Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Monday, June 23, 2008 - 11:06 am
Years Later, Climatologist Renews His Call for Action
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Published: June 23, 2008
Twenty years ago Monday, James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA, shook Washington and the world by telling a sweating crowd at a Senate hearing during a stifling heat wave that he was “99 percent” certain that humans were already warming the climate.
James E. Hansen, a NASA climate expert, used a pair of cardboard dice 20 years ago to explain that humans were tipping the odds of harmful climate change by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. He displays one die in his Manhattan office.
“The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now,” Dr. Hansen said then, referring to a recent string of warm years and the accumulating blanket of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other gases emitted mainly by burning fossil fuels and forests.
To many observers of environmental history, that was the first time global warming moved from being a looming issue to breaking news. Dr. Hansen’s statement helped propel the first pushes for legislation and an international treaty to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. A treaty was enacted and an addendum, the Kyoto Protocol, was added.
Even as the scientific picture of a human-heated world has solidified, emissions of the gases continue to rise.
On Monday, Dr. Hansen, 67, plans to testify at a House committee hearing that it is almost, but not quite, too late to start defusing what he calls the “global warming time bomb.” He will offer a plan for cuts in emissions and also a warning about the risks of further inaction.
“If we don’t begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next several years, and really on a very different course, then we are in trouble,” Dr. Hansen said Friday at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, which he has directed since 1981. “Then the ice sheets are in trouble. Many species on the planet are in trouble.”
In his testimony, Dr. Hansen said, he will say that the next president faces a unique opportunity to galvanize the country around the need for a transformed, nonpolluting energy system. The hearing is before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Dr. Hansen said the natural skepticism and debates embedded in the scientific process had distracted the public from the confidence experts have in a future with centuries of changing climate patterns and higher sea levels under rising carbon dioxide concentrations. The confusion has been amplified by industries that extract or rely on fossil fuels, he said, and this has given cover to politicians who rely on contributions from such industries.
Dr. Hansen said the United States must begin a sustained effort to exploit new energy sources and phase out unfettered burning of finite fossil fuels, starting with a moratorium on the construction of coal-burning power plants if they lack systems for capturing and burying carbon dioxide. Such systems exist but have not been tested at anywhere near the scale required to blunt emissions. Ultimately he is seeking a worldwide end to emissions from coal burning by 2030.
Another vital component, Dr. Hansen said, is a nationwide grid for distributing and storing electricity in ways that could accommodate large-scale use of renewable, but intermittent, energy sources like wind turbines and solar-powered generators.
The transformation would require new technology as well as new policies, particularly legislation promoting investments and practices that steadily reduce emissions.
Such an enterprise would be on the scale of past ambitious national initiatives, Dr. Hansen said, like the construction of the federal highway system and the Apollo space program.
Dr. Hansen disagrees with supporters of “cap and trade” bills to cut greenhouse emissions, like the one that foundered in the Senate this month. He supports a “tax and dividend” approach that would raise the cost of fuels contributing to greenhouse emissions but return the revenue directly to consumers to shield them from higher energy prices.
As was the case in 1988, Dr. Hansen’s peers in climatology, while concerned about the risks posed by unabated emissions, have mixed views on the probity of a scientist’s advocating a menu of policy choices outside his field.
Some also do not see such high risks of imminent climatic calamity, particularly disagreeing with Dr. Hansen’s projection that sea levels could rise a couple of yards or more in this century if emissions continue unabated.
Dr. Hansen is a favorite target of conservative commentators; on FoxNews.com, one called him “alarmist in chief.” But many climate experts say Dr. Hansen, despite some faults, has been an essential prodder of the public and scientific conscience.
Jerry Mahlman, who recently retired from a long career in climatology, said he disagreed with some of Dr. Hansen’s characterizations of the climate problem and his ideas about solutions. “On the whole, though, he’s been helpful,” Dr. Mahlman said. “He pushes the edge, but most of the time it’s pedagogically sound.”
Dr. Hansen said he was making a new public push now because the coming year presented a unique opportunity, with a new administration and the world waiting for the United States to re-engage in treaty talks scheduled to culminate with a new climate pact at the end of 2009.
He said a recent focus on China, which has surpassed the United States in annual carbon dioxide emissions, obscured the fact that the United States, Britain and Germany are most responsible for the accumulation of greenhouse gases.
Dr. Hansen said he had no regrets about stepping into the realm of policy, despite much criticism.
“I only regret that we haven’t gotten the story across as well as it needs to be,” he said. “And I think we’re running out of time.”
Sunday, September 21, 2003 - 10:32 am
Bush covers up climate research
White House officials play down its own scientists' evidence of global warming
Paul Harris New York
Sunday September 21, 2003
White House officials have undermined their own government scientists' research into climate change to play down the impact of global warming, an investigation by The Observer can reveal.
The disclosure will anger environment campaigners who claim that efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are being sabotaged because of President George W. Bush's links to the oil industry.
