The Latest Manipulative National Climate Assessment Report

Outlandish predictions aim to steer public policy changes.

Last Friday, the Trump administration released the latest volume of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, which was prepared by scientists from 13 government agencies with contributions from outside scientists. The development of this report was well underway during the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the Trump White House did not change the report's content. When President Trump was asked on Monday whether he had read the report, he replied, “I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine.” He remains skeptical, however, regarding the report’s dire predictions of the extent to which climate change will have a supposedly devastating impact on the U.S. economy by the end of this century. “I don’t believe it,” he said, also noting that China and other countries were largely responsible for the problem, not the United States. The president has every reason to be skeptical of the report's doomsday forecasts for the U.S. economy.  

"Climate change is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us," the report’s authors wrote. At the same time, the authors admitted the difficulties in making predictions as to the “cascading impacts” climate change may have on “the natural, built, and social systems we rely on individually and through their connections to one another.” The authors also acknowledged that “it is hard to quantify and predict all the ways in which climate-related stressors might lead to severe or widespread consequences for natural, built, and social systems.” Nevertheless, after admitting the difficulty of making such predictions, the report’s authors did just that in very specific terms. No wonder President Trump has his doubts.

Indeed, the authors of the just released National Climate Assessment report projected what they believe is likely to happen in the United States by the middle and the end of this century if drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not taken in time. The authors purported to quantify the devastating effects in the United States on health, the environment, agriculture, trade, infrastructure, and the economy if there is continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions at the current rate. The authors predicted between 3,900 and 9300 more deaths per year by the end of the century. They broke down their end-of-century forecast by type of climate change-related harm to the economy. There will be $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage, they predicted. Under one of their scenarios, “almost two billion labor hours are projected to be lost annually by 2090 from the impacts of temperature extremes, costing an estimated $160 billion in lost wages.” All told, according to the latest National Climate Consensus report’s authors, “annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.” 

In an effort to appear as precise as possible, the report’s authors devoted separate sections to the economic impact of unmitigated climate change in individual regions of the United States. For example, they forecasted drastic changes in rainfall and temperatures that will significantly lower agricultural productivity in the Midwest by 2050. In another example involving the Southeast, the authors predicted that “[B]y the end of the century, over one-half billion labor hours could be lost from extreme heat-related impacts.” Never mind that weather forecasters can barely get the next day’s weather right.

In short, the report's authors went beyond describing the current impacts of climate change in the United States and drawing reasonable conclusions from observable data. They quantified their estimates of devastating economic impacts far into the future despite cautioning how hard that was to do. Based on such unreliable estimates, the authors tell us that only by taking at least the actions they recommend do we and our descendants have a chance to avoid their dire predictions.

The authors make three principal recommendations. First, they want to impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions in the form of fees or carbon taxes. Second, they want stricter government regulations on fossil fuel emissions. Third, they want more public funding of clean-energy research. The first two recommendations are job killers that could cost the U.S. economy far more than the authors’ end-of-century projections of losses to the U.S. economy caused by unchecked climate change. The third recommendation – publicly funded research into innovative technologies that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions –  is the only one that is likely to have any significant net positive impact if it does not turn into crony capitalism.

Environmentalists committed to fossil fuel abolition, along with their allies amongst the mainstream media and chattering classes, are already beginning to use the latest National Climate Assessment report to browbeat the Trump administration and anyone else who dares to question the characteristic fear-mongering of the climate change alarmists. “There is a bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and this administration’s own policies,” said Philip B. Duffy, as quoted in the New York Times. Mr. Duffy, the president of the climate activist Woods Hole Research Center, worked on designing and implementing key climate policies in the Obama White House.

Some climate change alarmists are salivating at the prospect of using the latest report in litigation against the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry. “This report will weaken the Trump administration’s legal case for undoing climate change regulations, and it strengthens the hands of those who go to court to fight them,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.

