EPA Scientist Carlin Explains His Dissent on Endangerment Finding

Published October 1, 2009

Environmental Protection Agency scientist and economist Alan Carlin, Ph.D. made national news this past spring after telling how EPA buried his lengthy assessment that the agency had no scientific justification for its ruling that carbon dioxide endangers human health, and agency officials told him not to discuss his concerns with others.

Dr. Carlin spoke with me and provided some insight into his reasons for questioning EPA’s endangerment finding. He explained how EPA has sought to keep such dissenting voices from jeopardizing the agency’s push to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Deferring to U.N. Unwise

Carlin’s assessment, written on March 9 and totaling 98 pages, questioned whether EPA should simply defer to United Nations’ assertions that carbon dioxide emissions are causing a global warming crisis that threatens human health and the environment.

Normally, when EPA reviews outside studies such as the U.N. reports, Carlin is given six months to a year to complete a full evaluation. This time, by contrast, he was given only five days. When EPA supervisor Al McGartland read Carlin’s report, he e-mailed, “The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward … and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision.”

Carlin told me he did not view his assessment as controversial. He merely presented evidence indicating the U.N. was reporting speculation instead of facts. Speculation without real-world evidence is not scientific fact, Carlin said, and sound science demands such claims be treated with skepticism until proven true.

“My first major comment was EPA wrongly relied on very questionable U.N. conclusions. … It’s my view that the EPA needs to go through the scientific arguments themselves and not rely on what others outside the EPA have said.”

Scientific Method Abandoned

Carlin said unless scientists, including those in EPA, question unproven theories and speculations, such as the theory humans are causing a global warming crisis, no one else will be able to question those speculations effectively. He notes the scientific method demands theories be put to a rigorous test demanding real-world confirmation.

“The business of science is being skeptical, and if you’re not skeptical, you’re probably not doing science,” said Carlin. “One always needs to ask if what people currently think is true is true, from a scientific viewpoint. Failure to do that results, in my view, in people not doing what I would call real science.

“People not trained in science may not fully understand the importance of taking a skeptical attitude,” Carlin explained. “The scientific method, which underlies all of science, requires that one take a skeptical attitude and reject any hypothesis that doesn’t correspond with what you can measure in the real world.”

Speculative Climate Models

The U.N.’s conclusions are based on speculative models, not scientific observations, Carlin says.

“It appears, as best as I can tell, that the major conclusions and primary findings by the U.N. were based on a much smaller number of people, most of whom spend most of their time building models of the atmosphere and oceans,” Carlin said. “I think model builders don’t always understand this basic importance of skepticism, and they may not realize that from a scientific viewpoint, the models they build don’t prove anything.”

According to Carlin, alarmist climate models reflect only what would happen if each of numerous speculative, poorly understood climate factors all turned out to induce accelerated warming. As a matter of science, carbon dioxide itself induces only a small amount of warming. Alarmist computer models depend on numerous other speculative factors all working together to produce much more warming than the carbon dioxide itself produces.

But if such speculation is wrong, the alarmist climate models are inaccurate, Carlin notes. And that seems to be the case, he observed.

The U.N. asserts temperatures should rise at least 3 degrees Celsius per century due to human carbon dioxide emissions, yet temperatures rose just 0.6 degrees during the twentieth century and have not been rising at all in recent years.

Inconvenient Dissent

Of particular concern, said Carlin, is EPA’s decision to freeze scientific dissent out of its decision-making process.

“I am allowed to say what I think to the press,” said Carlin, but “I am not allowed to do any further work on EPA with that. It’s completely within their rights to decide what I should work on, but that doesn’t mean I am happy about it. This is one of the most important public policy issues that EPA has ever dealt with. It is extremely important that it be given a great deal of thought.”

While Carlin is disappointed his voice has been effectively shut out of the EPA decision-making process regarding carbon dioxide, he is hopeful other scientists will follow his lead and stand up for the necessity to abide by the scientific method. Carlin believes people on both sides of the global warming debate must listen to each other and “stop talking to themselves.”

“What EPA in essence was trying to do was take the views of people who do believe [that carbon dioxide emissions are harming human health and the environment] and ignore the views of people who were skeptical,” Carlin said.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.

For more information …

Alan Carlin, “Proposed NCEE Comments on Draft Technical Support Document for Endangerment Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act,” March 2009: