2020 Year in Review

by Judith Curry

A year ago, there were many things about 2020 that no one anticipated.

A few reflections on 2020.  Are there any insights to be gleaned from this crazy year?

1.Falsification of WHO’s prediction:   “Climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” – World Health Organization (2018)

2.Triumph of ‘normal’ science: rapid sequencing the COVID-19 virus,  developing vaccines.

3.Triumph of Uncertain T. Monster.  Hubris, overconfidence, wrong predictions about COVID-19 have fed the monster.  With fallout implications for other fields of science.

4.Changing notions of expertise. Many credentialed experts on COVID-19 were proven to be wrong or at least diametrically changed their mind; people from outside medicine and epidemiology made important contributions to our understanding.

5.Unpalatability of the ‘precautionary principle.’  COVID-19 illustrates that many people will not follow precautions deemed necessary by policy makers, even when their own lives could be at risk in the near term. Backlash against overly restrictive lockdowns and hypocrisy from public health officials saying it is ok to violate lockdowns for political protests. Technological solutions preferred over abstinence, restrictions.

6.Climate change takes a back seat.  COVID-19 reminds us what a real crisis and emergency looks like.  Desperate measures by climate activists to keep climate change relevant by trying to ride COVID-19 coat tails.

8. ‘Greens’ shoot themselves in the foot.  The current U.S. omnibus bill includes sensible clean energy R&D, including carbon capture and storage and nuclear power.  Greens object since CCS gives a ‘get out of jail free card’ to the petroleum companies, and they seem to hate nuclear more than fossil fuels. In France, they are decommissioning nuclear power plants and adding wind/solar, which increases the need for natural gas power plants to deal with intermittency.

9.U.S. politics – states matter.  States have been on the front-lines of the COVID-19 response.  Electoral College and a few states dominated the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election

10.Brexit.  Apart from whether you were pro or con Brexit, the management of this has been suboptimal to say the least.  No idea what lessons to draw here, but it does make me worried about relying too much on a popular vote when the populace is ill-informed  about what is at stake and what the outcomes would look like.

11.Redefinition of ‘essential workers.’  The real essential workers are health care workers, the entire food supply chain, utilities workers, truck drivers and delivery workers, teachers, etc.  NOT the Silicon Valley types, traders of stocks and bonds, etc.  Essential workers aren’t adequately paid and there is little in the way of a safety net for them (at least in the U.S.)

12.The year we all stayed home.  The definition of ‘non essential worker’ seems to be that you can do your work from home.  Personally I love working from home.  Wondering how many people will return to the office with onerous commutes.  The IPCC figured out that it can write reports without having thousands of scientists travel all over the world for meetings.

13.C@ncel culture and woke-dom runs amok.  Totally out of control, but there is growing backlash.  In academia, University of Chicago and Univ of Texas – Austin are leading the way out of this mess.

14.Censorship from social media.  This is totally out of control and absolutely pernicious for democracy.  This seems to be driven by the political preferences of the owners of the major social media platforms.

15.Mainstream media becomes completely politicized – U.S.  Joe Biden got a free pass from the U.S. media, in a monolithic effort to get him elected as President.  A very unhealthy situation re the media; hopefully they will rediscover some integrity and critical faculties about the Biden Presidency once President Trump is out of the picture.

16.Uncertainty in climate models increases.  CMIP6 results provide a much larger range of climate sensitivity values, notably on the high end.

17.RCP8.5 is on its way out. Growing support for eliminating RCP8.5 (IPCC high end emissions/concentration scenario) from policy considerations.

18.Emissions are down, but atmospheric CO2 keeps rising.  The CO2 ‘control knob’ appears to be not very sensitive

I look forward to your thoughts on this.


On a personal note, I have been crazy busy – not traveling was a boon to my productivity, but hyper active Atlantic hurricane season wiped out that advantage.  I have been writing a lot, but nothing that is (yet) available for the blog.  I am under contract to write a book, I will provide some occasional snippets.

I will have another post on Jan 1, looking forward to 2021.

Best wishes to all for the holidays.

via Climate Etc.


December 27, 2020 at 05:09PM

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