In Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Group Issues Report Saying Observed Climate Change Impacts "Have Little National Significance"

In 2009, a publicly funded assessment of the impacts of climate change, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, warned in its key findings that "coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge." Now, just days after "Frankenstorm" Sandy pushed the most destructive and costly storm surge on record for the U.S. mid-Atlantic into the region's heavily populated coastal areas, the libertarian Cato Institute is treating Americans to a Halloween trick. It released today (31 October 2012) a slick study masquerading as an updated "Addendum" [PDF, 86 Mb] to the Federal report. In its key findings, Cato entirely drops any mention of storm surges and says the "[i]mpacts of observed climate change have little national significance."

Authors of the 2009 Federal report issued a strongly worded statement rebuking the Cato Institute and its report, a near-final draft of which was released in June this year. "As authors of that report, we are dismayed that the [Cato] report ...expropriates the title and style of our report in such a deceptive and misleading way," they said. "The Cato report is in no way an addendum to our 2009 report. It is not an update, explanation, or supplement by the authors of the original report. Rather, it is a completely separate document lacking rigorous scientific analysis and review."

Cato and its likeminded allies and funders are continuing a pattern they established more than a decade ago with the first Federal report on Climate Change Impacts on the United States (2000). By impeding legitimate efforts to inform Americans about the impacts of climate change, and by confusing and misleading the public about the escalating risks, they intentionally erode support for strong Federal measures to limit fossil fuel use. But they also sow the seeds of future climate disruption and undermine preparedness for weather extremes that already are becoming more frequent and/or severe. The ironic consequence: escalating impacts from those extremes are driving growing public demand for disaster response and relief from government. As author Chrisian Parenti wrote earlier this year:"Big Storms require Big Government."

What we said a year ago in As the Costs of Extreme Weather Rise, Americans Cannot Afford Denial (WWF Climate Change Blog, 9 September 2011) is just as true today:

"As costly climate extremes exact a mounting toll on the U.S. economy and further strain the Federal budget, the path forward is clear: acknowledge and better understand the growing threat posed by climate variability and change, do what we can to slow climate change by sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improve our weather forecasts and climate projections, and prepare ourselves for future impacts. Yet ideologues are pushing an opposite agenda: deny climate change and systematically eviscerate the Federal government’s efforts to address it. They are leaving Americans dangerously unprepared, saddled with the rapidly mounting costs of increasingly extreme weather."

Online Resources:

Statement on the Cato Institute ADDENDUM Report. By Donald Boesch, Lynne Carter, Nancy Grimm, Katherine Hayhoe, James McCarthy, Jonathan Overpeck, Benjamin Santer, John Stone, Gerry Schwartz, Bradley Udall, and Donald Wuebbles -- members of the Federal Advisory Committee that wrote the 2009 report Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.

Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy? By Mark Fischetti, Scientific American Blogs, October 30, 2012.

For Years, Warnings That It Could Happen Here. By David W. Chen and Mireya Navarro, New York Times, 31 October 2012. "The warnings came, again and again. For nearly a decade, scientists have told city and state officials that New York faces certain peril: rising sea levels, more frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns. The alarm bells grew louder after Tropical Storm Irene last year, when the city shut down its subway system and water rushed into the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan."

Why Climate Change Will Make You Love Big Government. The Nation, January 26 2012. "The coming big storms facing our planet can only be tackled by strong governments."

An Inconvenient Assessment. Chris Mooney, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 2007, vol. 63, no. 6, p 40-47. "Seven years ago, scientists published a pioneering study to help Americans understand the implications of climate change. Here's why you've never heard of it."

WWF Climate Change Blog:

  • Federal Report: Rising Seas and Climate Change Threaten Coasts, as Local Governments Shoulder Much of the Preparedness Burden. 18 Oct 2012. “A new report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability in coastal areas of the U.S. warns that coping with sea level rise and coastal disruption "will be a challenge for coastal economies that contributed $8.3 trillion to the GDP in 2011." It says that local governments will have to shoulder much of the burden of "making the critical, basic land-use and public investment decisions and ...working with community stakeholder groups to implement adaptive measures on the ground."
  • To Politicians Napping on the Fireline: Wake Up, Smell the Smoke and Act on Climate Change. 8 July 2012. "Extraordinary wildfire conditions are among the indications that climate change is well underway in the Southwestern U.S. Cities and towns in the region are responding, showing leadership where the federal government does not. Alas, many of our elected representatives in Washington are napping on the fireline. They need to wake up, smell the smoke and take climate change seriously."
  • Federal Report Warns of Costly Impacts to U.S. Cities from Changing Weather Extremes. "A new report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory warns that urban areas in the U.S. `are vulnerable to extreme weather events that will become more intense, frequent, and/or longer-lasting with climate change.' The authors say that the `true consequences of impacts and disruptions' associated with those events `involve not only the costs associated with the clean-up, repair, and/or replacement of affected infrastructures but also economic, social, and environmental effects as supply chains are disrupted, economic activities are suspended, and/or social well-being is threatened.' They note that the risks `can be substantially reduced by developing and implementing appropriate adaptation strategies.'
  • As the Costs of Extreme Weather Rise, Americans Cannot Afford Denial. 9 Sep 2011.
  • Climate Change Puts Trillions of Dollars in Assets at Risk Along U.S. Coasts. 23 Nov 2009. “World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the leading insurer Allianz SE released a report today warning that sea level rise could dramatically increase risks to buildings, transportation infrastructure and other assets exposed to severe storm surges in coastal areas of the U.S. The study estimates that current assets at risk to a 1-in-100-year storm surge amount to $1.4 trillion. A mid-century global sea level rise of 0.5 meters (20 inches), with an additional 0.15 meter (6 inches) localized rise along the northeast U.S. coast, could jeopardize assets worth close to $7.4 trillion.”

Climate Science Watch:

Climate Progress:

Is Patrick Michaels Trying to Pass Us a Counterfeit $20 Bill? By Scott Mandia, Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Fake ‘addendum’ by conservative group tries to undo federal climate report By Douglas Fischer, The Daily Climate, 22 October 2012.

Koch Brothers Produce Counterfeit Climate Report to Deceive Congress. Connor Gibson, Greenpeace The Witness blog, 22 October 2012.

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