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The U.S. National Climate Assessment was Off Track from the Start
Over the past few days I have commented on X/Twitter about the just-released Fifth U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA). It is much more a glossy promotional brochure than anything resembling a careful assessment of the scientific literature on climate change and the United States. That’s a shame because scientific assessments are crucially important. Instead, the U.S. NCA pours fuel on the pathological politicization of climate science.
Among the issues I have highlighted:
Several reviewers asked the NCA to cite our various papers on extreme weather and U.S. losses. The NCA refused, in one instance claiming “this comment is inconsistent with the author team’s thorough assessment of the science” and in another, falsely claiming, “Pielke et al. only examined trends through 2005 and have not published an updated assessment since.” Someone should tell them about Google Scholar, where our most recent work is easy to find.
The report’s main chapter on climate trends was led by a scientist who works for Project Drawdown, a climate advocacy group. That chapter was also written by a scientist at The Nature Conservancy and the company Stripe, which makes money via carbon offsetting through carbon removal. There is no need for these conflicts of interest to play such a prominent role in the report’s authorship, but they perhaps explain some of its errors.1
The report leads with the “billion dollar disaster” meme popularized by NOAA. As Nature summarized the report: “Extreme weather events caused by global warming cost the country around US$150 billion in direct damages each year, says the climate report.” All U.S. extreme weather and its economic impacts can now apparently be attributed to global warming.
I could go on. See my X/Twitter feed for more.
Today I share with you two papers I wrote more than 20 years ago that documented the development of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, under which the U.S. National Climate Assessment is produced. These papers document the administrative and legislative development of the USGCRP and how it became focused on climate science over climate policy, despite the need of policy makers for policy guidance
The Global Change Program was not structured to provide answers to policy questions. The Global Change Program was originally structured by scientists and science administrators to develop a predictive understanding of the global earth system. In the early administrative development of the program, there was no explicit link to the needs of policy makers. . .
Program officials supported a linear relation of science and policy development. In order to preserve the scientific objectives of the program, officials linked its research to the policy process in a linear fashion. That is, program officials argued that policy would be built on the information (answers) supplied by research.
The U.S. NCA misrepresents science in its assessments because it has long been structured to wield science as a political asset, under the assumption that strong scientific claims — Billion Dollar Disasters! — will drive the political response preferred by the program’s participants.
Policy failures typically have deep roots. The failures of the NCA stem in part from its placement inside the White House, making it a tempting target for political meddling. But a deeper reason for its failures result from a belief that science can make politics lead to desired policy. Unfortunately, that belief brings politics more into science and science assessments than anything else.
Here are two papers that explain how that happened:
Pielke Jr, R. A. (2000). Policy history of the US global change research program: Part I. Administrative development. Global Environmental Change, 10(1), 9-25.
Pielke Jr, R. A. (2000). Policy history of the US global change research program: Part II. Legislative process. Global environmental change, 10(2), 133-144.
Full text as PDFs after the break for THB Pro subscribers.
Thanks for reading!
Pielke Jr, R. A. (2000). Policy history of the US global change research program: Part I. Administrative development. Global Environmental Change, 10(1), 9-25. (PDF)
Pielke Jr, R. A. (2000). Policy history of the US global change research program: Part II. Legislative process. Global environmental change, 10(2), 133-144. (PDF)