Climate Change 6: The Beginning of the U.S. Mess with Politicized Science

Climate scientists Patrick Michaels and Paul Knappenberger’s terrific new book exposes the “pseudoscience” that the “the debate is over” crowd relies on for their alarmist dictates.  That crowd is big and powerful, but nowhere near 97% of climate scientists (or anybody else) endorse the impoverishing policies that will change our climate in ways that won’t even be measurable 75 years from now.

Covers of the USGCRP second National Climate Assessment, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (left) and the Cato Institute Center for the Study of Science-produced ADDENDUM: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (right). Curiously, the USGCRP omitted clouds, a major component of climate, and, while showing a map of the United States, included a graphic representing global temperatures. Our addendum shows the past 20 years of U.S. temperature at the time of publication and added some clouds.

The book, Lukewarming: The New Climate Science that Changes Everything, acknowledges that climate change is real and partially man-made, but shows that the mild, gradual warming we are experiencing doesn’t come close to the catastrophic levels predicted by the model estimates used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 established the U.S. Global Change Research Program and mandated the production of periodic “national climate assessments.”  To “access” future impacts some type of climate model was needed and they had nine to choose from.  Unwisely, but perhaps predictably in hindsight, they choose the Canadian General Circular Climate Model, which forecast more warming than all the others, and one from Britain’s Hadley Center, which forecast more precipitation changes than any other.

The Lukewarming authors ran simple tests of the models vs. observed 20th century temperatures and the models “performed so poorly that their predictions were statistically worse than merely assuming the mean temperature for the century would be realized for every 10-year sample.”

If that seems incredible, it is.  The purpose of any model is to help explain the behavior of a particular system.  Therefore, the simplest test of any model is whether the difference between the modeled values and actual observations is smaller than the difference between the observations and their overall average.  In other words, if a continual forecast of the simple average of observations performs better than the model’s predictions, the model is useless.  This is exactly what we found in examining the performance of the two models used when it came to its ability to predict the evolution of U.S. average temperature over the 20th century.  Somehow, employing the climate models resulted in “negative knowledge,” a situation totally analogous to supplying the students with four choices in a multiple-choice test and their getting less than 25 percent correct.

They made the national assessment team aware of their findings but the models were retained and drove the conclusions of the 2000 assessment, a “blatant disregard for the norms of science.”

When a draft of the 2nd assessment in 2009 came out in which “large tracts of science were summarily ignored,” Michaels and Knappenberger submitted public comments that included this blistering introduction:

Of all of the “consensus” government or intergovernmental documents of this genre that [we] have reviewed in [our] 30+ years in this profession, there is no doubt that this is absolutely the worst of all.  Virtually every sentence can be contested or does not represent a complete survey of a relevant literature.

There is an overwhelming amount of misleading material in the CCSP’s “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.”  It is immediately obvious that the intent of the report is not to provide an accurate scientific assessment of the current and future impacts of climate change in the United States, but to confuse the reader by a loose handling of normal climate events (made seemingly more frequent, intense and damaging simply by our growing population, population movements, and wealth) presented as climate change events.  Additionally, there is absolutely no effort made by the CCSP authors to include any dissenting opinion by their declarative statements, despite the peer-reviewed scientific literature being full of legitimate and applicable reports and observations that provide contrasting findings.  Yet, quite brazenly, the CCSP authors claim to provide its readers – “U.S. policymakers and citizens” – with the “best available science.”  This proclamation is simply false.

The uninformed reader (i.e., the public, reporters, and policymakers) upon reading this report will be [led] to believe that a terrible disaster is soon to befall the United States from human-induced climate change and that almost all of the impacts will be negative and devastating.  Of course, if the purpose here is not really to produce an unbiased review of the impact of climate change of the United States, but a political document that will give cover for EPA’s decision to regulate carbon dioxide, then there is really no reason to go through the ruse of gathering comments from scientists knowledgeable about the issues, as the only science that is relevant is selected work that fits the authors’ pre-existing paradigm.

The Cato Institute then assembled a six-person team and produced a 214 page “addendum” to provide all the science that was missing from the original 2nd assessment.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.