Emails and internal government documents obtained by The Observer show that officials have sought to edit or remove research warning that the problem is serious. They have enlisted the help of conservative lobby groups funded by the oil industry to attack US government scientists if they produce work seen as accepting too readily that pollution is an issue.
Central to the revelations of double dealing is the discovery of an email sent to Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, by Myron Ebell, a director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI is an ultra-conservative lobby group that has received more than $1 million in donations since 1998 from the oil giant Exxon, which sells Esso petrol in Britain.
The email, dated 3 June 2002, reveals how White House officials wanted the CEI's help to play down the impact of a report last summer by the government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in which the US admitted for the first time that humans are contributing to global warming. 'Thanks for calling and asking for our help,' Ebell tells Cooney.
The email discusses possible tactics for playing down the report and getting rid of EPA officials, including its then head, Christine Whitman. 'It seems to me that the folks at the EPA are the obvious fall guys and we would only hope that the fall guy (or gal) should be as high up as possible,' Ebell wrote in the email. 'Perhaps tomorrow we will call for Whitman to be fired,' he added.
The CEI is suing another government climate research body that produced evidence for global warming. The revelation of the email's contents has prompted demands for an investigation to see if the White House and CEI are co-ordinating the legal attack.
'This email indicates a secret initiative by the administration to invite and orchestrate a lawsuit against itself seeking to discredit an official US government report on global warming dangers,' said Richard Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut, who has written to the White House asking for an inquiry.
The allegation was denied by White House officials and the CEI. 'It is absurd. We do not have a sweetheart relationship with the White House,' said Chris Horner, a lawyer and senior fellow of CEI.
However, environmentalists say the email fits a pattern of collusion between the Bush administration and conservative groups funded by the oil industry, who lobby against efforts to control carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming.
When Bush first came to power he withdrew the US - the world's biggest source of greenhouse gases - from the Kyoto treaty, which requires nations to limit their emissions.
Both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are former oil executives; National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was a director of the oil firm Chevron, and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans once headed an oil and gas exploration company.
'It all fits together,' said Kert Davies of Greenpeace. 'It shows that there is an effort to undermine good science. It all just smells like the oil industry. They are doing everything to allow the US to remain the world's biggest polluter.'
Other confidential documents obtained by The Observer detail White House efforts to suppress research that shows the world's climate is warming. A four-page internal EPA memo reveals that Bush's staff insisted on major amendments to the climate change section of an environmental survey of the US, published last June. One alteration indicated 'that no further changes may be made'.
The memo discusses ways of dealing with the White House editing, and warns that the section 'no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change'.
Some of the changes include deleting a summary that stated: 'Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.' Sections on the ecological effects of global warming and its impact on human health were removed. So were several sentences calling for further research on climate change.
A temperature record covering 1,000 years was also deleted, prompting the EPA memo to note: 'Emphasis is given to a recent, limited analysis [which] supports the administration's favoured message.'
White House officials added numerous qualifying words such as 'potentially' and 'may', leading the EPA to complain: 'Uncertainty is inserted where there is essentially none.'
The paper then analyses what the EPA should do about the amendments and whether they should be published at all. The options range from accepting the alterations to trying to discuss them with the White House.
When the report was finally published, however, the EPA had removed the entire global warming section to avoid including information that was not scientifically credible.
Former EPA climate policy adviser Jeremy Symons said morale at the agency had been devastated by the administration's tactics. He painted a picture of scientists afraid to conduct research for fear of angering their White House paymasters. 'They do good research,' he said. 'But they feel that they have a boss who does not want them to do it. And if they do it right, then they will get hit or their work will be buried.'
Symons left the EPA in April 2001 and now works for the National Wildlife Federation as head of its climate change programme. The Bush administration's attitude was clear from the beginning, he said, and a lot of people were working to ensure that the President did nothing to address global warming.
Additional reporting by Jason Rodrigues
Sunday, January 29, 2006 - 1:30 pm
Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Published: January 29, 2006
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.
Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said.
Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," Mr. Acosta said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."
He said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.
Mr. Acosta said other reasons for requiring press officers to review interview requests were to have an orderly flow of information out of a sprawling agency and to avoid surprises. "This is not about any individual or any issue like global warming," he said. "It's about coordination."
Dr. Hansen strongly disagreed with this characterization, saying such procedures had already prevented the public from fully grasping recent findings about climate change that point to risks ahead.
"Communicating with the public seems to be essential," he said, "because public concern is probably the only thing capable of overcoming the special interests that have obfuscated the topic."
Dr. Hansen, 63, a physicist who joined the space agency in 1967, directs efforts to simulate the global climate on computers at the Goddard Institute in Morningside Heights in Manhattan.
Since 1988, he has been issuing public warnings about the long-term threat from heat-trapping emissions, dominated by carbon dioxide, that are an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels. He has had run-ins with politicians or their appointees in various administrations, including budget watchers in the first Bush administration and Vice President Al Gore.
