Questions: What we do not know about the climate?

Citizen Scientist Willis Eschenbach is a prolific poster on climate issues at Watts Up With That. In a New Years post of reflection on where we are in climate science and where we need to go, Willis has posted a number questions; what we do not know now, or know in the future, with a list of his most important questions. For those of you who are not regular WUWT reader I am posting Willis questions for you thoughts and comments

Willis writes:

With that as a prologue, let me give at least a partial list of what we don’t know about the climate. Now, bear in mind that I’m not saying we don’t have theories about any number of these questions. Everyone has theories about some or all of these unanswered puzzles, including myself. But there is no agreement, no so-called “consensus”, about the following matters:


• Why the earth has been generally cooling since we came out of the last ice age.

• Why the earth generally cooled from earlier in the millennium to the “Little Ice Age” in the 1600-1700s

• Why the earth generally warmed from the “Little Ice Age” in the 1600-1700s to the present.

• Why the warming of 1910-1940 was as large and as fast as the warming of 1975-1998.

• Why the warming that started in 1975 plateaued in the last couple decades.

• What the current generation of climate models are missing that made them all wrong about the current plateau.

• Why there has been no increase in extreme weather events despite a couple of centuries of warming.

• Why the albedo of the northern hemisphere is the same as the albedo of the southern hemisphere, year after year, despite radically different amounts of ocean and land in the two hemispheres.

• Why there has been no acceleration of sea level rise despite numerous predictions that it would occur.


• Whether the earth will warm over the next decade.

• Whether the earth will warm over the next century.

• What the climate of 2050 or 2100 will be like. Wetter? More windy? More droughts? Calmer? More hurricanes? Fewer tornadoes? We don’t have a clue.

• Whether a couple of degrees of warming would be a net bonus, a net loss, or a catastrophic Thermageddon.

• Whether predicting future climate is a “boundary problem”.

• If predicting future climate is a boundary problem, what the boundaries might be and what their future values might be.

• Whether the evolution of the climate is predictable even in theory over anything but the short term.


• Why the system is so stable in the very short term (decadal), e.g. the net top-of-atmosphere (TOA) imbalance hasn’t varied by much more than half a watt per square metre over the last 14 years of the CERES records.

• Why the system is so stable in the short term (centuries), e.g. a variation in surface temperature of only ± 0.1% over the 20th century.

• Why the system is so stable in the longer term (millennia), e.g. a variation in surface temperature of only ± 0.5% over the Holocene.

• Why the system is so stable in the even longer term (a million years), e.g. a variation in surface temperature over the period of the ice ages of only ± 1% over the last million years.

• Why the system is so stable in the longest term (a half billion years), e.g. the sun has increased in strength by 5% over that period, an increase of about 13 W/m2. According to the accepted theory such an increase in forcing should have led to a surface temperature increase of 13°C over that period … why didn’t that increase happen.

• Why we are no closer to getting a value for the so-called “climate sensitivity” than we were thirty years ago. After uncountable hours of human labor, after huge increases in the size and complexity of our models, after unprecedented increases in computer power, after millions and millions of dollars spent on the problem, the error bounds on the answer have not narrowed at all … why not?

Your thoughts on the these questions by  Citizen Scientist Willis Eschenbach are most welcome, here or at WUWT.


Author: Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

7 thoughts on “Questions: What we do not know about the climate?”

    1. Thanks for the heads up, I sent Anthony Watts a note on the course. It might be fun to take the course just to see what they are promoting. I see some of the usual suspects listed as instructors.

      1. Russ, I enrolled in that course, but: because i asked them: ”can I have PhD, in climatology, if I pay $10 extra B] are they printing those diplomas on a soft paper, so they can be at least for some good news? …. they excommunicated me…

  1. Russ, Very interesting questions however, I have a problem with one of them, that question on the climate being stable over (millennia). Climate forced the Vikings out of Greenland just a little over 1,000 years ago. There is a record of a great event that took place over 11,500 years ago. Country’s such as China, Egypt, Japan, and Africa know and have this on record. However, no one knows what the earth’s temperature was at that point in time as very little of the earth’s human population and animal population had survived and there were no thermometers at the time to measure the temperature. Here is a video of that event explained To know what the earth’s climate is going to be a 1,000 or 10,000 years from now is all up to the forces of the galaxy and universe and of coarse the sun.

    1. Anthony j. Mengotto

      Climate is in constant change, BUT: there is no such a thing as ”global” warming! All warmings / coolings are localized = therefore: in 100y will not be any global warming!!!

      Here is the proof of constant climatic changes: Past and future ”GLOBAL” warmings are phony BUT: climate always changed in the past, and always will change in the future; and that is essential, H2O changes the climate, not COT. The best proof that: the climate was always changing in the past, is: in most of the critters and plants – most of their genes have degenerated / useless, those are the ”junk genes” BUT: the ”genes for adaptation and diversification” are still alive, functioning in every plant and critter – to keep those genes functioning; that’s why the good lord made climate to be in constant change. The old saying: ”use it or lose it”couldn’t be more truth; whoever said that, must have being a clever person. If you want the best proofs BEYOND ANY REASONABLE DOUBT, that can put the leading Warmist in jail, and put you out of misery here:

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