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Nailed It! (Eclipse vs Climate Science)

August 21, 2017

Odd. No one is in denial of America’s Aug 21 total solar eclipse. Like climate change, methods & tools of science predict it.

A popular scientist tweeted that out last week. As of today it was retweeted 110,613 times. It racked up 260K likes on Twitter. I’m sure that he was quite pleased with his example and convinced it was one more damning indictment against Climate Deniers.

What’s ironic? His tweet exactly illustrates why Climate Skeptics are. . .well. . .skeptical.

You know those instagram photos where someone tries to reproduce the cute snowman cupcakes and they end up with something that looks like snowman roadkill? The people posting it are honest enough to laugh at themselves and post


When we can all see that they failed spectacularly.

The eclipse was the original instagram post and Climate Science is the poor imitation.

Like many of you in the United States, I stood outside at lunch time on Monday and watched day turn to night. Well, where I was in Salt Lake City, we didn’t get a full eclipse. We had 93% coverage at the maximum. The moon first started to cut into the sun at 10:13am. It was darkest exactly 20 minutes later at 11:33am. The moon had cleared out completely 26 minutes later at 12:59pm.

Where you were the times were different, of course. But, if you chose to, you could find exactly when it started for your location, what the maximum coverage was and exactly when it ended.

I can tell you from personal experience the science types got it exactly right. And that’s where Climate Skeptics have an issue with Climate Science.

Suppose that instead of 10:13am, the scientists had said,

Well, we’re not exactly sure when it will start, but we’re 97% confident that it will be started by 10:30. And for Salt Lake City, we’re not sure how dark it will get, but it’s going to get pretty dark. . .probably.

We’d have a pretty poor view of the astronomers, if they couldn’t give us the time and extent of the phenomenon. Or, suppose they did give us exact times. Suppose they said,

The eclipse will start at 10:00am in Salt Lake City and have a 97% maximum coverage at 10:45am.

We’d all be standing out in our driveways at 10:00am asking “Where is it?” And when it only got to 93% most of us wouldn’t notice, but some would point out that the astronomers got it wrong. How much confidence would you have in the astronomers?

Here’s the problem with Climate Science. It’s still immature. Climate Change is real. Of course, it is. And humans have an impact on the climate. “How much?” is the real question. And what happens in the future? We’ve been studying the climate for years and we’ve seen predictions come and go. Some have been pretty accurate. (Carbon content in the atmosphere is tracking very closely to the prediction.) Others have not. We were offered a “range” for temperature change.

Did you get a “range” for when the eclipse would start? Or did you get a time? Yeah, me too.

Some predictions have failed spectacularly. We were told after the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that Climate Change was going to cause more frequent and more severe hurricanes. 2005 marked the start of an unprecedented period of lower hurricane frequency. The United States hasn’t been hit with another major hurricane in over a decade.

In 2000 UK scientists predicted that snowfall in England would become a very rare event. Since then, England has not only had snow, but broke a 248 year old record for the wettest winter on on record.

The point is NOT that Climate Change is not real. Climate Change is real. And the more we can figure out about why the Climate is changing the better we can predict crop schedules, heating oil needs, transportation disruptions, sea rise, and a myriad of other really useful predictions.

But, let’s be clear. Climate Science is nowhere near as accurate as astronomy. The eclipse started and ended at exactly the time it was predicted to. And the next one in 2048 will no doubt show up right on time.

That’s what makes people trust science: predictability. I have no doubt that we will get better at understanding the Climate. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point that we can predict temperature changes, sea ice coverage, sea level changes, and other aspects of Climate with the degree of accuracy we saw in the sky today.

Until we do, the Climate Scientists will continue to have to look at their predictions compared to solar eclipse science and announce, “Nailed it!”

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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