Disastrous Computer Model Predictions: From Limits to Growth to Global Warming

by Dr. Tim Ball on May 5, 2011

in Data,Government,History,Philosophy,Politics,Theory

Every time history repeats itself the price goes up. ~Anonymous

An Unavoidable Truth

No matter what political committees try to absolve corruption of climate science of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), they cannot hide the complete failure of the computer models to make a single accurate prediction. Leaked emails from the CRU received media attention, but the emphasis must shift to the computer models. They gave the IPCC Reports far more credibility than they deserved by producing simple graphs and crude maps of a warmer world with increasingly, expanding and threatening red (hot) areas that avoided the need for scientific understanding. What was more dramatic than the infamous “hockey stick”? The combination of the flat handle achieved by eliminating the Medieval Warm Period and the upturn of the blade in the 20th century with Phil Jones’ undisclosed data was visually dramatic. The propagandists in Hollywood who produced Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth understood this.

Computer climate models give unwarranted scientific credibility for people who don’t understand them. As Pierre Gallois explained,

If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticize it.

Dr. David Frame, climate modeler at Oxford University, said,

The models are convenient fictions that provide something very useful.

But climate models are not convenient fictions. They do not produce anything useful other than to deceive and scare the public. IPCC models are part of continuum of the exploitation of useless computer models to promote environmental extremism and political agendas.

An Early Example of Political Policy Driven By Computer Output

Limits To Growth was a 1972 report produced for the Club of Rome. It used grossly simplistic linear models to claim the world was on the verge of collapse. The central theme was a continuation of the idea about population capacity of the world that has gone on throughout written history. Plato and Aristotle discussed the ideal size for a city-state in the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, but Confucius preceded them in the 5th century with warnings about excessive growth. Predictions of population outgrowing resources were given a boost by the speculations of Thomas Malthus with his 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population.

Limits To Growth followed and built on Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb that claimed the world was already overpopulated and doomed:

We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail.

Some brand Ehrlich’s predictions among the most ridiculous on record. Consider just three, any one of which should raise flags about the author’s credibility:

  • “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
  • “Four billion people—including 65 million Americans—would perish from famine in the 1980s.”
  • “In ten years [i.e., 1980] all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.”

Despite the ludicrous nature of these claims, they drew attention and promotion from environmentalists and people who saw the political potential of the fears his claims engendered. Not least among these was John Holdren, who co-authored a 1969 article with Ehrlich that claimed,

…if the population control measures are not initiated immediately, and effectively, all the technology man can bring to bear will not fend off the misery to come.

Holdren is in a position as Science Czar in the Obama White House to try and make this prophecy a reality. He was a fully paid-up member of the Limits to Growth club. For example, in his 1971 Sierra Club book Energy: A Crisis in Power, Holdren declared that

…it is fair to conclude that under almost any assumptions, the supplies of crude petroleum and natural gas are severely limited. The bulk of energy likely to flow from these sources may have been tapped within the lifetime of many of the present population.

Because of this view, Holdren joined with Ehrlich and John Harte in a bet with economist Julian Simon that five metals would increase in price over ten years because of increasing scarcity. Simon easily won the bet.

Failures Fail To Destroy Credibility

Despite this, the credibility of these people remained unsullied and essentially unchallenged in the same way that the credibility of the CRU/IPCC does today. A significant reason was because they both used computer models that mystify and beguile most people, as Gallois observed. However, beyond not understanding the mathematics was the public belief that the models produced accurate predictions of the future. In fact, the Limits to Growth “World3″ model was not intended to be predictive.

In this first simple world model, we are interested only in the broad behavior modes of the population-capital system.

The “population-capital” phrase is telling because it links the catastrophic population predictions of Ehrlich with the economic system. It was a barely disguised attack upon the capitalist system. IPCC models do the same thing. Most think they are only about global temperature, but that is incorrect. The final Reports produced by working Group II are based on the temperature predictions,

After confirming in the first volume on “The Physical Science Basis” that climate change is occurring now, mostly as a result of human activities, this volume illustrates the impacts of global warming already under way and the potential for adaptation to reduce the vulnerability to, and risks of climate change.

These are blended into the influential Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) that says population and economic growth measured by CO2 have caused temperature increase and the solution is to stop the economic growth and reduce the population.

Models of both groups are built on population projections and assume business as usual. Both are simplistic linear models based on virtually no data, with completely inadequate understanding of the mechanisms and inabilities to accommodate feedback. Every model prediction or projection of both groups was remarkably wrong, regardless of attempts at improvement. This is true for weather, climate, population and economic models. A similar record of failed predictions would doom any other area of research and policy. But money and politics, combined with the use of computer models, bestows a completely unjustified credibility. It’s time their failures were exposed.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. ~George Santayana