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Hansen in the New York Times

Filed under: — gavin @ 29 January 2006

The more astute of you may have noticed the headline NYT story this weekend on Jim Hansen’s ongoing tussles with the (politically appointed) public affairs people at NASA HQ (Jim is my immediate boss so you need to read this with that in mind!). Most of the recent fuss has been about the GISS analysis of surface air temperatures (GISTEMP), which used to routinely be made available as soon as the analysis was done (usually a week or so after the end of any particular month). This data was generally released with little or no fuss (and no press releases) except for the end of year summary. However, as it started to become clearer that 2005 was a contender for warmest year, journalists and others started paying direct attention to the raw figures and writing stories that were bypassing public affairs. For instance, Juliet Eilperin’s October story in WaPo (discussed here and here) was one of the stories that they were most definitely not happy with (as alluded to in today’s WaPo). No follow-up media requests to interview relevant scientists were approved.

It should be made absolutely clear that scientists at GISS (including Jim Hansen, David Rind, Drew Shindell, myself and others) have at all times treated media interviews with the utmost professionalism and have never (to my knowledge) used them to make inappropriate or personal statements that could cause embarassment to the federal government or NASA. On the contrary, we have received multiple compliments for our ability to explain the issues succinctly and avoid common pitfalls (such as confusing weather events and climate for instance). There is therefore no basis for assuming that this would be any different with regards to the 2005 temperatures – and indeed interviews related to the official press release last week (i.e. this story) confirm that pattern. Thus restrictions on media contacts seem a little puzzling to say the least.

The latest round of tension apparently started after Hansen’s presentation at AGU in December (the full presentation and notes are available here). This was a keynote address which was by all accounts very well recieved by the scientists present and garnered some press in the following days. In it, Hansen re-iterated a number of his usual themes (the history of anthropogenic forcings, the match of model results to the observed trends, the importance of the ocean heat content metric as a check on the planetary heat imbalance etc.). He also suggested that there was maybe only another 10 year window of opportunity to tackle rising growth rates of carbon dioxide before the planet would be committed to a ‘dangerous’ anthropogenic climate change. His slides give the reasoning behind this, but basically it is predicated on avoiding a global mean temperature rise that could cause significant portions of the ice sheets to start to melt, based partly on an analogy with the temperatures at the Eemian (the last interglacial ~100,000 years ago).

So does his conclusion that rising emissions are probably not a good thing constitute ‘policy advocacy’ that could step over the line? Not in any substantive sense, given that this has been agreed to all signatories to the FCCC (including the US) and is supported by the National Academies of Science from all G8 countries. This is along the lines of an overall policy goal (like improving education levels, or keeping the population healthy) and is very different from advocating for any particular policy designed to achieve those ends. Some commentators agree with this distinction, others don’t, but it’s a distinction that is clearly understood by most scientists in the field.

In summary, the apparent desire of some to limit the flow of climate information is probably counterproductive and will likely only succeed in alienating the scientists who are at the base of NASA’s mission and generating bad publicity. It is rather ironic that the department responsible for exposing NASA’s science to the public may be reducing NASA scientists’ exposure to them instead.

Update (Jan 30 6pm): Rep. Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee has weighed in.

Update (Feb 4): Hansen is interviewed at length on NPR’s “On point”.


105 Responses to “Hansen in the New York Times”

  1. 1
    Robert Simmon says:

    From the Post Article:

    John R. Christy, director of the Earth Science System Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, … “Whatever happens, we will adapt to it,” Christy said.

    Somewhat rhetorical, but why is it assumed (by contrarians) that “adpating” will in any way be easy? And why is reducing fossil fuel consumption not considered a means of adaptation?

  2. 2
    Tim Jones says:

    Do we condone atavistic flat world dictatorial policies by the current administration regarding which science we can access and which we cannot? James Hansen is to be commended for resisting special interests’ attempts to obfuscate the truth.

  3. 3

    One thing I could not help but notice was that the NASA webpage about the 2005 temps makes no mention of any potential causes for the warming trend. Despite going into some depth about the severity of the warming, any mention of a cause or potential cause is glaringly obvious. In fact the last sentence of the article makes a vague and misleading reference to urban heat island effect…

    the largest annual and seasonal warmings have occurred in Alaska, Siberia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Most ocean areas have warmed. Because these areas are remote and far away from major cities, it is clear to climatologists that the warming is not due to the influence of pollution from urban areas.

    Seeing as how most of the public does not really differentiate between “pollution” and “emissions” NASA may as well be saying that it’s climatologists don’t think that GHG emissions could be connected to the temperature trends and that CO2 emissions only have a local impact on climate. NASA’s PR department is not just preventing its scientists from talking about their work; it is misrepresenting their work. Once you get to the GISS website there is mention of Green House Gas emmisions but not on the main NASA site. It makes me sad.

  4. 4

    Yes, it would be horrible and unthinkable that any of you would have to *PERSONALLY* change your lifestyles to accomodate your results, let alone the *GOVERNMENT* or any of its agencies. Oh … the horror.

