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The Guardian (UK)
Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Comment

There is climate change censorship -
and it's the  deniers who dish it out


Global warming scientists are under intense pressure to water
down findings, and are then accused of silencing their critics

by George Monbiot


The drafting of reports by the world's pre-eminent group of
climate scientists is an odd process. For months scientists
contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
tussle over the evidence. Nothing gets published unless it
achieves consensus. This means that the panel's reports are
conservative - even timid. It also means that they are as
trustworthy as a scientific document can be.

Then, when all is settled among the scientists, the politicians
sweep in and seek to excise from the summaries anything that
threatens their interests.

The scientists fight back, but they always have to make
concessions. The report released on Friday, for example, was
shorn of the warning that "North America is expected to
experience locally severe economic damage, plus substantial
ecosystem, social and cultural disruption from climate change
related events".

This is the opposite of the story endlessly repeated in the
rightwing press: that the IPCC, in collusion with governments,
is conspiring to exaggerate the science. No one explains why
governments should seek to amplify their own failures. In the
wacky world of the climate conspiracists no explanations are
required. The world's most conservative scientific body has
somehow been transformed into a conspiracy of screaming
demagogues.

This is just one aspect of a story that is endlessly told the
wrong way round. In the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail, in
columns by Dominic Lawson, Tom Utley and Janet Daley, the
allegation is repeated that climate scientists and
environmentalists are trying to "shut down debate". Those who
say that man-made global warming is not taking place, they
claim, are being censored.

Something is missing from their accusations: a single valid
example. The closest any of them have been able to get is two
letters sent - by the Royal Society and by the US senators Jay
Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe - to that delicate flower
ExxonMobil, asking that it cease funding lobbyists who
deliberately distort climate science. These correspondents had
no power to enforce their wishes. They were merely urging Exxon
to change its practices. If everyone who urges is a censor, then
the comment pages of the newspapers must be closed in the name
of free speech.

In a recent interview, Martin Durkin, who made Channel 4's film
The Great Global Warming Swindle, claimed he was subject to
"invisible censorship". He seems to have forgotten that he had
90 minutes of prime-time television to expound his theory that
climate change is a green conspiracy. What did this censorship
amount to? Complaints about one of his programmes had been
upheld by the Independent Television Commission. It found that
"the views of the four complainants, as made clear to the
interviewer, had been distorted by selective editing" and that
they had been "misled as to the content and purpose of the
programmes when they agreed to take part". This, apparently,
makes him a martyr.

If you want to know what real censorship looks like, let me show
you what has been happening on the other side of the fence.
Scientists whose research demonstrates that climate change is
taking place have been repeatedly threatened and silenced and
their findings edited or suppressed.

The Union of Concerned Scientists found that 58% of the 279
climate scientists working at federal agencies in the US who
responded to its survey reported that they had experienced one
of the following constraints: 1. Pressure to eliminate the words
"climate change", "global warming", or other similar terms from
their communications; 2. Editing of scientific reports by their
superiors that "changed the meaning of scientific findings"; 3.
Statements by officials at their agencies that misrepresented
their findings; 4. The disappearance or unusual delay of
websites, reports, or other science-based materials relating to
climate; 5. New or unusual administrative requirements that
impair climate-related work; 6. Situations in which scientists
have actively objected to, resigned from, or removed themselves
from a project because of pressure to change scientific
findings. They reported 435 incidents of political interference
over the past five years.

In 2003, the White House gutted the climate-change section of a
report by the Environmental Protection Agency. It deleted
references to studies showing that global warming is caused by
manmade emissions. It added a reference to a study, partly
funded by the American Petroleum Institute, that suggested that
temperatures are not rising. Eventually the agency decided to
drop the section altogether.

After Thomas Knutson at the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a paper in 2004
linking rising emissions with more intense tropical cyclones, he
was blocked by his superiors from speaking to the media. He
agreed to one request to appear on MSNBC, but a public affairs
officer at NOAA rang the station and said that Knutson was "too
tired" to conduct the interview. The official explained to him
that the "White House said no". All media inquiries were to be
routed instead to a scientist who believed there was no
connection between global warming and hurricanes.

Last year Nasa's top climate scientist, James Hansen, reported
that his bosses were trying to censor his lectures, papers and
web postings. He was told by Nasa's PR officials that there
would be "dire consequences" if he continued to call for rapid
reductions in greenhouse gases.

Last month, the Alaskan branch of the US fish and wildlife
service told its scientists that anyone travelling to the Arctic
must understand "the administration's position on climate
change, polar bears, and sea ice and will not be speaking on or
responding to these issues".

At hearings in the US Congress three weeks ago, Philip Cooney, a
former White House aide who had previously worked at the
American Petroleum Institute, admitted he had made hundreds of
changes to government reports about climate change on behalf of
the Bush administration. Though not a scientist, he had struck
out evidence that glaciers were retreating and inserted phrases
suggesting that there was serious scientific doubt about global
warming.

The guardians of free speech in Britain aren't above attempting
a little suppression, either. The Guardian and I have now
received several letters from the climate sceptic Viscount
Monckton threatening us with libel proceedings after I
challenged his claims about climate science. On two of these
occasions he has demanded that articles are removed from the
internet. Monckton is the man who wrote to Senators Rockefeller
and Snowe, claiming that their letter to ExxonMobil offends the
corporation's "right of free speech".

After Martin Durkin's film was broadcast, one of the scientists
it featured, Professor Carl Wunsch, complained that his views on
climate change had been misrepresented. He says he has received
a legal letter from Durkin's production company, Wag TV,
threatening to sue him for defamation unless he agrees to make a
public statement that he was neither misrepresented nor misled.

Would it be terribly impolite to suggest that when such people
complain of censorship, a certain amount of projection is taking
place?

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