Is The NSF Funding Untestable Climate Predictions – My Comments On A $6 Million Grant To Fund A Center For Robust Decision–Making On Climate And Energy Policy”

I was informed [h/t to Robert Ferguson] of a new NSF Center at the University of Chicago. The news release of February 17 2011 on this Center is

$6 million grant to fund center for robust decision–making on climate and energy policy.

This new Center appears to fit into the conclusion that the National Science Foundation is failing in its support of  research questions based on sound scientific practices, as I outlined in my posts

The Difference Between Prediction and Predictability – Recommendations For Research Funding Related to These Distinctly Different Concepts

Diminishing Returns From Multi-Decadal Global Climate Model Simulations

The National Science Foundation Funds Multi-Decadal Climate Predictions Without An Ability To Verify Their Skill

In the third post above, I wrote (slightly edited)

“Funding of multi-decadal regional climate predictions by the National Science Foundation which cannot be verified in terms of accuracy is not only a poor use of tax payer funds, but is misleading policymakers and others on the actual skill that exists in predicting changes [in the climate] in the future.”

The University of Chicago press release reads

“The Computation Institute at the University of Chicago is leading a new multi–institutional, interdisciplinary center to build tools to help governments, the private sector and individuals make better–informed decisions relating to both climate and energy policies and the long–term consequences of climate change.

The Center will organize much of its research around CIM–EARTH (Community Integrated Model of Economic and Resource Trajectories for Humankind), a new modeling framework that enables more powerful and transparent simulation of the interactions of climatic and other physical processes with human activities, including economic systems, agricultural markets, land use changes and population trends. The goal of the Center’s research, and CIM–EARTH, is to provide useful information to policymakers, who must make decisions that will carry trillions of dollars worth of impact, whether as mitigation costs, adaptation costs or damage from climate change.”

The CIM-EARTH effort is described as

“CIM-EARTH is a collaborative, multi-institutional project to design a large-scale integrated modeling framework as a tool for decision makers in climate and energy policy. CIM-EARTH is intended to enhance economic detail and computational capabilities in climate change policy models, and to nucleate and support a broad interdisciplinary and international community of researchers and policymakers.”

The figure on the CIM-EARTH website is reproduced below.

image
The proposed coupling between the human and earth systems in the above figure is very much needed. This analysis should be completed with current climate and for historical and recent paleo-climatic conditions.
 However, as evident in their figures (e.g. where they present economic predictions out to 2060), they appear to be focusing on multi-decadal earth system (climate) predictions as the input to the “human system” part of their modeling effort. Presumably, these would be the IPCC mulit-decadal global climate model forecasts.
 
IF this is an accurate characterization of their Center, in that it is based on IPCC climate model predictions, then it is scientifically flawed in that there is no way to validate the climate forecasts that interact with their human system models (regardless of how robust those models are).
 
A  robust way for the Center to use NSF funds would be to examine the bottom-up, resource-based perspective that was outlined in the post
 
 
where I wrote
 

“There are 5 broad areas that we can use to define the need for vulnerability assessments : water, food, energy, [human] health and ecosystem function. Each area has societally critical resources. The vulnerability concept requires the determination of the major threats to these resources from climate, but also from other social and environmental issues. After these threats are identified for each resource, then the relative risk from natural- and human-caused climate change (estimated from the GCM projections, but also the historical, paleo-record and worst case sequences of events) can be compared with other risks in order to adopt the optimal mitigation/adaptation strategy.”

The University of Chicago Center, as presented in the news release and on the CIM-EARTH website, appear to be perpetuating the scientifically flawed approach of using untestable climate model predictions to communicate economic and other human impacts decades from now to policymakers as robust science. The National Science Foundation needs to be challenged on  their funding of studies which are based on untestable multi-decadal global climate model predictions.

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