How smart computers are fighting the battle for climate science by David Milberg

How Smart Computers Are Fighting the Battle for Climate Science

The entire coal mining industry is at the top of the pyramid when it comes to businesses going after climate science. No matter where you are on the “debate” about climate change, it’s tough to argue that there’s any more strident opponent to further research into the idea that humans are causing increased levels of climate change than the coal industry.

It’s easy to see why. The science points a big finger right at the industry. And the science doesn’t take into account the pride and culture and heritage … not to mention heat and cooking energy and electricity … that coal has provided for the nation for generations. People who dig coal care deeply about the vocation. To them, it’s not just a job, and when something threatens that vocation, they circle the wagons in a big way.

But scientific interests are pushing back. Recently, a new supercomputer was unveiled in Wyoming, a top coal mining state. The machine is the size of the average house, and it’s feverishly crunching data to help clear up some of the questions related to climate science. The computer is housed in Cheyenne and funded by federal research grants.

The machine has a tall order ahead of it: trying to more accurately predict weather patterns and modeling air currents at wind farms, among other weather and climate-related activities. Capable of making 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second, it’s the 20th fastest computer in the world, and may very well be up to the task set before it. And, at this point, pro-coal climate change deniers are cheering the progress.

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, told the Associated Press research is good for the industry. “Before we start making policy decisions on this, the science has got to be good…”

Supporters cheer that kind of commentary, while legions of others who have read the science that’s already out there, jeer it. They think the only science Deti will call “good” is cooked numbers that support his industry, and they cite a huge number of peer-reviewed studies calling climate change the equivalent of settled science … though research on the details is ongoing.

That term “settled science” is the core of the argument from a public relations perspective. Both sides use that term to bolster their own arguments on Deti’s side, they say the science is far from “settled,” and that more research should be done before any decisions are made. On the other side, folks are saying, yes, more research should be done on the details to get a clearer picture, but the broad brush strokes are certainly “settled.”

Which message has the biggest following? That depends on who you ask, and who they’ve been listening to. Climate science is one of the most deeply divided topics in our culture, with people on either side refusing to even countenance the arguments from the other … having already made up their minds. It is going to be a tough challenge to get either side to bend, and it may be decades before the evidence is truly incontrovertible.

David Milberg is a financial expert in NYC  with nearly 3 decades of experience in the finance industry. He is a long-time owner of Milberg Factors, a factoring and finance company with locations in New York, California, and North Carolina.