|The Week That Was
June 24, 2000
The release of the Overview to the National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Change (affectionately known as the National Scare hit the media on June 12, 2000. Even the scientists who wrote the 700+-page NACC report are loudly objecting to the politically slanted Overview. Read the story by Curt Suplee in the Washington Post and learn that Fred Singer and Tom Wigley AGREE that the climate models used by the NACC give contradictory results. Newly minted fellow-skeptic Tom is prepared to tear his hair out. An empty threat that; we believe he tore it out when the first IPCC report was published
The National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Change (NACC) has been attacked for exaggerating bad news and downplaying the potential benefits of a hypothetical warming. Over the past two years, the administration has siphoned off funds intended for climate research to pay for some 20 regional workshops to drum up fears about the consequences of climate change. Different agencies have taken responsibility for parts of the NACC. It made news headlines, therefore, when EPA blasted the so-called Overview document of the NACC Synthesis Team and their summary of the work of the EPA-sponsored Health Sector work group. The lead authors and EPA threatened non-concurrence on the release of the document unless the problems are rectified and the lead authors are satisfied. The scientific credibility of the assessment process is at stake, they said.
Unlike in the IPCC, where the summary may distort the report chapters with impunity, here the lead authors of the chapters accuse the overview document of alarmist and scientifically inaccurate statements, unsupported by sector analysis, overstating the potential impact, and distorting the underlying text of the lead authors. IPCC, PLEASE TAKE NOTE.
The 118-page overview of the 700-page report, called "Climate Change and America," is still being revised, but using computer models, the Overview predicts average temperatures could rise between five and 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, the water level in the Great Lakes could fall five feet, and tropical diseases could expand northward.
The National Assessment used two climate models that consistently give extreme forecasts relative to the available dozen or so GCMs. In many cases, however, the predictions of the two models, while extreme, reach opposite conclusions. For example, one model has North Dakota turning into a desert, and the other predicts a swamp. There are many more such examples. The NACC also exaggerates future emission scenarios, adopting the most extreme of the UN IPCC scenarios.
A report by John Fialka in the Wall Street Journal (May 26, 2000) gives an extensive account of the NACC and of the 118 page overview called Climate Change and America. Some federal officials complain that it is too gloomy and so it does not reflect the positive findings in the much more complex 700-page report prepared by the experts.
Two Environmental Protection Agency scientists who wrote the underlying health report, Mike Slimak and Joel Scheraga, argued that the descriptions "have a rather extremist/alarmist tone" which doesn't reflect the scientific papers the overview supposedly summarized. [See above] [The Health Group comments are at http://www.greeningearthsociety.org/Articles/2000/scare1.htm#5]
Peter Sousounis, a University of Michigan meteorologist who contributed to the report, objected that the economic gloom and doom in the overview overlooks huge positive effects, such as warmer winter conditions in the Midwest.
Jae Edmonds, an economist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, complains that the overview "chronicles a series of possible calamities that the various authors have happened upon," with an occasional aside that the "problem might not be so bad."
Russell Jones, a senior economist for the American Petroleum Institute, complains the report relies too much on computer models. He says he and other volunteer reviewers could not get access to scientific reports reflected in the overview.
Some of the severest comments have come from the expert review of the Overview. Here is the opinion of a former Cabinet officer, now at Harvard University.
This a Doomsday document. The text is not sufficiently balanced with the reasonable degree of scientific skepticism and humility that we should all have with regard to prediction of the future, especially the long term future, developing on a time scale which is geologically short but humanly long. It does not adequately consider the possibility that change will bring positive shifts as well as losses and disasters. Some changes will be perceived by many people to be improvements. I do not suggest a false balance, or a denial of potential or probable problems, but a reasonable balance in sketching possible positive and negative changes.
surely, if some forms of (cold weather) recreation opportunities decrease, some others will increase. While some ecosystems decrease, others will increase, and, perhaps, some that are new to the US will appear, and, perhaps, even be productive? If wetlands are drowned, some dry land will become wet and new wetlands will appear, perhaps not just like the old, but maybe productive in a different way.
If I see these issues and questions in the documents, others will also, and it may be seen as a political production rather than a reasoned analysis. Such a report is a setup for political charges, so the report itself should not make that too easy, if we want reasonable actions to be taken to work on coming problems.
I recommend that some one in the writing group take on the task of reading the document with a skeptical critical hat on, and try to bring in more balance.
According to reviewer David Wojick, [at http://www.greeningearthsociety.org/Articles/2000/scare.htm] the report downplays any potential benefits of global warming that appear in the underlying studies. For example, the models predict that over half of the present desert land in the Southwest will become agriculturally productive without irrigation due to increased precipitation. This fact is not even mentioned as a potential benefit.
For more detailed comments and additional reviewers see www.greeningearthsociety.org/Articles/2000/scare1.htm
Having lost its court battle, EPA will abandon its goal for a zero maximum contaminant level for chloroform for its primary drinking water regulations. The level will be set within the parameters of science in the record. Thats good news; a study commissioned by EPA just concluded that there are 300 million cases of gastrointestinal illness directly related to drinking water, food, and recreational water every year in the United States. Drinking water safety, which depends on chlorine disinfection, is still a major goal.