Global Policy Forum

Bush Appointees “Watered Down Greenhouse Science�


By Suzanne Goldenberg and James Randerson

March 20, 2007

The Bush administration ran a systematic campaign to play down the dangers of climate change, demanding hundreds of politically motivated changes to scientific reports and muzzling a pre-eminent expert on global warming, Congress was told yesterday. The testimony to the house committee on oversight and government reform painted the administration as determined to maintain its line on climate change even when it clashed with the findings of scientific experts. James Hansen, who heads the Goddard Institute for Space Science in New York, said in prepared testimony: "The effect of the filtering of climate change science during the current administration has been to make the reality of climate change less certain than the facts indicate, and to reduce concern about the relation of climate change to human-made greenhouse gas emissions."

Since the Democratic takeover of Congress last January the committee's chairman, Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, has led efforts to uncover the extent of White House interference with scientific debate. The Bush administration has moved to exercise direct control over environmental agencies by installing political appointees including Philip Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist, as chief of staff of the Council on Environmental Quality, and a 23-year-old college drop-out who was made a public affairs officer at NASA after working on Mr Bush's re-election campaign. Mr Cooney told the committee yesterday: "My sole loyalty was to the president and advancing the policies of his administration."

Documents released yesterday show that in 2003 Mr Cooney and other senior appointed officials imposed at least 181 changes to a strategic plan on climate change to play down the scientific consensus on global warming. They made another 113 alterations to minimise the human role in climate change, and inserted possible benefits of climate change. "These changes must be made," said a note in Mr Cooney's handwriting. "The language is mandatory."

Some of the statements deleted on Mr Cooney's instruction were non-controversial, such as: "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment." He also deleted references to models indicating that temperatures have been rising for the last 1,000 years. However, amid such deletions he chose to highlight a study funded by his former employer, the American Petroleum Institute. Under heated questioning, Mr Cooney admitted yesterday that the changes were all intended to cast doubt over the impact of global warming. He denied they were directly coordinated with the White House but said he had regular conversations with a senior White House aide. "We got notes from them," Mr Cooney said.

Control from the White House became the norm, Dr Hansen told the committee yesterday. "Scientific press releases were going to the White House for editing," he said. "It's very unfortunate that we developed this politicisation of science. The public relations office should be staffed by expert appointees. Otherwise they become offices of propaganda." He acknowledged that such interference existed before the Bush administration, though to a much lesser extent.

Mr Hansen was also restrained from giving press interviews by a junior political appointee, George Deutsch, who feared the scientist could not be counted on to "hit the message". Mr Deutsch left NASA early last year after it emerged he had falsified his CV. The restrictions were galling for Dr Hansen, a leading figure in climate science and one of few experts in the field to speak out forcefully. He first testified on the issue before congress in 1982 in a session organised by Al Gore. Some of Dr Hansen's seminal testimony in 1989 that helped put the issue in the public eye features in Mr Gore's documentary film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth. In November he was presented with the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal, the WWF's top conservation award.

After a lecture to the American Geophysical Union in December 2005, Dr Hansen was reined in by NASA bosses. NASA public affairs wanted to dictate which media interviews he would give, and vet his calendar of planned talks and meetings and his postings on his institute's website. When the media reported the moves to gag Dr Hansen, NASA issued an unequivocal statement in support of scientific openness. But Dr Hansen told congressmen that political PR appointees are still interfering: "In no way has the impact of deception of the public about climate change been undone by NASA's forthright decision in favour of scientific openness."

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