Bastardi’s Wager
A meteorologist has a challenge for climate scientists.


Joe Bastardi’s great love is atmospheric science. He says he’s been fascinated by it “since I was a baby. My dad’s a meteorologist, his great-grandfather was the town weatherman in Sicily, and my son wants to be a meteorologist.”

And he’s disturbed by how the science, which he values for its own sake, has been infected with politics. According to Bastardi, the intelligentsia see new weather developments as an “incessant stream of confirmations” of global warming: “I just took out the New York Times from ten years ago, saying the reason it’s not snowing is global warming. Now you’ve got guys in the Times saying the reason it’s snowing is global warming.”

But unlike most climate skeptics, Bastardi is in a position to change the conversation. He’s a meteorologist and forecaster with AccuWeather, and he proposes a wager of sorts. “The scientific approach is you see the other argument, you put forward predictions about where things are going to go, and you test them,” he says. “That is what I have done. I have said the earth will cool .1 to .2 Celsius in the next ten years, according to objective satellite data.” Bastardi’s challenge to his critics — who are legion — is to make their own predictions. And then wait. Climate science, he adds, “is just a big weather forecast.”

What’s his reasoning? Here are some specific topics on which Bastardi disagrees with mainstream climate scientists:

— First, Bastardi thinks climate scientists are too quick to extrapolate from recent trends. “The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] says this is the warmest decade ever — well, that’s like you wake up every morning and weigh 175 pounds, and one morning you wake up and are 175.1.” In other words, even a decade-long trend could be a random fluctuation, rather than a reflection of long-term changes. He adds, “Here’s the global-warming argument: Given the best data we have, looking at all the solar sets, Milankovitch cycles, and everything else, the earth is about a half degree warmer than it should be. Why is that? Well, where can you stack the answer? Well, it must be man.” That, he thinks, is a conclusion drawn too hastily.

● Second, even when climate scientists do measure long-term trends, they use unreliable methods: “We started using objective satellite data in 1978. When they readjust temperatures, they do it [on numbers that were collected] before the satellite era. Now, how the hell can you make an adjustment on temperatures back in the Thirties when you’re not measuring it the same way now?” He claims tree rings aren’t decisive, either — because it is impossible to isolate the effect of temperature on tree growth. Bastardi prefers historical weather reports, which, in his view, paint a more complex climate history than tree-ring haruspices admit. “I dig into everything I can get my hands on; the historical foundation of climatology is huge,” he says. “There are times when Michelangelo was snowed in to his apartment in Rome, it was so cold over there. Look at the Roman army getting over the Alps. How the heck did they do that? Those mountain passes go up real, real high. If there wasn’t a time of warming in that area, that wouldn’t be possible.”

● Third, Bastardi sees modern climate scientists as inordinately fixated on carbon dioxide at the expense of other major factors (an example of their narrow, model-focused approaches, versus his tendency toward holistic empirical observation). “It’s almost the equivalent of saying, ‘Your big toe runs your body,’” he says. “Carbon dioxide is a trace gas, a tiny gas, part of this huge system. You’re trying to tell me that’s going to control the system and influence the energy of the system? When you have things like the sun, which is obviously the greatest contributor to the world’s energy? It almost defies common sense.”

Those thoughts don’t seem to be motivated by anti-environmental enthusiasm. Bastardi has some concerns about real pollutants: “It’s one thing with sulfur. Sulfur is the type of the thing where it forms a particulate in the air, and it can really screw things up.” But he notes that in recent years, “CO2 is still increasing, and the overall temperature has leveled off.”


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