  5. 5
    Tim Jones says:

    In comment #127 Robert wrote:

    “The forcing by solar activity would be most prominent nearer the equator, where we are seeing the results.”
    Perhaps. Do you mean the recent spate of monster hurricanes is a result of solar forcing? But this is just weather I hear the climate
    skeptics howl. The trends observed for a warmer climate are most exemplified at high latitudes,not nearer the equator.
    If solar activity is a primary forcing, but “geometry and albedo effects would reduce the effects of solar activity nearer the poles,” as Robert writes, then why are temperatures rising comparatively higher in high latitudes than near the equator?

    Robert wrote: “The effects of CO2 are simply overwhelmed by the “noise” of other effects in the system.”

    This is so true. The signal to noise ratio seen in RC comment seems to be weighted toward a noisy litany of misleading and half baked attempts to cherry pick the science with the intent to preponderate with a view slanted toward denying the profound effects of trace gases on climate.

    I’m not buying it, and I don’t have a dog in the fight.

    On another note:

    The temperature at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas rose to a high of 81º today. The temperature at Austin/Bergstrom International Airport, a bit outside of the heat island effect of Austin – rose to 82 ºF.

    Nothing unusual this year… But this is just weather, too. Texas isn’t having winter this year. We’re having record breaking heat almost every time we turn on the TV. This wouldn’t be so bad except for the drought and the fires.

  6. 6
    John Sully says:

    Tim, you want to talk about Texas not having a winter? I live in SW Montana and we have had one week of what we would call “cold weather”. Here in town we have almost no snow on the ground. I will not be putting on my snow tires this year.

    However, NOAA got the climatological prediction right. Early cold and precip, late warmth. Normal precip all winter. Depending on the station we are a bit above, or a bit below normal at this point. Long timers here (and even I) are feaked out… No real cold by now, no snow on the ground (much more in the montains…) this is weird. Most people in the upper midwest are similarly confused.

    But hey, this is just weather — about the 10th year of weird weather in a row. But it is just weather. When does weather stop being weather and start being climate? Is a ten year drought enough? Eventually, you have to go… “hmmm, the climate seems to be changing”.

  7. 7
    Timothy says:

    There are lots of reasons that adaptation would be ‘easier’, although this is straying into political discussion…

    Firstly, it would be done later and therefore we wouldn’t have to pay for it now.

    Secondly, most likely you would not have ‘global’ adaptation, but the rich would pay for their own adaptation and the poor… I guess they’ll get to be on TV! This makes adaptation cheaper, because it would only be partial.

    Thirdly, and most scientifically, it has to be said that the impacts side of climate science is its weakest. There is now a very high degree of certainty that there will be global mean warming of, ~0.5C over the next couple of decades and further warming with a climate sensitivity of ~3C. What this means for people’s lives is about as clear as mud.

    Most certainly there will be sea level rise, but even in a scenario that sees the melting of Greenland, it will take centuries for the sea level rise to occur. It’s hard to get people worked up about that. It seems likely that a warming world will change precipitation patterns that would severely disrupt agriculture, but… the models are pretty bad at precipitation so the certainty on the detail is very low.

    There is a lot of complacency on the side of contrarians. I’ve pointed out to people that a changing climate could result in problems for agriculture. I’ve then been told that the US has a huge grain surplus and they won’t have any problems. The point being that it is the current climate and rainfall patterns that enable US agriculture to exist. If the rainfall patterns change…

  8. 8
    Mauri Pelto says:

    The most disquieting aspect of the oversight that NASA and NOAA want to have over communications of their scientists, is that we as fellow scientists, cannot know what is being left unsaid. I have heard from friends working at both agencies in the last two years, “I cannot say that”, in terms of attributing some observed loss in glacier volume or ice cover or snow cover to GW. Thus, when I read comments from some other portion of NOAA where I do not know anyone, such as the NHC, I wonder what is being left unsaid and how is that shaping the science going forward. How does it impact the specific conclusions and resulting investigations into the causes of the anomolous observations. Hansen is rare in my experience and must be commended for speaking directly and honestly even when it may not benefit his career.

  9. 9
    Steve LaBonne says:

    What infuriates me is that we, the taxpayers, pay for the expertise of Dr. Hansen and his colleagues, and it seems to me that we are entititled to have full access to it. It is not a private resource to be controlled by politicians and their appointed hacks for their selfish political benefit.

  10. 10
    Tony Noerpel says:

    re #1 and Christy. As an engineer, I find Christy’s statement amusing. There seems to be a presumption that adaptation will be easy when in fact neither Christy nor I know whether or not it is even possible. Our response to Katrina seems to be a half hearted attempt to repopulate a low-lying area without addressing the core problem and which will become increasingly difficult to defend against increasingly violent hurricanes and rising sea levels. It doesn’t seem like we are exhibiting, as a species, the adaptability for which we are so fond of attributing to ourselves. The money has not yet been allocated to upgrade the levees to withstand category 5 storms.

    The issue though is can humans survive when so many of our co-inhabitants are dying off. In the Future of Life, E. O. Wilson suggests 50% of species may be extinct in 95 years. There is lots of recent scientific literature which supports Wilson including articles about the state of phytoplankton and amphibians. Isn’t it a bit too sanguine to expect that we can survive if much of everything else dies off? Is it even theoretically possible for humans to survive in a world without bees, frogs, coral reefs, polar bears and phytoplankton?

