The National Climate Assessment must be redirected or terminated
Periodic National Assessments of the effects of climate change on the U.S. are mandated by the 1990 Global Change Research Act. The next Assessment Report is scheduled to be published in late 2018.
The Assessment Report will be produced by civil servants in the federal government (mainly unfireable GS15’s reporting to Obama Administration bosses), many of whom handle large amounts of climate research money. It has always been in their interest to portray global warming as alarming, and therefore in need of even more federal research dollars.
The easiest path for the Trump administration would be to simply not produce a Report. The first Report didn’t appear until 2000, in the dying days of the Clinton Administration, and there were none during George W. Bush’s time. The Obama Administration produced the second (2009) and third (2014). Obviously there was no penalty handed out to the Bush Administration.
The 2000 edition—I am not making this up because I discovered it—used climate models that performed worse than a table of random numbers when simulating simple ten year running averages of coterminous U.S. temperatures. The track record of these reports shows if there is going to be a 2018 version, it had better be at least a “red team/blue team report,” as each predecessor report has been comically bad.
The second (2009) indeed did prompt a non-governmental “red team” response in the form of a palimpsest containing more references than the government’s “blue team” version. The third was billed by its creators specifically as a “key deliverable in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan;” no politics there, just science (sarc).
The latest Assessment — NCA4 — is in full swing. NCA4 promises to be as bad or worse than its predecessors unless the Trump Administration intervenes.
The National Climate Assessment is a huge federal interagency effort, meaning it belongs to no particular agency. It is run by the U.S. Global Change Research Program USGCRP, which is tasked with coordinating the climate research efforts of thirteen federal agencies.
The Assessments have ballooned into massive thousand-page tomes, rivaling the IPCC Assessment Reports in length. The third National Assessment Report in 2014 (NCA3) had a 60-person federal advisory committee, over 300 authors, plus input from over 1000 scientists. It featured this scary introduction: “Evidence of climate change appears in every region and impacts are visible in every state. Explore how climate is already affecting and will continue to affect your region.”
The supposed climate change impacts are almost all bad and projected to get much worse. Actual climate change in the United States is small and what little we see is largely beneficial. Satellite data show virtually all landmasses are becoming greener. Bad weather is not climate change, but you would never know this from reading the National Assessments. Extreme weather in the U.S. was much worse in the 1930’s and 1950’s than in recent decades.
In fact, the authors are specifically required to focus on wild worst-case scenarios. The NCA4 instructions say “It will be especially critical for authors to consider low-probability, high-consequence, climate futures…” Thus the National Assessment promises to be nothing but a big book of scares.
In each Assessment Report, virtually no effort was made by the authors to include any dissenting opinion to their declarative statements, despite the peer-reviewed scientific literature being full of legitimate and applicable reports and observations that provide contrasting findings.
Now is the time for the Trump Administration to act. The direction of NCA4 is supposed to come from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, but that job is vacant pending the appointment of a Science Advisor. Director of the NCA4 is David Reidmiller, now with the USGCRP. According to the USGCRP, he “led U.S. negotiations related to science and technology in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that played a central role in the development and adoption of the Paris Agreement.” More on Reidmiller’s profoundly bad fit with Trump’s Admiminstration is here.
Given that Trump just extricated the U.S. from Paris, maybe it’s time to replace Reidmiller with someone who is not associated with President Obama’s climate policies.
The Draft NCA4 chapters are about to go out to agencies for review. Here the Trump people are in charge and they need make the National Assessment realistic and in line with the best and newest data. EPA in particular should take a hard look at these draft chapters, since risk assessment is a big part of their mission.
If there has been regional climate change, let’s see what it is, good and bad. I suspect it is mostly good, like longer growing seasons and warmer winter nights. If this cannot be done objectively, then NCA4 should simply be delayed while a “red team” produces a palimpsest similar to the one done for the second Assessment, providing balance that the federal agencies have lost. The pervasive climate of exaggeration must change in order for federal climatology to maintain at least a shred of credibility.
JC comments: I think that the idea of a National Climate Assessment Report is a good one. Documentation of regional climate change and variability, and interpretation of this change in context of land use changes, natural variability and external forcing would be a valuable exercise. Historical records as far back as we can go, and the regional paleoclimate analyses are necessary to provide context for any recent changes. Interpretation of these changes in context of local and regional vulnerabilities would be valuable.
What is NOT needed is naïve attribution of everything ‘bad’ to human-caused CO2 emissions, and projections using climate models that are most definitely not fit for the purpose.
Let’s see what the Report looks like (I wonder if there will be ‘leaks’ so we can see what it is like), but I am not optimistic given the problems with the previous Assessment Reports. My suspicion is that the Trump administration will find that it needs to push the ‘reset’ button on National Climate Assessment process.
Or, this could be the perfect opportunity to implement the red team/blue team approach that has been advocated by Steve Koonin, John Christy and myself.
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