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Are you freezing? Join the crowd. Arctic air is sweeping across Canada. Snow and ice are wreaking havoc on Britain. Russians are dying from the cold. And Germans are sneaking into forests to cut down trees because their fuel bills are so high.
Hey! Whatever happened to global warming?
That’s a naive question, of course. Everybody knows there’s little or no connection between daily weather events and climate change (except when there’s a heat wave, a hurricane or some other natural disaster, in which case global warming is invariably to blame). Experts will tell you that our bitter winter weather proves nothing about climate change – that the world is still warming up at an alarming rate.
Well, maybe not so alarming. Global temperatures have now held steady for 16 years. They levelled off around 1997. The latest data come from Britain’s weather and climate agency, the Met Office, which says you can’t draw any conclusions from such a short span of time. Still, the data are proving awkward for leading climatologists, who are reluctantly admitting that their projections have their limits. Nor is the news likely to increase support for activists such as NASA scientist James Hansen, who warned, in an interview with The Guardian back in 2009, that Barack Obama had only four years to set an example for the world and avert disaster.
I’m not questioning the basic science of global warming. The last decade was the warmest on record, and the next one may be even warmer. My point is that our uncertainty about the future is rather great. Our economic models turned out to be lousy. Why should our climate models be better?
“Climate models do a poor job of making predictions on decadal time scales,” Judith Curry, the head of the climate science department at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told me in an e-mail. “Climate models capture some elements of climate change, but they have deficiencies in the simulation of natural internal variability.”
In other words, climate change is very, very complicated.
For the rest of this column, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/whatever-happened-to-global-warming/article7725145/?ord=1