Comments on the Draft Strategic Plan for the Climate Change Science Program

Published January 15, 2003

January 15, 2003

I. Background Information

Joseph L. Bast
The Heartland Institute
19 South LaSalle Street #903
Chicago, Illinois 60603
phone 312/377-4000
fax 312/377-5000
email [email protected]

Areas of expertise: economics, state public policy

II. Overview Comments on Entire Document

First Overview Comment: The Draft Strategic Plan for the Climate Change Science Program does an admirable job avoiding advocacy and rhetoric, focusing on research questions that need to be addressed, and balancing the contradictory convictions of some of its authors and contributors. In particular, it stresses the uncertainty of climate change science and predictions and calls for testing climate models against the climate record. However, in a few places the Plan is still agenda-driven rather than aimed at “credible fact finding.” Reviewer’s name, affiliation: Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Second Overview Comment: The Plan does not recognize or address the bias resulting from the self-interest of the three-billion-dollar-a-year climate change research industry that has emerged since major federal funding began in 1987. It should frankly acknowledge the need for independent voices as a counterweight to institutional bias. Reviewer’s name, affiliation: Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Third Overview Comment: The Plan does not recognize or address the misrepresentation of government-funded science by government-funded advocacy groups in the past, which has confused the public and led to adoption of expensive and ineffective public policies in the name of “stopping global warming.” Grants to groups that have distorted and exaggerated the potential threat of climate change should not be renewed. Reviewer’s name, affiliation: Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

III. Specific Comments on Chapter 1, Introduction

First comment, page 4, lines 17-19: “… and whether proposed response strategies, such as reductions in emissions or efforts to enhance natural carbon sequestration processes, would produce economic or other effects more detrimental than the effects of climate change itself.” I strongly agree that the debate over climate change policy must include consideration of the costs and benefits of alternative strategies. Expensive actions to reduce CO2 emissions now with current technology will likely leave the world poorer and less able to invest in discovering and using newer technologies in the future, when the nature of the threat (if the threat materializes) is better understood, or to adapt to some of the expected consequences of climate change as they occur. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Second comment, page 5, lines 25-28: “… even as living standards for billions of people have improved tremendously. Emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants and extensive changes in the land surface (both tied to widespread development of modern living standards) have potential consequences for global and regional climate.” I strongly agree that the “story” of rising emissions is incomplete unless it includes the dramatic rise worldwide in human population and in living standards. Emissions rise and land use patterns change because billions of human beings are living better, healthier, and longer lives. In many parts of the world it is simply not an option to stop emission growth or return farmland to forests. Rising emissions and changing land use are endogenous to human progress; the debate is whether and how best to limit or counteract the effects of these changes, not how quickly to stop or reverse them. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Third comment, page 5, lines 38-40: “Currently, measurements taken at the Earth’s surface, in various layers of the atmosphere, in boreholes, in the oceans, and in other environmental systems such as the cryosphere (frozen regions) indicate that the climate is warming.” I strongly disagree with this sweeping generalization, which fails to specify where and over what interval “the climate” is warming and omits contradictory evidence of cooling in some parts of the world and during some time intervals. I suggest page 5, lines 38-40 be revised read “… indicate that the climates of some parts of the world and during some intervals of time are warming.” – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Fourth comment, page 6, lines 19-24: “Apparently contradicting the evidence of warming are inconsistencies . . .” This partially and awkwardly corrects the error described in the immediately preceding comment. The presence of the long NRC quotation preceding these lines adds to the perception that anthropogenically forced “global warming” is a fact, and that satellite data (and presumably other sources of data which are not mentioned) do not contradict this assertion but are merely “inconsistencies.” I suggest these lines be revised to read “Contradicting the evidence of warming is data from the observational record, particularly satellite and weather balloon measurements of temperature trends in the lower- to mid-troposphere, which show no significant warming trends in the last two decades of the 20th century.” – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

IV. Specific Comments on Chapter 3: Climate Quality Observations, Monitoring, and Data Management

First comment, page 33, lines 14-16: “… attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climatic change or variability is extremely difficult. Moreover, because many ecosystem-environment interactions play out over long periods – ultimately involving evolutionary changes and adaptations without ecosystems – long periods of studies are needed . . .” I strongly agree that changes in species ranges and other ecological phenomena cannot be attributed to climate change without a much better understanding of regional climate histories and non-climate factors driving ecological changes. There is an increasing tendency to blame all ecological changes on changing climate, even though change is the one known constant of ecology, and even when local temperature stations record no warming or cooling trends, and finally, even when other change factors (e.g., tourism and changes in land use in adjacent areas) are far more likely to be responsible. I suggest the authors use this section of the Strategic Plan to warn against the natural tendency of scientists and advocates to attribute to climate change a wide range of phenomena in order to qualify for research grants under the climate change science research initiative, as well as to increase the odds of having their findings appear in popular magazines and academic journals. The USCCSP must be alert to this problem, which is akin to “mission creep” in other government agencies, and reject funding requests for research projects that are likely to be only tangentially relevant to climate change. As part of its commitment to credible fact finding, the USCCSP should consider funding critical analysis of claims that ecological phenomena provide evidence of “global warming.” – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

