Where did all that uncertainty go?


When reading more about the Urgenda lawsuit against the State on their action website (Dutch), I had one big question: how can they be so damn sure? Climate is a very complex system with many thousands, maybe even million variables, that can interact with each other. Yet they know it all, even 30 years in the future! In full detail! No doubts here.

While climate models can’t predict anything a couple months beforehand, scientists are surprised when again something happens that doesn’t fit the theory, climate sensitivity lowered, things like hurricanes and drought which were deemed as proof of human influence lowered in certainty,.. Yet, even with more uncertainty the climate of several decades ahead is still no mystery. Something is not right.

But in a way, I can understand it. I have been there. I once believed that the science was solid (although I thought that scientists exaggerated), the models were mature after so many years, we would end in 4 °C at the end of the century, my country would be changed dramatically. Melting polar ice, polar bears, omens that things were broken. I believed what others told me, so I was absolved in checking facts. Heck, if I would have been in other circles and had a climate blog, I could have well written things like that.

Now that absolute certainty seems unreal. So much sparse data relied upon. So many ifs, buts, woulds, mays and mights. And yet, all that uncertainty seems not to get through to the public. Leaving only the certainty.


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