climate change · Climate communication · climate science · Framework · Negotiation · Politics · Uncategorized

I Want Some Action – How About Some Bets on Climate Predictions?

Simply by negotiating the terms of climate wagers, both sides will be working together and agreeing. This will be a giant leap forward.

I’ve written in the past about my concerns with climate politics and its infiltration into public communications of climate change.  One of the key issues that I have is the use of subjective opinions that are presented as fact.  Almost everything projected is qualitative in nature. We read that floods will be “worse.”  Or storms will be “stronger.” Hurricanes will be “more destructive.”  Both the alarmist and the denier side do it – positional puffery designed to sound like fact.

Gambling on Climate isn’t like roulette

Post Hoc Attribution is a Problem and Not A Solution

Also, too many blame climate change after some weather event.  For example, people are saying that the California drought is due to climate change, which is contrary to the predictions. Another thing that I see as kind of the new language of correlation suggesting causation is the statement that some observed weather event “is consistent with” anthropogenic climate change. Or “linked to” climate change.

This causes problems because of the perception now that there no weather event that is not expected in a changing climate. Everything is “consistent with” anthropogenic climate change. This is not how to persuade the population.

What the climate community needs are objectively verifiable predictions.

Mark Boslough’s Bet is Making a Step, But Misses a Few Points

I read with some interest about Mark Boslough’s challenge that was reiterated for 2016. His bet is as follows: Using GISS mean global land temperatures, he is wagering $25,000 that 2016 will be the warmest year on record.

Boslough’s Choice is GISS Data was a Clever Selection

My thoughts?  This is a good step because he is putting his money on something that sounds like it is objectively verifiable.  There can be little argument about what GISS data actually shows.

Nevertheless, it is a misstep from a “mutual understanding” standpoint because Boslough knows full well that the denier camp doesn’t trust GISS data.  Boslough likely would not make this same bet using the UAH data set (though I haven’t asked him this).  And, it needs to be reiterated that in 2014, GISS could not state with certainty whether 2014 was the warmest year ever.  It could only give probability that it was (which itself causes room for argument).

Which means that Boslough is making a rhetorical choice of data set.  Make a bet using objective data that the opponent doesn’t trust and aunt the opponent.

Boslough Misses the Bigger Point – How Damaging is Global Warming?

It’s long been advocated that there are stages of climate change denial: (1) deny the existence; (2) deny humans are a cause; (3) accept the existence but deny it’s a problem; (4) deny there is anything that can be done; and (5) say it’s too late.

Boslough’s bet hits squarely on No. 1. Climate change advocacy has its big issue with No. 3.  Boslough’s bet misses the point of contention.  On the contrarian side they argue, “so what if the earth is warming? The negatives can be managed and the positives will outweigh them.”

This is where the meat of the argument is. How damaging is global warming? There are limitations to what we can predict. Climate models provide projections based on known start conditions and surmised end conditions.  But a prediction is different from a projection. Predictions are testable.

The Climate Community Must Make Verifiable Predictions about the Effects of Climate Change

The climate community is losing the battle because it has failed to put out objective measurable changes.  The climate community requires something akin to the Simon-Ehrlich wager. I myself see the argument as whether climate change is happening (it is) or whether the earth’s temperature is rising (it is).

The debate – indeed, the whole debate in Paris was about this – is about whether the effects of climate change will be beyond the ability of humans to adapt.  To quote a presentation by Mark Boslough, is global warming “inconvenient or catastrophic?” The future can only be projected.  We have no empirical observational data about 2025.  Or even about tomorrow.

Whether Climate Change is Inconvenient or Catastrophic Must Be Demonstrated with Predictions Ahead of Time

Thus I maintain that in order to obtain credibility, the climate community must provide objective benchmark predictions.  These predictions must not be subject to interpretation.  They must also be indicative of a trend and cannot be individual events like storms or droughts.

One caution: do not place bets on global temperature. This must not be about whether the world is warming. It must instead focus solely on impacts.  In order to demonstrate that there will be catastrophic things, there must be demonstrated that there was predicted these events.

