Watchdog hits John Kerry with science ethics complaint over climate change deaths claim

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EXCLUSIVE: A government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry on Tuesday morning, alleging he spread misinformation about climate change.

In its complaint, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) alleged that Kerry violated federal scientific integrity policy — which requires officials to communicate scientific information accurately based on the best available evidence — when he said in May that greenhouse gas emissions kill 15 million people per year worldwide. PPT requested a federal investigation into Kerry’s comments.

’15 million people are dying every single year around this planet as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, in the air which travels around and drops in the form of pollution and is warming the ocean at record rates, changing the chemistry of the ocean itself,’ Kerry remarked on May 10 at the Department of Agriculture’s AIM for Climate Summit. 

‘Without action, millions of lives and the livelihood of the planet is at risk,’ he said.

Kerry later added that, in addition to the 15 million people who die due to the ‘lack of quality’ air, another 10 million people die on an annual basis globally as a result of extreme heat.

However, PPT’s complaint Monday, sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, noted Kerry’s figures appear to greatly overstate the death toll attributed to greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to data from Lancet Countdown and Climate Vulnerable Forum presented during the United Nations climate summit in November, climate change is expected to cause 3.4 million deaths by the year 2100. The excess deaths are expected to be caused by increased wildfire frequency, heatwaves and higher incidence of mosquito-borne tropical disease.

And a 2021 study from Harvard University published in the journal Environmental Research calculated that fossil fuel emissions are responsible for more than 8 million annual deaths. 

Another analysis, the Global Burden of Disease Study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, determined 4.2 million people died per year as a result of outdoor airborne particulate matter pollution.

‘Despite the enormity of Mr. Kerry’s claim, he did not cite any scientific evidence for its basis,’ the PPT complaint stated. ‘Nor is there any apparent scientific research that supports a claim that there are currently 15 million people dying yearly due to greenhouse gas emissions — or any other single cause of death that is tracked.’

‘Such a blatant misstatement of scientific information to the public is, by its nature, a threat to public trust and good governance,’ it continued. ‘It is made far worse when such misinformation is used to publicly support sweeping policy changes like trying to reach net-zero emissions in agriculture, which would have untold effects upon the economy and lives of the American people writ large.’

The complaint further stated that conduct like Kerry’s ‘inevitably erodes the public’s trust in its scientific and governing institutions’ and harms the nation ‘by reducing science from a great, dispassionate tool of public policy that transcends party lines to yet another political football.’ 

PPT cited three policies — President Biden’s early 2021 memo on scientific trust; the OSTP’s Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy released this year; and the State Department’s own scientific integrity policy — that it said provide a mandate for officials including Kerry to communicate scientific information to the public accurately. 

Biden’s memo dated Jan. 27, 2021, states that his administration’s policy is to ‘make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.’ The OSTP’s framework published in January stresses the need for scientific accuracy of communications to the public. And the State Department’s policy states that information shared by officials ‘should be representative of well-established scientific processes.’

‘The Biden Administration vowed to bring about a renewal of norms, a restoration of trust in government, and commitments to scientific integrity and relying on science over politics in its decision making,’ PPT Director Michael Chamberlain told Fox News Digital. ‘Yet its most powerful officials are too often its worst enemies when it comes to fulfilling these promises. John Kerry’s recent claim of 15 million annual deaths from greenhouse gas emissions appears to be a hysterical pronouncement of the most dangerous type.’ 

‘It seems to have been made entirely without evidence – a phrase the American public frequently heard when evaluating statements from the previous administration – and designed to frighten the public to advance a political agenda,’ he said. ‘In short, it is precisely the sort of disinformation the administration’s and State Department’s scientific integrity policies were intended to prevent.’

Kerry’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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