Two Obvious Problems with the National Climate Assessment

by Myron Ebell on May 7, 2014

in Blog, Features

The federal government’s third National Climate Assessment was released yesterday with one message that was repeated throughout the media.  That message is: Climate change is already disrupting the economy, people’s lives, and ecosystems across the country.  IT’S REAL!  IT’S HERE!  IT’S NOW!  AND IT’S BAD!

Here are the first few paragraphs of a story from the Washington Post.

The government’s newest national assessment of climate change declares that increased global warming is affecting every part of the United States.

The report released Tuesday cites wide and severe impacts: more sea-level rise, flooding, storm surges, precipitation and heat waves in the Northeast; frequent water shortages and hurricanes in the Southeast and the Caribbean; and more drought and wildfires in the Southwest.

“For a long time, we have perceived climate change as an issue that’s distant, affecting just polar bears or something that matters to our kids,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University professor and a co-author of the report. “This shows it’s not just in the future; it matters today. Many people are feeling the effects.”

The federal climate assessment — the third since 2000 — brought together hundreds of experts in academia and government to guide U.S. policy based on the best available climate science.

A quick internet search produced several hundred similar stories.

There are two obvious problems with the National Climate Assessment.  The first is the fact that the global mean temperature has not increased in the past seventeen years.  This means that the Assessment is claiming that the effects (disruption) are preceding the cause (warming).  I guess the disruption will really be bad if temperatures do actually start to go up.

Global Mean Surface Temperatures 1997-2014

Global Mean Surface Temperatures 1997-2014

The second problem with the Assessment is that it does not recognize that all climate disruptions are not created equal.  Does the Obama Administration really think that Americans have already forgotten the past five months of winter?  The fact is that cold, snowy weather is much more disruptive to people’s lives and the economy than hot weather.

As a reminder, here are a few highlights from the winter just past:

  • Bloomberg: “American workers were less productive in the first quarter as harsh winter weather prevented some from getting to their jobs, causing the economy to stall.”
  • Reuters: “The U.S. economy barely grew in the first quarter as the severe winter hampered exports and led businesses to curtail investment spending, but activity already appears to be bouncing back.”
  • Philadelphia Inquirer: “Airlines will begin reporting first-quarter earnings next week, and despite a rough winter most expect strong profits this spring and beyond…. Disruptions from snow and ice storms forced U.S. airlines to cancel more than 100,000 flights.”

And here are a few regional examples:

  • December in Wisconsin: “Drivers who braved the snowy, slick conditions Sunday on southeast Wisconsin’s highways got nowhere fast — with crash after crash and pileup after pileup causing road closures, traffic delays and at least two deaths.  Crashes were reported across the region on virtually all major thoroughfares, and the extent of some of the pileups was staggering.”
  • January in the Deep South: “A freak winter storm forced some students to spend the night at their schools and disrupted commutes for thousands of others as icy roads caused massive gridlock, wrecks and traffic delays across Tuscaloosa County on Tuesday.”
  • January in Atlanta: “Officials faced sharp questions Wednesday after miles of iced-over roads in metropolitan Atlanta turned into virtual parking lots, trapping thousands of commuters, truck drivers and students in buses overnight.  Little of the storm’s mess melted Wednesday and temperatures fell below freezing again late in the day, ensuring that wet highways would ice up for a second night.  While the roads had cleared of the gridlock, they remained lined with vehicles that had run out of fuel or that drivers had abandoned.  Schools and government offices planned to remain closed Thursday, and officials urged businesses to let workers stay home.”
  • February in the Southeast: “‘Get off the roads, and stay off.” That was the message in Georgia and the Carolinas as a snow and ice storm swept through Wednesday, bringing some of the Southeast’s most populous cities to a standstill.  The warnings came as freezing rain brought heavy ice accumulations from Atlanta to Charlotte.  Across a large swath of the South, hundreds of thousands of people were without power and thousands of flights were canceled.  Calling ice the biggest enemy, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency.  School districts canceled classes and government offices were shuttered in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the traffic paralysis caused by a storm last month.”
  • February on East Coast: “A powerful storm system swept up the East Coast…leaving in its wake downed power lines, stranded travelers, abandoned vehicles and yet another mess of snow, slush and ice.”
  • March in Washington, DC: “Fairly heavy snowfall hit the D.C. region overnight, leading many schools and the federal government to close and causing troubles for snow plow crews as they struggled to keep major streets open. In the early morning hours, few of the major roadways in Maryland, Virginia and the District had been plowed, as snow continued to fall during the start of the commuter rush hour”
  • April on the East Coast: “The storm – named Hercules – left at least 11 people dead on Friday, as snow and strong winds swept down from Canada into the northeastern United States. Most of the deaths were attributed to traffic accidents.  The governors of New York and neighboring New Jersey declared states of emergency and urged residents to avoid leaving their homes.  “This is nothing to be trifled with,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.”

The fact is that winter storms pack a wallop that hot, humid weather does not.  That’s one of the chief reasons why people, particularly retirees, keep moving from the North to the South.  Quite simply, warmer is healthier, especially for the elderly.

There are many other serious problems with the third National Climate Assessment (as there were with the first two).  My CEI colleague Marlo Lewis discusses a few of them at Fox News.  And here are good posts by the Cato Institute’s Pat Michaels, the Heritage Foundation’s David Kreutzer, and WattsUpWithThat’s Tony Watts.


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