Bush Administration continues to suppress science it doesn’t like.

CBS News’ 60 Minutes program sat down with scientist James Hansen who is the head of NASA’s top institute studying the climate and talked with him about how the Bush Administration is actively rewriting his reports to downplay the threat of global warming:

What James Hansen believes is that global warming is accelerating. He points to the melting arctic and to Antarctica, where new data show massive losses of ice to the sea.

Is it fair to say at this point that humans control the climate? Is that possible?

“There’s no doubt about that, says Hansen. “The natural changes, the speed of the natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes that humans are making to the atmosphere and to the surface.”

Those human changes, he says, are driven by burning fossil fuels that pump out greenhouse gases like CO2, carbon dioxide. Hansen says his research shows that man has just 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming reaches what he calls a tipping point and becomes unstoppable. He says the White House is blocking that message.

“In my more than three decades in the government I’ve never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public,” says Hansen.

Restrictions like this e-mail Hansen’s institute received from NASA in 2004. “… there is a new review process … ,” the e-mail read. “The White House (is) now reviewing all climate related press releases,” it continued.

Got that? The White House wants to look at your report before you release it to the public. Because we all know how many top-level scientists qualified to double check the work of other scientists are on the White House staff, right?

Not that Hansen is alone in this regard as the White House regularly edits reports from dozens of federal agencies before releasing it to the public. Rick Plitz co-wrote a number of reports for the federal Climate Change Science Program that came back from the White House with major edits to make global warming seem less of a threat:

“The strategy of people with a political agenda to avoid this issue is to say there is so much to study way upstream here that we can’t even being to discuss impacts and response strategies,” says Piltz. “There’s too much uncertainty. It’s not the climate scientists that are saying that, its lawyers and politicians.”

Piltz worked under the Clinton and Bush administrations. Each year, he helped write a report to Congress called “Our Changing Planet.”

Piltz says he is responsible for editing the report and sending a review draft to the White House.

Asked what happens, Piltz says: “It comes back with a large number of edits, handwritten on the hard copy by the chief-of-staff of the Council on Environmental Quality.”

Asked who the chief of staff is, Piltz says, “Phil Cooney.”

Piltz says Cooney is not a scientist. “He’s a lawyer. He was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, before going into the White House,” he says.

So we have a lawyer/lobbyist formerly of the American Petroleum Institute double checking the work of the nation’s top scientists so he can “correct” it to properly reflect the “facts.” Am I the only person who sees how ridiculous this is?

Piltz says Cooney edited climate reports in his own hand. In one report, a line that said earth is undergoing rapid change becomes “may be undergoing change.” “Uncertainty” becomes “significant remaining uncertainty.” One line that says energy production contributes to warming was just crossed out.

“He was obviously passing it through a political screen,” says Piltz. “He would put in the word potential or may or weaken or delete text that had to do with the likely consequence of climate change, pump up uncertainty language throughout.”

In a report, Piltz says Cooney added this line “… the uncertainties remain so great as to preclude meaningfully informed decision making. …” References to human health are marked out. 60 Minutes obtained the drafts from the Government Accountability Project. This edit made it into the final report: the phrase “earth may be” undergoing change made it into the report to Congress. Piltz says there wasn’t room at the White House for those who disagreed, so he resigned.

The net result of all this is that it allows President Bush to go in front of the American Public and make statements like:

“We do not know how much our climate could, or will change in the future,” President Bush said in 2001, speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it.”

Of course President Bush doesn’t know because the report he’s been handed has been heavily edited to remove that kind of content. This puts the events around hurricane Katrina into a new light: Perhaps Bush wasn’t lying through his teeth when he claimed that “no one could predict the levees would fail” because all the reports done over the past two decades that said exactly that had been heavily edited before reaching his desk.

So just how qualified is Hansen to report on climate change? According to the scientists 60 Minutes spoke with he’s the best:

Why the scrutiny of Hansen’s work? Well, his Goddard Institute for Space Studies is the source of respected but sobering research on warming. It recently announced 2005 was the warmest year on record. Hansen started at NASA more than 30 years ago, spending nearly all that time studying the earth. How important is his work? 60 Minutes asked someone at the top, Ralph Cicerone, president of the nation’s leading institute of science, the National Academy of Sciences.

“I can’t think of anybody who I would say is better than Hansen. You might argue that there’s two or three others as good, but nobody better,” says Cicerone.

And Cicerone, who’s an atmospheric chemist, said the same thing every leading scientist told 60 Minutes.

“Climate change is really happening,” says Cicerone.

Hansen pissed off the Bush Administration when he complained about not being listened to during a talk he gave at the University of Iowa about a year and a half ago and NASA has been sitting on him ever since:

NASA let Pelley sit down with him but only with a NASA representative taping the interview. Other interviews have been denied.

