Conservative blogs, as well as some media outlets, have been busy as of late breaking a non-story about a supposed cover-up within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This one started, as these things usually do, within the domain of a political think tank, this time the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Sam Kazman, a CEI lawyer, sent and posted a letter to the EPA, attaching a series of four e-mails from within the EPA that, according to CEI, provided incontrovertible evidence of the essential suppression of an internal “study” that significantly ran counter to the EPA’s categorization of CO2 and other greenhouse gases as a public endangerment. Kazman goes on to conclude that this suppression was based solely on political motivations as opposed to the contents of the document. CEI has subsequently posted a draft of the “study”, a copy of which can be viewed here.
Not surprisingly, bloggers have predictably extended the suppression accusation, of both the report and its handling within the EPA, to the media at large.
As it turns out, the suppressed “study” was not actually a study at all but rather a report and series of comments compiled primarily by Alan Carlin, an economist within the agency’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE). Carlin, who holds a B.S. in Physics from CalTech and a PhD in Economics from M.I.T. both from the late fifties and early sixties, has professed he is not a climate scientist but has been “working on climate change” for six years. He compiled the report as a response to the EPA’s endangerment draft which would open up regulation of CO2 as part of the Clean Air Act, concerned that the EPA’s reliance on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ignored more recent research that undermined the accuracy of the IPCC’s conclusions.
Reviewing solely the accusations of suppression from both the CEI and the supporting bloggers, you are given the impression of a rushed deadline and an intrepid lone voice of reason and knowledge amongst the cacophony within the politically driven bureaucracy of the EPA. In this scenario, Carlin deftly crafts an almost 100 page evisceration of the IPCC’s and thus the EPA’s findings in a mere 4 days, bringing to light an avalanche of new and unconsidered scientific knowledge, only to be rebuffed by his politically motivated superiors.
Reviewing the EPA’s response, the emails themselves, and the draft report in context, you are left with an impression of distinctly the opposite.
First there is the proposition that the version of Carlin’s report available from CEI was an “early draft”. Yet, the “March 16” date on the footer of many of its pages is the same day as “the COB [close-of-business] deadline” Carlin references himself in his email on March 16 at 3:55 PM. The available report may be a draft, but it’s definitely not an early version of it.
As a late draft it stands to reason that Carlin was merely rushing to meet the EPA’s hastily determined deadline, a viable justification for it being a bit rough around the edges. Compiling nearly 100 pages in less than four days is no small task. Yet, the report itself states that it “in part builds on three previous reports (Carlin, 2007), Carlin (2007a), and Carlin (2008)”, a comment removed from a version of the report posted on the author’s own web site and replaced with a disclaimer to the reader that the comments “were prepared under severe time constraints”. So, rather than being written in four days, it appears the report was actually an ongoing work-in-progress for better than two years.
The EPA, in its response to the non-controversy, stated that Carlin had been granted numerous opportunities to have his views presented and heard by individuals both inside and outside of the agency, and Carlin readily acknowledges he hosted several seminars presenting opinions running counter to the findings of the IPCC, though he states these were not attended by members of the group generating the endangerment finding.
“Additionally, his manager allowed his general views on the subject of climate change to be heard and considered inside and outside the EPA and presented at conferences and at an agency seminar. The individual was also granted a request to join a committee that organizes an ongoing climate seminar series, open to both agency and outside experts, where he has been able to invite speakers with a full range of views on climate science. The claims that his opinions were not considered or studied are entirely false.”
– Adora Andy, EPA spokesperson
Considering the numerous previous report iterations and hosted seminars, it is reasonable to conclude those within the agency were already readily familiar with Carlin’s overall thoughts on the subject at hand and that much of the related material had been previously presented and considered. Carlin’s voice was being anything but quashed inside and outside of the agency.
As for the hasty deadline, the EPA finding had been in the works for over a year, having been started under the previous Bush administration, providing more than enough time to make any concerns known, even if the content of the finding had not been finalized.
Then there’s the content of the report itself.
Periodically the IPCC conducts a comprehensive review of the scientific literature within the recognized peer reviewed journals over an extended period of time and documents a summarization of the current state of scientific knowledge across thousands of published studies. This summarization then itself goes through an extensive series of reviews before being published.
By contrast, Carlin’s report is by no means a comprehensive perspective on scientific knowledge even in the duration since the publication of the last IPCC report, nor should such be expected. The EPA in its entirety does not have the resources to conduct such a review and the requisite associated peer reviews of its conclusions, which is why the agency necessarily relies on the reports of the IPCC.
The references of Carlin’s report are also littered with blog postings, unpublished studies, non peer-reviewed books, and studies published in Energy and Environment, a journal not recognized in the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI) master journal list and that is routinely utilized for study publishing by those skeptical of the theory of anthropogenic global warming.
Many of the subjects within Carlin’s report have also been discussed extensively within the scientific community, with Carlin’s report presenting a very narrow view of those discussions. Carlin even starts the report with the argument that temperatures have been declining for 8, 11, or 12 years, an odd assortment of time durations, especially considering the satellite temperature record from UAH updated through last month notes an increasing decadal temperature trend for the planet on the whole and the northern and southern hemispheres taken individually, despite lowered solar activity during this time period.
If it’s a choice between the EPA relying on the non-reviewed report of a single admitted non climate scientist presenting a one-sided argument based on blog postings, non-reviewed books, unpublished studies, and a journal of questionable validity and the EPA relying on an in-depth and comprehensive review of scientific studies published in recognized and peer-reviewed journals over an extended period of time, a review which itself is then subsequently extensively reviewed and critiqued, the agency is best served by relying on the scientists themselves.
[UPDATE: A detailed analysis of the contents of Carlin’s report by NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt can be found over at RealClimate. And not only are the report’s contents highly questionable, in many cases they are lifted almost word-for-word from existing contrarian blogs. Read extensive analyses over at Deep Climate here and here.]
- IPCC Fourth Assessment – The Physical Science Basis
- “Bubkes” – RealClimate, June 26, 2009