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Three reasons why climate model are the best hope of understanding the future.

Three reasons why climate model are the best hope of understanding the future.

A computer-generated weather map showing pressure systems with lines and colours.

It’s a common argumentClimate deniers claim that scientific models cannot predict the future. So why should they be trusted to predict how climate will change?

This trope recently surfaced in an interview with Canadian psychologist and author Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Peterson: “There is no such thing as climate… climate and everything are the same word.” Faced with the impossible task of including “everything” in their equations – and predicting what will happen weeks and months from now – the world’s scientists are incapable of modelling the climate accurately, in Peterson’s view.

As a scientist whose research involves modeling the climate on a regional and global scale, I can confidently say that this interpretation is incorrect. Here are three reasons why.

Weather and climate muddle

Deniers are often referred to as “deniers”. Don’t confuse the weather with the climateWhen arguing that models inherently inaccurate. Weather refers to the conditions that are present in the atmosphere at any time. The climate is the average weather conditions over many decades.

A computer-generated weather map showing pressure systems with lines and colours.
Forecasting the weather is very different from modeling the climate.
Andrey VP/Shutterstock

Weather predictions have gotten a lot better More preciseThese averages have been unreliable for more than a week over the past 40-years, however, due to the unpredictable nature weather patterns, they have not changed much in the last 40 years. It is much easier to model climate change when you have long-term averages. We know that the weather will be more pleasant in summer than winter.

Here’s a helpful comparison. It is impossible for anyone to predict the age at which they will die. However, we can predict with high degree of certainty what the average life expectancy will be in any given country. We can be certain that they will die. As certain as we can be that the planet will heat up if greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere.

Numbers are strength

There are many options available. climate modelsFor those who are trying to understand specific mechanisms, such as The behavior of cloudsTo general circulation models (GCM), which are used to predict the future climate on our planet.

There are more then 20 majors International research centresThese GCMs are run by some of the most brilliant people in the world. They contain millions of lines code that represent the latest understanding of climate system. These models are constantly tested against historical and palaeoclimate (this refers both to climate data from long before direct measurements like the last Ice Age) as well as individual climate events, such as large volcanic eruptions, to ensure that they accurately reconstruct the climate.

Because they are all part of a complex global climate system, no single model can be considered complete. Scientists can feel confident because there are so many models that have been calibrated and constructed independently. When the models agree.

Model predictions from the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s compare astonishingly with the warming trend that has actually occurred over the past four decades. These models have been continuously improved by scientists, ensuring that they are very reliable.

A line graph showing the range of model predictions and the actual temperature record since 1980.
Comparison of climate models from the beginning and reality.
Mark Maslin/Oxford University Press, Author provided

Errors about error

The climate system is so complex that it’s reasonable to ask scientists how they address potential errors, especially when modeling the climate over hundreds and years.

The most uncertain part of all climate change models is the amount greenhouse gases humanity will emit in the next 80 years. Scientists use economists and social scientists as partners to create scenarios for the future that include different emission trajectories.

See Also
Two photographs side by side showing

Scientists are acutely aware that models are simplified versions of complex worlds. However, by using multiple models, created by different groups of experts and allowing us to be more certain about the results, we can be much more certain. All models agree on one thing: if you put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world heats up. We show the possible errors by showing the warming range produced by each model for each scenario.

It is available in its Sixth assessment of the science of climate change, published in August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. It is difficult to predict how human activity will continue to impact the climate. This is due to the uncertainty of how the world will respond. We can rely on models that have a track record of accuracy to help us navigate the future.

This denial of climate change is what is most concerning. The Joe Rogan Experience, for example, can feature guests who spread misinformation about climate change and the pandemic to boost ratings. Spotify, it’s reported, paid US$100 million (£75 million) for Rogan’s podcast in 2020 and the platform has Over 380 Million Users. Joe Rogan doesn’t need a larger audience or a larger pay packet. So why not have credible experts who want to make the world safer, more secure, and more healthy? This is what listeners want to hear about – real problems, real facts, real solutions.

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