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‘Garbage’ models and black boxes? The science of climate disaster planning

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Firefighters set a backfire to protect homes and try to contain a California wildfire. | David McNew/Getty Images

By ZACK COLMAN

03/16/2021 12:32 PM EDT

A new breed of data-crunching consultants has emerged to help big corporations and federal agencies assess the long-term dangers they face from climate change — everything from flooding risks for electrical substations to drought threats for supply chains.

But while those firms’ computerized projections may help satisfy shareholders’ and activists’ demands for fuller risk disclosures and stronger actions to counter the threats, scientists warn that the data may be too unreliable to guide the precautions that governments, businesses and retirement fund managers must take in the coming decades, creating a false sense of security.

Even worse, the climate analytics firms often shield their data models from public scrutiny as proprietary information, unlike the computer models that academic and government researchers typically rely on for their less granular projections of the warming planet. That makes it impossible to independently validate their work, scientists say.“Do these guys know what they are doing? I’m not convinced that they do,” said Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University, who has reviewed some firms’ methodologies. “Your models are garbage. […]

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