Sunday, April 08, 2007

Why no mention of complex adaptive systems in the climate change reports?

One aspect of the recent climate change reports that stands out like a sore thumb is the complete and total lack of any acknowledgement that our environment and climate is a complex adaptive system. I searched through the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Working Group II Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for Policymakers, but found not even a hint that the report authors acknowledge that our environment, the atmossphere, the hydrosphere, the biosphere, and the geosphere are each in their own right complex adaptive systems, let alone that together they are an even more complex adaptive system. This shouldn't be too big a surprise, since the extreme levels of confidence about forecasting the future of the climate and its impacts on the envirnment are indicative of a failure to comprehend the basic, unpredictable nature of complex adaptive systems.

The hallmark of a complex adaptive system are the twin concepts of emergent phenomena and evolution. Nothing that the IPCC has put out this year so far has acknowledged the relevance of emergent phenomena and the inherent unpredictability of evolutionary systems.

This has to make you wonder how the IPCC is modeling climate change, especially many decades into the future. Complex adaptive systems are notoriously difficult to model for any time scale. Yet, somehow, scientists are claiming to have modeled our environment to a level of confidence which in theory should not even be possible. This leaves me deeply suspicious.

-- Jack Krupansky


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