After the Election, Big Data Is King. So Climate Models Should Be, Too

climate modelNASA/Public Domain

Two days after the presidential election, the Washington Post ran an article about climate modelers who are finding that the world is on track to experience more dangerous levels of warming than previously expected.

One of the big post-election narratives is, as you know, the victory of empirical data analysis over pundit-fueled hunches. Nate Silver and his ilk nailed the election results, while pretty much every single opiner that set foot in the Fox News studios or graced the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages was dead wrong. Recall: Karl Rove angrily protesting against his own network's projection that Obama had a lock on Ohio—even staring the data in the face, he couldn't give up the fantasy.

Looking at both stories, Grist's David Roberts makes an astute analogy: Climate science is Nate Silver and U.S. politics is Karl Rove:
Scientists consider 3.6 degrees catastrophic. There are serious scientists who doubt that human civilization can endure at all in the face of 7.2 degrees. And we are headed for 10.8.

In short, the Nate Silvers of climate science are forecasting a landslide — that is, humanity under a landslide of drought, floods, disease, and dislocation. They’re telling us that unless we change our campaign strategy, i.e., undertake rapid, large-scale efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, our chances of surviving and prospering are dim and getting dimmer ...

But on the biggest, most pressing risk facing the country, those involved in U.S. politics might as well be witch doctors. Or worse, Karl Rove.

Yeah, it's nearly impossible for any of us to actually comprehend the extent that we're altering the climate. We don't really feel that we're spewing unholy amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It doesn't seem that by doing so, we're spurring a massive, dangerous disruption to the entire biosphere.

Kind of like it was impossible for pundit-class Republicans to comprehend that in the midst of a sluggish economy, their "momentum"-laden candidate might lose the election. It didn't feel like it could possibly be true. But hard data, we've learned, doesn't lie. We've got to get serious about reconciling the hard climate data with reality, with our politics, and with the way that we're planning for the future.

In the wake of election, data crunchers became rock stars. Big Data delivered the truth; we'll pay closer attention to the math next time. It's time we began to treat the projections of our best climate modelers with the same reverence.

After the Election, Big Data Is King. So Climate Models Should Be, Too
Everyone has been congratulating Nate Silver and tireless poll aggregators for correctly predicting the outcome of last Tuesday's election. Let's pay climate modelers the same respect.

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