Why trust climate models?

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Why trust climate models?

Postby HVPA_research » Tue Sep 10, 2013 6:14 am

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Why trust climate models? It’s a matter of simple science

Comparison of observed (top) and simulated (bottom) average annual precipitation between 1980 and 1999.

Talk to someone who rejects the conclusions of climate science and you’ll likely hear some variation of the following: “That’s all based on models, and you can make a model say anything you want.” Often, they'll suggest the models don't even have a solid foundation of data to work with—garbage in, garbage out, as the old programming adage goes. But how many of us (anywhere on the opinion spectrum) really know enough about what goes into a climate model to judge what comes out?

Climate models are used to generate projections showing the consequences of various courses of action, so they are relevant to discussions about public policy. Of course, being relevant to public policy also makes a thing vulnerable to the indiscriminate cannons on the foul battlefield of politics.

Skepticism is certainly not an unreasonable response when first exposed to the concept of a climate model. But skepticism means examining the evidence before making up one’s mind. If anyone has scrutinized the workings of climate models, it’s climate scientists—and they are confident that, just as in other fields, their models are useful scientific tools.

The level of the agreement between the patterns of the actual and predicted mean precipitation at the planetary level shown in the picture above are uncanny. They come from a very useful review of the climatic modelling. It is, of course unlikely that the article would convince a hard-core climate change denialist steeped in Lord Monckton's "science". It will simply help to convince the rest of us that the problems we are facing right now, at the tail end of the cheap fossil fuels era, are real.

It is interesting to note that the same people who are often so critical of the climate scientists are perfectly happy to accept predictions from models of various consultants hired by coal and gas resource companies to prepare their environmental impact statements. New coal and gas projects are often approved on the basis of unverified models of the expected noise, dust or ground water depletion impacts. Those of us who live in the ground zero of the Hunter coal and gas industries know only too well that the government regulators, who are nominally responsible for protecting local people and their environment, readily and unquestionably accept anything the resource companies throw at them.
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