Time for a Real National Assessment of Climate Change

As the year 2000 ended, the outgoing Clinton Administration released the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Change Variability and Change for the Nation, a document clearly intended to generate increased fears of global warming and promote policies restricting the use of fossil fuels. To help citizens and policymakers appraise the validity of the Assessment, the Marshall Institute asked Professor David Legates of the University of Delaware, a noted climate-modeler, to prepare a thorough, scholarly analysis of the computer models on which the government conclusions are based.

The resulting study, Climate Models and the National Assessment, makes clear that the climate models used in the Assessment are incapable of reasonable predictions of climate change ? neglecting crucial variables, relying on ?tuned? (manipulated) data, and offering contradictory forecasts for large regions of the nation (predicting, for instance, both dangerous droughts or floods in the Midwestern U.S.) Legates lays bare the thoughtlessness behind the idea that computer models can provide valid, policy-relevant scenarios of what the climate of the U.S. will look like a century from now. His report is itself a model: a model of serious academic attention to government propaganda dressed up as science to impress the media.

Let us hope that with a new Administration, Washington will use its resources more wisely. The Bush White House is already taking steps toward more effective energy policy under the direction of Vice President Cheney. The politically sensitive issue of global warming must also be confronted. One useful step would be a three- or four-month moratorium on U.S. participation in international climate change negotiations. During that time, the White House could assemble a high-level task force of scientists, economists, and policy specialists to review the entire issue of human-caused global warming and put it into the context of national energy policy.

Another useful step, one now being contemplated here at the Marshall Institute, would be to call together a panel of experts to review the UN?s science report on global warming and to provide its own report on the policy implications of the current state of knowledge on climate. As it now stands, the UN?s thousand-plus pages of science is condensed to a 10-page Policymakers Summary by a small team of highly motivated political actors. The results are more spin than science.

An alternative is needed. Policymakers should be provided with an honest, straightforward assessment of what the science really tells us about the future prospects of human-caused warming.

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