Analysis of the Report, “Kansas: Assessing the Costs of Climate Change”

By | August 27, 2008

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For the Full Report in PDF Form, please click here.

[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]

We’ve attempted to document the numerous weaknesses and shortcomings in the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) report on Kansas.   While there are certain aspects that to the layman may appear intrinsically scientific and of interest, its analysis and conclusions are unconvincing and unsupportable.  Worse, they encourage public policy responses already doing harm, not good.
Given its many problems, it is amazing the report is taken seriously at all.  
Shoddy science and a failure of the media and policy community to demand higher standards is not the best recipe for helping science contribute effectively to energy policy.  Those who perpetuate such claims represented in this and similar reports are either ill-informed or dishonest.

The report “Kansas: Assessing the Costs of Climate Change” was recently released by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and widely covered by the press.  The NCSL described the purpose of their Kansas report as summarizing “the climatic changes affecting [Kansas], the potential fiscal impact, and the affect that future changes in climate may have on state economies.”  What the report really does is to present an alarmist, computer model-driven scenario of Kansas future climate built upon non sequiturs, omissions, and pessimism and with a disregard to Kansas’ climate, economic, and societal history. As such, it fails to capture the true evolution of Kansas’ climate history over the past century and what the past may tell us of the future.

Most glaringly, nowhere in the NCSL report is an analysis presented as to what impact actions in Kansas to limit greenhouse gas emission will have on the NCSL’s projections of future climate changes in Kansas. Of what use is a report outlining a future climate scenario if the same report doesn’t quantify how the future climate change will be modified by direct policy actions taken in Kansas?  

The reason such an analysis is absent, is that it would have shown that any policies undertaken by Kansas would have absolutely no detectable effect on future local, regional, or global climate changes.  This is because greenhouse emissions from Kansas account for less than 0.3 percent of the global total of greenhouse gas emission each year.  And more striking is that the annual emissions totals from China alone are increasing each and every year by an amount that is 7 times greater than the total annual emissions from Kansas.  All told, if Kansas were able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero, the reputed impact on future climate would be subsumed by the growth in global emissions – primarily by China and India – in just one month’s time! Obviously, regulations prescribing a partial reduction, or even a complete cessation, of Kansas’s greenhouse gas emissions are without effect.

Also, the NCSL is less than forthcoming in fully describing the economic impacts of their future climate scenarios for Kansas and the costs to try to prevent them.  The NCSL states that “water resources and agriculture are likely to be affected in a variety of ways and Kansas could see over a billion dollars in losses.” The report does not reference a recently released report by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) which assessed the economic impacts of proposed federal legislation to try limiting greenhouse gas emissions. For the state of Kansas, the NAM found that by the year 2020, average annual household income would decline by $947 to $3,069 and by the year 2030 the decline would increase to between $3,994 and $7,283. The state would stand to lose between 11,000 and 17,000 jobs by 2020 and between 28,000 and 37,000 jobs by 2030. At the same time gas prices could increase by more than $5 a gallon by the year 2030 and the states’ Gross Domestic Product could decline by then by as much as $5.7 billion/yr. The NAM analysis shows that the cost of trying to offset potential losses exceeds the price of the NCSL-projected losses themselves.

And all of this negative economic impact comes about in an effort to simply try to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emission—which, as we have seen, will have no impact on the state’s future climate. Thus, greenhouse gas emissions policies in Kansas result in a lot of economic pain and produce no climatologically-relevant gain.

The future climate scenario described by the NCSL is far from certain, and in fact, the best observational evidence suggests that the NCSL scenario is overblown and inaccurate.

Here are some examples:

• The NCSL states that the winter temperature in Kansas has increased by 2.1ºF and the summer temperature has increased by 0.3ºF. What they left out was that virtually this entire rise took place more than 80 years ago—long before it could be related to human-caused “global warming.”  In fact, since 1930, the average winter temperature in Kansas has increased less than 0.5ºF and the average temperature during the summer has actually cooled by nearly 2ºF! This is hardly indication that global warming is wreaking havoc on Kansas’ temperatures. (Data source: National Climatic Data Center, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/ks.html)

• The NCSL is repeatedly concerned with water resources and describes how water demand has resulted in large decline in the aquifer reserves and groundwater levels in western Kansas.  But this has nothing to due with climate change—for temperature has changed little, and in fact, precipitation has, on average across the state, been observed to be increasing. The aquifers and ground water levels are declining as a result of increased demand  on them, not a changing climate. (Data source: National Climatic Data Center, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/ks.html)

