Public Comments

The Missing Science from the Draft National Assessment on Climate Change

One wonders how familiar the 240 authors of the 2013 draft National Assessment are with Karl Popper’s famous essay on the nature of science and its distinction from “pseudoscience.” The essential difference is that science only explains some things and that its hypotheses forbid others, while a theory that is not refutable by any conceivable event — i.e., one that is universally and comprehensively explanatory — is pseudoscience. For Popper, science is characterized by risky predictions (such as gravitational lensing of light in relativity), while pseudoscience does not lend itself to such testing. His favorite examples of pseudoscience were Marxism and Freudian psychology.

This National Assessment is much closer to pseudoscience than it is to science. It is as explanatory as Sigmund Freud. It clearly believes that virtually everything in our society is tremendously dependent the surface temperature, and, because of that, we are headed towards certain and inescapable destruction, unless we take its advice and decarbonize our economy, pronto. Unfortunately, the Assessment can’t quite tell us how to accomplish that, because no one knows how.

In the Assessment’s 1200 horror-studded pages, almost everything that happens in our complex world — sex, birth, disease, death, hunger, and wars, to name a few — is somehow made worse by pernicious emissions of carbon dioxide and the joggling of surface average temperature by a mere two degrees.

Virtually every chapter in the Assessment perseverates on extreme weather, despite the U.N.s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change statement that:

There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change

The Assessment is woefully ignorant of humanity’s ability to adapt and prosper in response to challenges. The quintessence of this is the truly dreadful chapter on human health and climate change.

While death, disease, poverty and injustice are all conjured by warming, there is not one mention of the fact that life expectancy in the U.S. is approximately twice what it was in the year 1900, or that per-capita income in real dollars is over ten times what it was then. It emphasizes diseases that will somehow spread because of warming, neglecting the fact that many were largely endemic when it was colder and were eradicated as we warmed a bit.

Further, it conspicuously ignores the fact that doubling the life expectancy of some 200 million Americans who lived in the 20th century is the same as saving 100 million lives. The society that achieved this powered itself on the combustion of fossil fuels. Does this community of experts understand that the number of lives that it effectively saved is orders of magnitude above and beyond it could possibly cost? It seems, given the panoply of horrors due to start pronto, to prefer that we not have emitted carbon dioxide in the first place. Perhaps they ought to look a place that didn’t. Surely part of the $3.5 billion that the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) consumes per year could finance a field trip to Chad, so they can see the world without cheap and abundant energy.

And what is the purpose of this Assessment? The motto of the USGCRP says it all:

Thirteen Agencies, One Mission: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science.

The operative word is “empower,” which is the purpose of the Assessment. It is to provide cover for a massive regulatory intrusion, and concomitant enormous costs in resources and individual liberty. History tells us that when scientists willingly endorse sweeping governmental agendas fueled by dodgy science, bad things soon happen. To borrow the meter of Winston Churchill:

Never in the history of pseudoscientific consensus will so much be done to so many by so few.

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Patrick J. Michaels is the director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute. Chip Knappenberger is the assistant director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, and coordinates the scientific and outreach activities for the Center. Robert C. Balling, Jr. is a professor of geography at Arizona State University. Mary J. Hutzler is a Senior Fellow at Institute for Energy Research. Craig D. Idso is the founder, former president and current chairman of the board of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.