USGS Scientists Ordered Not to Model Long-Term Climate Impacts

On May 27, 2019, the New York Times reported that the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), James Reilly, ordered agency scientists not to engage in long-term modelling of climate change impacts. According to the report, while USGS scientist previously modeled climate change impacts through 2100, Director Reilly has ordered that they only use computer-generated climate models that project impacts through 2040. Scientists have expressed concern that such short-term modelling is misleading “because the biggest effects of current emissions will be felt after 2040."


On November 2, 2020, Wired reported that U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Director James Reilly had attempted to codify limitations on agency scientists’ modeling of climate impacts. Reilly reportedly submitted a draft of a new chapter for the US Geological Survey Manual -- a document which governs the agencies publishing and peer review process. The chapter defined an "initial assessment range" for modeling climate impacts that stops at 2024 and prescribed best and worst case scenarios for use in modeling. Agency scientists reportedly responded that the best/worst case scenarios are unrealistic, and that limiting the timeline for allowed climate modeling could result in the analysis ignoring “catastrophic outcomes that might follow in the decades after.” The agency’s chief scientist commented that the chapter did not meet agency standards, likely violated the USGS scientific integrity policy, and would “cause substantial harm to both the USGS ability to carry out sound, peer-reviewed, impartial science, and to the USGS reputation.” The agency did not respond to these criticisms with a formal comment. As the agency’s Director, Reilly is under no obligation to consider scientists’ comments, and can approve the draft chapter regardless of the criticisms.