Suggested Climate Change Benchmarks I’ve Thought Up

Here are some suggestions based upon a review of the popular press in a few categories:

(1) Sea level rising by three inches by 2025. Various projections include a sea level rise of between one and three meters by 2100. The IPCC projects 52-98 cm by 2100, and those at realclimate think this is much too conservative. I think a meter is something that stresses adaptive capabilities, and would be in excess of recent natural variability. Three inches in a decade would be indicative of potential catastrophe – pushing a meter by 2015. Let’s pick either satellite altimetry or a tide gauge (i.e. Monterey, CA., where isostatic rebound is not much of a factor.)  3 inches in ten years is within predictions that will lead to disaster.

(2) Polar sea ice: let’s see a 50% drop in minimum sea ice extent between 2016 and 2025. The Arctic was projected by many to be ice free before 2030. NSIDC director Mark Serreze reiterated in 2010 that the Arctic ice will not recover. Antarctic ice might have nowhere to go but down, but let’s focus on the Arctic. 2025 minimum sea ice extent gets down to 50% of its 2025 level.

(3) Food supply instability: famine in two or more western democracies by 2025. Logic – famine in command economies or dictatorships happens too easily/frequently. It’d take a real food shortage to affect a Western democracy. Maybe even look at, “Drop in worldwide obesity rate” as indicative of problems with food supply.

(4) Decreased crop yields: For example, corn. This goes along with No. 3. Predict that if the corn crop yield in bushels/acre is decreased at all in 2025 from 2016. Or perhaps a decrease in world wheat production from 2016 to 2025. I’m just looking for a decrease. In fact, a recent study predicted a 10% chance that corn yields will decrease in the next 10 to 20 years.  Let’s actually predict a result/trend.

(5) Tropical disease moving north:  Benchmark of 500 endemic malaria diagnoses north of the 37th parallel in North America in 2025. Logic: malaria was endemic to points north of the 37th parallel prior to its eradication in the early 50s. It’s been predicted that tropical diseases will move north in the US. 37th parallel is an easy enough line on the map where, if there is enough warming, malaria should have no trouble getting a mere 50 people per year (who weren’t infected elsewhere). If cases are not too high it means people are adapting.

(6) Growing patterns: commercial outdoor citrus production north of the 33rd parallel in Eastern North America by 2025. Same logic as above. If warming is enough to affect vernalization then stonefruit production will move north and citrus production will do the same.

(7) Accumulated Cyclone Energy: 3 years of global tropical ACE above 2400 (10^4 knots^2) between 2016 and 2025. If warming is to increase global cyclone energy to catastrophic levels then this level is a good benchmark of the road to catastrophe. If further eliminates the whole concept of individual storms and of geographic variability like the dearth of Western Atlantic cyclone activity over the last decade.

Suggestions for a Grand Wager of Petty Monetary Amounts

I do not want to see the same old argument of whether the earth is warming.  The earth is warming. Whether slowly, quickly, whatever.  The earth is warming. Assume it. Don’t think the earth is warming?  Then make the bet. Nothing to lose.  Think the earth is warming with disastrous results?  Then put down some benchmarks and lay down a dollar per bet.

I assure you that such a wager would not be about money. It would be about pride. It would be something to work in the guidance of the discussion.

And ultimately, such a bet would “separate the signal from the noise” with regard to the discussion.  “Storms are more powerful and damaging” is noise. “ACE will exceed 2400 (10^4 knots^2) for three calendar years between 2016 and 2025.” Now you are talking! We can test this.

It is vital that those who seek to convince the public that the consequences of climate change are deleterious must be able to demonstrate that they have made predictions that were objectively measurable, that these predictions were made a time in the past, and that the future observations confirmed the predicted events.

On top of that, the skeptics are having their feet held to the fire. If they wish to deny that sea level rise will accelerate, then they can put their reputations on the line and draw make that line.  It will be a decade before results are obtained.

Such a Bet Would Open Communications and Call the Other Side’s Bluffs

No doubt that each side has its extremists.  One could, for example, see whether the terms will be “six inches of sea level rise at Monterey by 2025.” It would be a bold bet, but also within many predictions (would make more than a meter by 2100).

Negotiating the Terms for the Bet will be the Best Indication of Where we Stand

Once negotiations for these bets start occurring, we are going to see a whole new arena of understanding.  Could be that the negotiation is that “Minimum Arctic Sea Ice extent will be 20% lower in 2025 than in 2016.”  Once the “alarmist” says, “You say it isn’t happening.  So let’s go with 10% lower in 2025 than 2016” we might see the denier saying, “No way.  Make it 20%. You previously alleged a 50% drop.”

