How to Be Right About the Climate: Always!

Vincenzo Ferrara, the scientist advising the Italian Environment Minister on Climate Changes, explains how to become a famous Climatologist in a 1982 article (“(”Rivista di Meteorologia Aeronautica”, Vol XLII n. 1, Jan-Mar 1982).

The following is an abridged translation:

If you are a climatologist and you want to survive as a climatologist, perhaps even increasing your reputation, all you have to do is provide the exact diagnosis and prognosis that people expect.

To the question “Is the climate changing?“, by all means, never, ever reply “No, everything’s normal“, or “It’s just fakery pumped up by newspapers and on television“: because people would unanimously conclude that you understand nothing about metereology, and nothing about climate.

It would be the end of your career.

The only sensible answer is: “Of course it is changing! It’s a well-known fact, scientifically confirmed and one that none cannot argue against“. You can then launch yourself in forecasting for the next hundred years a climate identical to the current one, amplifying the latest phenomena to extreme consequences.

If it is cold you’ll therefore predict “ice ages“, if it’s warm a “torrid period“, and if there are signs of strong variability “short-term climatic extremes” and more-or-less the same climate in the long term.

You may be wondering, how can a serious climatologist provide impossible, mutually-excluding forecasts without looking silly? Fear not: science will provide all the support needed.

Because climatology has already thought of everything and will supply the right solution in every circumstance, even in the most hopeless cases.

So if it is cold, here’s what you will have to say: “The climate is changing and we are approaching an Ice Age.

This fact has already been scientifically assessed because since 1940, the average temperature of the northern hemisphere has diminished by approximately 0,4°C, probably because of a decrease in atmospheric transparency due to air pollution.

The cooling of the air causes an increase in the extension of glaciers and of snow fields, furthering lowering temperatures with their highly reflecting (high albedo) surfaces. Glaciers therefore increase even more, in a positive feedback that will bring us to a new Ice Age in a hundred years or even less“.

What if it is warm? Then the discourse becomes: “The climate is changing and we are approaching a Torrid Age.

This fact has already been scientifically assessed because since 1850 the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere has progressively increased and just in the last twenty years has gone from 315 to 334 parts for million. That means that in 2020 the accumulation of carbon dioxide will have more than doubled, taking into account the continuously increasing energy demands and consumption of fossil fuels.

The increase of carbon dioxide reduces the Earth’s long-wave emissions to space (greenhouse effect) so within half a century the average air temperature will increase by approximately 2 or 3°C; the polar ice will dissolve and a sizeable sea level increase will submerge several coastal cities“.

This can inspire a new version of an old joke:

An atmospheric physicist, a metereologist and a famous climatologist are interviewed for a position as climatologist. The atmospheric physicist is asked: “What do you predict for the climate next year?” and proceeds to answer: “I am not sure, but give me a supercomputer and I will set up the calculations for a rough forecast“. It’s now the metereologist’s turn, and the answer is: “I am not sure, but provide me with the seasonal charts and the observations from previous years, I will set up the calculations in order for a rough forecast“.

The famous climatologist is finally asked “What do you predict for the climate next year?“. To that, the answer is “Whatever you want me to predict…“.