Source: Creative Commons

An interesting article on solar cycles in this month’s Actuary magazine was spoilt for me by the attempt to smuggle in man made climate change denialist assertions within it. Brent Walker says that understanding the sun-climate connection requires a broadly similar skill set to that needed to become an actuary. Unfortunately, basic statistical literacy, the minimum which might be expected of an actuary, appears to be absent from his claim that there has been a pause in global warming despite soaring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

It is very difficult to construct downward trend curves from the average surface temperature data, but that does not seem to stop people, many of them funded by energy companies with much to gain if the need for green taxes could be successfully questioned, from trying.

It is rather like looking at the FTSE 100 graph and concluding that economic growth ended on 1 December 1999. Indeed the performance of equity markets provides more evidence to support this assertion than average temperature data does for the idea that global warming ended in 1997. And yet we don’t see people queuing up to say that economic growth doesn’t exist. Could it be because there would be no profits to be made from doing so?

This is not a good platform from which to make grandiose statements like “the profession should also be seriously questioning the outcomes of unreliable climate models that have been produced by scientists who, by and large, do not have an actuary’s ability to see the bigger risk picture”. I think, on the contrary, actuaries generally take their data sets from a much narrower range of sources than climate scientists (another summary of the evidence on solar cycles in global climate change, as discussed by Brent Walker but this time drawing opposite conclusions can be found here). This is usually because we are working to tight timescales to deliver advice.

Brent Walker is right when he says that actuaries need to consider the implications of climate science in their work, but the current scientific consensus is that solar cycles are not the main driver of climate change. A better place to start in my view would be the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries report Resource constraints: sharing a finite world which points out that, either through natural depletion or the need to ration resources to mitigate climate change in the future, the primary challenge of climate change will be to manage within much stricter limits both in terms of the resources we can use and the level of economic growth we can expect. That really is something actuaries can contribute to.


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