The Bet Negotiations Will Show Where the Agreement Is!

The negotiation of the bet will bring the sides together.  It will show where the agreements are and where the disagreements are.  Rather than focusing on the difference between the sides, it will put a focus on where they agree.

This would be a positive step for all sides in this matter.  The rhetoric will be cut.  The taunting may indeed become good-natured.  And the bigger the names, the more the public will be interested.

How it turns out?  Let’s give it a decade.






10 thoughts on “I Want Some Action – How About Some Bets on Climate Predictions?

    1. You are bringing chaos into the equation, aren’t you? Exactly the point of the discussion. There may be other factors besides warming/climate change that operate as, to use or misuse the term, “forcings.”

      Let’s say a person makes a bet that the global temperature will rise .2C by 2025. That person will be praying that a Pinatubo-type event doesn’t occur.

      It requires thought processes. It requires a person to seriously consider the variables.

      Mine were but suggestions. There are hundreds of things that can be bet upon as indicators. I made those suggestions with an explanation of why they might be good starting points


  1. I would not have a problem with using satellite data for temperatures. The bet would be whether the rise in the satellite data trend over the next 10 years is above or below the trend expected by models.

    In fact, any model vs observation comparison should suffice. I would choose ones that would cast doubt/strengthen the hypothesis of a strong response to GHGs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Which means that Boslough is making a rhetorical choice of data set”

    Pretty silly. Wanting to use *surface temperature* is a “rhetorical choice of data set”?

    The fact that anti-AGW folks don’t “trust” the surface temperature record is generally conspiracy theory, correct? The root reason they don’t like surface temperatures is because they don’t like warming.

    Saying we can’t use thermometers to resolve questions of planetary temperature, because one camp “doesn’t trust them”, rather biases the discussion, obviously. Suggesting the use of MSU measurements like UAH is not the same – these measure the troposphere high in the air, which is not where we live, and the questions about the stability/accuracy of these microwave sounding estimates are of a completely different character, and they are raised *by the experts in the field*, not just by blogs making up scare stories. Meaning, the doubts about them are rooted in more rational reasoning, e.g. see comments of Mears who runs the RSS data set (as celebrated by Monckton, Anthony Watts et al):

    That said, the MSU measurements do show multi-decade warming trends and so probably you can frame a wager using those measurements. The main problem with a set like UAH is that it is undergoing a huge adjustment/restatement and it’s just harder to bet on something that fundamentally isn’t stable (per the issues raised in clip above, also articulated in articles like this .)

    “And, it needs to be reiterated that in 2014, GISS could not state with certainty whether 2014 was the warmest year ever”

    This is rather a red herring. Are you trying to imply that a data set like UAH would provide higher statistical confidence of such comparisons? You’d be in error.

    “On the contrarian side they argue, “so what if the earth is warming? The negatives can be managed and the positives will outweigh them.””

    They argue anything they can argue. Many still dispute the existence of the greenhouse effect. There isn’t one “contrarian” camp. WUWT articles are all over the place. There are endless contrarians claiming cooling is imminent or at least just as likely because of solar trends and unknown natural variability, that “alarmist” scientists have overstated the role of GHGs. These are the people targeted by the Boslough bet. Even those who state this opinion won’t take the bet. That’s the point.

    But yes there is a big class of contrarians who say “it’s warming, so what”. And yes a different bet is needed for “them” (wink).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not interested in debating the issue, especially when I agree with you. I’m not suggesting one thing or another about which data set is better or worse. (This inherently involves subjective opinion – better, worse, bad, good, etc., are all subjective opinions and reasonable minds can differ). No, people don’t like that I say that reasonable minds can differ.

      It is this argument that is EXACTLY the reason why temperature should stay out of it. Sure, it’s fun to have this argument and keep it going. Because it inevitably comes down to this sort of rhetorical nonsense.

      Which is why Boslough’s bet was a rhetorical sucker bet. He knows it. He knows the deniers won’t accept the bet. No doubt it is why he made the bet.

      Correct: the contrarians can argue whatever the hell they want to argue. Because it’s arguing over argument and not objectively verifiable fact.

      I really am starting to think that it’s because both sides want it that way. The alarmists can put out any and all manner of qualified projections that may happen. The contrarians can put out any and all manner or denial.

