Climate Change: Implications, Consequences and Predictability - Plus Politics

Date December 4, 2007
Speaker Gregg SUHLER(Co-founder and Managing Member, Dynamic Predictables)
Commentator Glen S. FUKUSHIMA(Senior Vice President, Airbus SAS / President & CEO, Airbus Japan KK)
Moderator KAWAMOTO Akira(Director of Research, RIETI)


Climate is ever changing and its mark is left nearly everywhere. Fundamental forces and system responses drive Earth, being in a quite kinetic part of the universe, in complex yet well behaved ways. Large, crosscutting problems are often addressed through political processes. Climate seems to be archetypal large and crosscutting in its scientific and political dimensions.

Responses to perceived climate problems often fall into either adaptation or aversion strategies. Adaptation to local and regional climate changes stands to be improved through reliable climate predictions by way of improved planning and operations. Regarding aversion, accurately predicting climate, with and without policy-sensitive variables included, seems to be a reasonably high standard to meet before seriously setting about changing the actual environment itself, which is a recently suggested and actively explored approach.

Who are the stakeholders? Climate touches a minimum of 15% of the economies of the most industrialized countries, and as much as 80% of the economies of the least industrialized countries. What do the scientific and political worlds have to say on the issue of climate change? Regarding the implications, what can be learned through human history? Warmer climates have generally favored human development, and cooler climates have been unfavorable. In the current age, cold causes 10 times as many health problems as heat, based on internationally used measures of hardship, including mortality related to extreme cold or extreme heat. Within the last millennium, the Medieval Warm Period saw relative prospering of civilizations; some problems of diseases spreading, most notably the bubonic plague, had other cofactors. Evidence shows that major storm frequency and severity was less. The Little Ice Age was associated with more hardships directly related to cold. The frequency and severity of major storms was greater. Not to oversimplify, there were other factors, including volcanic activity, through all these timeframes, but the generalization seems to hold, in the human record, that cold has been more troublesome.

Most people's starting point for understanding climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). On October 12, 2007, the IPCC and Al Gore were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about manmade climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." The IPCC, according to the official website, was "established to provide the decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about climate change. The IPCC does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Its role is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change, its observed and projected impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they need to deal objectively with policy relevant scientific, technical and socio economic factors. They should be of high scientific and technical standards, and aim to reflect a range of views, expertise and wide geographical coverage."

Except for greenhouse gases (GHGs) at the global level, generally the claimed level of scientific understanding is pretty low as regards what factors are involved in major climate change.

Global mean surface temperature anomalies were reported in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. The wrinkle comes in the question of how much of the warming that is occurring is manmade, and how much is natural forces. What if these IPCC assessments are wrong? Specifically, what if natural climate dynamics can be shown to have greater explanatory power as evidenced through these climate predictions? Although the IPCC attributes some effects to major volcanic activity over the last 105 years or so, the IPCC does not mention that there is no reason whatsoever for taking the unattributed residual temperature change and assigning that to CO2 and other anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The overall unresolved residual has been claimed by the greenhouse gas-associated scientific community, which asserts that the change is attributable wholly to GHGs, and then modeled accordingly to one self-consistent framework, the amplification hypothesis. This is like colonial explorers laying claim to a new land just because they happen to be the first of their kind there.

The claim that greenhouse gas causes global warming is unsubstantiated, from a scientific standpoint. What could the other factors be? The IPCC identifies no natural climate dynamic factors involved in the warming of the Earth short of about a 20,000-year timeframe.

The Earth's system is driven by the solar annual cycle and also the solar daily cycle. For climate purposes, we are going to focus on the solar annual cycle. Almost all the energy is in the 12- and 6-month period terms. It can be shown that the Earth system response favors possible solutions with oscillatory periods involving 2 to the nth power years, i.e. 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, years and so on. Ultrasubharmonic terms are the basis of period-doubling phenomena among other effects. Such terms appear elsewhere in nonlinear physical systems and a literature exists dating back to the early 1980s. A feedback system exists within climate, such that the preferred, more readily sustainable periods occur as shown here out through the 6th generation. Solar driven effects could be radiative, gravitational, or angular-momentum transfer, with a system response, the upper level of which is a tendency for climate to be repeated at 2 to the n years. Evidence of this can be found in records of all kinds of human activity, from harvest to business cycles, and so on.

Climate prediction over decadal timeframes is geoscience's equivalent of finding the dinosaur bones. Physical oscillating forces and responding systems exist and provide evidence at all time scales. Nonequilibrium dynamics and long reference time scales better reflect the physical realities.