V. Specific Comments on Chapter 4: Decision Support Resources

First comment, page 49, line 4ff: “Testing against the climate record.” I strongly agree that climate models need to be more rigorously tested against the global temperature record both in the recent past (the period for which we have satellite data) and the paleoclimatic record. Contrary to vague assertions to the contrary elsewhere in the Strategic Plan, the models have done a poor job fitting historic data, particularly satellite data. To the extent the models and data agree, it seems to be due to urban heat islands, jet contrails, and other processes unrelated to greenhouse gas emissions. I suggest the models be thoroughly and objectively tested by organizations and individuals who are independent of the institutions and agencies that create (and personally benefit from acceptance of) the tests. I further suggest the USCCSP fund critical analysis of claims that the models “prove” that anthropogenically induced global warming is either occurring or will occur to balance the natural biases of the sponsors of these models. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

VI. Specific Comments on Chapter 6: Climate Variability and Change

First comment, page 69, lines 1-7: “Over the past decade, global change research has indicated that . . .” This is inconsistent with the careful language and qualifications in other summaries of the state of current understanding of climate change in the Strategic Plan. For example, the statement that “the observed global warming during the 20th century exceeds the natural variability of the past 1,000 years” is disputed by many reputable scientists and its appearance here, without mention of the assumptions it relies on, implies a definite answer to what was earlier presented as a research question. I suggest deleting lines 1-7. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Second comment, page 77, lines 28-31: “… how can access to and understanding of climate information and predictions be accelerated and simplified to realize their greatest value to the scientific community, public, and decisionmakers?” This discussion is incomplete. I agree that a better job should be done communicating scientific research on climate change to various audiences, but the Strategic Plan should make note of how the “global warming” debate is driven by headlines in newspapers claiming “new evidence” in support of the most alarmist forecasts of catastrophic climate change. Many environmental advocacy groups, individual scientists, and even professional organizations profit from this sort of attention and therefore cannot be relied on to give a balanced or honest report on the matter. I suggest this problem of hype and exaggeration appearing in the popular press and the publications of environmental advocacy groups be reported in this section of the Strategic Plan, and that the USCCRP publicly disavow these claims when they appear and work with NGOs to stop misrepresenting the climate change story. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

VII. Specific Comments on Chapter 11: Human Contributions and Responses to Environmental Change

First comment, page 127, line 18: “… capitalize on the enormous protections afforded by wealth and the public health infrastructure.” I strongly agree that no analysis of the costs and effects of climate change is complete without taking into account current and future levels of wealth and the investments they make possible in public health infrastructure. I suggest adding the following sentence: “Some research shows that a dollar spent reducing greenhouse gas emissions today reduces wealth in the year 2100 by at least three dollars, meaning too great a concentration on prevention today will undermine the world’s ability to adapt tomorrow.” – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Second comment, page 127, lines 36-37: “Work on improved understanding of the health effects of UV radiation, including exposure across regions and populations …” I strongly agree that this is a key area where reliable data are missing, making it impossible to determine if public concern over the “hole in the ozone layer” and subsequent government actions were justified. While ozone depletion has been documented, the predicted increase in ground-level UV radiation has not, and preliminary data suggested no upward trend prior to the ban on CFCs. Since the decision to ban CFCs is often cited as a model for “precautionary action” to protect the Earth’s atmosphere, it is important to the climate change debate that this historic episode be better documented. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Third comment, page 128, lines 1-9: [Listing research needs, including:] “Research on the climate, environment, and atmospheric interactions related to asthma, allergic disorders, and other acute and chronic respiratory disorders and deaths . . .” This list is misleading and incomplete. Many experts would view all five bullet items listed here to be speculative threats based on highly unlikely worst-case scenarios for climate change. In particular, they seem to assume higher day-time summer temperatures in large cities, which the temperature record shows have yet to occur, and which likely occur only as the result of urban heat island effects, not global climate changes. Conspicuously absent from this list are the likely positive effects on public health of climate change due to milder winters (meaning fewer deaths due to extreme cold weather and lower heating bills) and more food production (meaning lower prices and higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, known to reduce cancer and other health risks). I suggest all five bullets on this page be rewritten to reflect the more cautious use of language elsewhere in the Strategic Plan, and that the USCCSP fund research into the possible health benefits of climate change as well as possible hazards. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

VIII. Specific Comments on Chapter 13: Reporting and Outreach

First comment, page 152, lines 2-3ff: “The general public is the largest and the most important audience for the communication of reliable global change information.” This section is incomplete. It does not mention that millions of federal dollars have gone to agenda-driven environmental groups that systematically misrepresent and exaggerate the nature and causes of climate change. The general public has been very poorly served by the federal government in this respect, since tax dollars are being used to lobby for public policies that would have little or no impact on the global climate but which would raise taxes and reduce consumer choices. Examples include anti-car, anti-oil, anti-farming, and anti-logging groups, many of which have used the public’s fear of “global warming” to call for policies already on their agendas for other, often ideological, reasons. I suggest the USCCSP admit that efforts to subsidize outreach efforts managed outside the federal government have often been politicized and distorted the true scientific message, and that further funding should be withheld from all such groups. – Joseph L. Bast, The Heartland Institute

Joseph L. Bast is president of The Heartland Institute.