing either the atmospheric moisture content or the precipitation-causing mechanisms will adversely affect the simulation of virtually every other climate variable. As evidence of this, Mr. Soon and Miss Baliunas relate that while climate models indicate that Canada should be experiencing decreasing snowfall and increased snow melt in the northern latitudes, in reality, snowfall and snowpack have been increasing. None of this is meant to suggest climate modelers lack skill or dedication; it is to reiterate the difficulty of producing accurate climate models.
While climate models cannot be expected to simulate future weather, they should be able to accurately depict the Earth's present climate and to simulate changes in the frequency and type of the weather events that make up "climate." Since they cannot, GCM predictions of climate change are statistical exercises with little bearing on reality and certainly should not serve as the basis for government policy.

Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware, is the policy chairman of the National Center for Policy Analysis.


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