Apocalypse Soon: Climate Assessment is Based on Fear

“Many statements in the Overview Document have a rather extreme/alarmist tone and do not appear to fairly reflect the scientific literature, the historical record, or the output of extant models.” So said a reviewer of the draft National Assessment on Climate Change, scheduled for October publication. Some greedy corporate naysayer? Not exactly.

It was in fact a party more accustomed to hearing such things about its own typically apocalyptic pronouncements. The commenting party was the Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, the technical professionals reviewing this draft were Mike Slimak and Joel Scheraga, whose official comments have circulated in relevant circles lately along with other cries of foul about this most political of scientific documents.

EPA can’t be a comfortable place right now, where those two might find the bureaucratic equivalent of a severed horse’s head in their beds for so disagreeing with Al Gore’s right think. They are not alone. Dr. John R. Christy, renowned atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, had choice words, including “It seemed to me that this document was written by a Committee of Greenpeace, Ted Turner, Al Gore, and Stephen King (for the horror lines). I saw no attempt at scientific objectivity.” What is going on? Well, the administration intends on releasing a pre-election “bombshell” which would paint any opponent of Al Gore’s “environmental” agenda as irresponsible and unworthy of a seat of influence.

At first the plan was for a State of the Union 2000 unveiling of this assessment and its predictions of worldwide flooding, the Lost Isle of Manhattan and other “global warming” calamities arising from widespread reliance on the family car. No kidding. It is right there in the docket at the National Science Foundation, whose task of compiling the state of the science and its uncertainties is now under scrutiny. Indeed, technical reviewer Ron Sutherland commented in the record “the document contains numerous passages that define this report as a political document, instead of an objective summary of scientific evidence. . . [T]he failure to adequately reflect uncertainty in the global warming estimates, limits the policy relevance of this document.” Then there are the April 1999 minutes of the first meeting of the committee, chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. There we find political appointee John H. Gibbons, in his capacity as head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recommending that the group begin with its summary. That’s right, the suggestion reads as if the White House suggested at the inaugural meeting that scientists start with their conclusions, then spend the time working their way there.

Amazingly, the minutes reflect that the recommendation was accepted. In addition to written outrage the docket is rife with numerous violations of the “sunshine” statute. These include closing portions of meetings impermissibly, failing to provide public access to minutes (remedied after leaking the draft to the press), and failing to observe accountability requirements such as having a designated federal officer attend meetings. The real “political science” however, is found in a Jan. 8, 1998 communication from the White House to the titular head of the committee, requesting it far exceed the scope of its statutorily prescribed mission. This letter requests the committee prepare a document that not only would scare the pants of those not privy to countervailing reality, but prescribes federal actions to get to the real bogeyman of the “warming” movement: lifestyle. For example, the letter requests that the report offer “coping options” and “mitigation options,” among other policy matters outside the scope of a panel dedicated to addressing the state of the science and its uncertainties. Then the White House suggests this supposedly scientific body propose “natural resource planning and management options,” and “improve[d] criteria for land acquisition.” Clearly, such claptrap goes beyond statutory authority for the assessment periodically and not less than every 4 years to “integrate, evaluate, and interpret the findings. . . and discuss the scientific uncertainties associated with such findings,” and analyze and project trends.

Instead, according to reviewer James Shuttleworth of the University of Arizona, “the document contains the conventional ‘looming doom’ perspective throughout. . . If its purpose is just to provide a further prop to the Kyoto (global warming treaty), so be it.” Mr. Shuttleworth strikes upon the motivation for political work so far afield of the group’s mission, into predictions and calamitous claims that shocked even EPA. That is, the “global warming treaty” is the big one for environmentalists. The theory and its “cure” offer the prospect of directly or indirectly making oppressively expensive all that which sustains 6 billion inhabitants of their “Gaia,” or Earth Mother Goddess. Reduce the availability of energy through price difficulties, and you reduce resource extraction, development and, ultimately, population. You also increase poverty and suffering. But that seems to be a minor detail this crowd easily brushes off. Direct or indirect energy rationing is surely not possible, one likes to think. Maybe. Consider Mr. Christy’s comment in the record: “The document is an evangelistic statement about a coming apocalypse, not a scientific statement about the evolution of a complicated system with significant uncertainties.”

Were this document merely for the political purpose of frightening voters into accepting Al Gore as a sober candidate for president, that would be one thing. But as the first in-depth, non-technical assessment of its kind by the federal government it is also expressly intended to have domestic and international policy applications and implications.

Congress or the courts should ensure that “political science” remains something for the textbooks, not a dishonest way to engineer society.