Trump bashers such as Duffy and Oppenheimer do not seem to realize that one can acknowledge some correlation between human behavior, especially the emission of greenhouse gasses, and adverse impacts on the planet’s environment and climate, without rushing to act precipitously on the basis of unsubstantiated doomsday predictions. Even James Hansen, the scientist who warned of climate change in congressional testimony 30 years ago, said, “I find the people who think we are doomed to be very tiring and unhelpful.”

As the Heritage Foundation pointed out in its 2016 analysis entitled The State of Climate Science: No Justification for Extreme Policies, “no overwhelming consensus exists among climatologists on the magnitude of future warming or on the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The advocates for urgent action use incomplete computer models and unevaluated assumptions to draw conclusions on cause and effect related to climate change and to make their dire predictions. They then prescribe government-imposed remedies that are likely to make little difference except to cost Americans jobs and depress the U.S. economy.

Indeed, former Secretary of State John Kerry, a climate change alarmist in his own right, admitted that “even if every American citizen biked to work, carpooled to school, used only solar panels to power their homes, if we each planted a dozen trees, if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what—that still wouldn’t be enough to offset the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world.” That's pretty much what President Trump said about the primary responsibility of other countries for climate change problems. Too bad Kerry did not proceed with caution when he pushed so hard for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This flawed global pact did little except enact a massive wealth redistribution scheme, including an annual $120 billion in funding to flow from developed countries to developing countries starting in 2020. Only the United States and a few other “rich” countries committed to rapidly implement costly greenhouse gas reduction strategies. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, aimed merely to achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030. Former President Obama, on the other hand, committed that “America will reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels” by 2025. President Trump saw through this charade. He wisely withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement and took steps to reverse Obama’s onerous regulations. The president is also on sound ground in not wanting to throw caution to the wind in reliance on the most recent National Climate Assessment’s dire long-range predictions predicated on unevaluated assumptions.

Ironically, an article published in 2010, which the Trump critic Professor Oppenheimer co-authored, fell into the same trap that have led some experts to question the apocalyptic predictions found in various climate change reports, including those coming from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and from the drafters of the various National Climate Assessments. Professor Oppenheimer and his colleagues used incomplete statistics to purportedly prove a causal relationship between climate change and emigration from Mexico, which did not stand up under independent scrutiny. They used “state-level data” from Mexico to claim there is “a significant effect of climate-driven changes in crop yields on the rate of emigration to the United States” from Mexico. Based on their empirical analysis, they predicted that “by approximately the year 2080, climate change is estimated to induce 1.4 to 6.7 million adult emigrate as a result of declines in agricultural productivity alone.” Two years later an economist and environmental scholar published a rebuttal concluding that Oppenheimer and his co-authors had misused their own statistics to produce a defective model leading to an erroneous cause-and-effect result. The authors of the original article had not adequately accounted for factors impacting crop yields over time that would have had nothing to do with climate change, such as increased border controls and significant depreciation of the pesos. The rebuttal authors wrote: “We show that appropriately controlling for the time effect results in a finding of no significant effect of crop yield on emigration.”

The same issue of not adequately accounting over time for certain factors outside of direct climate change effects invalidates the dire predictions contained in the latest National Climate Assessment report. Indeed, as the authors admitted, their report “does not evaluate the feasibility of the socioeconomic assumptions” they incorporated in their various future scenarios, which are called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). Yet, as they also admitted, “Future socioeconomic conditions—and especially the relationship between economic growth, population growth, and innovation—will have a significant impact on which climate change scenario is realized.”

Incomplete models and assumptions of future socioeconomic conditions that are not evaluated for their feasibility, particularly the pace and direction of market-driven technological innovation, are no basis on which to create and implement life-changing, job-killing public policies. We should not sacrifice the well-being of the American people today by taking as gospel the dire projections of mid-century and end-of-century climate change consequences that even the National Climate Assessment’s authors admitted were “hard to quantify and predict.” Critical thinking is not climate change denial. It is plain common sense.