Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On climate science

Climate change is in the news again as over 100 countries convene at the United Nations.  (Let's not even think about the carbon footprint of that event; where is Telepresence when you really need it!)  I have no claims of scientific expertise here, but I strongly encourage everyone to read this WSJ piece by Dr. Steven Koonin, former undersecretary for science in the Department of Energy under President Obama.

Koonin has impeccable scientific chops as a physics professor and provost at Caltech and a stint at BP as chief scientist.  His article is titled "Climate Science is Not Settled" and here are a few key quotes:

  • The climate has always changed and always will.
  • Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole. 
  • Precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades; the reliable record is still far too short to adequately understand how the oceans will change and how that will affect climate.
  • While the past two decades have seen progress in climate science, the field is not yet mature enough to usefully answer the difficult and important questions being asked of it. This decidedly unsettled state highlights what should be obvious: Understanding climate, at the level of detail relevant to human influences, is a very, very difficult problem.
One thing I learned as a math major a long time ago is that if you have a given number of data points, there is some function out there that will perfectly fit those data points.  Whether that function makes any sense or not in terms of explaining the data pattern, well that's another matter entirely.  Climate science is a relatively new field, not unlike macroeconomics.  Important issues, lots of emotion, and big gaps in knowledge.  

1 comment:

  1. I know, we people can make a solution about climate change in our own way if we are united.

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