You are here

A Policy Maker's Guide to Climate Change

Web Memo


A Policy Maker's Guide to Climate Change

View Full Document as PDF

Thanks to the ingenuity of U.S. businesses, but also to the Republican rollback of the prior administration’s anti-energy policies, America is positioned to be a world energy leader for many years to come. The energy sector is making substantial contributions to GDP growth, job creation, consumer savings, manufacturing competitiveness, and geopolitical influence. However, that all shrivels and dies if the next administration and Congress embrace the climate movement’s de-carbonization agenda. Even a modest carbon tax could kill American energy dominance by subjecting producers to a new and highly expandable type of political risk.

The stakes are high, and with corporate welfare lobbyists courting the new Democratic majority in the House, you will be tested as never before.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Climate change is not a “planetary emergency.”

2. The climate catastrophe narrative is concocted out of overheated climate models, inflated emission scenarios, political hype, and unmerited pessimism about human adaptive capabilities.

3. All metrics of human well-being show the state of the world is improving; sustaining such progress requires greater access to affordable energy.

4. The very real costs of climate “solutions” hugely exceed their hypothetical benefits.

5. Citizens have more to fear from the climate policy agenda than from climate change itself.

This memo provides supporting evidence for those conclusions.

Models vs. Data. Much of what passes for climate science today is model-based speculation about future climate impacts. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) runs an ensemble of 32 model groups called CMIP5.[1] The models on average projected twice as much warming over the past 40 years as actually occurred in the lower global atmosphere.[2]

A reasonable explanation for the models’ lack of realism is that they overestimate climate sensitivity—the long-term change in average global temperature after a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. The average climate sensitivity estimated in two dozen recent studies is 40 percent lower than the average estimated by the U.N. models.[3]

National Assessment’s Bogus Headline Grabber. The National Climate Assessment, a product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, generated lots of press when it claimed global warming could reach 8°C (14°F) and lop 10 percent off U.S. GDP by century’s end. To get that alarming result, the Assessment ran the overheated U.N. climate models with an inflated “baseline” emissions scenario called RCP8.5, which assumes, contrary to reasonable expectation, that coal increasingly dominates the global energy mix in the 21st century.[4]

Even with that biased combo, warming hits 8°C in only 1 percent of model projections—a detail the Assessment neglects to mention.[5] The Assessment also does not mention that even if warming cuts U.S. GDP by 10 percent in the 2090s, the U.S. economy should still be several times larger than it is today.[6]

Official Climate Assessments Need a Reset. Consensus climatology is addicted to overheated models and inflated emission baselines. It is time for a reset. Meteorologists do not use the average of all models, regardless of how lacking in predictive skill, to forecast the weather. Rather, they use the most accurate model or models. Climate scientists should use a similar approach.

Only one model in the CMIP ensemble has accurately tracked temperature trends in the bulk atmosphere over the past 40 years—the Russian INM-CM4. When INM-CM4 is run with a realistic emission scenario in which natural gas increasingly displaces coal as an electricity fuel, the world achieves the Paris climate treaty’s 1.5°C warming limit with no new climate policies.[7]

Improving State of the World. If climate change were a global ecological crisis, we would expect to find evidence of declining human health and well-being. Instead, we find dramatic improvement in life expectancy, per capita income, food security, and various health related metrics.[8]

  • During 1950-2015, global life expectancy increased by 48 percent, from 48 years to 71.4 years, including a 68 percent increase in Africa, the world’s poorest continent.
  • Just since 2000, a period said to encompass 10 of the warmest years in the instrumental record, per capita GDP increased by 54 percent in Latin America, 62 percent in Africa, and much higher percentages in Asia.
  • U.S. and global yields of corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans have increased every decade since 1960.
  • Thanks to increasing yields and rising per capita income, the prevalence of undernourishment in developing countries has decreased from 34.7 percent of population in 1970 to 12.9 percent in 2015.
  • During 2000-2015, global malaria infections and death rates fell by 37 percent and 60 percent, respectively.[9]
  • The global burden of disease, measured in disability adjusted life years (DALYs), declined across all age categories since 1990. 

