Light Wave


‘National Embarrassment’: Expert Slams Biden Admin’s Climate Report

By CM Chaney · November 16, 2023

In brief…

  • NCA report's use of billion-dollar disaster events metric is misleading, experts say.
  • Population growth and rising coastal assets drive up disaster costs, not necessarily climate change.
  • White House continues using metric to claim extreme weather increasing due to climate change.
  • NCA report also touts "indigenous knowledge" and links climate to pandemics, social justice.
Experts criticize the Biden administration's climate report for misleadingly using increased billion-dollar weather disasters as a metric of worsening climate change rather than accounting for rising coastal assets.  White House / Wikimedia

A key statistic used in the Biden administration’s latest National Climate Assessment (NCA) report is misleading, according to experts.

The report prominently features analyses of extreme weather events causing over $1 billion in damages. However, critics say the use of this metric obscures important context about population growth and rising coastal asset values that drive up disaster costs.

“There is no peer reviewed science that attributes any part of increasing disaster losses to changes in climate,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado who studies the politicization of science. “To see evidence of changes in climate, look at climate data, not economic data.”

Pielke Jr. has criticized the billion-dollar damages metric before, calling its use a “national embarrassment.” He points out that identical hurricanes hitting Florida in 1980 versus 2023 would cause vastly different economic losses simply due to more people and development in coastal regions today.

Yet the NCA 5 relies heavily on this metric in its analysis of climate threats to Southeastern coastal states prone to hurricanes. One NCA 5 graphic appears to show over 900 billion-dollar loss events between 1980-2022. However, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data shows only 373 such events occurred in that period.

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

The reason for this large discrepancy is that the NCA 5 double-counts events impacting multiple states. So a single hurricane affecting five states would count as five “events.” The graphic’s caption explains this, but experts worry it misleads readers.

NOAA’s website also acknowledges that rising disaster costs stem largely from “growth in vulnerable areas like coasts” and do not necessarily indicate worsening climate change. Furthermore, weather events below the billion-dollar threshold decades ago get retroactively classified due to inflation adjustments.

Analyzing catastrophe losses as a proportion of GDP shows no clear upward trend, according to Pielke Jr. But the White House continues using the metric to claim extreme weather is skyrocketing due to climate change.

In addition to the billion-dollar damages analysis, the NCA 5 touts its use of “indigenous knowledge” and includes sections linking climate change to pandemics and social justice.

Pielke Jr. believes the NCA should not be controlled by any White House due to the temptation to politicize the science. The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the criticism.