Short time frame equilibrium approaches take as their starting points that longer time frames are irrelevant. Significant climate departures from long- or short-term averages scare people because of their view of the way the world works. In that view, who knows where or how or even if it ends when an aberration runs off with global temperature one way or another? General Circulation Models (GCMs) were not scientifically intended to predict; they were integrative large-scale research tools. In some ways GCMs are remarkably good and in some ways, beginning with prediction, they are remarkably inadequate. Technically speaking, GCMs should not be doing baseline and scenario analysis because the underlying system is interactively nonlinear from the start. These short-term models, however, came to be preferred over the longer time frame physical realities. However, reality continues to be ahead of theory.

In policy, the IPCC was policy- and government-driven from the outset. The mandate was to show evidence for, and to work toward solutions to, manmade climate change. The system was inherently flawed, if open inquiry was wanted. Most people want their science to be, ultimately, an honest broker serving broader needs. After 20 years and billions of research dollars, much more is known from the geosciences. But the big policy outcome was written into the IPCC's 1998 mandate: the policy has some strengths but it is not based on best science.

Simply speaking, if climate change is manmade, then aversion strategies and policies make sense. If climate change is natural, then adaptation makes more sense. But of course the reality is much more complex than this characterization. It would appear, though, that much of what is happening in climate change is natural dynamics-related.

If aversion means geoengineering climate, then that is a pretty high calling. One objection voiced is that those who advocate altering global climate cannot predict the climate we have. Purposeful regional climate/weather change has been undertaken through cloud seeding for more than half a century, but that's at a different scale. Inquiry and study are appropriate, but the burden of proof for change properly resides with the advocates for change; it is a fundamental principle of policy. Discussions are presently underway in Bali with the United Nations taking up climate change at, specifically, government levels. In a piece in the Financial Times last August, Clive Crook called the IPCC the "climate science steamroller." So the "climate policy steamroller" is, perhaps, now coming.

This is where politics comes in. Politics has ways of bringing different realities to the fore. Despite the IPCC official science stamp, lots of other scientific understanding is presented in the U.S. Congressional offices. Geological sciences show CO2 initially lagging not leading temperatures by around 200 years and even significantly shorter time scales. Members of Congress tend to weigh heavily what their constituents say.

In the United States, the U.S. Senate is likely to pass the Lieberman-Warner bill. If the House gets up a companion bill, though there has not been one visible yet, and passes it in time for a conferenceable bill to go to President Bush, it will almost certainly receive a veto that cannot be overturned. If so, this would be just in time to rally the environmental vote in 2008 for the Democrats. Presuming a Democrat wins the presidency in 2008, something like the legislation that Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont has spent a lot of time developing and politically working on is likely to pass and become law in 2009. In the meantime, state and local initiatives are becoming hotbeds of innovation.


Glen S. Fukushima
There are two major components to Gregg Suhler's presentation. One component is the science of the prediction of climate change, and Gregg's argument is that he has an accurate method of predicting climate change that is superior to the current models in use.

This has not only scientific implications but also very important commercial implications as well. To give just one concrete example, The New York Times this week prominently carried an article entitled "What to Wear: Meteorologists Shape Fashion," which discusses how important it is for the clothing and fashion industry, among others, to predict accurately the change of seasons. Meteorologists are increasingly being hired to predict the weather by businesses that are dependent on being able to know in advance what the weather is likely to be. The accuracy or inaccuracy of such predictions can mean profits or losses of millions of dollars for companies in such weather- and temperature-sensitive industries.

The second component of Gregg's presentation is his fundamental questioning of the IPCC's approach and the bases for its arguments that greenhouse gases are the main cause of global warming. This challenge has profound implications for how to deal with the entire issue of climate change.

My questions for Gregg are as follows: First, what is the reason for the current orthodoxy you are challenging that favors greenhouse gases as the main cause of global warming? Second, why is it that the community of scientists is not more receptive to your arguments about the importance of natural dynamics? Third, who benefits from the current orthodoxy? Fourth, who would benefit from the adoption of the natural climate dynamics approach? Fifth, what is the most effective way to change the current orthodoxy? Sixth, what are some of the global implications of the natural climate dynamics approach? And finally, what policy changes toward climate change can be anticipated from a new U.S. administration in Washington, D.C. from January 2009?

Gregg Suhler
On the science side, we have been working on this for approximately 15 years. Two years ago, we decided to start to bring some of the science to the forefront, simply because we thought it was too important to be left outside the bright light of public awareness. We thought it important to lay the groundwork for a different level of understanding, and make the case that it should be seriously considered.

Why has the current approach prevailed? It probably goes back to the emergence from the early 1900s to the 1930s of the statistical sciences. They came into their own in that timeframe. Much of what we talk about was the focus of mechanics within physics or physical science approaches before the rise of statistical methods. Statistical tools are fine when they are used as tools, but when you put statistics in the lead and try to get "structure" or prediction out of it, it is just not there. The basis of statistics is a stochastic view of the world: it is a random view of the world, and random is the conceptual antithesis of what is predictable. The rise of large-scale models occurred not just in physical sciences but also in economics. The governments have led the policy side. In the terminology you see is the desire for consensus. These terms flow out of budgeting exercises in the public and private sectors. The IPCC, and its analysis approach, was framed in a manner that was fully consistent with serving governments. The short-term equilibrium view of the world came upon us in the last century, and I think it is about time that it should leave with the next.

