Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

06/29/2009 (2:34 pm)

Suppressed NASA Memos Show Climate Change Dispute

Author’s Note: news released shortly after I published this article revealed that the reported objections were raised by a pair of economists. My use of the descriptive noun “scientists” for the authors of the suppressed opinion was therefore a little misleading. I apologize for the inaccuracy.

epalogolargerThe Competitive Enterprise Institute on Friday released internal email obtained from the National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), an office of the EPA, indicating that scientists within the NCEE have raised serious objections to EPA’s findings that human-generated CO² is causing climate change, and that the opinions of these scientists have been suppressed. This makes President Obama’s claim to be restoring scientific integrity to policy-making appear to have been rhetoric only.

Last April, the US Supreme Court decided the case of Massachusetts v EPA, finding that the EPA did have authority to regulate CO² emissions under the 1977 Clean Air Act (I discussed their finding and the EPA’s response here.) Obeying Clean Air Act guidelines, the EPA is required to show a reasonable expectation that the named pollutant will create a danger to the general public before they can issue regulations. They provided support for their intended rule-making in a Technical Support Document (hereafter “Endangerment TSD” or simply “TSD”) based primarily on the IPCC’s fourth public report (see the latest version of the TSD here.) The public comment period on the endangerment investigation lasted from April 24, 2009 to June 23, 2009 (see their request for public comment here.)

There have been several responses to the request for public comment, which I will discuss in a separate article. However, the one released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute is remarkable because it emanated from within the EPA itself, and because the author’s supervisor refused to forward it to the EPA’s office of Air and Radiation, which was reviewing critiques of the Endangerment TSD. The author of the critique was forbidden by his supervisor from discussing the Endangerment TSD with anybody outside the department, and ordered not to spend any more EPA time on climate change. The memos can be seen here.

Recall that one of the repeated complaints by Democrats and progressives throughout the Bush administration was that the Bush administration was conducting a war against science. The bulk of their objections had to do with administrative decisions within the Executive branch not to publish internal discussion that was inconsistent with the decided policy of the administration (see my blog post here regarding Rep. Henry Waxman’s report on the matter.) Of course, none of this restricted actual science in any way; but Democrats kept insisting that it did, even to the extent that President Obama publicly declared that his administration would reverse the backward ways of the Bush administration and “use sound, scientific practice instead of dogma” to form federal policy. President Obama’s newly appointed head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, declared:

“As Administrator, I will ensure EPA’s efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency.” (See her statement published Jan. 23, 2009.)

Naturally, since they claimed that the Bush administration’s practice of presenting only the findings that supported their official policy position constituted “a war against science,” we should expect that the Obama EPA would publish the opinions of all scientists, whether they agree with the official policy or not. This is not what was done. In fact, once it became clear that the scientists in question disagreed with the official position, they were immediately directed to projects outside of the arena of climate change, and forbidden to speak with outsiders concerning the Endangerment TSD. The EPA clearly is not living up to the lofty standard set by President Obama regarding placing science above “dogma” or ideology.

epalogo2wrybob1In the past I have defended the government’s refusal to publish as official policy the opinions of scientists who held opinions contrary to that of their administration. The EPA, after all, is a public policy agency, not solely a scientific organization, and it reports to the President; when the EPA controls the public statements of its employees and sees to it that they are consistent with administration policy, it is just doing its job.

However, the Obama administration and the Democratic party in general have long since made it clear that they do not regard this behavior as acceptable when conducted by the opposition party, so it is appropriate to hold them to the standard they have set for their opponents. Furthermore, the EPA did not merely refuse to publish the scientist’s contrary opinion, it refused to forward it to an agency that was actively soliciting public comment, forbade the author from performing further study on the subject, and slapped a gag order on him. This is a much more serious suppression of science than anything we saw under the Bush administration’s EPA.

The muzzled scientists, Alan Carlin and John Davidson of NCEE, objected to the Endangerment TSD on the grounds that EPA had spent too little attention critiquing the IPCC’s AR4 document on which the TSD was based (see a draft of their comments here.) They complained that the document was based on science no later than 2005, that more recent, peer-reviewed publications had thrown doubt onto the conclusions of that document, and that therefore the EPA’s official position was not based on sound, scientific information. They cited six separate findings that had become accepted after the IPCC closed its evaluation for its AR4 report:

  • Global temperatures continue to trend downward following 1998, while atmospheric CO² continues to rise;
  • The general consensus on Atlantic hurricane behavior has changed so that growth in hurricane activity is no longer expected;
  • Recent evidence has shown that Greenland is not, in fact, in the process of shedding its ice;
  • The current recession has already unexpectedly reduced greenhouse gas emissions;
  • A 2009 paper demonstrates that contrary to IPCC model assumptions, the feedbacks from atmospheric CO² on climate are negative rather than positive, rendering those models useless;
  • A 2009 paper demonstrates that the IPCC used faulty data when it dismissed solar irradiation as a direct source of climate change, and asserts that nearly 70% of climate change can be attributed directly to solar variations.

