Censorship on Climate Change

Censorship on Climate Change

They don’t want you to talk about it because it’s bad for business, and even worse for business-as-usual, but global warming – that 500-pound gorilla in the room – is pretty obvious even to the corporations and government agencies which are pretending it doesn’t exist.


Whatever you choose to call it – climate change or global warming – it’s a hot-button issue as divisive and discordant in its arena (e.g., the environment) as abortion is among social rights advocates, and those who argue that it is part of a natural (earth or sun) cycle are only slightly less in denial than those who either pretend it isn’t happening or cover up the evidence that it is.

All things aside, it is time we pulled our collective heads out of the sand and come to terms with some very harsh truths. Take the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, for example, whose internal watchdog recently charged it with fudging global warming studies conducted between 2004 and 2006 – a blame later laid off on political appointees in NASA’s press department, thus exonerating top management. In fact, the agency’s press officer, Michael Cabbage, contravened the 2008 report, calling it old news and citing the fact that the U.S. Government’s Accountability Office, or GAO, had since lauded NASA for its transparency.

Cabbage may want to check his dictionary, now that the news of NASA’s withholding air safety stats from as far back as 2005 has hit the media. I don’t think his interpretation of the word transparency is quite up to the task.

The internal audit on information accountability, which highlights such incidents as canceling a press conference on an ozone-monitoring mission because it was too close to the 2004 election, or denying NPR access to NASA’s top global warming physicist James Hansen, is clear evidence of the sort of denial, distortion and outright censorship that cropped up in government agencies under the pro-business, anti-environment G.W. Bush administration.

The Bush era is behind us, but the secrecy and spin are not. In fact, Hansen admitted in a New York Times interview that NASA officials had ordered his work audited before being released so as to prevent factual but damaging climate information leaking into the ‘wrong hands’ (read environmentalists and concerned citizens).

When confronted, the agency disagreed, saying that there was no attempt to muzzle Hansen and that the review process was simply an across-the-board attempt to make sure that policy statements were being delivered by NASA-appointed spokespersons, not independent scientists and researchers.

It might even be a valid argument but for the fact that Hansen has been with the agency more than three decades, and now heads up the program delivering computerized climate simulation models to the Goddard Institute in Morningside Heights, Manhattan. Who else besides Hansen would be likely to know more about climactic changes, or be better able to understand their consequences? Who can NASA trust, if not Hansen?

In the Times interview, Hansen didn’t exactly say that NASA was lying about censoring him,  but he did suggest that the censorship is an effort to prevent people from knowing just how bad the recent climate-change findings are, and how great is the risk inherent in ignoring them and failing to curb emissions.

Hansen’s most telling remark – that nothing in his 30 years of scientific endeavor on behalf of NASA prepared him for the massive effort to silence him – indicates just how entrenched this conspiracy of silence has become. NASA’s Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, David Mould, even admitted that, under Bush, the strict censorship policy had resulted in a lot of “managed” information.

Mould then added that the situation has since been reversed, but this touted transparency apparently lives only in the minds of NASA’s press corps, whose coverage of the Mars mission quickly revealed the discrepancies between fact and “shine.”

This heritage of political pressure has also impacted the nation’s wildlife refuges, from Florida to Texas, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER. Peer is an organization serving federal and state workers involved in natural resource and environmental protection mandates.

According to PEER, the Bush cabinet introduced an oil drilling, mining and industrial free-for-all not easily reversed under President Barack Obama. This “business first” focus was (and is) nowhere more evident than in Alaska, where land exchanges designed to permit oil and gas drilling – and/or offshore oil exploration and recovery – threaten both the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the Arctic Ocean.

A similar report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, or UCS, shows that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, was, under the Bush administration, so censored, corralled and manipulated by industry lobbyists and politicians that distortion of scientific findings became the norm. That situation can be seen today, as global warming deniers among the GOP tamper with, obscure and suppress “unwanted” information and scientific findings in order to provide the widest possible opportunity for Big Oil or Big Business.

This has led to a situation where the EPA, charged with protecting the environment, has turned into environment’s worst enemy. Where the GOP lacks facts or can’t suppress the science, it simply plays dumb, followed by that one-third of Americans who don’t (or don’t want to) believe that global warming is anthropogenic.

It’s bad, and will likely get worse if Mitt Romney becomes our next president, because Republicans are notoriously resource greedy.

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