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More Bush Administration Science Abuse

The Intersection
By Chris Mooney
Sep 7, 2006 12:55 AMNov 5, 2019 10:13 AM


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[Blogged from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport!] Anyone concerned about how this administration has repeatedly distorted, undermined, and in some cases suppressed information about global warming should read this amicus brief (PDF). It was just filed by a distinguished group of climate scientists--including James Hansen and Nobel Laureates Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina--in the upcoming Supreme Court case over whether the EPA should be compelled to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. I have already observed how Judge A. Raymond Randolph, in his majority opinion in this case at the D.C. Circuit level, totally misrepresented the science of climate. The chief strategy employed by Randolph was a tried-and-true one: He selectively cited (and therefore, exaggerated) scientific uncertainty while ignoring (and therefore, downplaying) more affirmative scientific conclusions. I had not probed, however, how the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency had itself committed very similar offenses its decision not to take regulatory action on GHGs. However, in their amicus brief the climate scientists have done my work for me. As they write (citations replaced with ellipses):

EPA's decision misrepresented the findings in [the 2001 National Academy of Sciences report] Climate Change Science, which EPA cited as the only source of evidence in its discussion of scientific uncertainty....Climate Change Science encompasses both the more certain and the less certain elements of the science, and uncertainties are described explicitly, as is the norm in scientific reports. Thus, it is possible to quote selectively from the report to make the scientific conclusions appear either more or less certain than they actually are.

Not only is it "possible" to quote this 2001 NAS report selectively; it appears compulsory within the Bush administration, as I detail in The Republican War on Science. But the climate scientists continue:

EPA admitted to three important observations about the global climate: (1) that "concentrations of GHGs are increasing in the atmosphere as a result of human activities,"... (2) that a "diverse array of evidence points to a warming of global surface air temperatures,"...and (3) that "the magnitude of the observed warming is large in comparison to natural variability,"...However, EPA omitted the essential scientific conclusion that constitutes the core of Climate Change Science: that these separate observations are causally linked. This is a fundamental omission. It is as if a summary of Newton's Principia--which advanced the theory of gravitation as the common explanation for how apples fall to earth and planets move in the heavens-- repeated Newton's description of the motions of apples and planets, but never got around to mentioning gravity.

I love it. The climate scientists go further:

EPA in particular omitted mention of the following two pivotal conclusions. First, the NAS report unambiguously links already observed climate warming, and related impacts, damages, and risks, to human emissions of greenhouse gases. "The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability." J...The key conclusion, in the first part of this sentence, is never cited by EPA. Second, after listing a number of impacts and damages that are likely to occur in response to human-caused climate change, Climate Change Science states, "Hence national policy decisions made now, and in the longer term future will influence the extent of any damage suffered by vulnerable human populations and ecosystems later in this century." Remarkably, EPA ignored this scientific judgment, which clearly indicated the panel's concern that dangerous human-caused climate change is likely already underway with larger effects committed for the future, particularly if action should not be taken to limit emissions. EPA focused instead on a statement in the 2001 report that a "causal linkage between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established."...But EPA was petitioned to initiate rulemaking under Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act, which requires regulation of motor vehicle pollutants that "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." ...It is not required that the link observed warming and increased greenhouse gas concentrations be "unequivocally established" in order to ascertain whether greenhouse gas emissions "may reasonably be anticipated to harm" human health and welfare under Section 202(a)(1). As noted above, if "unequivocal" means "absolutely certain," this is impossible for climate science, just as absolute certainty is impossible to show for the link between smoking and cancer, or for the links to impacts of many other pollutants that are already regulated under the "reasonably be anticipated to endanger" framework.

I am a bit amazed to read this, because I had explained almost exactly the same thing in my book. However, I also implied something else: The climate scientists who authored the NAS report (many of whom are also authors of the amicus brief) should perhaps have been more cautious with their language in the above-cited sentence about the "causal linkage." That sentence is really just begging to be misquoted. The average Joe, or the average James Inhofe-type politician, is bound to either misread or willfully twist its meaning. That said, however, the EPA isn't the average Joe, or the average science abusing politician. It's an expert agency, with scientists on staff who are more than competent to properly interpret a National Academy of Sciences report. That the EPA instead egregiously misrepresented this report constitutes yet another case study of how the Bush administration has distorted the science on global warming.

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