Have you ever wondered if maybe those scientists have gotten it all wrong?
The climate warnings have been so dire, but the costs of responding are so great. Things we take for granted – spacious suburban homes, powerful performance vehicles, the mobility to travel at will, fresh food flown in from distant sources – would certainly have to change. If not, our kids would inherit a severely damaged world, and their kids might not inherit much of anything at all.
But maybe it’s all alarmism. Even scientists can get things wrong. Why should we change our lifestyle because of speculative computer models?
In fact, they did get things wrong. Back in 2007 the U.N.’s climate science panel (called the IPCC) issued its 4th Assessment Report, and it was alarming. The globe was heating up, they said. Sea levels were rising. Extreme weather events like floods and droughts were increasing, and the polar ice was melting. It would all result in global hunger, displacement of coastal communities, mass human migration, conflicts over shrinking resources and the loss of terrestrial and marine species.
If we believed them, the future looked grim, unless the nations of the earth acted promptly to protect the creation, and restore climate balances.
But Americans are not easily pushed around – not by scientists, and certainly not by technocrats at the U.N. Back then, only 8% of us believed that climate change wasn’t happening at all; but by the next year, the number had jumped to 11%, and then 16%. By 2010, fully 19% of us believed climate change would never happen.
Perhaps the scientists had it all wrong.
A couple of days ago, we reported on one way they did get it wrong. In 2007, the IPCC projected that as early as 2044 the Arctic could lose a whopping 2.1 million km2 of sea ice. Here’ s the scary graph they gave us:
Well, in fact, the Arctic has been melting. Here’s the amount of Arctic sea ice cover on August 15 over the last 33 years, measured daily by satellites for the National Snow & Ice Data Center:
And,as I said, the U.N. scientists got their projections all wrong. Here’s a comparison of the IPCC projections to what has actually happened since 2000:
As you can see, the Arctic isn’t responding at all the way the IPCC said it would. In fact, we’re melting the Arctic four times faster than the fastest estimate they made in 2007. And if you look at the alarming trends from the last few years – which may or may not predict a new trajectory – Arctic melting may now be a runaway train. The consequences for faster global warming, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, accelerated global sea level rise, and even slowing the climate-stabilizing ocean conveyer currents are not fully known. But let’s not be blind: There will be consequences.
Scientists are fallible. Their models often miss something important. At first, we take comfort from this. But then the dreadful reality hits us: You can be wrong in more ways than one.
The earth hasn’t seen this much earth-warming CO2 in the atmosphere for millions of years. And those scientists have mostly been predicting slow, steady global warming. Bad, no doubt, but largely a problem for the distant future – something to be solved after we balance the budget, reduce unemployment, or counter nuclear threats from rogue states.
But maybe they’re wrong. They didn’t see how fast we’d lose the Arctic ice. They didn’t see the extent of devastating droughts and wildfires in the American and Russian breadbaskets. They didn’t see the pace of food cost increases and the rapid spread of global hunger.
How do we respond to these challenges? We may urge our leaders to prioritize climate action. We may take a serious look at our own carbon footprint, and make changes to reduce our own harm. We may begin the conversation among our friends, co-workers and churches.
But whatever we do, let’s not make the mistake of finding comfort in the failure of the experts to predict the future. More likely than not, the surprises will be unpleasant. My kids – and yours – are counting on us.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.