“Imagine if an industry-funded government contractor had a hand in writing a major federal report on climate change. And imagine if that person used his position to misrepresent the science, to cite his own non-peer reviewed work, and to ignore relevant work in the peer-reviewed literature. There would be an outrage, surely . . .”
– Roger Pielke Jr. on Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (June 2009)
The U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program (CCSP) report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, is a major disappointment, particularly for some of us who labored to not only correct the small things but to get the big picture right. The political side won with stubbornness and persistence. Reality lost with an overall description that many of the impacts from climate change are greater (worse) than the best science allows. The result is an advocacy document parading as a scientific assessment.
In the last year, this report went through three periods of public comment. In response to loads of comments (including the large detailed set that I contributed), tweaks were made and glaring errors corrected. But by and large, the same general sentiment remained in place throughout—that is, anthropogenic climate change has made, is making, and will continue to make, things worse for Americans. Evidently, all aspects of the CCSP report were forced to support that general concept—whether or not they do so in reality when all scientific evidence is fairly considered.
Examples of how the established scientific understanding was bent to conform to the CCSP’s authors pre-determined conclusions are too numerous to detail here. It took my colleagues Pat Michaels, Bob Davis, and I a full month last summer to go through and make (94 single-spaced pages-worth of) detailed comments on the first draft of the report.
Suffice it to say that the first draft was a deplorable charade of inaccuracies. But what it did quite well was to lay out the general conclusions that the CCSP was after. Drafts two and three of the CCSP report showed the progression of attempts at smoothing over the rough edges of the first draft. The final report proved that in some cases they were successful. But so much was missed that colored the whole report alarmist where our best scientific understanding suggests that it should not have been.
Here are two particularly glaring examples.
Weather Disasters and Climate Change
From the start of the process, Roger Pielke Jr.—who personally has contributed a large amount to the body of scientific understanding of the impacts of climate and climate change—was less than pleased at how the CCSP authors were handling the attribution of damage statistics to changes in extreme weather events (of course associated by the CCSP with anthropogenic climate change). At his blog, Roger repeatedly pointed out, in great detail, the shortcomings of the CCSP assessment.
During the public comment period, I encapsulated Roger’s complaints into my submission. So clearly the CCSP authors knew of them. Still, in the final report, the treatment of the subject was little changed from the original draft. Obviously, the CCSP authors were happy with the way they presented the issue, and were not particularly bothered that one of the leading authorities on the subject thought the treatment was an unfair reflection of the current state of our understanding, or as Roger called it “misrepresentation of the science”.
Human Health Exaggeration
Another example of mishandling of the sceince is in regard to the U.S. population’s response to heat waves. I have personally been involved in major research efforts examining how the population in major U.S. cities has responded to extremely high temperature events (see reference list below). In a series of papers, we describe how during the last three or four decades of the 20th century—during a time when the summer temperature in cities across America was increasing—the population grew less sensitive to heat waves.
Furthermore, we clearly demonstrated that the more common extremely high temperatures are, the better the population is at dealing with them—the hottest places in the country have the fewest incidence of heat-related mortality.
Alas, the CCSP authors apparently have they own ideas about this—ones that are diametrically opposed to the results found in our established, published and well-received papers (one of which was awarded the “Paper of the Year” by the Climate Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers in 2004). The CCSP authors insist that climate change will lead to more frequent heat waves which will lead to a dramatic increase in heat-related deaths, especially considering that the elderly proportion of the U.S. population is increasing (the elderly are particularly sensitive to high temperatures). While the former is quite possibly true (more heat waves in a warmer climate), the latter is an extremely poor handling of the science.
First off, a more susceptible population doesn’t mean that heat waves themselves will be more dangerous, it means that more people will be effected by them (the same can be said about hurricanes—that landfalling hurricanes cause more absolute damage now doesn’t, in an of itself, mean that they have gotten meteorologically worse, it could (and most likely does) mean that more people (and wealth) are now in harm’s way). Thus, the impact has nothing to do with climate change, it has to do with population demographics.
Second, the evidence shows that as heat becomes more commonplace, people take the steps necessary to incorporate it into their daily lives nd less people die from it as a result. But there is no amount of convincing the CCSP authors otherwise. And believe me, we have tried.
Again, the CCSP authors clearly don’t care about this and are happy with their presentation of this issue.
A word of warning to the readers of the CCSP’s report on the Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States: while the above examples don’t invalidate the whole document, they do serve as a reminder to keep foremost in mind that the presentation of issues in the report reflects the CCSP authors’ desires for they way they would like things to be, rather than the way that things actually are. In some instances these overlap, in (too many) others, they don’t.
Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. Decadal changes in heat-related human mortality in the Eastern United States. Climate Research, 22, 175-184.
Davis, R.E., et al., 2003a. Decadal changes in summer mortality in the U. S. cities. International Journal of Biometeorology, 47, 166-175.
Davis, R.E., et al., 2003b. Changing heat-related mortality in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111, 1712-1718.
Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2004. Seasonality of climate-human mortality relationships in U.S. cities and impacts of climate change. Climate Research, 26, 61-76.
Pielke, Jr., et al., 2008. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, 9, 29-42.