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Pioneering Environmental Lawyer Challenges Climate Modelling

Victor Yannacone Jr.

Victor Yannacone Jr. is a pioneering environmental attorney. In 1966 he created the field of environmental law with successful campaigns to ban DDT in the U.S. Mr Yannacone was a co-founder of the Environmental Defense Fund in 1968.


Numerical Climate Models Must Be Challenged

Victor John Yannacone Jr.

Scientists committed to the scientific method collect, validate, analyze, and report data obtained from a variety of observations and then suggest hypotheses which might explain the data if they survive data based testing and prove to be capable of making predictions which can be validated by observable and reproducible data. However, those academics and many of the leaders in the world of investment finance who have the luxury of gambling with other people’s money have come to rely upon numerical or as they like to call them “quantitative” models to predict with false confidence the outcome of events for which meaningful numerical modeling is not possible because there is no precise conceptual model of the interactions among the processes within the general system they are attempting to model.

If numerical models were capable of precise prediction of events such as the price of a stock over time, the hedge funds with the best-credentialed modelers would never lose money, yet they do every day.

When numerical modelers attain a position of influence over political and economic decision-making they assume a position of unassailable authority which would be the envy of oriental potentates and medieval Popes. When data inconsistent with their numerical models is presented, it can be ignored.

This is nowhere more apparent than in the controversy over the role of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere from combustion of fossil fuels to provide the energy which powers industrial processes and vehicle transportation throughout the world. The real issue is whether carbon dioxide from human activities is a driver, or even a significant contributor to the climate changes which are and have been occurring on the earth today and which will continue to occur in the near future.

Conceptual Models

The only way to evaluate a numerical or self-styled quantitative model is to identify, examine, validate, and test the conceptual model upon which the quantitative model must be based. To the best of my knowledge the open literature does not contain a full exposition of the conceptual models upon which the present numerical climate models are based.

From my perspective as a pioneer in the use of conceptual modeling and General Systems Theory (“Systems Studies of DDT Transport,”Science, 170, 503–508, 30 October1 970) and a trial lawyer who has  tested “expert” opinion in the crucible of cross examination for more than 50 years, there can be no rational discussion about the contribution of human activity, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels, to the climate of planet Earth without a clearly defined and precisely explicated conceptual model upon which numerical operations can be performed with some degree of accountability.

Such a conceptual model must identify all of the interactive systems — atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere – responsible for climate; together with all of the interactive processes among elements of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere which exist within and couple all of those interactive systems responsible for climate as a General System.

Such a conceptual model would go a long way towards identifying the natural processes involved in climate and provide a framework or armature upon which to hang the data from observations. The effects of human activity upon the individual elements and processes of the General Systems conceptual model of climate could then eventually be measured and those individual measurements tested quantitatively in a properly fashioned numeric model approximating the operation of the underlying conceptual model or some portion of it.

The numerical modelers of climate have demonstrated a surprising reluctance to even consider the need for a conceptual model of climate before making rash and unsupportable claims from data runs on unverifiable and untestable numeric models.

Scientists must act not just ponder and pontificate

Scientists committed to the scientific method must join together to directly attack the numerical climate models themselves as well as the academic acolytes who tend them, serve them, adore them, and seek to impose their ill considered opinions upon an unsuspecting public.

The only place to mount such an attack is a courtroom, and, unfortunately, no one is willing to launch such an attack.

While I recognize that academic science is driven by the quest for financial support through grants, I am still appalled and frustrated at the reluctance of tenured scholars to speak up and speak out against the illusion of precision which cloaks numeric modeling today.

It is almost as if the academic world has forgotten the meaning of “significant figures” as they allow the illusion of precision touted by the numeric modelers of climate to continue unchallenged.

While the door of the courthouse is still open, litigation in the public interest challenging bad science as the basis for even worse public policy seems to be the most effective way to allow rational science to make a significant contribution to public policy. It is certainly the only effective way to challenge the highly publicized but still unsupportable opinions of scientists who are deliberately or inadvertently ignoring the scientific method.

Unless a proper legal challenge is made to prevent structurally flawed numeric models of climate from becoming the basis for public policy, the laws and Agency regulations based on those models driven by opinion rather than data will irrevocably determine the economic fate of this generation, the next generation, and generations yet unborn.

Victor John Yannacone, Jr., Attorney