“I object to the fact that I’m not able to freely communicate via the media,” says Hansen. “National Public Radio wanted to interview me and they were told they would need to interview someone at NASA headquarters and the comment was made that they didn’t want Jim Hansen going on the most liberal media in America. So I don’t think that kind of decision should be made on that kind of basis. I think we should be able to communicate the science.”

Gee, intimidate much? A lot of scientists working for the government are keeping their mouths shut for fear of losing their jobs with the few exceptions being people who are either retiring or quitting, as in the case of Plitz mentioned earlier. Hansen isn’t leaving his job anytime soon unless he ends up being forced out for speaking his mind, which is a risk he’s willing to take because he feels the danger is very real:

“We have to, in the next 10 years, get off this exponential curve and begin to decrease the rate of growth of CO2 emissions,” Hansen explains. “And then flatten it out. And before we get to the middle of the century, we’ve got to be on a declining curve.

“If that doesn’t happen in 10 years, then I don’t think we can keep global warming under one degree Celsius and that means we’re going to, that there’s a great danger of passing some of these tipping points. If the ice sheets begin to disintegrate, what can you do about it? You can’t tie a rope around the ice sheet. You can’t build a wall around the ice sheets. It will be a situation that is out of our control.”

But that’s not a situation you’ll find in one federal report submitted for review. Government scientists wanted to tell you about the ice sheets, but before a draft of the report left the White House, the paragraph on glacial melt and flooding was crossed out and this was added: “straying from research strategy into speculative findings and musings here.”

According to 60 Minutes they’ve tried for months to get an interview with the President’s science adviser only to be told that he would “never be available.” And as for Phil Cooney?

Phil Cooney, the editor at the Council on Environmental Quality didn’t return 60 Minutes’ calls. In June, he left the White House and went to work for Exxon Mobil.

This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Bush appointees in several federal agencies have engaged in all manner of interference with science reporting ranging from adding patently false information in reports on stem cell research to inserting creationist nonsense into studies of the Grand Canyon. What should be a surprise is the fact that the public is putting up with this bullshit. We’re not talking about other scientists questioning the reports being submitted, but non-scientists appointed by the President mandating changes to the science to support the political and religious viewpoints of themselves and the Administration.

This should be an outrage and yet you rarely hear much about it probably due to the rather week scientific literacy of the American public. Even after the cluster fuck that was the response to hurricane Katrina there’s been little call to stop censoring the scientists. I suppose we get what we deserve.

23 thoughts on “Bush Administration continues to suppress science it doesn’t like.

  1. I just watched ‘V For Vendetta’ yesterday.  So many similarities between the Bush Administration and the government portrayed in the movie.

  2. Similarities yes, but they were not originally intended. The graphic novel series was written back in the mid-80s. I can, however, think that the makers of this film did use some references to the modern day problems, considering the fact that it was even made at all during this time says a lot, but ultimately I would say that one should not fall into the political trap that can so easily be created by this movie. I saw it, I did make the comparisons, but I eventually decided that it was just a movie and should be taken as means of entertainment and nothing more. However, V did say something that makes the move a bit more introspective. “Truth is often hidden in stories.”

  3. Fuck.

    We need a 2nd Civil War, and big changes.
    Now.

    Like the first commenter, I also just recently saw V for Vendetta. So so so so SO many parallels and references to the current governments around the world.

    Although, as the more recent commenter also said, unintentional, I would suppose.
    But still true, whether you like it or not.

  4. Actually the similarities between the government in V For Vendetta and the Bush Administration were entirely intentional on the part of the Wachowski brothers who brought the film to the screen.

    I’m no where near ready to proclaim the need for another civil war in America as our problems aren’t that bad just yet. There’s still plenty of things that can be done within the system to get the country back on track starting with a wholesale clean out of Congress in the next election.

  5. That’s where things like blogs and just talking to your friends and neighbors comes into play. As part of society we have to work to bring about the changes we want to see occur by helping to educate others.

    Sure, some folks won’t listen, but some will. I get emails all the time from people who never comment, but who read the site regularly and have had their minds changed by the discussions that take place here. Sometimes they take the opposing viewpoint, but more often than not I hear from folks who have switched to our side, at least on a particular topic.

    Share your knowledge/concerns with those around you. Help to raise awareness for your causes even if it’s just writing letters to the editor or blowing hot air on a blog. Show folks why they need to be informed and many of them will listen.

  6. I’m not sure what the country needs, but I would start with the electoral processes. In the US, the voting machines are a total fraud (but you can’t proclaim that knowledge as an American or else you’re liable, and if you have evidence of that it was seized illegally thanks to the DMCA). I’m sure that was intended. Second, as ingolfson mentioned ages ago, the practice of gerrymandering – redifining borders on constituencies to effectively remove certain seats from competition. Last, people need to train themselves to skepticism and media savvy. It’s easy as hell to spit out a lie and have people believe it, and it’s extremely important that we maintain the power to spread truth through consistent channels.

