Global Warming: My views on climate modeling in 1998 during the Kyoto Accord

I just posted this on Econlog in response to macroeconomist Scott Sumner’s proposal. I should clarify that in 1998 I was a boring left-leaning centrist as I am today:

In 1998, I was studying Japanese in an intensive course in Japan. Naturally, we read newspaper articles and and watched Japanese news clips about the Kyoto Accord meeting that was taking place at the time. But I was surprised by the certainty from a few vocal students on the left that global warming is as Scott thinks,”a crisis for our planet.”

I was the only student out of the 50 who had a science degree (physics), although that was several years earlier and no energy expert. But why were these future historians and political scientists on the left so sure of a global warming crisis or catastrophe?

I had access to the internet so started to look up the assumptions that went into what turned out to be the alarmist model out to 2100, repeated often on the news, as there was a chance of the temperature rising 4C. What I found annoyed me: In part, a very large increase in CO2 emissions by 2050.

I was pretty vocal in the Japanese classes, (politely) rolling my eyes and muttering, “You realize how bad the alarmist model is right?”

A friend later pulled me aside and said some of the students thought my views on global warming were pretty weird. I told him: “They don’t know anything about energy or thermodynamics – I admit I don’t know that much either- and I guarantee they don’t know anything about energy sources or energy efficiency improvements in the 2030s and 2040s, before 2050 and decades before 2100.”

I further explained: “We are on an exponential computer power curve and while we don’t know how long it will last, it will very likely go into the 2020s and maybe even the 2030s and possibly further into the future. Solar power cost is also on a mostly smooth downward curve so we can expect widespread solar use from around 2025 – 2030. There could also be nuclear fusion by 2030, and it shouldn’t be that hard to take unwanted CO2 out of the atmosphere by the 2020s. There will also likely be other unknowns that far into the future that can’t be factored in either.”

I added that you can’t model the climate out to 2050 or 2100 like that and physicists would laugh if you tried.

It took Freeman Dyson ten years after the Kyoto Accord talks to speak up about the same thing with respect to modeling the climate out 50 or 100 years, but he finally did it around 2008.

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One Response to Global Warming: My views on climate modeling in 1998 during the Kyoto Accord

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