Brief: Cato Institute’s “Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”


Herewith, a briefing paper on “Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” a climate contrarian report that we expect the Cato Institute, a ‘free market’ ideology policy group, will release next week.  The report mimics in its cover and internal layout a 2009 peer-reviewed assessment issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, also titled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States — a report that synthesized the findings of the most credible scientific experts. 

Earlier posts: Cato Institute counterfeit U.S. climate change impacts assessment

“Statement on the Cato Institute ADDENDUM Report” by co-authors of the 2009 assessment, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”

The following is a briefing paper by a guest blogger, which draws on a draft version of the Cato “Addendum” posted on the Cato website.  The Brief can be downloaded in PDF here.  Full text and graphics here:

Brief: Cato Institute’s

“Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”

Misleading presentation: In response to scientific findings that global warming is harmful to the well-being of the United States, the Cato Institute released a misleading new document. This report is laid out to appear nearly identical to a reputable report on climate impacts published by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) that reaches opposite conclusions. Cato’s report is not associated with the USGCRP in any way. Its mimicry only underscores its lack of scientific credibility, in that Cato resorted to “borrowing” the good standing of other organizations. The format and title of Cato’s report “Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” are likely to confuse and mislead people into thinking the Cato report is associated with the USGCRP or its report authors. However, the Cato report:

    • Has nothing to do with the USGCRP or the authors of the original report.
    • Was not subjected to the extensive review process that characterized the 2009 USGCRP report.
    • Underwent no public comment period, as the USGCRP report did.
    • Contains key findings that are consistent neither with the original assessment nor with the peer-reviewed findings of the majority of qualified scientists.

Concessions on science: The Cato Institute’s report is noteworthy for what it does concede. The report acknowledges, “Climate change is unequivocal and human activity plays some part in it” (See Appendix). This represents a departure from past reports and statements that worked much harder to downplay human-caused warming. For example, see Pat Michaels’ 1999 statement: “The earth simply isn’t going to warm all that much.” The amount of evidence confirming anthropogenic global warming has grown so significantly that even obstructionists like the Cato Institute have shifted to disputing the severity of the impacts rather than the reality of the problem. These concessions are followed consistently with conclusions that minimize the impacts of climate change and the damages those impacts are projected to cause for the nation.

The USGCRP Report: The model for Cato’s document, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” was published in 2009 by the United States Global Change Research Program. It is a product of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (GCRA), which requires the USGCRP to produce an assessment “not less frequently than every four years.” The assessment must analyze the effects and current trends of global change and must project major trends anticipated over the next 25 to 100 years. The 2009 iteration is a product of 13 government agencies as well as scientists from around the world. It is a conservative and collective statement on the risks that the United States faces due to climate change, now and in the future.

The Cato Institute: The Cato Institute is a libertarian group founded by Edward Crane and Charles G. Koch. In documents recovered from tobacco giant Phillip Morris, the Cato Institute is included on a list of “allies.”  A recent Cato event marking the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring was called “The False Cries of Rachel Carson” and claimed that the harmfulness of pesticides such as DDT is overblown. Cato’s new Center for the Study of Science is directed by climate change contrarian Patrick J. Michaels, who has been affiliated with Cato for at least two decades. A 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists mentions Michaels’ ties to at least 10 organizations funded by ExxonMobil (pages 12, 59). For many years, these organizations repeatedly have taken positions disputing the harmfulness of tobacco and other known carcinogens, the role of CFCs in causing the ozone hole, and the existence of acid rain. Naomi Oreskes’ history of embattled science, Merchants of Doubt, reinforces Michaels’ record as a skeptic for hire on any issue where government regulation might come into play.

Opposition to the first National Climate Assessment: Groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute and the Cato Institute recognize the important role the NCA process and report play into governmental decisions about regulation of carbon dioxide. As such, they use every available means, including unsuccessful lawsuits, to prevent the federal government from communicating the results of the first national assessment. When the public review draft of the first USGCRP assessment was released in June, 2000, Cato issued a statement by Jerry Taylor, then Director of Natural Resources Studies at the Cato Institute, complaining that the reportpredicts doom and gloom for the coming century.” He claimed that northern latitudes would see “benign or largely positive changes in climate,” and “the number of storms and other extreme weather events, along with their severity, are trending down, not up.” Since then, Arctic Sea Ice extent and volume have plummeted to the lowest levels on record with impacts spilling well beyond the Arctic. Meanwhile, the U.S. Climate Extremes Index in 2012 warm season (April through September) reached a record high that was more than twice the average value for warm seasons (based on records going back to 1910).

Attacks against the 2009 National Climate Assessment: Opponents of action on climate change recognized the 2009 assessment, like the 2000 assessment, would raise concerns about climate change, would increase support for government action and would be cited in support of such action. In an article in the Washington Times on Aug. 31, 2008, Pat Michaels attacked the report as “the worst document in this genre I have ever seen … Trash the entire report … But of course, that won’t happen … It will serve as the basis for the most onerous environmental legislation and regulations in U.S. history.

