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pay attention to depends on our goals. For more on the question of how to individuate particular special sciences, see Section 1.4. For now, we will set this question aside and focus on climate science as it is practiced. As a general rule of thumb, weather forecasting is concerned with predicting particular events, and climatology is concerned with predicting trends. This definition is good enough for our purposes, at least for now.

4.1.1 Basic Energy Balance Models

What, then, are the patterns of interest to climate scientists? In general, climate scientists are interested in predicting the long-term behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere (as well as the systems that are tightly coupled to the atmosphere). A tremendous number of patterns turn out to play a role in this general predictive enterprise (indeed, this is part of what makes climate science a complex-systems science; more on this below), but not all of them are necessarily of immediate interest to us here[1]. Since our ultimate goal is to focus our discussion in on anthropogenic climate change, we can limit our attention to those factors that might play a significant role in understanding that problem. To begin, it might be helpful to get a very basic picture of how the Earth’s climate works, with particular attention to temperature, since this is a feature of the climate that will be of great interest to us as we proceed.

Like most contemporary science, climate science relies very heavily on the construction of models—artifacts which are supposed to represent interesting aspects of a physical system[2].


  1. In particular, it’s worth flagging that (at least recently) economic patterns have become very salient in the prediction of the time-evolution of the climate: as the activity of human civilization has become a more important factor in forcing the climate state, patterns that are relevant in predicting that activity have become relevant in predicting climate states as well. We will explore the connection with economic patterns more in the next two chapters.
  2. I’m using “artifact” in a very broad sense here. Some models are themselves physical systems (consider a model airplane), while others are mathematical constructions that are supposed to capture some interesting behavior of the system in question. The main point of model-building is to create something that can be more easily manipulated and

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