In addition to the comments arising from research that has appeared since submissions to the IPCC’s last report were closed in 2005, Carlin and Davidson observe that there are several data that were available even before that time that have been ignored by the EPA and the IPCC, for which explanations are required. They are:

  • By far the best explanation for global temperature fluctuations is the combined effects of ocean temperature fluctuations produced by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO,) the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO). The EPA and IPCC simply ignore this data;
  • There exists a strong correlation between solar sunspot activity and irradiance and global temperatures that is not explored in the TSD;
  • Changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels show absolutely no effect on satellite-based global temperature readings;
  • Changes in global surface temperature readings are more likely to be the result of increasing urban heat island effects than they are to be the result of greenhouse gas forcings;
  • The 1998 temperature peak could easily be explained by things other than greenhouse gases, notably by a 1997-1998 El Nino occurrence.

The scientists conclude:

These inconsistencies are so important and sufficiently abstruse that in our view EPA needs to make an independent analysis of the science of global warming rather than adopting the conclusions of the IPCC and CCSP without much more careful and independent EPA staff review than is evidenced by the Draft TSP. Adopting the scientific conclusions of an outside group such as the IPCC or CCSP without thorough review by EPA is not in the EPA tradition anyway, and there seems to be little reason to change the tradition in this case. If their conclusions should be incorrect and EPA acts on them, it is EPA that will be blamed for inadequate research and understanding and reaching a possibly inaccurate determination of endangerment. Given the downward trend in temperatures since 1998 (which some think will continue until at least 2030), there is no particular reason to rush into decisions based on a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data.

Of course, since the Obama administration can increase its power, influence, and the likelihood of future Democratic victories by imposing total economic controls in the name of climate science, it is probable that it does not care very much whether the current hypothesis actually fits the available data. After all, if humans are not heating the atmosphere, then President Obama cannot save the planet. That would be disappointing, and would stop him from running the entire economy, which seems to be his goal.

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7 Comments »

July 1, 2009 @ 9:29 am #

you know, the above comment, in response to the alarming article, about sums up the current news cycle. Voyeurism on a national level and celebrity worship trump real news any day for most of the people in America, it would seem.

(Webmaster’s note: walkercolt is referring to a “Michael Jackson” comment from a spam site that slipped through my spam filter. I’ve deleted the comment to which he’s referring.)

July 1, 2009 @ 11:39 am #

This country can no longer save its self; we are going to have to lose everything before there will be any chance of fixing things. As Phil as commented before, “we are so screwed”.

July 1, 2009 @ 10:33 pm #

Phil,

I thought you might be interested in this alternative account of the “suppressed memo” posted at the Wahsington Monthly.

By the way, the two posts obviously have a partisan tone – as does your blog. So I challenge you to overlook that tone and see if Benen’s facts are correct.

Joe

THE EPA’S FAR-RIGHT CAUSE CELEBRE…. The conservative Washington Times ran a piece today on one of the right’s new favorite subjects.

Republican lawmakers, coming off a loss Friday in their attempt to block passage of a massive climate bill, have seized on a global warming memo they say was suppressed by the Obama administration.

The memo, drafted by two environmental economists, is highly critical of the science behind an Environmental Protection Agency memo that found carbon dioxide to be a greenhouse gas.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said the memo shows that the EPA did not have accurate information when it completed its finding.

In their letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson yesterday, Inhofe and Barrasso claim to “have learned” that a “senior EPA official suppressed” a “rigorous account” of “the most up-to-date science of climate change.”

Last night, Fox News picked up on the same argument, insisting that the EPA “suppressed” a “report” that contradicted the standard scientific consensus on climate change.

I know we covered this the other day, but it’s probably best to keep setting the record straight before bogus claims gain traction.

At issue is a “memo” put together by Alan Carlin, who works at the EPA as an economist, not a climate scientist. He happens to believe the planet may be getting cooler, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Did Carlin prepare a “report” on climate change? No. In his spare time, he put together an argument against global warming, which wasn’t requested by anyone at the agency. His argument stems from his personal hobby.

Was Carlin’s memo “suppressed”? No. The EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics allowed him to put together his memo, and it was reviewed by agency scientists.

Was Carlin’s memo any good? No. I’ve seen it described this week as “a hodgepodge of widely discredited pseudoscience,” and “a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at.”

Zachary Roth spoke to Carlin, and the economist conceded that his “studies” were not “specifically commissioned by the EPA,” and they’ve been published, but “not all in academic journals.”

I don’t imagine Inhofe or Fox News will find these details important, but it’s something to keep in mind if the “story” starts to get wider play.

—Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

June 29, 2009
INHOFE’S NEW CONSPIRACY…. On Fox News this morning, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) insisted the Environmental Protection Agency was given evidence that undermines global warming, so the agency hid it to advance “probably the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Inhofe said the EPA “absolutely” buried evidence undermining policy on global warming after a researcher’s report claimed that carbon dioxide has had little effect on the environment.

“They’ve been cooking that science since 1998,” Inhofe said during an interview on Fox News.

Inhofe argued that there should be a criminal investigation into the EPA report, as well.

“I don’t know whether there would be or not,” he said. “There could be, and there probably should be.”

