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Many climate predictions have come true, such as the pace at which Earth is warming.
A conservative commentator made the unfounded claim that climate scientists are always wrong in their predictions.
For climate change environmentalists, "not a single one of their predictions ever come true," said Charlie Kirk, founder and president of the conservative group Turning Point USA, in a clip from his show posted Oct. 3 on Instagram. Kirk compared climate science to religion and described climate change environmentalists as "the pagans."
The Instagram post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
However, we found several instances of climate change predictions, including those going back to the 1970s, that closely matched what came to pass.
Kirk did not respond to a request for comment.
It isn’t uncommon for climate skeptics to claim climate predictions have been wrong. Many climate change predictions are based on modeling, which involves putting data into a computer program and having the program make predictions. It’s not a perfect science, as it’s difficult to account for all the relevant data about an entire planet.
One way to determine a model’s accuracy is to look at old models and see how well they withstood the test of time. A 2019 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters showed that of 17 climate models published from 1970 to 2007, 10 closely matched the global average temperatures that occurred. That number increased to 14 after "accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other factors that drive climate," according to a 2020 NASA article about the study.
Another 2012 study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that 1990 predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were fairly accurate. IPCC had suggested that by 2030, Earth would have warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius, which would amount to about 0.55 degrees Celsius by 2012. The warming that occurred was about 0.39 degrees Celsius.
Despite the difference in the projected and actual temperatures, the 1990 prediction is accurate, Penny Whetton, senior principal research scientist at the Australian government agency Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and a lead author for the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, told the nonprofit news website The Conversation in 2012. The difference between the projected 0.55 degrees and the observed 0.39 degrees is because of natural fluctuations, Whetton said.
"This is good evidence to show that what the IPCC has been saying for a while is coming true," she added.
Gavin A. Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has noted that plenty of climate predictions have come true. For example, in a 2021 opinion column, he pointed to the Nobel prize-winning Suki Manabe, who in 1967 correctly predicted surface warming and stratospheric cooling. And since its 1990 prediction, the IPCC has continued to make predictions that end up being close to real, observed temperatures.
Schmidt said in an email interview with PolitiFact that Kirk’s "summary of the success of climate modeling is simply wrong." Schmidt said there are always examples of sensationalized predictions in the scientific community, but Kirk was "clearly implying something about the mainstream scientific community, not unsupported outliers."
Kirk says for climate change environmentalists, "not a single one of their predictions ever come true."
The claim is not supported by evidence. Many climate predictions have come true, including those from government agencies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which made climate predictions that closely matched observed changes in climate.
We rate this claim False.
Tony Heller, "Thirty Years Of Failed Climate Predictions," June 23, 2018
Smithsonian, "Why Didn’t the First Earth Day’s Predictions Come True? It’s Complicated," April 22, 2016
PolitiFact, "Kilimanjaro’s ice fields didn’t disappear by 2020. That doesn’t mean climate change isn’t happening," Feb. 7, 2022
Geophysical Research Letters, "Evaluating the Performance of Past Climate Model Projections," Dec. 4, 2019
Nature Climate Change, "Assessment of the first consensus prediction on climate change," Dec. 9, 2012
The Conversation, "20 years on, climate change projections have come true," Dec. 9, 2012
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "Catastrophic climate risks should be neither understated nor overstated," Oct. 10, 2022
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "Reply to Burgess et al: Catastrophic climate risks are neglected, plausible, and safe to study," Oct. 10, 2022
Gavin A. Schmidt, email interview, Oct. 24, 2022
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