  11. 11
    muirgeo says:

    What I am curious to know is if there is direct pressure from the administration on the higher ups at NASA to “keep a lid” on people like Dr Hansen.

  12. 12
    Eachran says:

    There is an article in The Guardian today about the instability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. I suspect that this is old information but I dont know. Certainly one of Mr Hansen’s suggestions was that the warming process is far more unpredictable for ice sheets than the cooling process. It doesnt take much of the southern ice sheet to detach to set the ball rolling. The article referred to a 5m rise in sea levels – I suppose it is anyone’s guess. I thought that the Greenland sheet was comparitively stable?

    Our political masters seem to be a bit short on leadership here : in the UK for example the Government is supporting a massive development on the river Thames in London. That should match the efforts in New Orleans.

    Timothy’s points about adaption and agriculture are spot on. I suspect that all the chiefs know that right now which is why multinational progress on anything has ground to a halt : except, that is, the “Red” campaign to encourage more conspicuous consumption which should help further deterioration. Life can be depressing sometimes but chins up everyone.

    As for post 4 on changing lifestyles, I started to do that three years ago – 50 years late but better late than never.

  13. 13
    Matt McIrvin says:

    but even in a scenario that sees the melting of Greenland, it will take centuries for the sea level rise to occur.

    Hansen tried to address that in his presentation; he made the point that rationally speaking this is small comfort, since long before rising sea levels completely drown a city, incursions from storms would be a problem, and the inhabitants would have to keep rebuilding above a gradually rising water level. We’re not scot-free for 200 years and then, bam, the ocean rises up; the impact happens sooner than that, and surely there’s an economic toll along with the human toll.

    Though the devastation from Hurricane Katrina can’t be uniquely attributed to global warming, the aftermath of it might well serve as an object lesson to get this idea across.

  14. 14
    Pete Best says:

    Looks like new scientist has got wind of this story.http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8650

    Looks like according to NS that the Bush Administration is attempting to gag Mr Hansen by ordering public affairs staff to review his forthcoming material inlcuding lectures, papers etc.

    IS this for real or are NS just getting the wrong end of the stick ?

  15. 15
    Pete Best says:

    It also looks like the UK Government has released a climate change report today stating that we will be at 400 ppm in 10 years and as the EU sees a safe level of 450 ppm we will need to have cut CO2 emissions by 65 % within a decade in order to avoid levels of 450 ppm and over.

    Seem to me that the battle has been lost with human made climate change and that 20 years is far too little time to get our act together with regard to reducing GHC by sufficient amounts to avoid severe climate change with the possibility of worse non linear effects further down the line.

    It all appears to comedown to the tipping point and the phenomena of abrupt or sudden climate change. We all know that the climate is modelled as as fluid using navier stokes equations and that the climate is not linear but in fact non linear in nature which makes for far more interesting but unpredictable climate in the long run if certain parameters are pushed up.

    [Response: This might be worth a post in itself, but I think that Hansen's point about there being only 10 years in which to start making changes is not directly related to the phenomena of abrupt climate change in the sense that you imply. Specifically, ice sheet melt and sea level rise could happen in a very regular and linear fashion and yet this could still constitute a 'dangerous' change. The time constants for the climate system, the ice sheet response and our energy infrastructure are all so long (decades plus) that any significant changes are effectively irreversible. This is quite different to some finely balanced feature that suddenly 'tips' into a new state. -gavin]

  16. 16
    Hank Roberts says:

    Pete, New Scientist is quoting excerpts from the NYT article (as they say they are) and paraphrasing it. Nothing new there.

    The NYT article may be moving off their free page (right now, I see a headline linked to the NYT’s password prepaid-reading area).

    You can piece the original together by searching for comments quoting the article, and cross-checking the quotes should catch any errors in secondary sources. Maybe a cache somewhere still has the full article.

    Some excerpts with discussion are at:
    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/#000697

    My excerpts are in response 102 in “Calculating the Greenhouse Effect”
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=220

    The URL posted there works at the moment:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/29/science/earth/29climate.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

    Read the whole; it’s a good test of honest editing, there’s enough in the original to cherry-pick excerpts that spin. Hansen et al. are clear writers; much of their work is available at the Columbia web page:

  17. 17
    Jack says:

    Given the documented pressures on civil servant scientists, I’m glad that Gavin can participate here.

  18. 18
    Pete Best says:

    We seem to have gone from mild repercussions of climate change to near fatal ones in some 20 odd years, no wonder the US administration cannot get a grip on the reality of climate change.

  19. 19
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #16: ClimateArk (linked in the right bar under Other Opinions) has a permanently archived news feed that caches all of these articles.

  20. 20
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    James Hansen is a true hero of our time. It’s come to that; people who just say what they would have said under ordinary circumstances (without Big Brother breathing fire down their necks), who simply tell the scientific truth, are heroes now. We need a James Lovelock with Gaia’s Revenge here to underscore how mild and reasonable Hansen’s statements are. And then to show how mild and reasonable Lovelock is, throw in a bunch of environmentalists who follow the precautionary principle (the people who’ve been totally excluded from the CC deabte).

