Further comment on the Supreme Court briefs

Comment from Scott Saleska (elevated from previous post). The discussion refers to the brief submitted in support of the EPA position organised by CEI in opposition to the ‘Scientists’ brief‘ that Scott was a party to.

Was there was a reply to CEI brief?

There was no formal venue for a reply, at least not before the court. The general consensus of those of us who discussed it was that the CEI brief was pretty poor anyway. For what it is worth, below are some comments I emailed to my colleagues after I reviewed the CEI brief, followed by comments by Dr. Curt Covey, whose work was cited in the CEI brief:

— begin quoted excerpts of my email —

Our climate scientist brief focused narrowly and conservatively on two questions: (1) whether the state of the science was accurately represented by the EPA and by the lower court, and (2) whether the science is sufficiently compelling to support a judgement that the legal standard for regulation is met (i.e., may greenhouse gas emissions “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare”?)

A relevant claim that our scientists brief is wrong or misleading would therefore have to consist of an argument that either (1) the state of the science was in fact accurately characterized by the EPA or the Appeals Court, or (2) that in fact, greenhouse gas emissions may NOT be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. The CEI brief does neither, so I suspect it will not have much relevance to the case at hand.

The CEI brief discusses a range of broad questions on which the Climate Scientist’s brief takes no position (e.g. whether the “net” effects of CO2 emissions “will” endanger public health or welfare, or what history would have been like if industrial development had taken a less CO2-intensive trajectory), and quibbles with technical details which have little or no effect on the answer to the overall question no matter how they are resolved (e.g. whether the NRC/NAS statement in 2001 that post-1950 ocean warming was 0.050C is meaningfully different from the Levins et al. 2005, more recent figure of 0.037C).

As far as the technical details, a quick survey convinces me there is not much there. Just to cite a few, taken more or less at random (I have not had time to look at all):

CO2 growth rates (CEI, p. 11): arguments about what growth rates for CO2 emissions that some models use are besides the point of what the science says about the climate sensitivity of the earth system (emissions growth rates are if anything an economic question). It is well-recognized that many of the original emissions scenarios in IPCC overstated the trajectories that were actually realized (indeed, this was a minor point made in the NRC/NAS 2001 report that was picked up on, and misunderstood or misrepresented, by the Appeals Court), but so what? Unless they are arguing that actual BAU emissions will be so low as to prevent CO2 from any further significant build up (or at least stay under a doubling), this is a detail entirely irrelevant to climate science, and almost entirely irrelevant to the question about “reasonable anticipation of endangerment”.

Hurricanes (CEI, p. 16). We barely mention this, as a parenthetical (not as a “prediction” but as a citation of IPCC TAR’s reference to “likely increases” in tropical storm intensities). I am surprised they went after this, with all the recent work showing that the evidence for this has only gotten stronger since 2001. Yes, there is still debate about whether it has reached canonical levels of statistical significance (95% confidence), and there are problems with data quality yet to be fully resolved, but the standard in the law is lower (“may reasonably anticipate” endangerment). Are they arguing, in the light of Emanual 2005, and Webster et al., 2005, that it would be entirely unreasonable to anticipate stronger hurricanes in the future? If not, what is the point?

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