“USGS Gets Politics Out of Climate Forecasts”

Guest “another thing lost in the November coup” by David Middleton

USGS Director Jim Reilly authored a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal

USGS Gets Politics Out of Climate Forecasts
My agency makes a significant advance in the government’s approach to science.

By Jim Reilly
Dec. 21, 2020

The world’s climate is changing, as it always has. The challenge is to understand how and why, which is why the U.S. Geological Survey has adopted the most comprehensive climate analysis requirements ever implemented by the federal government.

Forecasting future responses and impacts for a system as complex as the Earth is difficult and uncertain.


The U.S. Geological Survey is at the forefront of climate science for the federal government. USGS’s chief scientist, Geoffrey Plumlee, and other career scientists recently published a report, “Using Information From Global Climate Models to Inform Policymaking—the Role of the U.S. Geological Survey,” which outlines a broad, consistent and empirical approach for analyzing climate change conditions.

The approach includes evaluating the full range of projected climate outcomes, making available the data used in developing forecasts, describing the level of uncertainty in the findings, and periodically assessing past expectations against actual performance to provide guidance on future projections.


Moving forward, this logical approach will be used by the USGS and the Interior Department for all climate-related analysis and research—a significant advancement in the government’s use and presentation of climate science.

These requirements may seem like common sense, but there has been wide latitude in how climate assessments have been used in the past. This new approach will improve scientific efficacy and provide a higher degree of confidence for policy makers responding to potential future climate change conditions because a full range of plausible outcomes will be considered.

Science should never be political. We shouldn’t treat the most extreme forecasts as an inevitable future apocalypse. The full array of forecasts of climate models should be considered.


Mr. Reilly is a geologist, a former astronaut and director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Wall Street Journal

I worked with Jim Reilly at Enserch Exploration in 1980’s and early 1990’s before he was selected for NASA’s astronaut program in December 1994. It’s interesting to note that Jim is never referred to as “Dr. Reilly,” despite having a PhD in geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas. This is actually proper. Apart from MD, DVM, DDS and other medical field doctors, PhD, EdD, etc. doctors would only be addressed as “Dr.” in formal settings, like a classroom… I digress.

Jim cites a recent USGS publication which makes the case that the full range of model outcomes, along with a reasonable assessment of uncertainty, need to be made clear to policymakers. This science-based approach to climate policymaking might actually gained traction if not for the November coup d’état… (I don’t give a rat’s @$$ if anyone reading this objects to this phrase). The paper, Terando et al., 2020, is well-worth reading. It features a variation of one of my favorite climate models.

Figure 1. Modeled human plus natural climate forcing compared to three instrumental records (see Terando for specifics)
Figure 2. Modeled human climate forcing compared to three instrumental records (see Terando for specifics)

If the models are reasonably accurate, the early 20th century warming can be explained by natural forcing mechanisms. Whereas, some or all of the warming since about 1975 cannot be explained by natural forcing mechanisms alone. That said, the models only incorporate known, reasonably well-understood, forcing mechanisms. Judith Curry illustrated this concept quite well…

Figure 3. You only find what you’re looking for. (JC at the National Press Club)

Setting aside the unknown and/or poorly understood natural forcing mechanisms, not incorporated in the model, we have two very similar warming episodes, one explained by natural factors and one requiring human input.

Figure 4. HadCRUT4 1904-Present.

Let’s assume arguendo that all of the warming since 1975 is due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. What would this mean?

It would mean that the rise in atmospheric CO2 from ~280 to ~400 ppm caused 0.8 °C of warming. Recent instrumental observation-derived climate sensitivity estimates indicate an equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) of about 2.3 °C per doubling of atmospheric CO2, equating to a transient climate response (TCR) of about 1.6 °C per doubling of atmospheric CO2. Oddly enough, with a TCR of 1.6 °C, we would expect to see 0.8 °C of warming at 400 ppm CO2.

Figure 5. Expected warming with a TCR of 1.6 °C.

Even more oddly (I am being very sarcastic), this is consistent with the climate behaving much closer to the bottom of the model uncertainty range than to the top (which is often described as “business as usual”).

Figure 6. Models vs observations (Climate Lab Book).

It’s also important to note that the 0.8 °C of allegedly anthropogenic warming started here:

Figure 7. Context.

A science-based approach to climate change would indicate that humans are having some effect on climate, that it doesn’t appear to be a crisis and that to the extent it might be a long-term problem, reasonable, economically viable steps could be taken now (natural gas to nuclear, N2N), to help ensure that it never escalates beyond a potential long-term problem.

Unfortunately, the incoming Harris-Biden Dominion have indicated a desire to “clean house” at the Department of the Interior, which they view as too friendly to the fossil fuel industries. If you thought 2020 was a total schist show, 2021-2024 promises to be a lot worse… Happy New Year!


Terando, A., Reidmiller, D., Hostetler, S.W., Littell, J.S., Beard, T.D., Jr., Weiskopf, S.R., Belnap, J., and Plumlee, G.S., 2020, Using information from global climate models to inform policymaking—The role of the U.S. Geological Survey: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1058, 25 p.,

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via Watts Up With That?


January 1, 2021 at 04:50AM

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