Climate scientist: Global warming models could be ‘fundamentally wrong’

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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In an interview with the German news publication Der Spiegel, meteorologist Hans von Storch said that scientists are so puzzled by the 15-year standstill in global warming that if the trend continues their models could be “fundamentally wrong.”

“If things continue as they have been, in five years, at the latest, we will need to acknowledge that something is fundamentally wrong with our climate models,” Storch told Der Spiegel. “A 20-year pause in global warming does not occur in a single modeled scenario. But even today, we are finding it very difficult to reconcile actual temperature trends with our expectations.”

Environmentalists have been increasingly calling on President Obama to address global warming before it becomes irreversible. The World Bank reported that global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius over the next century if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t brought under control. Many world leaders are committed to limit the increase to 2 degrees Celsius.

“The scientists tell us that if the world warms by two degrees Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years — that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves, and more intense cyclones,” said World Bank president Jim Yong Kim in a statement.

Yet global warming skeptics have pointed to a halt in global warming about 15 years ago. Climate scientists have recently started lowering their warming forecasts.

“There are two conceivable explanations — and neither is very pleasant for us,” said Storch. “The first possibility is that less global warming is occurring than expected because greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have less of an effect than we have assumed. This wouldn’t mean that there is no man-made greenhouse effect, but simply that our effect on climate events is not as great as we have believed.”

“The other possibility is that, in our simulations, we have underestimated how much the climate fluctuates owing to natural causes,” Storch added.

The UN’s climate authority predicted that global temperatures will rise between 1 degree Celsius and 3 degrees Celsius in the short term. However, UK researchers recently reported that global temperatures will only rise between 0.9 degrees Celsius and 2.0 degrees Celsius — echoing a finding by Norwegian researchers that global temperatures will only rise 1.9 degrees Celsius

“Certainly the greatest mistake of climate researchers has been giving the impression that they are declaring the definitive truth,” said Storch. “The end result is foolishness along the lines of the climate protection brochures recently published by Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency under the title ‘Sie erwärmt sich doch’ (‘The Earth is getting warmer’). Pamphlets like that aren’t going to convince any skeptics.”

“It’s not a bad thing to make mistakes and have to correct them,” Storch said. “The only thing that was bad was acting beforehand as if we were infallible. By doing so, we have gambled away the most important asset we have as scientists: the public’s trust.”

However, Storch said that he still believed in global warming and that earth’s temperatures would continue to rise.

“Yes, we are certainly going to see an increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or more — and by the end of this century, mind you,” he said. “That’s what my instinct tells me, since I don’t know exactly how emission levels will develop.”

“Whether it ends up being one, two or three degrees, the exact figure is ultimately not the important thing,” Storch added. “Quite apart from our climate simulations, there is a general societal consensus that we should be more conservative with fossil fuels. Also, the more serious effects of climate change won’t affect us for at least 30 years. We have enough time to prepare ourselves.”

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