    Re #1, maybe the adaptation Christy is referring to is the terraforming of Mars, and its planned colony of 1,000 elitist Earthlings. Haven’t heard of it? Well, it’s another government secret. Only the top officials & their big biz financiers have sure seats on the spaceship. However, the PR people at NASA are going to be hopping mad when they find out they don’t have the seats they were promised.

  21. 21
    Hank Roberts says:

    The inimitable Benny Peiser, at Prometheus:
    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/moveabletype/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=697

    “Hansen is essentially accusing your government of causing human mass extinction due to negligence.
    “In … the Washington Post, Hansen claims that a rise of temperatures by 4 degrees F in the next 100 years would be fatal to the human race.
    “… playing the doomsday card …”

  22. 22
    pete best says:

    Is it possible to censor science in this day and age. The results will be in the hands of many scientists and hence silencing one person (if this is indeed what it is) is not a viable thing to do. Because we are all discussing this very issue and we are also in possession of the results of the science to tells me that the US government and/or NASA have not suceeded in silencing Jim.

    Or are we referring to mass media only rather than the the few who read realclimate and newscientist. The BBC had a big climate science story today probably related to Jim’s work which can be found here.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4660938.stm

  23. 23

    Here is another item from the BBC. James Lovelock was one of today’s guests on ‘Start the Week’ You can hear what he has to say by clicking on ‘Listen again’
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/starttheweek.shtml

    Gavin, you have made an interesting point in your reply to #15 by Pete Best, where you point out that there are two types of tipping point. One is when you trigger a rapid climate change, the other is when you pass a point of no return (PoNR.) James Hansen is saying we will not reach the PoNR for another ten years, but we have already passed it. The Arctic ice is already retreating. Unless we cool the planet, because of the positive feedback from the ice albedo effect, then that ice will continue retreat until it has completely disappeared. The only way to get it to reform will be to cool the planet to a temperature below that of today, because at current temperatures the ice is melting. This is also now true for the Greenland ice, which is also starting to melt. So James Hansen’s ten years is just Pollyannaism. Thank you, James Annan for teaching me that new word :-)

  24. 24
    Gavin says:

    A transcript of Jim Hansen’s appearance on CNN this morning can be found here:

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0601/30/ltm.07.html

  25. 25
    John says:

    All of the proposed solutions for global warming involve lots of central control, failed economic policies and enforced poverty for everyone but the elite who are advocating the policies. No question the earth is warming, but two facts remain. First, there is no guarantee that even if greenhouse gas emissions were cut, that doing so would cool the planet. Second, the earth has been significantly warmer than now as recently as 5,000 years ago and man somehow managed to survive and even build the first civilizations. While I am not completely certain of how mankind will go through the potentially long and painful process of adapting to a warmer world, I have much more faith in man’s ability to adapt than I do in the socialism and enforced poverty advocated by those who claim to save us from global warming.

    [Response: High northern latitudes were warmer 5000 years ago (or even 9000 years ago) but the tropics were probably cooler, and in the mean the planet was probably not that different from now. The projected changes under 'business-as-usual' are much much larger than this. -gavin]

  26. 26
    greg lewis says:

    #25,
    John,
    Several decades ago the US government invested heavily in nuclear power. Was that socialism? Would a similar commitment to alternative energy be socialism?
    No one is arguing for enforced poverty or socialism.

    [Response: Especially not in this forum! -gavin]

  27. 27
    Pat Neuman says:

    John,

    Photos I took at Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming in Oct 2003 show palm vegetation and fish fossils, indicating that very warm climate existed about 52 million years ago in the same lat. long. area as today. There was gradual cooling from 52 million years ago until just a couple million years ago when climate cooled more rapidly into the ice age. Much of the life we see today evolved over that 50 million year period of gradual cooling. Returning to a hot and steamy world too quickly would eliminate most life on earth. Vegetation would not have time to move to new areas or adapt to a much warmer climate. Vegetation would disappear. Earth would become like the other planets we see from our space adventuring, a barren planet. Photos from Fossil Butte can be viewed at:

    http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/patneuman2000/my_photos

  28. 28
    Willis Gooch says:

    John,

    Living more sensibly within limits, i.e. as if the earth is neither infinite source nor sink, is “adapting.”

  29. 29
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #25. I think the converse is more true. If we do nothing to mitigate GW, that will put us at more jeopardy falling under totalitarian authority and rationing. When people get scared, they tend to give up their freedoms to people who can make them feel safe. So the more dire our situation becomes from GW (food shortages, rampant mobs who’ve lost their home & jobs, etc), the more likely we will succumb to totalitarianism, or social chaos, or both.

    I’ve found that the typical American can reduce his/her GHGs by 1/2 or more cost effectively without loss in living standard, and that can improve and strengthen our economy if we all join in (see http://www.natcap.org for more inspiration on this).

    We need leadership to encourage us to become energy/resource efficient & conservative, and point the way to a wholesome path of gracious living in a healthy ecosystem. If that doesn’t work, maybe we need tax and other incentives. If that doesn’t work, maybe we need a bit tighter regulations.

    But think of regulations as being like innoculations against the greater disease of totalitarianism that will surely come if we continue down the path of energy/resource inefficiency, waste, global warming, and the many other problems associated with such profligacy.

    Waste not, want not.

