Drooling on the Pillow

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Kyoto Kut-Ups 

This is from James Gleick's book Chaos, page 21.
The modern weather models work with a grid of points
on the order of sixty miles apart, and even so, some
starting data has to be guessed, since ground stations
and satellites cannot see everywhere. But suppose the
earth could be covered with sensors spaced one foot
apart, rising at one-foot intervals all the way to the top
of the atmosphere. Suppose every sensor gives perfectly
accurate readings of temperature, pressure, humidity,
and any other quantity a meteorologist would want.
Precisely at noon an infinitely powerful computer takes
all the data and calculates what will happen at each point
at 12:01, then 12:02, then 12:03 . . .

The computer will still be unable to predict whether
Princeton, New Jersey, will have sun or rain on a day
one month away. At noon the spaces between the
sensors will hide fluctuations that the computer will not
know about, tiny deviations from the average. By 12:01,
those fluctuations will already have created small errors
one foot away. Soon the errors will have multiplied to to
the ten-foot scale, and so on up to the size of the globe.
You don't need to understand fractal geometry or Mandelbrot Sets to understand that, irregardless of computer modeling and doppler radar, when the weather guy tells you it's going to rain tomorrow there'll be a certain number of days when you don't open that umbrella. And when he tells you it'll be sunny three days from now about half the time you'll wish you had that umbrella. And when he tries to tell you the weather five days from now you don't even listen.

That's because the weather is a system so vast and complicated that even if it is not a non-linear system, which many scientists believe it to be, it might as well be because every computer in the world crunching a hypothetically complete set of data cannot tell you with any degree of certainty what the weather will be in Princeton one week from now.

And yet the one of the international agreements that the President is excoriated for 'abandoning' is the Kyoto Protocol.

What it's based on is a weather report. One hundred years from now it's going to be hot. Too hot. With a 100% chance of cataclysm. That's what certain computer models say. So we have to do something.

The absurdity of prescribing a set of protocols with grave political and economic consequences based upon inherently, intractably, intrinsically flawed predictive models is so dumb only an intellectual could sign on.

Certainly, no one in the Senate signed on when they voted 95-0 (a ‘Sense of the Senate resolution) against it in 1997 and Clinton had the common sense not to allow it to be brought to a actual vote.

Now it may or may not be getting warmer. It probably is. That warming may or may not have a little or a lot to do with human activity. It very likely does, to some extent. And, assuming it is and it does, that warming may or may not continue for a hundred years. But nobody knows for sure and anyone who claims to is merely theorizing.

Which is fine. That's what scientists do and God bless them, they should continue with it and send us reports now and again.

But if they're going to ask us to sign on to a system of fundamental restrictions that effects the health and welfare, the wealth and freedom of every living person on the planet and their children's and their children's children's, is it too much to ask that they tell us whether to wear our rubbers in Princeton next week? And be right? Maybe a couple times in a row?
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