    All important first step, restore your own powers in the electoral process before intending to use it to clean house. If these steps aren’t covered first, in the case of the USA (other countries have their own unique problems to kill), elections will remain a stage show.

  7. Quick double-dip here before I run. There’s a third problem that faces all industrialized nations, and that’s the cooperation of government and private enterprise. Corporations are a Frankenstein’s monster that we’ve designed to maximize profit at the expense of all other things. IIRC, legislation was recently passed that gave more power to the boards and less to the CEO in specific. That resulted in a number of people being removed from their positions under scandals of various sorts, over the course of the last year or so. That kind of in-fighting, I think, is helpful. It’s the positions of undisputed power that bother me.

  8. I guess my frustration is that I do see what needs to be done…but even just working with the people I see day to day, it’s hard to talk about climate change and be taken seriously.  Many people just don’t seem to get the urgency of the situation and those who ‘do’ are content to do what is within their reach instead of pushing for more options.

    It’s just a slow process, I guess.

  9. I’ve been pretty apathetic regarding global warming.  And there are some upsides to a melting ice cap.  Primarily a Northwest Passage. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/10/science/10arctic.html?ex=1286596800&en=1f4059714b781260&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
    Buying Canadian land would be prudent for the long term investor.

    The problem I have with allowing global warming is the polar bear.  The polar bear is way too cool to kill them off.  My thought was to move the polar bear to the Antartica and let them feed on the penguins and seals there.  I wondered if this was a novel thought, and as it turns out, it is not. http://mustelid.blogspot.com/2005/01/polar-bears-in-antarctica.html

    So, I say as long as the polar bear can be saved,  I say melt that sucker down and open up a few Starbucks there.  snake

  10. I’ve been pretty apathetic regarding global warming.

    Ah, the joys of being conservative!  I guess you don’t live on a Pacific island, or on the coast, or have children.  And New Orleans was overrated anyway… LOL

  11. Trouble with global warming is that by the time it really starts to effect the people who can do something about stopping it, it’ll probably be way too late to do so. I just keep hoping that dear old Earth will pull out another surprise to show us how insignificant we truly are, and shrug off the worst we can do…

  12. ‘Course bush can claim uncertainty.  When I drive to my parents it may take 55 minutes, it may take 1h 5m.  I am uncertain about how long it will take.  I do know it will take about an hour +/- 10%.

    Corporations are a Frankenstein’s monster

    Did you know that due to WTO rules pushed through by the US (with the help of lick-spittals like Blair) it is virtually illegal for a government to do anything that would cause loss of profits to a multinational. The WTO can force a nation to privatise it’s national infrastructure.  The only people standing up to mega-corps are the South American governments- remember this next time you see the Murdoch press berating Venazuela.

    Captcha- Love

  13. Last_Hussar do you have a link to back up that claim?  I think its incredibly interesting and could find that piece of info very useful if I had more than your word to go on.

  14. Book- George Monbiot, ‘Captive State’ Chapter Ten, especially the parts about ‘Multilateral Agreement on Investments’. Its been a couple of years since I read it, and oin a quick (very quick) reread it seems that not all the provisions came into force. However, there is a section on how the Canadian government banned a fuel additive MMT (already banned in US).  The Ethyl Corporation sued for expropation of anticipated profits, and took case to NAFTA. A secret tribunal, of whose records never released assessed the case.

    The Canadian gvt paid US$13m in compo, and allowed sales to continue. 

    There are further examples give.

  15. Global warming. Hmmm. For some reason, it always makes me think of Revelation 16:8 –

    The fourth poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was given to him to scorch men with fire.

    People were scorched with great heat, and people blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues. They didn’t repent and give him glory.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. Flame on (no pun intended)!

  16. L4T, the problem with that line of thinking is that there is every bit of evidence that global warming is a man-made problem, not a form of divine wrath.

    But go ahead and pray for an end to it if you think it’ll make any difference.

  17. But go ahead and pray for an end to it if you think it’ll make any difference.

    What Les said, L4t.  And while you’re praying, ride your bike or the bus to work.  Carpool.  Vote for environmental responsibility.

  18. Zilch: And while you’re praying, ride your bike or the bus to work.

    Old Muslim Proverb: Trust in Allah, but tie your camel. LOL

  19. But Les, don’t you see it’s divine entrapment? Do you believe all that vegetation millions of years ago was just dinosaur food?

  20. Ah, I get it, elwed:  God created all that vegetation, so that we would burn it to cause global warming, for the same reason He created the Devil:  to tempt us to evil, so He could sort out the goats from the sheep.  Now I understand.  But does that mean Bush&Co are going to Hell?

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