Biden Administration’s Climate Change Report Faces Criticism for Misleading Statistic

The recently released Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA 5), a report on the state of climate change in the U.S. under the Biden administration, is drawing criticism for featuring a key top-line statistic that experts argue is misleading.

The report highlights analyses and graphics focusing on extreme weather events causing at least $1 billion in damage, using monetary losses as a de facto proxy for climate change intensity. Critics argue that this metric lacks essential context, overlooking factors such as population growth, asset density, and asset values in coastal regions that may inflate the prevalence of billion-dollar damage events.

Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, criticized the use of this metric, stating, “There is no peer-reviewed science that attributes any part of increasing disaster losses to changes in climate.” Pielke emphasized the importance of examining climate data rather than relying on economic data.

The NCA 5 graphic, focusing on the American Southeast, suggests over 900 billion-dollar loss events between 1980 and 2022. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contradicts this, indicating 373 such events during that period. The discrepancy arises from the NCA 5 graphic counting each state affected by the same event, regardless of whether each state suffered a billion dollars in losses independently.

A graphic from NCA 5 showing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) billion-dollar disasters by state from 1980–2022 in the Southeast. The map adds up billion-dollar events for each state affected (i.e., it does not mean that each state shown suffered at least $1 billion in losses for each event), according to its caption in the NCA 5 report. (Screenshot / Public via NCA 5 report)

NOAA acknowledges that rising costs are influenced by factors like increased population and material wealth, particularly in vulnerable areas such as coasts and floodplains. Additionally, weather events not initially meeting the billion-dollar threshold are retroactively classified as such when adjusted for inflation.

Despite these complexities, the Biden administration continues to use the billion-dollar damage metric as a proxy for climate change intensity. The White House asserts, “Climate change is a major driver for the increased frequency, duration, and severity of extreme weather and climate-related disasters.”

In addition to criticism of the billion-dollar metric, the report has been faulted for its inclusion of “indigenous knowledge,” linking climate change to pandemics, and addressing the intersections of climate change and social justice.

Pielke, Jr. expressed concern about the NCA’s politicization, stating, “The NCA should never have been placed under the White House. It is too tempting for both Republicans and Democrats to use it for politics.”

Neither NOAA nor the White House responded immediately to requests for comment.

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