Frequently And Never Asked Questions

Questions that people often ask, or never thought to ask, after reading The Climate Demon (or even before reading it).

Have questions?


Q1. Is global warming a Black Swan event? (p.87)

No. Technically, a Black Swan event should be completely unexpected and most people expect global warming to some degree. (The Antarctic Ozone Hole, on the other hand, was a Black Swan event because it was completely unexpected.)

Q2. Did you know that climate modeling and Suki Manabe would win the Physics Nobel Prize in 2021? (p.67)

No. The book was sent to the printers a month before the Nobel announcement. I didn't expect that climate modeling would be recognized with a Physics Nobel, as you can tell from how Manabe is introduced in Chapter 4 of the book:

Syukuro “Suki” Manabe was born in rural Japan, the son and grandson of medical doctors. When he went to the University of Tokyo, it was assumed that he would follow in their footsteps. But Manabe despised biology and soon switched fields to physics. Figuring that he was not smart enough to be a theoretical physicist, and not handy enough to be an experimental physicist, he decided to study geophysics.

Here's Manabe's own reaction to the Nobel award:

When I got the phone call this morning, I was so surprised. Usually, the Nobel Prize in physics is awarded to physicists making a fundamental contribution in physics. Yes, my work is based on physics, but it’s applied physics. Geophysics.

You could say that the Nobel award was a Black Swan event, of the pleasant kind.

Q3. What about the IPCC Sixth Assessment (AR6)?

The book does not discuss any AR6 results because the proofs were completed before the Working Group 1 report was released. But the IPCC report is based on published literature and it was not hard to guess what some of the important conclusions were likely to be. For example, the AR6 likely climate sensitivity range closely tracks the 2020 WCRP Assessment discussed in the book (p.222, p.240). Also, the AR6 projections constrain model results based on certain criteria that discount models with high simulated climate sensitivies. This ex post facto imposition of what is effectively a retroactive tuning mandate for model acceptability (p.175) ends up making the AR6 temperature projections (Figure 4.11c of AR6-WG1) look rather similar to the AR5 projections (Figure 7.4c of the book).

Past IPCC assessments relied primarily on comprehensive climate models to estimate key global parameters such as climate sensitivity and the fraction of recent warming attributable to greenhouse gas forcings. The AR6 report relies more on an assortment of statistical models coupled with simple physical models to estimate these global parameters from data. What the book speculated might be "an implicit rebuke of the latest generation of models with higher climate sensitivities" (p.222) by the IPCC turned out to be a rather more explicit rebuke!

If you feel that this book may have been too harsh on comprehensive climate models, the AR6 report is in some ways even harsher (especially if you read between the lines). For instance, the book recommends selecting a set of acceptable comprehensive climate models and aggregating their simulations them to make climate projections (p.298). The AR6 report instead uses a hybrid (and somewhat inelegant) approach to making climate projections that involves averaging emulations based on analysis of past data with constrained simulations from comprehensive models (Figure 4.11d of AR6-WG1). The broad qualitative conclusions of the book, though, are not altered by the results of the AR6 report – that's the nice thing about taking climate models seriously but not literally!

Q4. The age-old question: Star Trek or Star Wars, which is better? (p.37)

The book clearly prefers the episodic Star Trek (nondeterministic) over the epic Star Wars (too deterministic). Spock will likely provide better advice to deal with climate change than Darth Vader (or Han or Luke or Leia, for that matter – although older Obi Wan may do the job), even though Spock has been criticized for assuming that others will act rationally like him when picking the optimal solution.

Q5. What is this Columbo thing? (p.104)

It is a detective show that usually older people watch, and even I like it.

Q6. Can you really buy insurance to protect against the zombie apocalypse and/or alien abductions? (p.291)

Apparently, you can! For example, see Yup, You Can Insure That! and Would Life Insurance Cover Zombies? We Asked the Experts.

Q7. Shouldn’t this book be called The Climate Demon Demon, to be consistent with its subtitle?

Yes, and if you have figured this out, you must be a logic fiend as well as a Laplace Demon aficionado – I didn’t realize this inconsistency until the book had been sent to the printers. In any case, I’m sure the editor would have rejected this accurately recursive but obviously clunky title. [A bit of history: I kept a few random notes over the years under a file labeled Occam’s Beard for a book with a broad scope dealing with general issues of complexity. By the time of the first draft, the scope had narrowed to a topic that I actually knew something about, i.e., climate prediction, and the working title became Butterflies in the Greenhouse. Worried that the book may end up being shelved in the gardening section, I used a forgettable working title when submitting it to the Cambridge editor, Matt Lloyd, who, after reading the draft, suggested The Climate Demon.]