Uncertainty Monster or Climate Monster?



Judith Curry has written about her recent (but not new) presentation about ‘climate science and the uncertainty monster’. My sense is the analogy is pushed to the limit. No one knows what the monster is, and there are too many heads, tails and monster body parts flying around.

Curry says the monster concept is for examining the ‘response of the scientific community to uncertainties at the climate science-policy interface’.

The skeptic asks: what is this ‘climate science-policy interface’? Why should there be such an interface at all?

If you go back in time to Stephen Schneider, child of Malthus, you will encounter among his (many) books, ‘The Genesis Strategy’In the preface Schneider tells us he warns the world about ‘the dangers ahead’, and he is compelled to point out ‘the uncertain state of scientific knowledge’ … ‘does not imply there are no problems’. The ‘iceberg in the distance’ for the world-as-Titanic was ‘climate change and related misfortunes’.

The world was a different place as were circumstances. But the ‘terrible problems’ confronting it were the same as today: famine, climate change, global pollution—arranged in different configurations—along with yesteryear’s favorite bogeyman – population growth.

A significant chapter is devoted to the effect of human energy sources on the climate.

However, if global energy consumption expands greatly in the next few decades and this proves to be climatically dangerous, a great dilemma will befall the world

Sounds bad. It is. In fact, Schneider tells us, it’s so bad

… widespread climatic disruption from increased energy production could also occur as soon as the year 2000;

Sounds terrifying, but how would this happen?

Schneider lays down the case for the disruption occurring due to … heat released by power plants and urban heat islands. That’s right — not CO2 but the direct heat from coal plants and nuclear stations.

Over a span of several pages, with ‘uncertainty’ in tow, Schneider allows this industrial heat to be amplified by climate ‘feedback mechanisms’ just as with CO2 and ‘force changes in atmospheric motions that might be global’. At one point he has ‘large quantities of head added to the Gulf Stream from power parks’ finding ‘their way into the climatic system…in the subpolar part of the North Atlantic’ ready to melt Greenland ice,The Day After Tomorrow -style. In the next page, he wonders if thermal pollution from power parks could unleash tornadoes.

With climate, Schneider has no clue what will happen next. Ozone, CO2, aerosols, natural variability, supersonic transport, ‘thermal pollution’ all make their appearance in the book and they could all wreak havoc on the “steady-state”. But it doesn’t matter, there is ‘change’. ‘Change’ would cause famines in the populous third world whose citizens would consume the world’s food. There is a whole chapter on ‘The North American Grain Drain’.


Through it all Schneider wrings his hands:  there has to be ‘decision-making with uncertain inputs’, but ‘the degree of uncertainty …should not delay consideration of actions to prevent..plausible catastrophes.’ He feels compelled to warn ‘some wolves will attack long before we are certain enough of their existence’. He even advocates ‘no-fault climate disaster insurance’, just like Curry.

Looks like he’s grappling with a monster, doesn’t it?

This monster is clearly unaffected by ‘the science’ — change of unknown kind, cooling and warming all have the same causes, produce the same effect and require the same people to be christened ‘experts’ and handed the keys to the kingdom. The monster, it now appears, is a reflection of individual activists and scientists who promote their discipline by positioning it as close to policy as possible, and insisting there is an interface. It is a reflection of pious science’s impulse and success in exploiting authority to stoke fears.

In close to 40 years since the book was published many of the problems scientists like Schneider threatened the world about have disappeared or dissipated. But climate science employs the same paradigm about ‘uncertainty’, the same bogeyman of ‘global change’ to imply the same catastrophe and demands a seat at the power table.

In the 1970s, when famine-struck India would request food supplies from other countries, donors ‘inquired about the progress of the family-planning program that India instituted’. Today, the World Bank system refuses aid to African countries for building coal plants. The Malthusian-ism and ‘lifeboat ethics’ which held sway and spawned the ‘monster’ — the will-to-power disguised as scientific probability — still reigns.



