Documentation Of An Inaccurately Narrow Climate Science Perspective And Of Policy Advocacy At The Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

The Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the National Academy of Sciences has become a clear lobbying advocate for specific policy actions. Of equal (or perhaps even greater concern) is the lack of scientific balance in their reports which they are distributing to policymakers and others.

 I received today an e-mail from the Board with the list of their latest reports which documents these two issues.

The e-mail from the Director, Chris Elfring reads

Message from the Director

Dear Colleagues:

Since the last edition of this BASC e-newsletter, we have been incredibly busy. We released four reports that are part of the America’s Climate Choices (ACC) suite of studies, a report on CO2 stabilization targets, and another on how to verify greenhouse gas emissions. We also released a report on weather research in the United States. All of these reports are highlighted in this newsletter and links are provided to help you obtain copies. These reports convey some powerful messages, such as:

A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. (Advancing the Science of Climate Change)

Emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have ushered in a new epoch where human activities will largely determine the evolution of Earth’s climate. Because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is long lived, it can effectively lock the Earth and future generations into a range of impacts, some of which could become very severe. (Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia)

Meeting internationally discussed targets for limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated increases in global average temperatures will require a major departure from business as usual in how the world uses and produces energy. (Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change)

Adaptation to climate change calls for a new paradigm — one that considers a range of possible future climate conditions and associated impacts, some well outside the realm of past experience. (Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change).

While demand for information to support climate-related decisions has grown rapidly as people, organizations, and governments have moved ahead with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, the nation lacks comprehensive, robust and credible information systems to inform climate choices and evaluate their effectiveness. (Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change)

There is a cumulative lesson to these reports: our understanding of the atmosphere and related systems, particularly climate, is critically important to society. We are working hard in the next months to disseminate the reports widely — briefings here in Washington to Congress, the Executive Branch, and Agencies; talks at professional meetings; webinars for the public and specialized audiences; and distribution of the reports and Reports in Brief. Please let us know if you see an opportunity for us to engage with your staff or organization.

And speaking of interacting with the community, the next BASC meeting will be October 28-29 in Norman, Oklahoma. We are continuing in our tradition of visiting leading institutions in the atmospheric and climate sciences to learn about their work and interact with a broad range of colleagues.

Chris Elfring, Director

Here is the list of the new reports on climate

1. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change

The text in the Newsletter reads

“Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change focuses on the role of the United States in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The book concludes that in order to ensure that all levels of government, the private sector, and millions of households and individuals are contributing to shared national goals, the United States should establish a “budget” that sets a limit on total domestic greenhouse emissions from 2010-2050. Meeting such a budget would require a major departure from business as usual in the way the nation produces and uses energy-and that the nation act now to aggressively deploy all available energy efficiencies and less carbon-intensive technologies and to develop new ones.”

2.  Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts Over Decades to Millennia

where the Newsletter reads

“The new report from the National Research Council, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts Over Decades to Millennia, concludes that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have ushered in a new epoch where human activities will largely determine the evolution of Earth’s climate.”

3. Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change

where the Newsletter reads

“Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change, the newest panel report from the America’s Climate Choices suite of studies, demonstrates that demand for information to support climate-related decisions has grown as people, organizations, and governments have moved ahead with plans and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

4. Advancing the Science of Climate Change

in which the Newsletter writes

‘Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for-and in many cases is already affecting-a broad range of human and natural systems. The compelling case for these conclusions is provided in Advancing the Science of Climate Change. While noting that there is always more to learn and that the scientific process is never closed, the book shows that hypotheses about climate change are supported by multiple lines of evidence and have stood firm in the face of serious debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.”

The scientific method has not  been properly followed in these reports; i.e. see the discussion on the scientific method here

Short Circuiting The Scientific Process – A Serious Problem In The Climate Science Community

 Hypotheses are tested to see if they can be rejected, and the Board ignored even one of its own reports that concluded that the focus on just the emissions of greenhouse gases is too narrow. This report is

National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp.

Our more recent paper (co-authored by 19 Fellows of the AGU)

Pielke Sr., R., K. Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D. Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E. Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell,  W. Rossow,  J. Schaake, J. Smith, S. Sorooshian,  and E. Wood, 2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases. Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. Copyright (2009) American Geophysical Union

 also shows that the narrow perspective reported by the Board  is scientifically flawed in addition to being a set of advocacy documents.

Indeed, the Pielke et al 2009 paper, documents that the hypothesis which forms the basis of all four of the Academy reports

“Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and are dominated by the emissions into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, the most important of which is CO2. The adverse impact of these gases on regional and global climate constitutes the primary climate issue for the coming decades”

has been rejected.

The hypothesis

“Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and involve a diverse range of first- order climate forcings, including, but not limited to, the human input of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most, if not all, of these human influences on regional and global climate will continue to be of concern during the coming decades”

is the hypothesis that has not yet been falsified [see also the discussion of the hypothses].

As we wrote in the Pielke et al 2009 paper

Therefore, the cost- benefit analyses regarding the mitigation of CO2 and other greenhouse gases need to be considered along with the other human climate forcings in a broader environmental context, as well as with respect to their role in the climate system. Because hypothesis 2a is the one best supported by the evidence, policies focused on controlling the emissions of greenhouse gases must necessarily be supported by complementary policies focused on other first- order climate forcings. The issues that society faces related to these other forcings include the increasing demands of the human population, urbanization, changes in the natural landscape and land management, long- term weather variability and change, animal and insect dynamics, industrial and vehicular emissions, and so forth. All of these issues interact with and feed back upon each other.”

The Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the National Academy of Sciences has failed so far to broaden out its perspective and assessments from a greenhouse gas-centric focus. As a result, policymakers and the public are being misled in terms of the current understanding of the climate system as well as the risks we face to critical social and environmental resources in the coming decades (see).

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