  30. 30
    Stephen Berg says:

    “Bush Wonders, What Has The Polar Bear Ever Done For Him?”:

    “By D.L. McCracken
    Nov 4, 2005, 12:26

    At a time when 58% of Americans believe that President George W. Bush lacks integrity, one would think that the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be bending over backwards to prove to his fellow citizens that ‘integrity’ is really his middle name. Not so however with this president who still has three more years to spread havoc throughout the world in his perpetual and oftentimes maniacal quest for world domination in the form of the liquid gold that he believes will bring his country to nirvana. The man who once stood tall and proudly declared himself to be the “war president” can now add another title to his ever-growing list of fait accomplis – the “plundering president”.

    (continued…)”

    http://www.halifaxlive.com/artman/publish/wonders_041105_0016.shtml

  31. 31

    With us or against us
    I was going to follow-up on the last post with a few more comments about scientists taking policy positions but sometimes events and even scientists speak for themselves. So you have probably already seen or heard about the conflict between…

  32. 32
    jimmy walter says:

    While the oceans are definitely heating up as reported by Nature in March 2004, the fact that the lower levels of the ocean are heating up first and faster puts into serious question that atmospheric heating could be the cause of these deep water temperature increases.
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/03/01/MNGEL5B7VE1.DTL
    Moreover, this heating of the oceans, whatever the cause, is causing them to release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and, far worse, water vapor. Water vapor is the most greenhouse of all the greenhouse gases with far greater effects than CO2, a fact that is almost universally ignored. The total amount of CO2 emitted by mankind is pitifully small by comparison. The increased water vapor causes the hurricanes and blizzards plaguing the world. All the ice ages and major extinctions have started with a dramatic increase in CO2, long before mankind had fire.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2038599.stm
    While the official sites deny it claiming only an increase in reporting, some scientists are saying that there are unheard increases of volcanic and earthquake activity, especially underwater.
    http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Tsunami-risk-from-volcano-belt-experts/2005/07/28/1122143947105.html?oneclick=true

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4646185.stm

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/214912_quakes08.html

    It seems far more likely that volcanic activity and the natural ice age cycles are causing the current, temporary warming trend.

    [Response: Errr... there is no demonstrated rise in volcanic activity, the warming of the ocean is much larger near the surface, the KT impact event has nothing to do with rising CO2 today, natural ice age cycles would be leading to a cooling at the present if large enough to be noticeable, and water vapour is not ignored! -gavin]

  33. 33
    Pete Best says:

    Gavin

    Sea ice melt and the like could happen in a linear fashion but seeing as how everyone talks about feedbacks in the climate system makes the system inhernetly non linear in nature does it not ? And that means that as feedbacks takes hold amplification takes place is the feedback is positive and dampens down the effects if negative. Now my presumption was that as the atmosphere warms due to increased CO2 emissions that this is indeed a positive feedback mechanism that can/will reach a threshold at some point and cause ever accelerating rates of melting over time which means that human made climate change will accelerate. I thought that in fact this is in part what we are witnessing in the world.

    When points of no return are spoken of you are really talking about irreversible processes whereas abrupt change is reversible?

    [Response: Obviously I'm not claiming that the system is linear (although global mean temperatures are roughly linear in the forcings), and feedbacks are obviously important. The point was more that there is a great deal of inertia in the system - particularly in the ice sheets and ocean, and so changing 'course' is a very slow business. Think about trying to steer a super-tanker away from a distant shoreline - you need to start early. Nothing is truly irreversible, but if it would take a few thousand years (or longer) to regrow a melted ice sheet, it is irreversible for all practical purposes. -gavin]

  34. 34
    Mark Shapiro says:

    Gavin,

    Thank you for the post. The NYT article provides serious evidence that our government is censoring and intimidating its own scientists. It was positively Orwellian, and worse, it was working.

    Reading Sherwood Boehlert’s (R-NY) letter to NASA telling them to back off was a breath of fresh air, and I appreciate your posting it. We are fortunate to have an advocate for openness and candor like Boehlert.

    [Response: Indeed. - gavin]

  35. 35
    W.F. says:

    Read Andrew Revkin’s piece today – Hansen said publicly that he was going to vote for John Kerry. It seems to me, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, that making political statements as career, supposedly professional, Federal employee (i.e. in your capacity as such) is totally inappropriate. I for one will not pay attention to Hansen anymore. I had no idea he was being political. I can’t really fault NASA.

    [Response: It's probably worth pointing out that even civil servants have a right to say who they will vote for. Actually, Hansen said he'd rather be voting for McCain, and this was said in the context of a personal statement and not as an endorsement. What Hansen's voting record was, is however completely irrelevant to whether media requests to interview him on scientific topics should be blocked by public affairs. Oh, and by the way, comments from staffers working at the US Senate are given away by their IP address. -gavin]

  36. 36
    Pete Best says:

    Gavin

    Yes indeed it is irreversible for all practical purposes. Changing course is indeed a allegedly slow business but climate scientists have consistantly got their sums wrong when it comes to the time it takes for warming to be causing a noticeable impact have they not. Have we not gone from mild projections/predictions in the late 80s and 90s to more extreme ones now as out knowledge, measurements and predictions have improved.