Who benefits from the current orthodoxy? There have been a lot of beneficiaries on the research side. The ultimate follow-on question to who benefits is: Who is well served? The large-scale GCMs have got nothing going for them in terms of prediction, and cannot be relied upon. There is not the basis for predictability there: they were never intended to be predictive tools. It is easier to identify who is apt to be ill-served by the present approach. The world may continue to warm, but following a greenhouse gas-led policy approach may not leave us well served. CO2 emissions from manmade sources are about 3% of total CO2 emissions. The Arctic area may be warmed to the point where all the ice disappears, but if so, it is likely not to be because of greenhouse gas effects. There is a lot of research that is starting to come out: the northern and southern hemispheres tend to oscillate, as one warms up and the other one cools. There is some evidence that that is occurring. We can talk on various time scales. Much of the warming that has occurred has been in the northern hemisphere, and since the mid-1970s and early 1980s there have been both the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic oscillations going through positive phases and near maximums at about the same time. That is fixing to change. People are starting to talk about a 32-year flip to negative phase in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and a nearby flip to positive but declining temperature phase in the near 64-year Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, neither shown here.

What are the implications of these arguments? When you talk about changing the basis of people's understanding of the world, and in this case it is probably for the better, people get better prepared to encounter the world that we are living in. The basic prediction methods that we have evolved have applicability to a number of other areas that people have historically thought were not really predictable.

Proposed U.S. policies, in terms of the targets and goals within 50 years or so, are to reduce carbon usage on an absolute level, not a per capita level, to approximately 50% of recent levels. There are many reasons to lower the role of carbon in economies, certainly as sources of energy, but the overall umbrella reason for any major policy change in Washington is poorly served as far as the climate science side is concerned.

A lot of things are being unleashed that I think have positive consequences, including alternative energy. One of the reasons why we have been reluctant about stepping forth is that if we step forth with an alternate view of understanding climate, we are not too sure that we want to see a lot of the wind taken out of the sails for increased research efforts, diversification, and conservation. Those are all generally good thrusts. I would be reluctant to see some of the initiatives that have been taken decreased simply because the basis of the understanding of the climate side turns out to be weak.

Questions and Answers

Q: Was your evidence analyzed by the IPCC? If not, why? Has your research been published in any peer-reviewed scientific journals?

A: No. We did not go before the American Association for the Advancement of Science until 2006, and the symposium we organized went through a well-established, highly competitive peer review process. We haven't published in part because we are a private entity. If you want conformity, go to peer-reviewed research.

I have been around policy circles for a long, long time, and I know a policy-political animal when I see one, and I see one in the IPCC.

The IPCC had a story to tell, and it did so pretty skillfully. It was well-organized and well-funded. The alternative views, for the most part, have been fragmented. They have not had an overall alternative coherent story to present. One of the reasons why we did start to come forth was that the binary forced system response mechanism constitutes a basis for an alternative view of what could be causing warming. There has been warming: one problem is that it has been going on for four times as long as the IPCC really cares to look at. The IPCC really appears to be not that interested in what happened before 1950, whereas the GCMs are used for scientific research over a far wider time range. Scientific predictability does occur to varying levels depending on the methods used. There has been some good science on chaos, but it has not shown up to good effect on the climate side. It has been useful in other areas.

Q: Can you explain the logic behind the 2 to the nth power formula?

A: Once you have got the first two, you can get the second two, and the third two, and so on after that. It arises out of nonlinear interaction terms. In other words, if, in a physical law, you have two terms interacting directly, and they are both oscillatory in nature, and multiplied together in the equation then you can go back to the basis in simple trigonometry. The product of two oscillatory terms then comes out in terms of simple average of sum and difference frequencies between the two oscillations. This approach gives you the basis for period-doubling. Then, when you come back iteratively, through that sort of process as shown on the slide, you find that these have a theoretical justification. What is important is not what you think as a theoretician, perhaps. More importantly it is, what does nature reveal? What you find is that these 2 to the n year terms are among the most favored of what survives over long time periods in data and in nature. It is what nature tends to prefer as evidenced in measurements over time. This is where thermodynamics and mechanics, and equations of state, and continuity, all come together. If your father was a rice farmer in Japan he probably noted two-year and four-year and such cycles in temperature and precipitation. And five year cycles, for that matter, but 5 year has a different origination. For people who live close to the data and the experiences, this is very real.

