Problems with Risky Climate Projections

By now, most readers have heard of the Risky Business Project which describes itself as follows:

"Launched in October, 2013, the Risky Business Project focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of a changing climate.

Risky Business Project co-chairs Michael R. Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer tasked the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm that specializes in analyzing disruptive global trends, with an independent assessment of the economic risks posed by a changing climate in the U.S. Rhodium convened a research team co-led by climate scientist Dr. Robert Kopp of Rutgers University and economist Dr. Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley. Rhodium also partnered with Risk Management Solutions (RMS), the world's largest catastrophe-modeling company for insurance, reinsurance, and investment-management companies around the world. The team’s complete assessment, along with technical appendices, is available at Rhodium’s website,

The Risky Business Project is a joint partnership of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Paulson Institute, and TomKat Charitable Trust. Additional support for this research was provided by the Skoll Global Threats Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund. Staff support for the Risky Business Project is provided by Next Generation, an independent 501c3 organization."

The results and proponents of the Risky Business Project -- and its associated report, "The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States" -- have received widespread media attention, including in such outlets as the New York Times, Forbes, PBS Newshour, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Globe and Mail, the Boston Globe, and elsewhere. The Risky Business report is being used to help shape the United States' climate change policies, as evidenced by the subsequent meeting between White House officials, Steyer, and Paulson to discuss the report's findings.

Yet, it appears hardly any journalists or scientists are critically analyzing the predictions made by the Risky Business project, despite the clear disconnect between the lack of recent trends in the number of extremely hot and cold days and the alarmist projections made by the project.

As shown in the Risky Business Project self-description given above, the project asked the Rhodium Group, to convene "a research team co-led by climate scientist Dr. Robert Kopp of Rutgers University and economist Dr. Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley..."

Thus, when some critics claim that "the [Risky Business Project] report fails to name any of the scientific investigators or make their source data available for analysis," this appears to be erroneous. At the start of the Risky Business Project report is the following statement: "The research team's work was reviewed by an independent Risky Business Expert Review Panel composed of leading climate scientists and economists. A full list of the expert review panel is available on Rhodium's website." Immediately at the start of the report is a listing of the scientists, economists, and other technical experts that authored the report. In addition, the Acknowledgements section of the report lists the members of the Expert Review Panel:

"Members of our Expert Review Panel -- Kerry Emanuel, Karen Fisher-Vanden, Michael Greenstone, Katharine Hayhoe, Geoffrey Heal, Douglas Holt-Eakin, Michael Spence, Larry Linden, Linda Mearns, Michael Oppenheimer, Sean Ringstead, Tom Rutherford, Jonathan Samet, and Gary Yohe -- provided invaluable critiques during the development of this report. We also thank Sir Nicholas Stern, who provided excellent input and guidance, and William Nordhaus, for his pioneering work in on [sic] climate economics and scoping suggestions early in the project."

Rhodium’s research team was 'co-led by climate scientist Dr. Robert Kopp of Rutgers University.' I’m guessing Kopp may be a fan of President Obama, since his online photo album that used to be linked to off his professional webpage contained photo albums of Obama’s first and second inauguration, as well as an 'Obama Rally at Mayfair Diner (11 October 2008)' with a picture of what appears to be Kopp wearing an Obama volunteer button. These links and albums have apparently been deleted over the past couple days since the current article was initially published at the Canada Free Press.

The real concerns are not with the project failing "to name any of the scientific investigators" -- since they do this for the readers -- rather they are with the findings themselves.

Rhodium's report is 174 pages long and -- as with the National Climate Assessment -- it will take time to analyze. But even a cursory glance through the report identifies clear concerns. Based on my previous interest in the predictions over future numbers of extremely cold days from the Risky Business Project's summary report, I looked at the corresponding technical section of the Rhodium report on this topic, and found the following claims:

"Of the 25 states that currently have sub-freezing average winter temperatures, only six (Vermont, Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Alaska) are still likely to do so under RCP 8.5 by the end of the century. In that scenario the average number of days with temperatures dropping below 32°F the average resident of New York state experiences will likely fall from 93 to less than 51. The number of days dipping below 32°F in Washington, DC will likely fall from 87 to less than 37."

"RCP 8.5" is just a climate modeling scenario that "represents a continuation of recent global emissions growth rates, with atmospheric concentrations of CO2 reaching 940 ppm by 2100 and 2000 ppm by 2200." The real concern in this paragraph is the claim that "the average number of days with temperatures dropping below 32°F" will decline from current levels of 87 per year in Washington, DC.

When I search NOAA's online database for the number of days per year "with temperatures dropping below 32°F" in Washington, DC, I get an average of only 56 freezing days per year, and a maximum of 74, over the past three decades. This is a lot lower than 87. The average since records began in 1872 for the capital region is only 69. The last year the DC area saw 87 or more days "with temperatures dropping below 32°F" was 1917.

Even more troubling is the statement in the Rhodium report that "there are similarly large projected changes in average winter temperatures (Figure 4.5) and number of extremely cold days (Figure 4.6)." The Figure 4.6 being referred to has the title "Figure 4.6: Decreasing numbers of extreme cold days. Number of days with maximum temperatures below 32°F," and it shows the following figure of extreme cold days throughout the USA between 1981-2010.

Readers need to look long and hard at this figure and digest the implications. This is a figure that purports to show the "number of days with maximum temperatures below 32°F." That means the average number of days each year between 1981 and 2010 during which the temperature at no point got above freezing. Now look at Colorado. See the dark blue coloring over about one-third of the state that corresponds to the 200-300 days per year range on the legend to the right of the map? This figure is apparently trying to tell us that one-third of Colorado has averaged between 200 and 300 days per year with maximum temperatures below 32°F -- in the same range as almost all of Alaska. The NOAA database indicates that the Denver area only averaged 20 days per year with maximum temperatures below 32°F between 1981 and 2010, not between 200 and 300.

Check out the Florida panhandle. According to this figure, the Florida panhandle averaged between 15 and 30 days per year with maximum temperatures below 32°F during the 1981-2010 period. According to NOAA's database, the Tallahassee area has seen a grand total of only three days with maximum temperatures below 32°F since records began in 1892, of which two of these three days occurred as one each in 1983 and 1985. That is an annual average of zero over the past 120 years, and over the past three decades.

Apparently San Diego received between 30 and 50 days per year with maximum temperatures below 32°F during the 1981-2010 period. But wait -- the NOAA database states the San Diego area has never -- repeat never -- had a single day with a maximum temperature below 32°F since records began in 1874.

Who knows what is going on with this figure? And this is just one problematic figure and paragraph in a 174-page report being used to shape climate policy trajectories for the world's largest economy -- and, by extension, much of the global economy as well. It will be interesting to see how the remainder of this report, and others like it, stand up to rigorous scrutiny over time. And we need to take the time to scrutinize these reports in the public eye. Coherent public policy decisions depend on using documents of the highest scientific quality.