    One thing seems to be clear to me at any rate, the future predictions of climate change are getting worse for humankind and not better.

  37. 37
    Tim Jones says:

    American Morning
    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0601/30/ltm.07.html
    Aired January 30, 2006 – 08:00   ET

    SOLEDAD O’BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.
    I’m Soledad O’Brien.
    [...]
    M. O’BRIEN: We’re also going to talk to a NASA scientist who is an expert on global warming. There’s allegations that he is being censored by the Bush administration as he speaks out about the issue of global warming. We’ll talk to him about that.
    [...]
    M. O’BRIEN: It’s a beautiful morning here in New York City. A little warmer than we’d like it to be.

    A question about science. Facts are facts, but when good science meets a political reality, a political agenda, what happens?

    A gag order, or so it is alleged, by a leading climate scientist at NASA. He says the Bush administration is trying to silence him because he is sounding alarm bells about the impact of climate change, global warming.

    James Hansen is director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    He joins us here this morning.

    Dr. Hansen, good to have you with us.

    JAMES HANSEN, NASA’S GODDARD INSTITUTE FOR SPACE STUDIES: Hi.

    Good to be here.

    M. O’BRIEN: Tell us what you said, first of all, scientifically.

    HANSEN: Scientifically I said we’re getting very close to a tipping point in our climate system. If we continue along a business as usual path with greenhouse gases increasing faster and faster, then it’s going to become impossible to avoid losing the Arctic, for example. Already the sea ice there is reduced 25 percent in the summer.

    Within a few decades, we may lose the sea ice there and, therefore, the ability for wildlife like polar bears, seals, reindeer, to survive.

    M. O’BRIEN: Let’s take a look at a couple of animations. These come from some of the models which have been put together to try to project global warming.

    The first one I want to show you shows what happened since about 1870 to present and then beyond. And, as you can see, blue is cooler. And as you move along here, the red portions are the places that become warmer.

    Projecting outward, as you see, we get into modern time now. This is the industrial age. And as you can see, over the industrial countries, you’ve got these splotches of red. And as time goes on, it becomes kind of a big red blob over this entire globe of ours.

    At this point, some would suggest it’s so far gone it cannot be stopped.

    HANSEN: No, I — that’s the point. It’s not too late to stop and avoid the worst consequences. But we would need to get on the scenario in which we slow down the rate of growth of greenhouse gases, get that to flatten out. And before the middle of the century, we’re going to have to be producing less and less carbon dioxide than we are now. M. O’BRIEN: And that’s not the way we’re going right now?

    HANSEN: That’s not the way we’re going now.

    M. O’BRIEN: Now, you have been told to be careful about what you say.

    Why don’t you explain what you heard from public affairs people at NASA in particular about the comments you made?

    HANSEN: Well, they were very unhappy about my presentation in December at the American Geophysical Union.

    M. O’BRIEN: Why?

    HANSEN: Well, I think because I’m connecting the dots, all the way from emissions to the future consequences and it’s — and it has — and I look at alternative scenarios, if we continue on this path or if we take other paths. And that is getting too close to policy, I guess.

    M. O’BRIEN: Well, but there really isn’t much of a scientific debate anymore. So when you talk among scientific peers, there is tremendous agreement that global warming is real and it is hastened by human action or inaction.

    HANSEN: Right.

    M. O’BRIEN: So really what this is, is about politics, isn’t it?

    HANSEN: Well, yes. I think there’s a big issue here, and that is the fact that the agencies, the public affairs offices at the agencies are staffed by political appointees. And that is affecting the ability to communicate with the public. So, for example — and it’s not just true in NASA.

    In NOAH, for example, the hurricanes last summer, there becomes an agency perspective rather — and you’re not free to speak your own ideas. You have to follow that perspective.

    M. O’BRIEN: So, in other words, if a scientist at NOAH said these storms are stronger, perhaps by virtue of the fact that the climate is changing, global warming…

    HANSEN: Exactly.

    M. O’BRIEN: … the administration will say no, you can’t say that.

    HANSEN: Yes (ph).

    M. O’BRIEN: Let me just — I want to inject this so we have the other side here, so to speak.

    Dean Acosta, who is NASA’s top public affairs official, who is a political appointee, by the way, he says this: “NASA is committed to open and full communications. Our policy, which is similar to that of any other federal agency, corporation or news organization, is that any NASA employee speaking on the record, issuing a press release or posting information on our Web site must coordinate such activities with the Office of Public Affairs, no exceptions.”

    Now, I’ve covered NASA for years. Whenever you book an interview, you have to go through public affairs. That’s not anything, I suppose that is out of the ordinary.

    What is different now, though, do you think?

    HANSEN: Well, for example, National Public Radio in Boston wanted me to do an interview. And they were told no, they needed to do the interview with someone at NASA headquarters. And then the interview didn’t occur, because they wanted to speak to the scientists, not somebody at NASA headquarters.

    M. O’BRIEN: Right.

    So sum it up here.

    Do you think that there continues to be pressure from the Bush administration not to say what scientists fully believe here about global warming?

    HANSEN: Well, I think that public affairs offices have probably, for a long time, been used by whatever party is in power. But it’s become much more intense in the current administration.