In our reality, the EPA has an employee — an economist, not a climate scientist — named Alan Carlin who apparently doesn’t believe in global warming. In fact, he insists that global temperatures are “not going up, and if anything they’re going down.” He submitted a “report” arguing that the government shouldn’t worry about regulating carbon emission, relying on familiar conservative arguments.

Not surprisingly, the EPA saw the “report” but did not take Carlin’s concerns seriously.

“Claims that this individual’s opinions were not considered or studied are entirely false. This Administration and this EPA Administrator are fully committed to openness, transparency and science-based decision making. These principles were reflected throughout the development of the proposed endangerment finding, a process in which a broad array of voices were heard and an inter-agency review was conducted. [...]

“The individual in question is not a scientist and was not part of the working group dealing with this issue.”

Nevertheless, Fox News is awfully excited about this; the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute is trying to rally support for Carlin; Inhofe is talking about a criminal investigation of the EPA; and House Republicans are waving Carlin’s report around as evidence of … something.

Our policy discourse can be very frustrating.

July 2, 2009 @ 10:15 am #

Joe –

Most of Benen’s facts are credible, and not in dispute.

In fact, if you’ll reread my post, you’ll find that I actually approve of the EPA producing a unified public stance in support of the President’s agenda. Mostly, I’m struck by the sheer hypocrisy of a party that spent 8 years decrying precisely this same sort of event as a “war against science,” but now doing the very thing they previously decried. It wasn’t a war against science then, and it’s not one now, but the Democrats in power need to be held to the absurd standard created by their dishonest rhetoric.

However, this is not a fact:

In his spare time, he put together an argument against global warming, which wasn’t requested by anyone at the agency.

Nobody at the EPA specifically requested Carlin’s report. However, the agency did publish a request for public commentary on its Technical Support Document finding harm from the emission of carbon dioxide. So, no, it is not correct to say that nobody requested the report; every citizen is entitled to comment, and comments were in fact being solicited by EPA’s office of Air and Radiation.

Furthermore, if this was produced “in his spare time” and “not (specifically) requested by anyone at the agency,” I’m wondering what right Carlin’s supervisor had to refuse to forward the report to the office of Air and Radiation. Carlin should be free to forward the report as a free citizen. This is why I question the gag order.

This, also, is not a fact:

Was Carlin’s memo any good? No. I’ve seen it described this week as “a hodgepodge of widely discredited pseudoscience,” and “a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at.”

Who, precisely, is Benen quoting here? I guarantee you that if it were somebody whose opinion about climate science we should actually care about, he would have produced the name and credentials of the individual. Why the hell should you, I, or anybody care whether Benen’s landscaper or cubicle-mate describes Carlin’s memo as “pseudoscience?” Why should we regard this unattributed spew as though it somehow, by its mere existence, established its claim as a “fact,” which is how Benen (dishonestly) represents it?

And as to what Zachary Roth said (who the hell is Zachary Roth anyhow?), anybody with the ability to read may review Carlin’s list of citations, and determine which come from peer-reviewed journals, and which come from other sources. The fact that studies cited were not “specifically commissioned by the EPA” does not even constitute a valid complaint; the absence of sufficient EPA study was THE POINT OF CARLIN’S REPORT! The fact that some of his citations were not from peer-reviewed journals does not in any way discredit the entire report or even necessarily constitute a valid criticism of any point being thus supported. Benen offering this aside from Zachary Roth as a “fact” to which someone needs to pay attention, or as something Carlin must “concede”, constitutes the worst sort of guilt-by-association fallacy, a cheap-ass “argument” by a dishonest debater to whom no honest man should pay another moment’s notice. An honest debater might rebut a specific argument from the report as “not yet established by peer-reviewed science;” Benen’s approach attempts to paint the entire report in this light by being unspecific, and that’s simply dishonest.

I’m not surprised, though. This is par for the course for Steve Benen. He’s a dishonest man, and this is a prime example.

July 2, 2009 @ 1:16 pm #

By the way, Joe, it’s truly bad form on your part to post an entire article here in my “Comments” section. In the future, please post the links, not the entire article.

July 2, 2009 @ 7:04 pm #

Sorry Phil about the bad form.

One thing to keep in mind about your post is that you ommitted some important facts. The guy who created the “report” was not a climate scientist, but an economist. He was not performing research on behalf of the government – he was working on his own. His “report” was not a report on scientific research, but was instead an argument against global warming based on various sources of data. It was not supressed, but was instead reviewed by a panel of scientists who (apparently) rejected it as unscientific.

But despite these omissions and inaccuracies, I didn’t ever suggest that you were dishonest or lying to me. I assume that you didn’t know these details.

Keep that in mind the next time you encounter someone who seems to have ommitted important details – such as the Japanese commanders who were prosecuted for waterboarding were engaing in additional brutalities as well.

Joe H.

July 3, 2009 @ 4:32 pm #

“…all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.”

There seems to be quite a lot of evidence that while the climate is changing, there is no reason to get all excited about it. It has done this before, and it will no doubt do this again. We should not be so arrogant as to assume that puny man can change the entire cosmos. We do our bit, but let us not think we are more than we are.

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