…the first line of the NASA mission is "to understand and protect our home planet." Maybe that can be changed to "…protect special interests' backside."
James Hansen, March 2007
When people have no identification with the wildness of the land – do not experience it as sacred – a tiny seed of evil possibility lies dormant in their minds. The seed sprouts when there is a dire threat to what they do hold sacred.
This is the tale of the twisted kudzu thickets threatened brains grew.
Those threatened brains belong to a subterranean network of Bush administration political appointees from the White House Council on Environmental Quality; the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President; the Office of Public Affairs in the headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and within the Commerce Department, which rides herd on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And elsewhere in the Bush administration. These people typically have professional backgrounds in the energy industry or substantive connections with it or as public relations professionals or both. I call them the Bush climate commissars.
Here is the threat: the best climate scientists in the world, James Hansen being the exemplar, have in the last five or six years amassed evidence convincing to any fair-minded person that humanity has only 30 or so years to accomplish the following:
Phase out coal-fired power plants not sequestering carbon dioxide, and...
Vastly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, and black soot.
Much of this research has been on melting ice sheets and deep ice core samples.
Failure to achieve the foregoing will in all probability generate positive feedback loops escalating the process of global warming beyond human control. When that happens we will be powerless to stop:
Sea level rises of six or more feet in this century, totaling 50-80 feet or more over the next two or three centuries, and (1)
Extinction of 40-50% of the species on Earth. (2)
So much for human coastal civilization and the planet's essential biodiversity.
But to the climate commissars the dire threat from global warming is not to the millions of people who will eventually die if the necessary changes are not made in time, nor to the many millions if not billions who will live in refugee camps akin to those in Palestine and the Sudan, nor is it to the vast species facing extinction. It is not even to the well being of our children and grandchildren. And certainly it is not to the health and stability of the Earth's ecosystems.
The threat that freezes their brain stems stiff is to the short-term profitability and stock values of mega fossil fuel companies.
In order to stave off this dastardly threat the commissars settled on a two-part strategy. First, they relied on a time-honored propaganda tool: the lie. Now the chosen lie must be simple, plausible, ear-catching, and repeated continuously by relevant authority figures in order to enhance its credibility. It must come across as sincere and since its perpetrators must stay on message, organizational discipline is vital.
The lie they selected is that climate scientists are not yet in substantial agreement about the need for drastic action to redress global warming. This is the same brand of lie the tobacco industry used for decades: it isn't yet clear that cigarettes cause lung cancer.
Here is the form the lie takes in the 2008 Republican Party Platform: "…the scope and long term consequences of this [global warming] are the subject of ongoing scientific research…," thus implying a lack of consensus toward rapid, far-reaching change. "Any policies should be…based on sound science and technology…" (3) The term "sound science" implies that mainstream scientists are often left-leaning and that their scientific findings are therefore suspect.
So far the lie has been effective in confusing the public. In a CNN poll in June of this year 45% of those responding believe either that global warming is caused by natural cycles in the weather or that it is an unproven theory. (4)
But as good propagandists the commissars knew that scientific findings have the potential to trump what authority figures say. Science has prestige in our culture; even evolution-denying fundamentalists fear the shadow of Darwin. Hence the commissars' second strategy: suppress the emerging scientific findings on climate change in order to protect the credibility of the lie.
Here are some baseline practices and events in the history of this suppression.
Philip Cooney, an attorney with no scientific credentials, was chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 2001 until 2005. The CEQ oversees the U.S. Climate Change Program, the bureaucracy responsible for integrating the roughly $2 billion of annual climate research from 13 separate federal agencies.