The economic and technological progress responsible for those gains would not have occurred absent mankind’s consumption of fossil fuels.

No Planetary Emergency

Extreme Weather

  • Our energy-rich civilization has made the climate more livable and less lethal. Since the 1920s, the individual risk of dying from extreme weather globally has decreased by 99 percent.[10]
  • Since 1900, there has been no trend in the strength or frequency of U.S. land-falling hurricanes, and none in hurricane-related damages once losses are adjusted for changes in population, wealth, and the consumer price index.[11]
  • Since the early 1970s, there has been considerable inter-decadal variability but no trend in global Accumulated Cyclone Energy, a measure of total hurricane and typhoon strength.[12]
  • Since the 1920s, there has been no increase in flood magnitudes in any region of the United States,[13] and since 1900, there has been no nationwide increase in drought as measured by the Palmer Drought Severity Index.[14]
  • In the United States, urban summer heat-related mortality rates have declined, decade-by-decade, from the 1960s through the mid-2000s.[15] Similar reductions in heat-related mortality have occurred since 1985 in other countries as well.[16]


  • Globally, the total area burned by wildfires in the 2000s was smaller than in every previous decade of the past hundred years.[17]
  • The annual number of U.S. forests fires has not increased since 1985.[18] Total area burned has increased, particularly in the Western U.S.[19]
  • However, the main factors appear to be internal climate variability,[20] decades of forest management,[21] and rapid population growth in the areas where houses and wildland vegetation intermix or come into proximity.[22] 

Sea Level Rise

  • Since 1880, global average sea levels have risen about eight inches, with no known impact on any major economic or political development.[23]
  • Evidence of a recent acceleration in sea level rise is mixed. Satellite data suggest sea levels rose by 3.2 mm/year during 1993-2010—significantly faster than the long-term (1901-2010) rate of 1.7 mm/year. [24] However, 57 U.S. tide gauge records going back 60 to 156 years show no recent acceleration in sea level rise.[25]
  • The IPCC projects 21st century sea-level rise to range from about 10 inches to 2.5 feet, depending on which emission scenario modelers use.[26]
  • Recent research finds that, during 2007-2016, the mean rate of sea-level rise in IPCC model projections exceeds the mean rate in 19 globally distributed tide gauge records by 1.2-1.4 mm/year. Even when run with RCP2.6, the low-end emission scenario, the model mean exceeds the observed rates in 15 of the 19 records.[27] Evidently, IPCC models overestimate both the current warming rate and the current sea-level rise rate.
  • Case studies of Japanese, Philippine, and Indonesian coastal communities experiencing one to five meters of rapid relative sea level rise due to earthquake- or human-induced land subsidence “found no evidence that these areas will be abandoned.” This suggests coastal and island populations will be able to adapt to rising sea levels “given that even the highest sea-level rise scenarios are projected to happen at much slower rates than the case studies outlined.”[28]

Notwithstanding its reliance on oversensitive models, the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report pours cold water on the big three climate change disaster scenarios.[29] During the 21st century:

  • Atlantic Ocean circulation shutdown is “very unlikely;”
  • Ice sheet collapse is “exceptionally unlikely;” and
  • Catastrophic release of methane from melting permafrost is “very unlikely.”

