Global Warming Engine Unexpectedly Slows

Commentary, Climate, Frontier Centre

As the world suffers through a mix of weather (warm winter temperatures) in the continental US and climate (cold weather) in Alaska and Europe, some interesting new numbers are starting to trickle in.

Preliminary reports from the Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Energy Outlook” (which will be fully published in April) suggest that any carbon crisis may not be quite as imminent as thought. Not so long ago, the EIA predicted carbon emissions levels would rise by 37 percent between 2005 and 2035. The EIA — get this – now thinks that global CO2 emissions in 2025 will be 6 percent lower than they were in 2005.

Check the report for yourself, but to Via Meadia and others this looks like a serious reduction in the forecast of carbon emissions over the next couple decades. There are likely numerous reasons for the change; easier access to cleaner fuel sources like shale gas, the rising price of oil and cheapening of solar and wind are but several.

And there is one other thing that is clear: the people who put these forecasts together have no idea what they are doing. This is one of the cases in which the use of the word forecast should be banned; these are guesses, not forecasts, and it’s a big deal.

The Chicken Littles of the green movement throw a lot of statistics, trends and projections together and claim the status of scientific truth for whatever big and scary numbers they can coax out of their statistical black box. But even if the climate models are infallible or close to it and will need no more revisions as more information comes in (something that would be almost unique in the history of science) the economic models and projections that go into future CO2 level predictions are no better than any other economic models — which is to say they are almost no good at all.

To predict the amount of CO2 that human industry will be emitting in 2050, you need a figure for the world’s GDP by then. That means you have to have long range forecasts for China, India, South Africa, Russia, Brazil, Germany, the US, Canada and many other countries. Nobody has any forecasts of the 50 year GDP growth of any of these countries that is worth anything at all, because economic forecasting doesn’t work that way. (It hardly works at all, but certainly not on this long term basis.)

And then you have to forecast how much CO2 will be emitted per unit of GDP. That involves forecasting the rate and nature of technological change, the state and composition of world energy reserves in thirty years, and many other things which simply cannot be known by anybody living today.

An astrologer would throw up his hands in dismay at this sloppy reasoning and hazy science.

The truth is that forecasts about greenhouse gas emissions are basically worthless. These recent forecasts certainly were; the difference between 37 percent growth and 6 percent decline is 43 percent. That is about the level of accuracy you could expect from a blind monkey throwing darts at a wall.

But without those worthless forecasts, climate math falls to the ground. If we can’t predict the future level of greenhouse gas emissions, we can’t predict the future temperature of the earth — even assuming that our atmospheric models work perfectly and haven’t left anything out.

None of this suggests that we should ignore climate and energy issues, but it confirms my belief that climate activists tend to be bad logicians, and that the way forward has nothing to do with the cumbersome bureaucratic power grabs, crony capitalist porkfests (ethanol, Solyndra, high speed rail) and economic controls that misguided greens hope will save the planet.