      Meanwhile both sides fill the interwebs with arguments that cannot be settled.

      I therefore put out some suggestions to avoid that. Get some things that are simple predictions of climate status and not of individual events to be attributed.

      Neither side appears interested. Which makes sense. It requires thought and rationality. It requires a step back from extremism into realism.

      Is it just more fun to fight over something? I mean, I see deniers out there just taking things that are silly.

      Forget temperature data. Negotiate an agreed upon data source for other indicators. Then use the power of science to make predictions.

      Trust me – you’ll find deniers going higher than they’ve ever gone on their predictions. And you’ll find alarmists backing off quite a bit, too.

      Not only will we see a reasonable middle ground being jostled over. Think a hardcore denier will actually bet that ACE will show a downward trend? I don’t.


  3. I don’t think your proposal is very serious or thought through. You think temperature(!) is too debatable/”rhetorical”, and so you suggest finding something else to bet on. But everything you suggest is far more debatable. Sea level is probably the best candidate, but is tied to an acknowledged area of significant uncertainty (mechanisms and pace of ice sheet collapse).

    I mean seriously, bet on specifics of “food shortages”?! At least temperature is the domain of science and subject to strict physical laws, albeit complicated by chaotic fluid dynamics at the surface due to ocean-surface heat exchange (PDO, El Nino), and other (*short-term*) unpredictable factors like volcanic activity. Food shortages are wrapped up in predicting *human political and economic trends* and have an incredibly complex serious of causes.

    In general the impacts of climate change are more complex than the physics of warming itself, and significantly more difficult to precisely predict. You claim the California drought is “contrary to predictions”, which is inaccurate as far as I am aware (the “some places get drier, some get wetter” principle has long been a predicted consequence), but droughts are heavily influenced by many factors tied up in chaotic regional weather patterns. Predictions of this nature are going to be about increase in frequency of events over time, and subject to lots of imprecision in measurement/categorization and complicating factors that will leave deniers lots of wiggle room as we already see. Is it validation that we just saw a record strength hurricane in Patricia, or just random luck that a big one came along? Likely not random, but what denier is going to accept it as validation of AGW predictions?

    The WGII impacts report documents the already-observed and projected impact of warming in a lot of detail. If anti-AGW activists don’t accept the sort of evidence provided there today, they’re not likely to accept it in five years time. And anything that requires 20+ years to resolve is not a bet.

    Climate change is about rational risk management and cost/benefit, not precise predictions of consequences in exactly some location at some exact time. Arguing against mitigation is saying you want to make big bets on your roulette wheel above, and you want to bet *against* best available scientific evidence and theory. There’s not going to be any way to spin that as rational. No serious economic cost/benefit analysis that reflects the actual prevailing evidence in climate science comes close to showing that delayed action is economically justifiable, much less morally justifiable.

    All of this is the nature of the problem, not a weakness of the presentation of the case.

    From a climate history point of view, this comic sums it up:


    1. “You think temperature(!) is too debatable/”rhetorical” – yes. At this time and in this political climate, yes. Posting that video (I saw it on Phil Plait’s blog and in countless other places), which was produced as a rejoinder to those who point to satellite temps, is evidence of the discord. So what happens when people can’t agree on a line item? Ignore it and move to something else that there can be some agreement upon.

      So people want to keep arguing about it. No, they won’t change many minds, but they feel better about themselves.

      I mean seriously, bet on specifics of “food shortages”?! At least temperature is the domain of science and subject to strict physical laws, albeit complicated by chaotic fluid dynamics at the surface due to ocean-surface heat exchange” – I didn’t just pull this out of thin air. The IPCC devoted a whole chapter to it.

      This is why I put that idea out there – I’ve read this. This is an impact that has been predicted by the IPCC. Sure, plenty of deniers out there say that this chapter is bunk. So find someone who thinks food security will be negatively impacted. I, for one, see a scientific basis for this. I want to come up with a test for the impacts of it.

      Here is where you hit the nail on the head: “Climate change is about rational risk management and cost/benefit.”

      Precisely. What are the risks? We know qualitatively what the risks are. What we don’t have is some quantification. This is why the initial post was there: to set some benchmarks. We’ve got people out there telling us that sea level rise will be from a half a meter to one meter by 2100 (IPCC). Others suggest this is far too conservative. Assessment means stopping by to look at the state of our knowledge.

