A Lumpy Container, Yet.

Now that I’ve explained what I’m trying to do, maybe I should start to explain where I’m coming from.

I come at this from a branch of what I call Messy Classical Physics. MCP deals with ordinary non-exotic physics, but in really complicated situations where pencil and paper math is quickly overwhelmed.  The branch of MCP that most interests me deals with rotating, stratified, radiatively forced, mixed state, convective… (etc.) fluids. In a lumpy container.

I like approaching climatology as a problem in physics. While it’s big and messy there’s nothing weird or counterintuitive. It’s got a lot of pieces, but it starts in the realm of things that are intuitively accessible; meters, seconds, ordinary everyday temperatures and pressures.  So it’s one of the easiest of all messy physics problems, much easier than biophysics, very much easier than particle physics or cosmology, infinitely easier than a complete model of psychology or economics, if such a thing is even possible. 

There turns out to be beautiful and elaborate math which models the system pretty well, but it’s only approximate.  It’s too messy for getting very far with pencil and paper, but see, we have these computers. What fun! Let’s try to put all the important bits into a computer and see what happens. 

“Wow, that looks sort of right! Did you get a Hadley cell? A Walker circulation? A Gulf Stream? An El Nino? Cool!”

“Wonder what would happen if you twist this knob here? I’ll bet it would do… “

“Naw, it wouldn’t, what would happen is…”
“Bet you a beer…”
“You’re on…”
But oops, it turns out that while we are happily geeking away learning how to make our toy model, people out in the real world are twiddling the knobs of the real system, tweaking them this way and that like a bunch of cavorting chimpanzees. (Before we even have a properly instrumented baseline! Great plan!) 

So what will happens to the real system? Don’t know? So, naturally, some of y’all knob-twiddlers think to ask us nerdy guys who have a sorta-kinda-working model.
“Um, uh, that’s a pretty big deal, it looks like”, we say. “Maybe four watts per square meter, bigger than the forcing that kicks off ice ages, for sure.”
Four watts per square meter?” you reply. “Are you sure? Are you sure you’re sure? Ha! So you’re not 100% sure you’re sure, are you?”
So here we are.
Now let me ask you this. If you really understood how the climate system worked, by which I mean the real system, the one where you live, where your house is, where everybody’s house is, would you be 
  • a) more worried or 
  • b) less worried about the knob twiddling? 
I mean, compared to if you had no idea whatsoever?

OK, following on that, suppose NOBODY understood how it worked. Suppose you couldn’t even find anyone who looked like a genuine climate nerd. Would you be 

  • a) more worried or 
  • b) less worried 
than if there were folks whose opinion you believed you could trust?
I, myself, sometimes doubt that climatology is all that robust.  Yup, (usually when I’ve been away from the real geniuses for a few months) there are even those days when I feel my field is hopelessly confused. Those are the days I worry the most.

So those of you who make a naughty schoolboy game of mocking and angering the climate nerds really ought to reconsider. You want happy and comfortable climate nerds.You want hardworking and productive climate nerds. Dissing us is a very bad habit. You want this thing figured out for real. And if at times you suspect that we aren’t very good at it, that’s when you really should start worrying.

Because if we climate nerds are right, you are already in big trouble, but if we’re completely off base, you could be in very very very big trouble — for all you know.

Why is it that so many people get this exactly backwards? The press gets it wrong, the “climate auditors” get it wrong, and the public is misled. 
So if you enjoy practicing the manly sport of asking climate geeks for their source code, I can see where you are coming from. It is something you really ought to be worried about, though you ought to be doing it for something more than schoolboy giggles.
But remember this. The less you know about the boat you are on, the more careful you should be about rocking it. 
The less sound you believe our understanding of the world climate to be, the more you should avoid twiddling the knobs that affect it. The less impressed you are with us and our theories and our codes, the sooner you should be recycling your SUV, riding your bike downtown, and joining the marching masses in the streets, demanding a stringent carbon cap.