• The NCSL states that “on average, floods cause $33 million worth of damage in Kansas annually” and that “the economic damages have increased as urban and agricultural developments have encroached on known floodplains.”  Again, this is not related to climate changes, but to human behavior.  Flooding has been a long part of the history of Kansas .  Increases in flood damages is not due to increases in the frequency or severity of flood events, but to the changes in the population demographics—that is, there is a growing amount of wealth that is at risk to flooding by changes in human settlement patterns .  (Data source: Downton, Miller, and Pielke Jr., 2005, Reanalysis of U.S. National Weather Service Flood Loss Database, Natural Hazards Review)

• The NCSL states Kansas’ agriculture will be negatively impacted by future climate changes as increased flooding and increases in invasive species (as a result of warmer winters and changes in precipitation patterns).  However, the NCSL neglects to point out that the value of the agricultural output in Kansas, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, has been rising steadily over time. Droughts, floods, hot years, and cold years occur in the natural climate of Kansas and still agricultural output climbs. This is clear evidence that Kansas’ farmers can and do adapt their practices to the prevalent conditions. As those conditions change, so do the activities of Kansan farmers. This has taken place through recorded time in Kansas and only a pessimistic view—one that is a discredit to the hardworking farmers of Kansas—would presume that it won’t continue to hold into the future. (Data source: U. S. Department of Agriculture, http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Kansas/index.asp)

• The NCSL states that “warmer weather brought by climate change is likely to increase the formation of ground level ozone, which can cause respiratory inflammation, damage lunges and worsen asthma” and they cite a 1998 EPA report that stated “a 2ºF warming in the Midwest, with no other change in weather or emissions, could increase concentrations of ozone…by as much as 8 percent.” What the NCSL omitted  from their report was that there has been a change in emissions—they have been declining for at least the last 10 years and probably longer.  These declines in ozone precursor emissions have led to declines in ozone levels both across the United States, in general, and Kansas in particular. A newer report from the EPA finds that ozone levels across Kansas have declined by 11% from 1997-2007.  For some reason, that fact was not reported by the NCSL (Data source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/weather/region07.pdf#page=2).

• The NCSL states that “increased temperatures will increase electricity use since air conditioners will be working harder to keep homes and buildings cool.” What the NCSL left out was that across Kansas, winter temperatures have warmed a bit while summer temperatures have declined—this has led to a reduced demand for heating in the winter and a reduced demand for cooling in the summer.  In truth, the observed data shows the direct opposite to the NCSL’s projections. (Data source: National Climatic Data Center, http://www7.ncdc.noaa.gov/CDO/CDODivisionalSelect.jsp)

• The NCSL states that “rising temperature could also increase the frequency of vector- and rodent-borne disease in the United States” and the “increasing temperatures have the potential to increase the length of the transmission season of Dengue fever in temperate regions such as Kansas.”  The NCSL didn’t reveal that the vectors for ‘tropical’ diseases such as Dengue fever, malaria, and the West Nile Virus are naturally extant across the U.S. including Kansas and thus the spread of the actual diseases has little to do with local climate and its effect on mosquitoes, birds, or rodents, but instead is controlled largely by direct measures aimed at combating the diseases (Data source: for example, see, Reiter, P., 1996, Global warming and mosquito-borne disease in the USA. The Lancet, 348, 662).  The real danger here is that organizations such as the NCSL may contribute to the spread of disease by offering a false prognosis and nugatory response.

• The NCSL projects that severe storms, including tornados, will increase in intensity and in the damages that they cause because of human-caused climate change. But the facts tell a different story . Tornado numbers only appear to be increasing—new technologies such as Doppler radar as well as more observers have combined to report more tornadoes. However according to the National Climatic Data Center, it is likely that the actual total number of tornadoes across the U.S. has not been increasing, nor has the number of intense tornadoes. But, even in the absence of an increase in tornadoes or tornado intensity, the damage from these storms continues to rise—because a rising population puts more people and more things in the tornadoes’ paths. (Data source: National Climatic Data Center, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/tornadoes.html)

Overwhelmingly, a close analysis of the actual observations of the climate history of the United States as a whole, and Kansas in particular, tells a different story than the one woolgathered by the National Conference of State Legislatures. In fact, observations do not indicate that the climate changes, or corresponding impacts, are proceeding in the manner that will lead to the kind of alarming changes that the NCSL describes and alludes to in its report “Kansas: Assessing the Costs of Climate Change.”