    M. O’BRIEN: James Hansen, who is one of the leading scientists on climate change. He works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center — Goddard’s Institute for Space Studies, I should say, more accurately.

    Thank you for being with us.

    HANSEN: Thanks.

  38. 38

    Gavin,

    Re your reply to #33, you are missing the point. The Arctic sea ice does not have the inertia of the Greenland ice sheet or of the oceans, despite sharing characteristics of both. When it disappears the global albedo will change. It seems that over concentration on the effects of greenhouse gases has left the climate scientists blind to that danger.

    Moreover, the loss of the Artcic ice will be an irreversible effect because of its hysteresis. Once the sea ice has melted, temperatures will have to be lowered below those of today before it will reform. The sea ice there is causing the Arctic to be cooler because it acts like a continental surface. In other words, while it is there the Arctic climate tends to be cool like Antarctica. Without the sea ice, temperatures in the Arctic will rise well above those where ice can form.

    When are you and Jim Hansen going to face the truth, that it’s now too late to stop the Arctic sea ice melting, and to stop the subsequent rapid rise in temperature there and in the rest of the northern hemisphere? When are you going to stop this comforting political spin that there is still time?

    Cheers, Alastair.

    [Response: I agree only with your first point. Sea ice does not have that inertia, and if the world started to cool the sea ice would return in short order (5 to 10 years response time). Ice sheets are completely different beasts. -gavin]

  39. 39
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Gavin- re: #35

    1) It is fair to ask what relevance James Hansen’s personal voting choices bear upon his science. Hansen is clearly trading on his scientific authority to make a poilitical point. Joe or Jane Doe won’t have their voting preferences written about in the NYT. By drawing on his scientific cache, he is politicizing science.

    2) I am disappointed by your extremely cheap shot outing someone who obviously expressed a desire to remain anonymous as a form of retribution for expressing a view that differs from yours. That is hardball (and unethical) politics in its purest form.

    [Response: Roger, you might want to ask what is ethical about political operatives pretending to be innocent members of the public. -gavin]

  40. 40
    Pat Neuman says:

    Roger, re 39.

    1) I don’t agree with your reasoning that “Hansen is clearly trading on his scientific authority to make a poilitical point”.

    2) I don’t know who the person refered to as “anonymous” is.

  41. 41

    Re Response #38: Agreed. Sea ice does not have that inertia, and if the world started to cool the sea ice would return in short order (5 to 10 years response time). Ice sheets are completely different beasts. -gavin]

    Nice of you to agree, but note that the sea ice will not return within 5 – 10 years of a cooling world. When the sea ice disappears the Arctic ocean becomes oceanic rather than sea ice. Therefore it will have the inertia of an ocean and be slow to refreeze. This is why loss of the sea ice should seen as effectively irreversible. Returning conditions to those of today, or even a hundred years ago will not return the sea ice to its current extent. See Brooks “Climate through the Ages.”

    Cheers, Alastair.

  42. 42
    W.F. says:

    Well, I’ll say this Gavin…

    I am pleasantly surprised that you even allowed my post to appear given your penchant for censoring others who disagree with you and your views like Steve McIntyre. Thought I might’ve been in violation of Section 7 of your “comment policy.”

    Cheers

    [Response: Many people disagree with me and that's fine (though they're usually wrong!). However, I don't think it's too much to ask such people to remain courteous and refrain from ad homs, trolls, flames and assorted other abuse when doing so. I would also ask that people refrain from obvious political point scoring here - there are many other places on the web to do so. -gavin]

  43. 43
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Pielke, it’s only fair to warn someone posting from the Congressional computer system that the IP address is not a secret, the IP address is always available to anyone, and you can’t post anonymously from your office computer. There’s a big public stink about this just last week:

    http://www.lowellsun.com/ci_3444567

  44. 44

    Re #30 and many subsequent posts — I think it is a serious mistake, whichever side you’re coming from, to try to turn this into yet another endless war between Democrats and Republicans, or liberals and conservatives. There are good people, environmentally speaking, on both sides of the aisle. When an issue becomes one of the us-versus-them variety, the vast majority stop listening to anyone but the voices on their own side. That’s the worst thing we could do if we’re serious about wanting to influence people.

    The site ought to be solely about the science. Discussing policy approaches to fixing AGW is okay, but let’s refrain from comments attacking President Bush, James Hansen, Al Gore, etc. on a political basis. It’s counterproductive.

  45. 45
    J. Sperry says:

    Re transcript in #37:
    In case anyone is confused (like I was), the M. O’BRIEN is Miles O’Brien, CNN Correspondent, not Soledad O’Brien, CNN Anchor.

  46. 46
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Re 35

    It seems to me, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, that making political statements as career, supposedly professional, Federal employee (i.e. in your capacity as such) is totally inappropriate.

    I don’t recall seeing in the NYT article or any other that he made the Kerry remark in his official capacity; most commentators have noted that Hansen is careful to identify opinions as his own. A citation supporting that assertion would be helpful.

    I for one will not pay attention to Hansen anymore. I had no idea he was being political. I can’t really fault NASA.

    This strikes me as an overreaction. The Kerry remark is a pretty small bit of evidence to weigh against a scientific career, even if one has no independent ability to assess the science.

