May 2, 2012
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.
Yesterday I read that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that human activity is a contributing factor. That sounds convincing to me. I’m not qualified to argue with climate scientists about climate science. But it makes me wonder how often experts have accurately predicted anything of this complexity.
That isn’t a rhetorical question. I actually wonder what our track record is for predicting the outcomes of complex systems.
One might argue, by analogy, that an automobile is a complicated machine, yet it’s easy to predict what will happen if you put sugar in the gas tank. Perhaps all we need to know about climate science is that any change to the global mix of chemistry is likely to change the temperature. Is it that simple?
Climate change skeptics suggest that the environment will somehow automatically regulate itself, perhaps through offsetting changes in cloud behavior. That sounds like something I wouldn’t want to count on. And apparently the cloud theory of self-regulation has been debunked.
But back to my main question: Can you name some examples from history in which the strong consensus of experts – scientists or other – accurately predicted the outcome of something as complicated as the global climate?
It’s no fair picking examples in which experts merely interpreted what happened in the past, such as evolution, or the birth of the universe. It’s easier to figure out what happened in the past than it is to predict what will happen in the future.
I’m curious how many of you simultaneously hold the following two nearly-contradictory opinions:
1. Climate change is real because scientists say so.
2. Experts have never accurately predicted anything so complicated.
According to most climate scientists, we know that the average temperature of the world has increased in recent years. That part seems settled. But is it equally certain that the trend will continue and become a global catastrophe?
I believe that my question can’t be objectively answered because climate change is too politicized. Your opinion on how well humans predict complex systems will depend on what you already decided about climate change. Please prove me wrong.