On defending the National Climate Assessment


First National Climate Assessment report (2000)

Opponents of climate change action are already telegraphing how they’re going to attack the next National Climate Assessment report, writes Chris Mooney at DeSmogBlog. So what is to be done? “You start now working on a counter-narrative to defend the assessment.”

(Don’t miss Chris Mooney’s article in the current issue of Mother Jones magazine: “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science”)

Journalist and author Chris Mooney has picked up on some early-stage disinformation campaign action in connection with the development of the next scientifically based assessment of climate change and its implications for the U.S.:

National Climate Assessment report (2009)

5 May 11

Defend this Report!

If you’re a boxer, and your opponent is telegraphing his punches, that’s a good thing. It gives you an advantage.

If you’re playing poker, and another player is giving a “tell,” the same story goes. It’s to your advantage.

Opponents of climate change action are doing precisely that right now—telegraphing where they’re going to attack. Here’s Norman Rogers of the Heartland Institute, already attacking a scientific report—the National Climate Assessment, which weighs climate risks to different regions of the U.S.—that won’t be out in its next iteration until 2013. Rogers attended an early advisory committee meeting, and has already started up the narrative that will be used against the report:

There did not appear to be any member of the committee even mildly skeptical of the global warming catastrophe story.  This was surely not an accident.  I was told that every member of the committee had to be approved by the White House, presumably by John Holdren.

As I noted in an earlier post, Bush administration climate science whistleblower Rick Piltz knew this would happen. As Piltz put it:

This report will be attacked. There is no way to bullet-proof it against that war on science – that’s a myth. They’ll look for procedural missteps, they’ll look for anything, they’ll invent something if they need to.

In that earlier post, I commended Piltz for his foresight. Now—and again, this report is not due out until 2013—it has already been validated.

So what do you do now? Just go through the whole National Climate Assessment process—all the advisory committee meetings, model runs, and so on—and hope that critics will forget about you?

No: You start now working on a counter-narrative to defend the assessment. What does that narrative sound like?

That can be debated, but to me, this is really about homeland security, broadly understood. This is about protecting our people from drought, from wildfires, from flooding—from all of the weather conditions that can be worsened by changing the climate conditions in the background.

What role could be more important for government than protecting the livelihood of its citizens, and using the best available science to do so?

I’m not saying this is the best defense. All I’m saying is this: If you’re working on a report with a two year time horizon, and you know that report is going to be attacked, then you should also be working on a strong explanation of why your report is important and valid. I sincerely hope that is happening.

Chris Mooney’s blog

Also see Chris’s Intersection blog at Discover Magazine.

Some earlier posts:

Talking at Power Shift 2011 about how to deal with climate change denialists

“This report will be attacked” – Statement to the National Climate Assessment committee

Dr. Ben Santer and Chris Mooney on communicating climate science (video interview)

AAAS initiative, Chris Mooney paper ask: do scientists understand the public?

Just out: “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future”

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