All Pain and No Gain. All regulatory climate policies—whether carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, renewable energy quota, or fuel economy mandates—cost consumers and the economy billions of dollars to achieve vanishingly small hypothetical reductions in global temperature.[30] For example, a carbon tax steep enough to eliminate all U.S. CO2 emissions would avert only 0.034°C-0.062°C of global warming by 2050.[31] Those potential impacts are smaller than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 0.08°C margin of error for estimating changes in inter-annual global temperature.[32]

Perils of Climate Policy. The risks of climate policy are substantial and include higher energy costs, slower GDP growth, and lower household incomes;[33] higher taxes,[34] more regulation,[35] and more deficit-spending;[36] more litigation to grow government, punish enemies, and enforce groupthink;[37] more “Clean Power” Plan-style imposition of high-cost electricity on unwilling states;[38] and more treaty-like arrangements to make U.S. energy policy less accountable to voters and more responsive to foreign leaders, multilateral bureaucrats, and international NGOs.[39]

Even with respect to climate-related risks, carbon taxes or regulation can do more harm than good. Affordable energy supports the economic and technological progress responsible for dramatic declines in extreme weather mortality risk.[40] Chilling economic growth will not help societies adapt to a changing climate.  

Worst of all, assuming “consensus” climatology (the U.N. climate models + RCP8.5), the Paris climate treaty’s warming mitigation goals are unattainable unless developing countries reduce their current consumption of fossil fuels.[41] Imposing such restrictions on nations where 1 billion people still lack access to electricity would be a humanitarian disaster.

Conclusion. Perceptions of a “planetary emergency” arise from overheated climate models, inflated emission scenarios, disregard of basic data on human health and well-being, and relentless exaggeration by political interests claiming to speak for “the science.” The very real costs of coercive de-carbonization outweigh the hypothetical benefits. The more “ambitious” the climate policy, the more likely it is to damage economic growth, consumer welfare, and our institutions of self-government.[42]


[1] CMIP5—Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase Five—Overview, accessed May 17, 2019,

[2] John R. Christy and Richard McNider, “Satellite bulk tropospheric temperatures as a metric for climate sensitivity,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, Vol. 53, Issue 4 (2017), pp. 511-518,

[3] Marlo Lewis, “Updated List of Recent Studies Finding Low Climate Sensitivity,” GlobalWarming.Org, March 6, 2019,

[4] Justin Ritchie and Hadi Dowlatabadi, “Why do climate scenarios return to coal?” Energy, Vol. 140 (2019), pp. 1276-1291,

[5] Solomon Hsiang et al., “Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States,” Science, Vol. 356 (2017), pp. 1362–1369, Figure 1A,

[6] Ronald Bailey, “My Puzzlement over Climate Change Damage Estimates in New National Assessment,” Reason, November 30, 2018,

[7] Patrick J. Michaels, Comments on the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Cato Institute, February 1, 2018,

[8] Except for malaria, data in this section of the memo come from Our World in Data.

[9] World Health Organization, Fact Sheet: World Malaria Report, 2015,

[10] Bjorn Lomborg, “Fewer and fewer people die from climate-related natural disasters,” Facebook post, January 23, 2019,

[11] Philip J. Klotzbach, Steven G. Bowen, Roger Pielke Jr., and Michael Bell, “Continental U.S. Hurricane Landfall Frequency and Associated Damage: Observations and Future Risks,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, July 2018,

[12] Ryan Maue, Global Tropical Accumulated Cyclone Energy, October 31, 2018,

[13] R. M. Hirsch and K. R. Ryberg, “Has the magnitude of floods across the USA changed with global CO2 levels? Hydrological Sciences Journal, Vol. 57 (2012), pp. 1-9,

[14] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change Indicators: Drought, accessed May 17, 2019,

[15] Robert E Davis, Paul C Knappenberger, Patrick J Michaels, and Wendy M Novicoff, “Changing heat-related mortality in the United States,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 111 (2003), pp. 1712–1718, F. Bobb, Roger D. Peng, Michelle L. Bell, and Francesca Dominici. 2014. Heat-Related Mortality and Adaptation to Heat in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 122 (2014), pp. 811-816,

[16] Ana M. Vicedo-Cabrera et al., “A multi-country analysis on potential adaptive mechanisms to cold and heat in a changing climate,” Environment International, Vol. 111 (2018), pp. 239-246,

[17] Jia Yang et al., “Spatial and temporal patterns of global burned area in response to anthropogenic and environmental factors: Reconstructing global fire history for the 20th and early 21st centuries,” Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, (2014), Figure 6,

