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Scientist: ‘What If Our Guesses Are Wrong?’ – ‘Flawed computer models have overestimated the rate of global warming since the turn of the century’


What If Our Guesses Are Wrong?

Published in the Journal of Forestry • May 2014

By Dr. David B. South – Emeritus Professor of Forestry, Auburn University.

This old professor would like to comment on four “climate change” articles. A 1973 article entitled “Brace yourself for another ice age” (Science Digest 57:57– 61) contained the following quote: “Man is doing these things… such as industrial pollution and deforestation that have effects on the environment.” A 1975 article about “Weather and world food” (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 56:1078–1083) indicated the return of an ice age would decrease food production. The author said “there is an urgent need for a better understanding and utilization of information on weather variability and climate change…”

Soon afterwards, Earle Layser wrote a paper about “Forests and climate” (Journal of Forestry 78:678–682). The following is an excerpt from his 1980 paper:

“One degree [F] may hardly seem significant, but this small change has reduced the growing season in middle latitudes by two weeks, created severe ice conditions in the Arctic, caused midsummer frosts to return to the upper midwestern United States, altered rainfall patterns, and in the winter of 1971–1972 suddenly increased the snow and ice cover of the northern hemisphere by about 13 percent, to levels where it has since remained” (Bryson 1974).

Spurr (1953) attributed significant changes in the forest composition in New England to mean temperature changes of as little as 2 degrees. Generally, the immediate effects of climatic change are the most striking near the edge of the Arctic (Sutcliffe 1969, p. 167) where such things as the period of time ports are ice-free are readily apparent. However, other examples cited in this article show that subtle but important effects occur over broad areas, particularly in ecotonal situations such as the northern and southern limits of the boreal forest or along the periphery of a species’ range.

Among these papers, Layser’s paper has been cited more often ( 20 times), but for some reason, it has been ignored by several authors (e.g., it has not been cited in any
Journal of Forestry papers). Perhaps it is fortunate that extension personnel did not choose to believe the guesses about a coming ice age. If they had chosen this “opportunity
for outreach,” landowners might have been advised to plant locally adapted genotypes further South (to lessen the impending threat to healthy forests). Since the cooling trend ended, such a recommendation would have likely reduced economic returns for the landowner.

A fourth article was about “state service foresters’ attitudes toward using climate and weather information” (Journal of Forestry 112:9 –14). The authors refer to guesses about the future as “climate information” and, in just a few cases, they confuse the reader by mixing the terms “climate” and “weather.” For example, a forecast that next winter will be colder than the 30-year average is not an example of a “seasonal climate forecast.” Such a guess is actually a “weather forecast” (like the ones available from

Everyone should know that the World Meteorological Organization defines a “climate normal” as an average of 30 years of weather data (e.g., 1961–1990). A 3-month or 10-year guess about future rainfall patterns is too short a period to qualify as a “future climate condition.” Therefore, young foresters (50 years old) are not able to answer the question “have you noticed a change in the climate” since they have only experienced one climate cycle. They can answer the question “have you noticed a change in the weather over your lifetime?” However, 70-year-olds can answer the question since they can compare two 30-year periods (assuming they still have a good memory).

Flawed computer models have overestimated (1) the moon’s average temperature, (2) the rate of global warming since the turn of the century, (3) the rate of melting of Arctic
sea ice, (4) the number of major Atlantic hurricanes for 2013, (5) the average February 2014 temperature in Wisconsin (13.6° C), etc. Therefore, some state service foresters
may be skeptical of modelers who predict an increase in trapped heat and then, a few years later, attempt to explain away the “missing heat.” Overestimations might explain
why only 34 out of 69 surveyed foresters said they were interested in “long-range climate outlooks.” Some of us retired foresters remember that cooling predictions made
during the 1970s were wrong.

Even “intermediate-term” forecasts for atmospheric methane (made a few years ago with the aid of superfast computers) were wrong. Therefore, I am willing to bet money that the “long-range outlooks of climate suitability” for red oak will not decline by the amount predicted (i.e., I do wonder why 37 foresters (out of 69 surveyed) would desire such guesses if outreach professionals are not willing to bet money on these predictions.

I know several dedicated outreach personnel who strive to provide the public with facts regarding silviculture (e.g., on most sites, loblolly pine seedlings should be planted in a deep hole with the root collar 13–15 cm belowground). However, if “right-thinking” outreach personnel try to convince landowners to alter their forest management based on flawed climate models, then I fear public support for forestry extension might decline. I wonder, will the public trust us if we don’t know the difference between “climate” and “weather,” won’t distinguish between facts and guesses, and won’t bet money on species suitability predictions for the year 2050?

David B. South
Pickens, SC

I am David B. South, Emeritus Professor of Forestry, Auburn University. In 1999 I was awarded the Society of American Foresters’ Barrington Moore Award for research in the area of biological science and the following year I was selected as Auburn University’s “Distinguished Graduate Lecturer.” In 1993 I received a Fulbright award to conduct tree seedling research at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and in 2002 I was a Canterbury Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Related Link: 

Scientist tells U.S. Senate: Global Warming Not Causing More Wildfires – ‘To attribute this human-caused increase in fire risk to carbon dioxide emissions is simply unscientific’ – Forestry professor David B. South of Auburn University says that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have nothing to do with the amount and size of wildfires. It’s largely forest management that determines the number and size of wildfires, not global warming. “Policy makers who halt active forest management and kill ‘green’ harvesting jobs in favor of a ‘hands-off’ approach contribute to the buildup of fuels in the forest,” South told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday. “This eventually increases the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” South said.

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