In 2001, Dr. Hansen was invited twice to brief Vice President Dick Cheney and other cabinet members on climate change. White House officials were interested in his findings showing that cleaning up soot, which also warms the atmosphere, was an effective and far easier first step than curbing carbon dioxide.
He fell out of favor with the White House in 2004 after giving a speech at the University of Iowa before the presidential election, in which he complained that government climate scientists were being muzzled and said he planned to vote for Senator John Kerry.
But Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide.
In several interviews with The New York Times in recent days, Dr. Hansen said it would be irresponsible not to speak out, particularly because NASA's mission statement includes the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet."
He said he was particularly incensed that the directives had come through telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents.
Dr. Hansen's supervisor, Franco Einaudi, said there had been no official "order or pressure to say shut Jim up." But Dr. Einaudi added, "That doesn't mean I like this kind of pressure being applied."
The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."
The administration's policy is to use voluntary measures to slow, but not reverse, the growth of emissions.
After that speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.
Among the restrictions, according to Dr. Hansen and an internal draft memorandum he provided to The Times, was that his supervisors could stand in for him in any news media interviews.
Mr. Acosta said the calls and meetings with Goddard press officers were not to introduce restrictions, but to review existing rules. He said Dr. Hansen had continued to speak frequently with the news media.
In one call, George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters, rejected a request from a producer at National Public Radio to interview Dr. Hansen, said Leslie McCarthy, a public affairs officer responsible for the Goddard Institute.
Citing handwritten notes taken during the conversation, Ms. McCarthy said Mr. Deutsch called N.P.R. "the most liberal" media outlet in the country. She said that in that call and others, Mr. Deutsch said his job was "to make the president look good" and that as a White House appointee that might be Mr. Deutsch's priority.
But she added: "I'm a career civil servant and Jim Hansen is a scientist. That's not our job. That's not our mission. The inference was that Hansen was disloyal."
Normally, Ms. McCarthy would not be free to describe such conversations to the news media, but she agreed to an interview after Mr. Acosta, at NASA headquarters, told The Times that she would not face any retribution for doing so.
Mr. Acosta, Mr. Deutsch's supervisor, said that when Mr. Deutsch was asked about the conversations, he flatly denied saying anything of the sort. Mr. Deutsch referred all interview requests to Mr. Acosta.
Ms. McCarthy, when told of the response, said: "Why am I going to go out of my way to make this up and back up Jim Hansen? I don't have a dog in this race. And what does Hansen have to gain?"
Mr. Acosta said that for the moment he had no way of judging who was telling the truth. Several colleagues of both Ms. McCarthy and Dr. Hansen said Ms. McCarthy's statements were consistent with what she told them when the conversations occurred.
"He's not trying to create a war over this," said Larry D. Travis, an astronomer who is Dr. Hansen's deputy at Goddard, "but really feels very strongly that this is an obligation we have as federal scientists, to inform the public."
Dr. Travis said he walked into Ms. McCarthy's office in mid-December at the end of one of the calls from Mr. Deutsch demanding that Dr. Hansen be better controlled.
In an interview on Friday, Ralph J. Cicerone, an atmospheric chemist and the president of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's leading independent scientific body, praised Dr. Hansen's scientific contributions and said he had always seemed to describe his public statements clearly as his personal views.
"He really is one of the most productive and creative scientists in the world," Dr. Cicerone said. "I've heard Hansen speak many times and I've read many of his papers, starting in the late 70's. Every single time, in writing or when I've heard him speak, he's always clear that he's speaking for himself, not for NASA or the administration, whichever administration it's been."
The fight between Dr. Hansen and administration officials echoes other recent disputes. At climate laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, many scientists who routinely took calls from reporters five years ago can now do so only if the interview is approved by administration officials in Washington, and then only if a public affairs officer is present or on the phone.
Where scientists' points of view on climate policy align with those of the administration, however, there are few signs of restrictions on extracurricular lectures or writing.
One example is Indur M. Goklany, assistant director of science and technology policy in the policy office of the Interior Department. For years, Dr. Goklany, an electrical engineer by training, has written in papers and books that it may be better not to force cuts in greenhouse gases because the added prosperity from unfettered economic activity would allow countries to exploit benefits of warming and adapt to problems.
In an e-mail exchange on Friday, Dr. Goklany said that in the Clinton administration he was shifted to nonclimate-related work, but added that he had never had to stop his outside writing, as long as he identified the views as his own.
"One reason why I still continue to do the extracurricular stuff," he wrote, "is because one doesn't have to get clearance for what I plan on saying or writing."
Sunday, January 29, 2006 - 5:13 pm
James Hansen deserves a medal from Bush for his scientific inegrity and courage speaking truth to power. Instead he receives a muzzle. Denial isn't just a long river in Egypt.