Cooney and a CEQ staff associate made at least 181 edits to the Administration's Strategic Plan of the Climate Change Science Program in order to exaggerate or emphasize scientific uncertainties. In addition, they made at least 113 edits to the plan in order to diminish the importance of the human role in global warming, according to a memorandum submitted to a hearing of the Congressional House Oversight Committee. (5)
Andrew Revkin, a reporter for The New York Times, broke the story in June, 2005. Two days later Cooney resigned and went to work for ExxonMobil. In Revkin's interview with Amy Goodman later that month he said that scientists from the many government agencies spent months on their reports coming up with language they thought framed the science correctly, so that when they said the Earth is experiencing significant climate change they meant precisely that. And when Cooney edited the line to say that the earth may be experiencing significant climate change, they were horrified, especially given Cooney's lack of scientific training and long-standing bias against the findings of global warming science. (6)
On Cooney's bias: before he arrived at the CEQ he was a lawyer for ten years or so for The American Petroleum Institute, the leading lobbying organization for the oil industry. In his final assignment there he was the "climate team leader," endeavoring to forestall international treaties limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
James Hansen is Director of Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA. Examples of generic suppression within his GISS are: press releases about global warming went from Headquarters to the White House for approval and editing. A professional writer at the Public Affairs Office at GISS told Hansen about this practice and Hansen referenced it in a 2004 speech. Afterward the writer was "dressed down" and told to "mind his own business" by an administrator from headquarters Office of Public Affairs. And: another GISS staff member was asked at a "practice" press conference what if anything could be done to forestall accelerating sea ice melts. He was told that his answer, that we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, was "unacceptable" and that scientists are not allowed to make comments that relate to "policy." And: still another GISS staff wrote a story based on a paper he had authored that the oceans are less able to remove human-made CO2 than had been previously believed. The Office of Public Affairs refused to allow its dissemination to the media.
In the fall of 2005, following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center flatly stated that, "recent hurricane intensification is due to a natural cycle of Atlantic Ocean temperatures, and has nothing to do with global warming." NOAA scientists were instructed not to disagree with the Hurricane Center's conclusion in public, even though most climate scientists believe that global warming will cause more intense hurricanes. (7)
Then matters intensified in the following sequence.
December, 2005. James Hansen gave a highly regarded speech, known as the "Keeling talk," at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, during which he said that, "business as usual" fossil fuel CO2 emissions will, "yield additional warming of 2 or 3 degrees C this century and imply changes that constitute practically a different planet…The Earth's history suggests that with a warming of 2-3 degrees C the new equilibrium sea level will include not only most of the ice from Greenland and West Antarctica but a portion of East Antarctica, raising the sea level of the order of 25 meters (80 feet)…real world data suggest substantial ice sheet and sea level change in centuries, not millennia." (8) Within a week Hansen routinely released data to the press showing a record world temperature for 2005.
Then the "shit storm" hit.
An irate call from the White House cascaded into several pissed off phone calls from headquarters Office of Public Affairs to GISS staff. As a result, the following requirements were imposed upon Hansen, together with a promise of "dire consequences" if he failed to comply. He had to get prior approval for any media interviews and to submit his calendar of all talks and meetings in advance. He was made to remove the routine posting of an updated global temperature analysis from the GISS website and to get prior approval for all future postings. In addition, headquarters Public Affairs gave itself the prerogative to send a substitute for Hansen for interviews.
The following from Hansen's Keeling talk may explain the low eye-wall pressure of the "shit storm:" "…special interests have been a road block wielding undue influence over policymakers. The special interests seek to maintain short-term profits with little regard to…the long-term impact on the planet that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren…the public, if well-informed, has the ability to override the influence of special interests…" (9)
An assistant administrator for headquarters Public Affairs, let us call him "Q," was present during a key "shit storm" speaker phone call, according to a targeted participant, during which he complained that Hansen was running his own press operation and also said, "This is intolerable. From now on I want to know everything Jim Hansen does." Now the commissars have been careful to systematically deliver their diatribes and orders orally rather than in writing, so the only evidence we have of what Q said is an ear-witness. Not surprisingly Q himself only recalls a polite phone call in which he asked the targeted participant to adhere to an alleged "heads-up" policy. (10)
Among other things, Q is a former senior public and media relations professional for the Southern Company, the second largest holding company of coal-burning utilities in the U.S.
To which the truth is intolerable.
January, 2006. With Hansen's cooperation, Andrew Revkin broke the "shit storm" story in an article in The New York Times at the end of the month, reporting the restrictions on Hansen, the threat of "dire consequences" if he kept talking, and his frustration that the directives were delivered in telephone calls and not in writing. (11)
February, 2006. Four days later NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, a Bush appointee, released a statement that, "…it is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter, or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff." (12)
That sounded pretty good.