[18] National Interagency Fire Center, Info Stats Total Fires, accessed May 21, 2019,

[19] Philip E. Dennison et al., “Large wildfire trends in the western United States, 1984–2011,” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 41 (2014), pp. 2928–2933,

[20] National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Assessment Report: Causes and Predictability of the 2011-2014 California Drought,

[21] Little Hoover Commission, Fire on the Mountain: Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada, Report #242, February 2018,

[22] Volker C. Radeloff et al. 2018. Rapid growth of the US wildland-urban interface raises wildfire risk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 115 (2018), pp. 3314–3319,

[23] U.S. Global Change Research Program, “Sea Level Rise,” accessed May 17, 2019,

[24] IPCC AR5, Summary for Policymakers, p. 11,

[25] J. R. Houston and R. G. Dean. 2011, “Sea-Level Acceleration Based on U.S. Tide Gauges and Extensions of Previous Global-Gauge Analyses,” Journal of Coastal Research, Vol. 27, Issue 3, pp. 409–417,

[26] IPCC AR5, Summary for Policymakers, Table SPM.2, p. 23.

[27] Phil J. Watson, “How well do AR5 sea surface-height model projections match observational rates of sea-level rise at the regional scale?” Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, Vol. 6 (2018), pp. 1-19,

[28] Miguel Esteban, et al. “Adaptation to sea level rise on low coral islands: Lessons from recent events,” Ocean and Coastal Management, Vol. 168 (2019), pp. 35-40,

[29] IPCC AR5, Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility, Table 12.4, p. 1115,

[30] Bjorn Lomborg, “Impact of Current Climate Proposals,” Global Policy, Volume 7, Issue 1 (February 2016),

[31] Depending on whether climate sensitivity is assumed to be 1.5°C or 4.5°C for doubled CO2,Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator, Cato Institute,

[32] NOAA, Global Temperature Uncertainty,

[33]Derrick Morgan, “Boxer–Sanders Carbon Tax Would Empower EPA to Crush Booming Energy Economy,” Backgrounder No. 2783, Heritage Foundation, April 13, 2013,

[34] David Kreutzer and Kevin D. Dayaratna, “Boxers-Sanders Carbon Tax: Economic Impact,” Issue Brief No. 3905, Heritage Foundation, April 12, 2013,

[35] See Benjamin Zycher’s discussion of the regulatory implications of a “boarder adjustment” system in The Deeply Flawed Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax, American Enterprise Institute, March 17, 2017,

[36] Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Dan Bosch, Ben Gitis, Dan Goldbeck, and Philip Rossetti, The Green New Deal: Scope, Scale, and Implications, American Action Forum, February 25, 2019,, and Ben Adler, “The Green New Deal isn’t big enough: It caps emissions, but won’t persuade developing nations to do the same,” Washington Post, May 2, 2019,

[37] Sam Kazman and Kent Lassman, “The Environmental Campaign that Punishes Free Speech,” Washington Post, April 23, 2016, Marlo Lewis, “Are the RICO20 Guilty of Racketeering?” OpenMarket, Competitive Enterprise Institute, October 15, 2015,

[38] Marlo Lewis, Free-Market Groups Comment Letter on EPA’s Proposed Rule to Repeal the Clean Power Plan, Competitive Enterprise Institute, April 26, 2018, pp. 20-22,

[39] Marlo Lewis, “The Constitutional Cure for the Paris Agreement,” Open Market, Competitive Enterprise Institute, June 1, 2018,

[40] Indur M. Goklany, “Wealth and Safety: The Amazing Decline in Deaths from Extreme Weather in an Era of Global Warming, 1900-2010,” Policy Study 293, Reason Foundation, September 2011,

[41] Stephen D. Eule, “Analysis: The 1.5°C Solution?” Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, accessed May 17, 2019,

[42] Benjamin Zycher, The Green New Deal: Economic and Policy Analytics, American Enterprise Institute, April 2019,