  1. manicbeancounter

    Dealing with uncertainty is yet another area where the climate community has ignored what others have said elsewhere, such as in the areas. This is basically what Schneider did. For instance, Richard Feynman, in a lecture 50 years ago on the scientific method, told of an encounter with a layman on the subject of UFOs to illustrate the problem of dealing with uncertainty.

    F : I don’t think there are flying saucers.
    L: Is it impossible that are not any flying saucers? Can you prove there are no flying saucers?
    F: No I can’t prove it’s impossible – it’s just very unlikely.
    L: You are very unscientific. If you can’t prove it’s impossible, then how can you say it is unlikely?

    “It is only scientific to say what is more likely and less likely, and not to be able to prove to all the time what is possible and impossible.”

    To define what he meant Feynman eventually said to the layman:-

    F: I mean from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

  2. Shub Niggurath

    That’s right, manic. No one can say the absolute worst will not happen, or will not come to pass. That is enough for the activist climate scientist/environmentalist/Malthusian ecologist to muscle his way in.

  3. omanuel

    I am encouraged that the Global Warming Policy Foundation is asking for input on temperature data manipulation.


    A talented social anthropologist, Dr. Benny Peiser, heads GWPF.

    That is very encouraging because the current corruption of physical sciences is beyond the training or skills of any physical scientist.

    Social anthropology is more likely to find why almost every field of physical sciences was corrupted after WWII – astronomy, astro-physics, climatology, cosmology, geology, nuclear, particle, planetary, solar, theoretical, etc.

  4. catweazle666

    Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate.


    Effects on the global temperature of large increases in carbon dioxide and aerosol densities in the atmosphere of Earth have been computed. It is found that, although the addition of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does increase the surface temperature, the rate of temperature increase diminishes with increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For aerosols, however, the net effect of increase in density is to reduce the surface temperature of Earth. Becuase of the exponential dependence of the backscattering, the rate of temperature decrease is augmented with increasing aerosol content. An increase by only a factor of 4 in global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg.K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age.

    The rate at which human activities may be inadvertently modifying the climate of Earth has become a problem of serious concern 1 . In the last few decades the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere appears to have increased by 7 percent 2 . During the same period, the aerosol content of the lower atmosphere may have been augmented by as much as 100 percent 3 .

    How have these changes in the composition of the atmosphere affected the climate of the globe? More importantly, is it possible that a continued increase in the CO2 and dust content of the atmosphere at the present rate will produce such large-scale effects on the global temperature that the process may run away, with the planet Earth eventually becoming as hot as Venus (700 deg. K.) or as cold as Mars (230 deg. K.)?

    We report here on the first results of a calculation in which separate estimates were made of the effects on global temperature of large increases in the amount of CO2 and dust in the atmosphere. It is found that even an increase by a factor of 8 in the amount of CO2, which is highly unlikely in the next several thousand years, will produce an increase in the surface temperature of less than 2 deg. K.

    However, the effect on surface temperature of an increase in the aerosol content of the atmosphere is found to be quite significant. An increase by a factor of 4 in the equilibrium dust concentration in the global atmosphere, which cannot be ruled out as a possibility within the next century, could decrease the mean surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg. K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease could be sufficient to trigger an ice age!

    Schneider S. & Rasool S., “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols – Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate”, Science, vol.173, 9 July 1971, p.138-141

    AFAIK those results were bases on a climate model developed by none other than James Hansen, incidentally.

  5. Shub Niggurath

    That’s right cat

    “which human activities may be inadvertently modifying” Earth/climate/environment/biology/ecology/humans/life

    is a central, undying conundrum. It is a religious sentiment and not a scientific one.

    Which is why

    CO2/aerosols/thermal energy – all human-produced

    are to be ‘blamed’

    for ‘change’ – be it ‘warming’, or ‘cooling’.