The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 8, 2014

Herb Van Fleet, columnist: Butterfly effect trumps climate change beliefs

TULSA, Okla. — The great poet and philosopher Yogi Berra once astutely observed that “predicting is hard, especially about the future.” Well, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it look easy.

In its latest report, “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis,” issued March 31, the IPCC says in so many words (covering 1,552 pages) that the sky is falling. No kidding. This report is predicting the end of civilization as we know it.

It declares with “very high confidence” that “impacts from recent climate–related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability. Impacts of such climate-related extremes include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, morbidity and mortality, and consequences for mental health and human well-being.”

In other words, Armageddon.

All this, says the IPCC, is our fault: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Bad humans, bad, bad.

Not surprisingly, there are some who would quarrel with the IPCC over its conclusions. One of them is an organization that calls itself the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, which is a part of The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank. The NIPCC also released a report on March 31, this one titled “Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts.”  

The NIPCC report says, “No unambiguous evidence exists of dangerous interference in the global climate caused by human-related CO2 emissions. In particular, the cryosphere (ice and glaciers) is not melting at an enhanced rate; sea-level rise is not accelerating; and no systematic changes have been documented in evaporation or rainfall or in the magnitude or intensity of extreme meteorological events. Any human global climate signal is so small as to be nearly indiscernible against the background variability of the natural climate system.”

According to the NIPCC, then, the IPCC got it all wrong and carbon dioxide is actually good for us. That’s music to the ears of global warming deniers.

However, if you’re going to believe the NIPCC, you should be aware that much of the data provided by its contributors (about 30 of them) was not peer-reviewed and that many were even paid for their input. The IPCC uses independent, peer-reviewed materials from over 700 contributors, for which it pays nothing. Also, the NIPCC is sponsored by a libertarian organization, while the IPCC is sponsored by the United Nations.

Well, I’m certainly no expert on climate change, but I do like charts and graphs. The IPCC report definitely takes the prize for charts and graphs. Therefore, given the dire consequences of the IPCC predictions, I am cautiously pessimistic about the future.

Of course, this controversy, if there is one, is great fodder for politicians. The liberals believe it is highly likely that a Category 5 hurricane will eventually take out New York City. The conservatives, though, are willing to take that bet.

Whatever you believe about climate change, global warming, changes in greenhouse gas emissions and the like, all of it is trumped by a variation of chaos theory known as the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect is this:  “A small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state.” The common hypothetical illustration, and the way the effect got its name, is to say that the beating of the wings of a butterfly in Japan could, when combined with other weather events over time, produce a tornado in Kansas.

And that, of course, is how Dorothy ended up in the land of Oz.

In the end, it’s just like what Will Rogers, borrowing from Mark Twain, famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in (pick a location), just wait five minutes.”

HERB VAN FLEET, a former Joplin resident, lives in Tulsa, Okla. Contact him at


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