Then the meat axe fell. The 2007 NASA budget delivered to Congress that month cut Earth Science Research and Analysis by 20% not only for fiscal year 2007, but retroactively for 2006, even though a third of that fiscal year had already passed. The rest of the NASA budget was within normal parameters.
It takes about a 1% budget increase each year to keep existing programs going. The 20% cut wiped out most new data-gathering satellite missions related to climate change and also financial support for young scientists, contractors, and students. Now the commissars' strategy for protecting the lie had escalated from hiding the findings of climate science to damaging NASA's capability to conduct it in the first place. As Hansen quipped, "One way to avoid bad news: stop the measurements!" (13)
The same spending report that retroactively cut the earth science budget into the bone also revised the generic NASA mission statement - without Congressional approval. Its honored first phrase, "To understand and protect our home planet," was coldly dropped, leaving: "To explore the universe and search for life. To inspire the next generation of explorers…as only NASA can." (14) This demeaning ploy was hurtful to Hansen, especially considering his long devotion to the very best in science at NASA, and also to his team of scientists at GISS as well as the scientists he works with at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
After all this, it's time to shift to a dimension alien to the poisonous maneuvering of the commissars.
An hour south of Green River, on the graded road to Horseshoe Canyon, the blanket of blackbrush spreads far west to mountains delicate as white lace. Brittlebushes are rooted at intervals in burnt orange sand, beneath burgundy outcrops of sandstone. Weaving indistinctly over low, distant ridges, the empty, rust-colored road thins to a dot on the southward horizon.
Beyond their evil imaginings.
The long lavender mesa to the north, north of Green River, is creased with two canyons reflecting sunlight like the beige wings of two desert moths. The western terminus of the mesa arcs sweetly down into the open semi-desert.
It is, as Martin Murie says, neither pristine nor sublime out here, for this is not a place at all. It is who we are.
It is true that the commissars would in a nanosecond cordon off the wildness of this land and pockmark it with oil and gas wells and stipple it with pumping jacks or rip its hide clean off to mine the coal or copper underneath. But as Edward Abbey knew, the expand-or-expire economic system that they exemplify to the point of caricature will not last. Its failure is written.
On a geologic time scale the news is good.
Bowen, Mark. (2008). Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming, pp. 273-274, 286-287. NY: Dutton. Hansen, J.E., "Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise," Environmental Research Letters, 2 (2007) 024002. http://www.iop.org/EJ/article/1748-9326/2/2/024002/erl7_2_024002.html.
Hansen, James E., "Global Warming Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near," testimony on June 23, 2008, before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, p. 2. Dr. James E. Hansen website: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/.
2008 Republican National Platform, p. 35. http://www.gop.com/2008Platform/.
PollingReport.com, CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, June 4-5, 2008. http://www.pollingreport.com/enviro.htm.
Bowen, p. 163.
"Bush's Environmental Chief: From the Oil Lobby to the White House to ExxonMobil," Democracy Now! Website: June 20, 2005. Interview of Andrew Revkin by Amy Goodman, p. 2. http://www.democracynow.org/2005/6/20/bushs_environment_chief_from_the_oil.
Bowen, p. 144.
Hansen, James E., "Is There Still Time to Avoid 'Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference' with Global Climate? A Tribute to Charles David Keeling," a presentation at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, December 6, 2005, p.1. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2005/Keeling_20051206.pdf.
Bowen, pp. 35-36, 45-46.
Revkin, Andrew C., "Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him," January 29, 2005, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/29/science/earth/29climate.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. Hansen, James E., "Political Interference with Government Climate Change Science," testimony on March 19, 2007, before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, United States House of Representatives, p. 5. This is a good summary. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2007/Testimony_20070319.pdf.
Bowen, p. 79.
Hansen, "Political Interference," p.7.
Hansen, James E., "Swift Boating, Stealth Budgeting, and Unitary Executives," World Watch: Vision for a Sustainable World, Volume 19, Number 6, November/December, 2006, p. 31.