      What are the risks? Between a half a meter and 2.5 meters? Sorry, I don’t like planning a party for somewhere between 50 and 250 people, much less planning for risks of that breadth. Neither does anybody. Thus a scientifically based prediction (not a projection – a prediction) will provide a nice waypoint. If I’m driving between Newport News and Washington, DC, I expect it to take about three hours. So I predict my progress to be at certain waypoints at certain times. I expect that I will be in Richmond in about an hour. About another hour to Fredericksburg. Then the last hour to DC.

      I’m suggesting that if people really think that sea level rise will only be six inches by 2100, that perhaps they may want to put their money where their mouths are and bet on under an inch between now and 2025. Think anybody will actually do that? Probably not. They’ll game it for under three. Because now this ain’t just online trolling – this is getting real. Same with the other side – who is willing to bet that sea level will rise a foot in ten years? It makes a fun press release to say it “may.” A whole different story to bet that it will.

      “No serious economic cost/benefit analysis that reflects the actual prevailing evidence in climate science comes close to showing that delayed action is economically justifiable” – Okay. Prove it. You’ve made a statement. As you know, “justifiable” is an entirely subjective term. You’ve gone with adverbs (entirely). What is justifiable to you is not justifiable to someone else. Or vice versa. I’m sure you are aware of that. What you are saying now isn’t science. You know that, too. It is policy.

      To get to appropriate policy considerations, we must have faith in the predictive ability of science. No, I’m not even talking about the Popper stuff and falsifiability. Do you know where sea level will be in ten years? Okay. Then find someone who disagrees with you and state your prediction. Then we can test it.

      So here is a challenge for you. Let us test your faith in objective science and not on subjective justification. First step: come up with a few metrics on the impact of climate change. I’ll humor you and suggest, “Take HADCRUT4 global mean and predict that the mean temperature between Jan. 1, 2025 and Dec. 31, 2025 will be at least .2C higher than the HADCRUT4 mean of Jan. 1 2016-Dec. 31, 2016.” (Disclosure: HADCRUT4 is my personal favorite). Pick any metric on any topic you want.

      Pick data from the ARGO floats. Take JASON data and see where it goes from now until then. Hell, I just offered suggestions. Because as you know, the public isn’t being told about increases in temperature. It’s the impact. “Well, the ocean is flywheeled and we won’t see much of anything from it for the next 20 years.” Fine. Predict that.

      Then find some denier and call him out. They like to scrap. Maybe you can go for a guy like Goddard. Or Watts. McIntyre. See whether one of them will disagree and bet.

      Come up with whatever metrics you want. Then negotiate it with someone on the other side and see where it stands in ten years. Like it or not, there is a lot of time. COP21 was as disappointing as it could get and there will be waiting.

      Might as well test it during this period of time when the international community has decided to do nothing.

      p.s. – I believe you will get much further when you recognize the difference between opinion and fact. What is good for the wolf is death fro the sheep. And vice versa. Here’s an example of hat you wrote. Then I will rewrite it into something that will likely have more impact.
      You wrote: “No serious economic cost/benefit analysis that reflects the actual prevailing evidence in climate science comes close to showing that delayed action is economically justifiable” – this is almost entirely subjective opinion. But was the main point of what you wrote. Note that the opportunity to disagree is readily available.

      Here is a rewrite: “I believe that in terms of risk management, economic analyses that take into account a worst case scenario are to be given additional weight. While the possibility exists that economic damages from the effects of unchecked warming can be minimal, I also believe that a slight risk of cataclysm justifies an excess of caution, as the damages caused by the worst case scenarios will exceed the highest projected economic costs for prevention or mitigation.”

      There! It’s simple. Who is going to argue with that? It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s honest. You state your subjective thoughts. They are put out subjectively. Instant respect from all.

      Yeah, I need people to call me out on it, too. But thank you for the discussion. I really appreciate it


  4. After “(7)” I think it would be appropriate to tuck in:

    “(8) Collapse of the oceans as a source of protein for the 1-3 billion who rely upon it as their principal source of protein.”

    Note, this will happen even if (especially if?) Solar Radiation Management (SRM) is instituted, and is one of the many reasons SRM is not the win some seem to think it is, even if they acknowledge deploying it is highly risky.


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