More recently in an op/ed in Forbes, Michaels misleadingly asserted that EPA’s Dec. 2009 finding that greenhouse gases endanger the health and welfare of Americans “is largely based upon a single document” — the 2009 assessment report.  In fact, the EPA endangerment finding is based on a wide range of national and international scientific assessments, reports and evidence, including the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Precedent: This is not the first time climate change disinformation campaigners have mimicked official documents to confuse and mislead people. In 1998, Frederick Seitz et al circulated a petition accompanied by a paper that was intentionally formatted to look like a reprint from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The NAS denounced the paper: “The NAS Council would like to make it clear that this petition has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences and that the manuscript was not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or in any other peer-reviewed journal.” See the full Statement of the NAS, By The Council Of The National Academy Of Sciences Regarding Global Change Petition response of the NAS.

Some stylistic “borrowing” is also evident in the Heartland Institute’s naming choice for its contrarian climate reports: the Nongovernment International Panel on Climate Change, in clear contrast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The cover design and structure of the NIPCC report are similar to those of the IPCC Fourth Assessment report.

2009 National Climate Assessment

2012 Cato Report

  • Conclusions based on scientific consensus.
  • Produced through the collaboration of 13 government agencies.
  • Part of a 20-year project to assess climate risks on a regular basis.
  • Finds that global warming is real, human-caused, and detrimental to the United States.
  • Authored by an organization with explicit libertarian political goals.
  • Uses misleading formatting and title to confuse readers.
  • Makes concessions on the reality of climate change while downplaying risks and harms.
1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. (p. 13)
1. Climate change is unequivocal and human activity plays some part in it.
There are two periods of warming in the 20th century that are statistically indistinguishable in magnitude. The first had little if any relation to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the second has characteristics that are consistent in part with a changed greenhouse effect. (p. 16)
2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
Climate-related changes are already observed in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. (p. 27)
2. Climate change has occurred and will occur in the United States.
US temperature and precipitation have changed significantly over some states since the modern record began in 1895. Some changes, such as the amelioration of severe winter cold in the northern Great Plains, are highly consistent with a changed greenhouse effect (pp. 34-55, 189-194)
3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change. (p. 41-106, 107-152) 3. Impacts of observed climate change have little national significance.
There is no significant long-term change in US economic output that can be attributed to climate change. The slow nature of climate progression results in de facto adaptation as, as can be seen with sea level changes on the East Coast. (pp. 44-45, 79-81, 157-160, 175-176)
4. Climate change will stress water resources.
Water is an issue in every region, but the nature of the potential impacts varies. Drought, related to reduced precipitation, increased evaporation, and increased water loss from plants, is an important issue in many regions, especially in the West. Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage. (p. 41, 129, 135, 139)
4. Climate change will affect water resources.
Long-term paleoclimatic studies show that severe and extensive droughts have occurred repeatedly throughout the Great Plains and the West. These will occur in the future, with or without human-induced climate change. Infrastructure planners would be well-advised to take them into account. (pp. 56-71)
5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
Many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels of warming, but higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and yields. Increased pests, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes will pose adaptation challenges for crop and livestock production.
(p. 71)
5. Crop and livestock production will adapt to climate change.
There is a large body of evidence that demonstrates substantial untapped adaptability of US agriculture to climate change, including crop-switching that can change the species used for livestock feed. In addition, carbon dioxide itself is likely increasing crop yields and will continue to do so in increasing increments in the future. (pp. 102-118)
6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
Sea-level rise and storm surge place many U.S. coastal areas at increasing
risk of erosion and flooding, especially along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Pacific Islands, and parts of Alaska. Energy and transportation infrastructure and other property in coastal areas are very likely to be adversely affected. (p. 111, 139, 145, 149)
6. Sea level rises caused by global warming are easily adapted to.
Much of the densely populated East Coast has experienced sea level rises in the 20th century that are more than twice those caused by global warming, with obvious adaptation. The mean projections from the United Nations will likely be associated with similar adaptation. (pp. 175-176)
7. Risks to human health will increase.
Harmful health impacts of climate change are related to increasing heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. Reduced cold stress provides some benefits. Robust public health infrastructure can reduce the potential for negative impacts. (p. 89)
7. Life expectancy and wealth are likely to continue to increase.
There is little relationship between life expectancy, wealth and climate. Even under the most dire scenarios, people will be much wealthier and healthier than they are today in the year 2100.(pp. 141-147, 160-162)
8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
Climate change will combine with pollution, population growth, overuse of resources, urbanization, and other social, economic, and environmental stresses to create larger impacts than from any of these factors alone. (p. 99)
8. Climate change is a minor overlay on US society.
People voluntarily expose themselves to climate changes throughout their lives that are much larger and more sudden than those expected from greenhouse gases. The migration of US population from the cold North and East to the much warmer South and West is an example. Global markets exist to allocate resources that fluctuate with the weather and climate. (pp. 156-171)
9. Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.
There are a variety of thresholds in the climate system and ecosystems. These thresholds determine, for example, the presence of sea ice and permafrost, and the survival of species, from fish to insect pests, with implications for society. With further climate change, the crossing
of additional thresholds is expected. (p. 76, 82, 115, 137, 142)
9. Species and ecosystems will change with or without climate change.
There is little doubt that some ecosystems, such as the desert west, have been changing with climate, while others, such as cold marine fisheries, move with little obvious relationship to climate. (pp. 119-140)
10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.
The amount and rate of future climate change depend primarily on current and future human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases and airborne particles. Responses involve reducing emissions to limit future warming, and adapting to the changes that are unavoidable. (p. 25, 29)
10. Policies enacted by the developed world will have little effect on global temperature.
Even if every nation that has obligations under the Kyoto Protocol agreed to reduce emissions over 80 per¬cent, there would be little or no detectable effect on climate on the policy-relevant timeframe, because emissions from these countries will be dwarfed in coming decades by the total emissions from China, India, and the developing world. (pp. 27, 212)

