U.S. Climate-Change Impacts: A Peer-Review True-Up (Cato Institute study irks alarmists)
The Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Science (which I am part of) will soon release the final version of its major report examining the potential impacts of climate change in the United States.
Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States grew from our desire to show how the government report, after which the Cato report was modeled, could have/should have looked if the original scientists involved had included a more thorough (less narrow) review of the scientific literature and had not been obviously predisposed towards climate-change doom-and-gloom.
Cato’s “Addendum” title draws attention to the fact that the original 2009 report from the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program (USGCRP) was incomplete and insufficient on the day it was published–and is out-of-date given peer-review studies of the last several years. So our report includes both important, new scientific results and relevant scientific research that was overlooked or ignored in the original document.
In general, the Cato report, while pointing out that the earth’s temperature is rising and that human activities play a role, paints a more modest picture of climate change and its effects in the U.S. and emphasizes our adaptive capacity to handle a large amount of change in virtually all aspects of society. The overall tone of the Cato report is an optimistic one—a stark contrast to the pessimism that pervades the USGCRP report.
USGCRP Authors React
The Cato report has drawn ire both from climate-change alarmists , as well as from a subset of the group of scientists which authored the original USGCRP report. This author subset released a statement airing their discontent in which they note (those who signed the group statement make up barely a third of the original USGCRP author team):
As authors of [the USGCRP] report, we are dismayed that the report of the Cato Institute, ADDENDUM: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, expropriates the title and style of our report in such a deceptive and misleading way. The Cato report is in no way an addendum to our 2009 report. It is not an update, explanation, or supplement by the authors of the original report. Rather, it is a completely separate document lacking rigorous scientific analysis and review.
In fact, one of the primary ways that the Cato report was intended to make its point was by mimicking the style of the USGCRP report. It was meant to show what the government report would have looked like had the authors been more open-minded and inclusive of the scientific literature. In places where it was determined the original authors had done an adequate job, those sections were included verbatim, which we were certainly explicit about! This was all clearly explained in the “About this Report” section of the Cato report (p. 8):
This Addendum is similar in format to the 2009 USGCRP report, allowing a facile reference for science that was omitted. In some places, we have moved text verbatim from the 2009 report to this Addendum.
How is that “deceptive or misleading.” On the front cover of the Cato report, smack in the middle of the page it says “Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute.” The back cover is completely blank except for the prominent Cato Institute logo. There is a letter of introduction (p. 3) written and signed by (then) Cato President Edward Crane. And “The Cato Institute” is included in the running header of every left-hand page in the document. All of this led blogger Anthony Watts to state “How anyone with even limited intelligence could get the idea that the report is from the US Government/NOAA is truly laughable, because if they can’t read “Cato Institute” clearly printed on the front and back cover, then they probably aren’t capable of reading and interpreting the original report either.”
As to the USGCRP co-authors statement that the Cato report is not “an addendum…an update, explanation, or supplement by the authors of the original report” this is certainly true. The original authors had nothing whatsoever to do with the Cato report. In fact, it was their poor job that required a subsequent addendum, update, explanation, and supplement, or whatever you chose to call it, by Cato’s Center for the Study of Science.
And as to their claim that the Cato report is “lacking rigorous scientific analysis and review,” I think that any reader of the Cato report will find the text to be well documented and derived overwhelmingly from well-accepted material. The Cato report describes its source material this way:
This Addendum is primarily based upon the peer-reviewed scientific literature, peer-screened professional presentations, and publicly-available climate data. We include literature through the beginning of 2012, which of course could not be in the 2009 [original USGCRP]report. But there are also a plethora of citations from 2008 or earlier that were not included in the USGCRP document. Why that is the case is for others to determine.
These sources are no less rigorous than those assessed/included by the original USGCRP authors.
The co-authors of the USGCRP report go on to note four other points that they wish to emphasize.
The first has to do with the number/quality of references included in the USGRCP report vs. the Cato Report. Both reports draw primarily from the peer-reviewed scientific literature. That the Cato report includes a large number of peer-reviewed studies directly relevant to climate change impacts in the United States that were not included in the USGCRP report, and which support a more modest impact, in and of itself speaks volumes. Instead of quibbling over the number of references, the USGCRP co-authors ought to be apologizing for producing such an incomplete original report.
Effectiveness of Public Comment
Another bone of contention is that the USGCRP report was open to public comment while the Cato report was not. But, as Ed Crane described in his introductory remarks in the Cato report, the public comment process for the USGCRP report left a lot to be desired:
[The Cato report] grew out of the recognition that the original [USGCRP] document was lacking in scope and relevant scientific detail. A Cato review of a draft noted that it was among the worst summary documents on climate change ever written, and that literally every paragraph was missing critical information from the refereed scientific literature. While that review was extensive, the restricted timeframe for commentary necessarily limited any effort. The following document completes that effort.
And, of course, our Addendum is a public comment. As is the letter of the USGCRP report’s original authors.
Modest Climate Change
Here is the third point made by the USGCRP author team:
The authors of the Cato Institute report agree with our Committee’s conclusions that global warming is unequivocal and consistent with a change in greenhouse gas effects attributable to human activities. They also conclude that climate change will continue to occur as greenhouse gas concentrations increase. However, their conclusions that future climate change will be benign, if not beneficial, and easily adapted to, diverge markedly from our Committee’s view regarding the seriousness of the risks. This is because the Cato Institute authors assume—based on their own analysis and contrary to peer-reviewed, contemporary science—that warming, intensification of weather extremes, polar ice cap melting, and sea-level rise will all be at the lowest end of the ranges projected in the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change.
I largely concur with all of this except the phrase “based on their own analysis and contrary to peer-reviewed, contemporary science”—in fact, the entire Cato report is largely built upon the peer-reviewed, contemporary science. And goes to prove that “conclusions that future climate change will be benign, if not beneficial, and easily adapted to” are well-supported by the literature (and, as we point out, common sense). That the USGCRP co-authors find otherwise, or at least fail to even consider this very strong possibility, it the primary fault in their report that the Cato report addresses.
The fourth and last point made by the USGCRP author team is that the USGCRP findings are backed by recent National Academy of Sciences reports. To me this is a hollow claim, as the NAS reports are about as selective in their science as the USGCRP report. Most of the NAS reports mentioned by the USGCRP authors in support of their report have been taken apart by the Cato Center for the Study of Science staff (see here and here, for example).
And finally, the USGCRP co-authors note:
The next U.S. National Climate Assessment is underway under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, with draft sections of its report to be released in December and completed in 2013. We are confident that this new assessment will reinforce and extend the findings of Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.
Well that last line sure sounds like a bummer. My guess is that there will soon be another Addendum report from Cato’s Center for the Study of Science in the making!
NOTE: I will update this article with a link to the final version of the Cato report Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States when it becomes available. In the meantime, this is a link to a near final draft. I would invite everyone to compare the USGCRP and the Cato reports side by side to see for yourself that there is a plethora of scientific literature which supports a much more positive view of the future of the U.S. under a changing climate than was included in the USGCRP report.
(Additional note: The current draft form of the Cato reoprt is a substantially cleaned up version from that I discussed back in July and which was submitted as part of a public comment to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions for New Stationary Sources.)