Focus on Uncertainties in Climate Science

Messele Zewdie Ejeta (June 26, 2011; Sacramento, CA)

June 26, 2011

In a recent commentary, former Vice President Al Gore expressed once again his deep concern about the failure by policy makers regarding the potential impact of climate change on “the future of civilization as we know it.”

Many argue that the sciences of climate and climate change have solidified. Mr. Gore has used anecdotal evidences from recent extreme events to justify the attribution of elevated green house gases (GHG) in the atmosphere to these events.

A quick review of the various specialty areas of science suggest that climate as a science in its own right, instead of a course in the broader area of physical sciences, is an emergent subject. For instance, the Climate Sciences Department at the University of California at Berkeley was formed in April 2007 as the newest department in the university’s Earth Sciences Division.

However, it is often argued that the majority of the scientific community, as high as 98 percent of the climate scientists, according to Mr. Al Gore’s essay, is the believer in climate change whereas the remaining is the denier of it.

This argument is misleading in at least three ways.

First, clear distinction should be made between the all encompassing domain of this scientific community, whose members range from computational modelers to psychologists, and the climate change scientists who are proportionally likely to be far less. It would be helpful to know for authoritative references a clear definition of climate change scientists. In short, who are the authoritative climate change scientists by training and professional practice?

Second, there are scientists who are not in either camp of the believers or deniers of climate change but interested in studying the uncertainties in the science of climate to qualify their assessment of the impact of projected climate change on real world projects.

Third, science is not an art of consensus but something that “builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.”

A majority’s view at the Council of Nicaea with questionable scientific validity had manifest consequences for classical civilizations. We should only be reminded what trajectory the consensus at that council had to take to reach the 18th century “fullest flower of Enlightenment” in the U.S. that Mr. Gore wrote about in his long essay.

Tackling uncertainties in climate science should thus be the prudent message for and action pursued by the climate change scientists.

This brief commentary as yet another call to focus on addressing the uncertainty in climate change is from an individual who comes from a humble community in Ethiopia. I have been one of the early users of data that came from climate change modeling processes to assess the impact of climate change on California’s water projects. The uncertainty in the data I used for this purpose, which was produced by climate change scientists, has been unsettling. So, I continued with further research, including on my personal time over the last few years, to contribute to removing this uncertainty from the data. I was able to get some findings out of this exercise; a summary of one of the findings has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication recently.

As humanity spews tons of GHG to the atmosphere, as Mr. Al Gore wrote, nature takes us every year for one complete ride around the sun aboard the greatest known natural roller coaster – the earth. Put differently, a person’s age is a story of the number of full round rides aboard this roller coaster. Added to this is the earth’s natural satellite, the moon, that doesn’t have manmade instrumentation to gage what occurs on earth but a natural force to affect geophysical realizations on earth. The natural interlocking of these movements and realizations, the law of universal gravitation, was formulated about four centuries ago by one of the greatest scientists, Sir Isaac Newton.

Sorting out the interrelationships and interactions between these factors–natural geophysical realizations and elevated GHG in the atmosphere–should be the work of scientists instead of politicizing the emergent theory of climate change. Of course, sorting this out is easier said than done. However, when there is a willingness to do it and that willingness is resisted, the theory ceases to be a science. Mr. Gore, I have been ordered in the 21st century in the United States of America to not pursue a scientific analysis that is likely to make a meaningful contribution to sorting out these factors.

Over the past ten years, I have been persevering trying to answer a simple text book scientific question as it applies to a very important real world problem. Yet, a lack of discipline has been the main factor in the way as we continue to discuss about and promise our capability to scientifically study the impact of projected climate change on natural realizations.

Fortunately, the possibility to study the uncertainty in the data obtained from climate change modeling processes using personal time has paid off for a professional fulfillment. In short, my further investigation has led to the uncovering of better signals of predictable natural variability than the hydrological data I have used that came from the climate change scientists’ models for the historical period.

Therefore, it appears that the most urgent need at this time is to focus on addressing the uncertainties in the science of climate and theory of climate change instead of a one sided preaching on a matter that concerns science as we have known it. Perhaps, not realizing this urgent need is more detrimental to “the future of civilization as we know it” than the effect of marginal change in the level of GHG in the atmosphere due to human activity.

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