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3 Responses to Brief: Cato Institute’s “Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States”

  1. Pingback: Is Patrick Michaels Trying to Pass Us a Counterfeit $20 Bill? « Global Warming: Man or Myth?

  2. Eileen Kinley says:

    The Cato text is:

    Displacement of marine species with no
    clear cause can effect fisheries.

    The illustration below was in the USGCRP
    report, citing Mueter and Litzow. From their
    2007 paper:

    “A nonlinear, accelerating time trend in
    northward displacement (Fig. 5D), unrelated
    to temperature or any other climate
    parameter we tested (at any lag), suggests
    that mechanisms besides climate must be
    contributing to distribution shifts in the
    Bering Sea…The failure of our exploratory
    attempts to explain variability among species
    underlines the difficulties of this research
    problem.” 10

    Mueter and Litzow (note that Mueter’s publications page cites it as 2008) provide a much broader context, however here are a couple of excerpts. Notice the first sentence Cato removed:

    Sea ice retreat alters the biogeography of the Bering Sea Continental Shelf

    A nonlinear, accelerating time trend in northward
    displacement (Fig. 5D), unrelated to temperature or any
    other climate parameter we tested (at any lag), suggests
    that mechanisms besides climate must be contributing to
    distribution shifts in the Bering Sea. External climate
    forcing may trigger internal dynamics such as changes in
    species interactions that have the potential to create a
    nonlinear ecosystem response (Scheffer et al. 2001).

    However, the community-wide responses to
    climate change that we have documented suggest the
    possibility of highly disruptive responses to continued
    warming of the Bering Sea.

    Nevertheless, the community-
    wide patterns of change that we observed with
    northward displacement of the arctic–subarctic ecotone
    suggest that consideration of distribution shifts needs to
    become a focus of management and research in marginal
    ice seas

  3. sailrick says:

    These 32 conservative ‘think tanks’ (really industry front groups) have all been involved in the tobacco industry’s campaign to deny the science showing the dangers of tobacco.

    They are all now involved in the campaign to deny the science of climate change.


    1. Acton Institute
    2. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
    3. Alexis de Tocquerville Institute
    4. American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
    5. Americans for Prosperity
    6. Atlas Economic Research Foundation
    7. Burson-Marsteller (PR firm)
    8. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW)
    9. Cato Institute
    10. Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)
    11. Consumer Alert
    12. DCI Group (PR firm)
    13. European Science and Environment Forum
    14. Fraser Institute
    15. Frontiers of Freedom
    16. George C. Marshall Institute
    17. Harvard Center for Risk Analysis
    18. Heartland Institute
    19. Heritage Foundation
    20. Independent Institute
    21. International Center for a Scientific Ecology
    22. International Policy Network
    23. John Locke Foundation
    24. Junk Science
    25. National Center for Public Policy Research
    26. National Journalism Center
    27. National Legal Center for the Public Interest (NLCPI)
    28. Pacific Research Institute
    29. Reason Foundation
    30. Small Business Survival Committee
    31. The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC)
    32. Washington Legal Foundation

    #5 and #9 were created by the billionaire oil and lumber tycoon Koch brothers, who fund all kinds of anti-enviromental PR. They also fund denial of the science saying formaldahyde causes cancer. This is no surprise, since they are major owners of Georgia Pacific lumber company.

    #24 Junk Science, which is aptly named, is run by Steve Milloy, who Fox News like to feature as an “expert” on climate change. Milloy is NOT a scientist. He’s a paid lobbyist for fossil fuel interests and a professional PR man.

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