Greenland’s Ice Sheet Melting — A Typical SWAG Story

Last Friday,  CNN and NPR ran a story about ice melt in Greenland.   A new study says the rate of melting in Greenland  is  less than the rate shown in other studies.   The NPR story had a less optomistic tone than the CNN story.  Both stories noted the new reduced level, and both emphasized  global warming as a still  urgent issue, just a little less troubling in the near future.

An article written last fall talked about how  Greenland  is melting faster because the ice is darker because of discoloration caused by air pollution.

Science is messy and it’s going to get things wrong from time to time as it progresses.  Older UN reports have said increased snowfall will offset the increased melting in Greenland. That is the nature of the Scientific Wild Ass Guess.  Lot of guesses, and frequently the guesses disagree.   Some necessarily will be wrong. These are difficult subjects, and guessing is a necessary part of the process.

I have long suspected that government funding encourages wild guessing.

A scientist gets a job studying a perceived problem, in the form of a grant from the government.   If the study shows the perceived problem was less important than thought… new funding.  No funding means it’s time to apply for a new grant.

This prejudice towards a specific outcome, can and frequently does impact the results of studies.  The  study will almost certainly raise new questions, and have new uncertainties.  New guesses.   If a conservative guess means unemployment, and a wild one continued employment…..well?

Governments need a problem to be immediate and serious.  Any study that does not feed that government need will likely lead to unemployment.

When I look at IPCC data, I see guessing  everywhere;  the sun, clouds, oceans, visible air pollution.   The IPCC  predicted that 2025 would be a degree C warmer than 1990 (in their original assessment in 1992) and it would happen in a fairly linear manner of about .3 degree C per decade.   And the world did warm a bit for about 6 years….and then it stopped.

The world has warmed less than predicted with high carbon dioxide levels.  Of course, that doesn’t prove them wrong, natural climate variation could be  masking a real problem.  They chose to make wild guesses in a climate system that is naturally unstable. The politics of climate science encourages such guessing.  In 2007 they lowered the rate to .2 degree C increase  per decade.  Wrong again, at least so far.

My best guess: the IPCC is wrong.  All the wild predictions for 50 or 100 years are just that, wild guesses.  I hope they are wrong…because I don’t think society can fix the problem the IPCC sees  in a way the IPCC would like.  But then I’m guessing too.


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