  47. 47
    Eachran says:

    I dont really believe that one can depoliticise science. Science after all is a way of looking at and thinking about things and scientists clearly are not from Mars (or Venus) but inhabit the same world as the rest of us.

    I can understand Mr Hansen’s frustration : if the message is 1+1=2 with all the qualifications that scientists (or mathematicians) add and the response is ;

    Well look Mr Hansen this is all a bit embarassing because our current society is founded on the very activity that you are saying may drive humanity to extinction, look at it my way Mr Hansen for one minute, how can I possibly earn my post-Presidential/Prime Ministerial speaking fees ,reckoned by none other than Mr Clinton as in the millions of dollars, if I have to tell my potential audience that – sorry lads and lasses we are all heading over the cliff unless we sit down together and work out a survival plan. Now really Mr Hansen I did not spend a lifetime pushing economic growth and accepting donations from business people and others in return for preferential jobs and national honours to now deny it all. Be reasonable Mr Hansen please.

    You see, scientifically speaking it is just like that.

    Gavin, I dont know you but I admire your groups efforts and I am not generally into admiration. I particularly thank Mr Connelly for helping me through the understanding of the subject through Wikipedia : but now is not the time to withdraw into a scientific bubble : the bubble doesnt exist.

    A scientist’s response now might be : OK what do we do next world? It is absolutely no use expecting politicians to take the lead because they are unlikely to do that.

    There is a whole list of practical issues to deal with, not the least of which is how to deal with millions of displaced people. This is politics but not of the party political variety. And the lead time for implementing solutions is maybe of the order of 50 to 100 years.

    I know that the IPCC has as its remit the assessment of the impact of climate change but it is not the body to act : that is not its purpose.

    So what to do? Well I think we need to do something. I have read what Lynn (if I may address you in that way) has to say on the subject and frankly I am in agreement : the first thing is individual action (for me and Lynn and I guess for many others that is already done), the next is to find some international body which can push forward and coordinate change. All other political issues seem to me take second place. I have thought about how to go about this but I keep coming back to the WTO which has plenty of good people working there, is well established from an administrative and enforcement role point of view, understands the international community very well, can broker deals and currently is run by a very good bureaucrat Mr Lamy. They are wasting their time on “free trade” at the moment and I am sure that they would delight in helping us out of our nightmare.

    As for the person above complaining about breach of confidentiality : I have never known anything expressed in writing being capable of remaining hidden, source and all (so 0 out of ten for the complaints), and are we not living in the world of the web where democracy is all?

  48. 48
    Coby says:

    To Roger in #39

    1) It is fair to ask what relevance James Hansen’s personal voting choices bear upon his science. Hansen is clearly trading on his scientific authority to make a poilitical point.

    I completely disagree that advocating the cessation of a dangerous policy is fairly characterized as making a political point. Indeed it can only serve to further obfuscate and politicize what is in fact a scientific issue. I have followed alot of the GW news and the science for well over a year now (note, I am not claiming that is very long or grants me any authority) and I have only in the last few days heard anything about Hansen’s political positions. What that says to me is that he does talk about the science and does so appropriately. This is personal anecdote to be sure, but if you have some references to support your, to my mind, very serious accusation against Hansen’s character I would be very interested to read them.

    Joe or Jane Doe won’t have their voting preferences written about in the NYT. By drawing on his scientific cache, he is politicizing science.

    Curiously enough, his politics seem to be governed by his scientific concerns rather than the recent (?) insinuations of the reverse. To whit, he would have voted for John McCain rather than John Kerry had he had that choice. He is clearly not a partisan and wants a government that will take the science and its warnings to heart, be it democrat or republican.

    2) I am disappointed by your extremely cheap shot outing someone who obviously expressed a desire to remain anonymous as a form of retribution for expressing a view that differs from yours. That is hardball (and unethical) politics in its purest form.

    Perhaps you can expand on why you think this? I for one, am very grateful to Gavin for having alerted me to this. Political operatives hiding behind anonimity have no right to expect this underhanded tactic to be defended. If this person was not posting in official capacity, then perhaps we have all got the wrong impression but this is his/her fault for doing so on tax payer funded equipment and presumably time.

    I might add the W.H.’s follow-up posting does not lend any strength to his/her defenders.

  49. 49
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #44: Your point that there are good people on both sides of the aisle in regards to this and other environmental issues is made by the posting of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert’s letter. Boehlert is a Republican. Unfortunately, the good people don’t occur with equal concentration on both sides and Boehlert seems to be more the exception in his party than the rule which is unfortunate. On the other hand, it makes me respect him all the more for being willing to buck his more ignorant party leaders.

    Re #39: Roger, it is probably worth noting that while this person may now be “outed” to you policy wonks “in the know”, some of us don’t have lists of Congressional science policy staffers in our heads. So, it is not exactly a public outing…other than providing us with the knowledge that said person has some occupational connection to Congress.

  50. 50
    Lee says:

    Given that latest UK report, it is clear to me that the only ethical thing to do is to fight tooth and nail for changes that will stop global climate change.

    Being indignant about “freedom of speech” is petty. It is time to put ego aside and declare war on people who are destroying the planet for all posterity.

    It sounds extreme, but the circumstances are extreme. Anything else is a disservice to our children.


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