Q: Is it possible to have accurate predictions without having an accurate knowledge of what the causes are?

A: Yes, more generally. More narrowly. The warming or cooling we find we cannot attribute to natural climate dynamics is included in our predictions as a trend component. A classical trend is external to the model: it is things that you cannot identify with the model. Trends are then usually included in the predictions, but should be identified with an asterisk as unmodeled residual components. This is where the IPCC went awry at the scientific level. The nuance then became lost in subsequent reporting, issue framing, and policy/politics.

At its purest, the short-term equilibrium approach is: everything is random, except maybe the solar cycle, and some people wonder about that. Maybe one of the worst things that chaos theory has contributed to climate studies has been an ironclad excuse for not being able to predict out past about a year. No one else that we know of in the world goes out past 15 months. We predict with better accuracy at eight years than anybody else can do six months ahead.

Q: Is there a direct link between that accuracy on the one hand and the attribution of the causes?

A: There is, because you have to have a theoretical framework to analyze and a model to interpret all of what is happening in the world. What we have done is figure out what happens with the overall climate forced system, and its responses, which virtually everyone else is silent on. They have no idea what the Earth's responses are and it is widely recognized. We do have a workable and rigorously worked idea.

Q: So there are private sector and public sector organizations that predict climate change, so over time those who base their models on your long-term natural causes model should predict better results?

A: One would expect that they would show better results.

Q: When do you think that it will become clearer?

A: We have laid things out for 10 years in advance, and it takes about that long for credibility to start to arise.

Q: So we should buy stocks in your company?

A: We are not sure that we want to go that route, in terms of retaining direction. Time ultimately tells this. One of the complaints that has been made against the IPCC scenario is: who will be around to verify predictions on a 50- to 100-year time frame?

I am here to tell you that what we predict on uses the dynamics for much longer time periods. It is mapped in through modulation. This is a known scientific approach. It is slightly less controversial than it may seem on the surface. At least, the tools that are brought to our predictions are less controversial.

Q: Scientifically, does the fact that you have more accurate scientific prediction lead to narrowing the scope of the scientific understanding of the contribution of manmade greenhouse gases to climate change?

A: A proper understanding of what I have presented here would result in a switch. If one looked at two axes, manmade and entirely natural dynamics, the IPCC has done a good enough job, up to this point, of leading public opinion in perceiving climate change as a manmade problem. My assessment of where that public opinion might properly be lead is that it ought to be swinging back significantly in the other direction. I am not saying all the way. Man has affected earth for about 6,000 years, and continues to do so. A proper understanding is that more of this is natural climate dynamics than certainly the IPCC process would suggest, because it is purposely mute on or at best downplaying the subject.

We do not predict a global temperature. We predict only regional and site-specific. The point I made about the total residual has been claimed entirely by the greenhouse gases community, because they had a trend going that way. Since 1998, that has started to break apart. They have a very inadequate understanding of what is involved in natural forcing. Firstly, their understanding tends to be too narrow: they tend to focus only on radiative. There are certainly gravitational-tidal, and other things that are involved: circulatory systems that they just plain do not understand, and admit as much.

Q: Can you put more emphasis of your work there?

A: We have not undertaken global temperature predictions. It is a fair question. We are in business, and so far, I do not know anyone who is willing to pay for that global temperature prediction. It begs the question as to what global temperature really means. I did not even start to go into the data issues.

I agree with President Bush on one main thing: I think he has got, for the most part, his approach to climate change policy right. I can assure you that we were not in anyone's pocket, and we are not looking to be in anyone's pocket.

Q: Is it possible to say that your model is more accurate than the IPCC's, given that the two scales are so different?

A: One can compare what is done for regional prediction by both methods. The IPCC process has an overall focus on a global phenomenon and a global average phenomenon that is built up from a gridded globe analysis. However, that has become much more differentiated over time. So I think that there are elements of what comes out of IPCC processes and models that are run to IPCC specifications that address regional and even site-specific climate. It is what GCM modelerscall "downscaling." Going the other way, one way we would approach doing a global study is to take it piece by piece, do predictions, and then find some way to weight it, and add it up.

Q: Can you put the greenhouse effect in your calculation, even for city or short-range predictions?

A: When we do the analysis, we use the whole of the record for something like temperature or precipitation, and at whatever spatial scale. The whole of the observed record seems to be pretty well taken up by the natural climate dynamics portion. When I indicated that we have an unresolved residual, any warming or cooling that exists outside either the dynamic scale factors or other microclimate effects, for example, are things that we could probably find a way to get at, and include those policy-sensitive variables. On the other hand, I do not know exactly how the attribution of that factor or other factors would be done quite yet. But I am confident that the identification of an overall unresolved residual is a valid analytical first step.

*This summary was compiled by RIETI Editorial staff.