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Context of 'December 7, 2003: Government’s Top Atmospheric Scientists Say Global Warming Is Caused by Greenhouse Gases'

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) routes all media inquiries about an article in the journal Science (see December 7, 2003) that was authored by two top government scientists to appointee James R. Mahoney, instead of allowing the media to communicate with the scientists directly. The article in question concludes that “there is no doubt that the composition of the atmosphere is changing because of human activities, and today greenhouse gases are the largest human influence on global climate.” In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Mahoney, who is serving as both assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA deputy administrator, attempts to discredit the finding of the article. Mahoney tells the newspaper, “That’s their assertion. They are extremely competent, and there are many in the climate community who would agree with them. That’s not surprising, but there are many others who would disagree with them. My own view is somewhat more open-minded, and from my perspective we don’t really understand these things as well as we might.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/4/2003]

Entity Tags: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, James R. Mahoney

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The journal Science publishes a paper written by two of the nation’s leading atmospheric scientists concluding that “modern climate change is dominated by human influences” and cannot be explained by natural causes. The article, titled “Modern Climate Change,” warns that climate change “may prove to be humanity’s greatest challenge” and that “it is very unlikely to be adequately addressed without greatly improved international cooperation and action.” The authors, Kevin Trenberth, head of National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)‘s Climate Analysis Section, and Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, insist that “there is no doubt that the composition of the atmosphere is changing because of human activities, and today greenhouse gases are the largest human influence on global climate.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/4/2003; Karl and Trenberth, 12/7/2003; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 31 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Kevin Trenberth, Thomas Karl

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Screenshot of draft documentScreenshot of draft document [Source: Government Accountability Project] (click image to enlarge)In response to a number of questions for the record (QFRs) submitted by senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) regarding an April 26, 2006 testimony on projected and past effects of climate change, scientists at NOAA submit a document of draft responses to an NOAA legislative affairs specialist for review. The document is ultimately reviewed by individuals at the EPA, Energy Department, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who suggest a number of changes. For example, the OMB suggests keeping the sentence, “The full range and magnitude of the biological and biogeochemical effects of ocean acidification are still so uncertain that a reliable and quantitative estimate of the likely socio-economic effects is not yet possible,” but removing the sentence immediately following that: “However, healthy coral reef ecosystems are important to both the fisheries and tourism industries and negative impacts on these ecosystems could affect these industries.” According to the OMB, “[a]s written this seems to conflict with the factual first sentence of the paragraph, which adequately answers the question.” In another instance, the OMB recommends adding a sentence that attributes global warming to increasing water vapor, drawing from a quote taken out of context from an article written by scientists Thomas Karl and Kevin Trenberth. When NOAA scientist James Butler attempts to explain that the edit is not scientifically valid, the OMB insists on keeping the change. Finally, Karl himself enters the fray, recommending a change that the OMB accepts. The Government Accountability Project, which will obtain the draft document that shows the changes, comments, “These two examples show that, while federal climate scientists are occasionally able to correct distortions to scientific findings in congressional communication, political appointees can still introduce inaccurate information that goes unchecked.” [Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 37, 80 pdf file; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 44-46 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Thomas Karl, Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, James Butler, Daniel Inouye, Office of Management and Budget, Frank R. Lautenberg

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

A team of Russian and American scientists conclude in a study published in the journal Science that the melting of Siberia’s carbon-rich permafrost could result in the release of about 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next 100 years. That would almost double the atmosphere’s current load of the greenhouse gas which currently stands at about 700 billion tons. When permafrost melts, it makes organic material available to microbes which convert much of the carbon in it into carbon dioxide. This process results in what is known as a “positive feedback” loop whereby the increased presence of greenhouse gases leads to more warming and consequently to the melting of more carbon-rich permafrost. Leading climate models do not factor in the melting of Siberia’s permafrost, which covers some 400,000 square miles, when trying to make predictions about climate change. Previous estimates of the amount of carbon contained in the permafrost have put the value much lower. “We have known [about] the permafrost in Siberia before,” explains atmospheric scientist Bala Govindasamy, “Previous estimates for global permafrost [are] between 200 and 400 [billion tons]. This study has found higher carbon content in the Siberian permafrost and estimates that the total global amount could be about 1,000 [billion tons].” This report “makes it kind of scary—it means there’s a form of climate risk that we really haven’t got a good handle on,” notes Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford. Another scientist, paleoclimatologist David Anderson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Prediction Center, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that carbon dioxide released from Siberia “could raise temperatures dramatically beyond the current projections. Second, it could raise the rate at which temperatures rise.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/16/2006; San Francisco Chronicle, 6/16/2006; Zimov, Schuur, and Chapin, 6/16/2006]

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers to slant their coverage of climate change stories in favor of questioning the validity of climate change claims. Sammon’s order is given during a series of global climate change talks, and less than 15 minutes after Fox News correspondent Wendell Goler told viewers that the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.” Sammon’s email says in part: “Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data… we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.” The email also comes amidst a steady promotion by the network of the so-called “Climategate” scandal, which hinges on misrepresentations of emails sent between climate scientists and supposedly casts critical doubts on the science behind the claims of climate change and global warming. Ultimately, all independent inquiries will clear the accused scientists of misconduct and manipulation, though these reports will receive less attention from Fox. And, though Sammon portrays his directive as an attempt to be fair and balanced, the “debate” is largely in the media, and fueled by conservative politics and by corporations and investors that would be impacted by regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. No national or international scientific body disputes that global warming is caused by human activities, and it is the consensus view of the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of the rise in the Earth’s average temperature since the 19th century. Goler had noted during his broadcast that in spite of “Climategate” claims, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prove that the climate is indeed heating up due to a man-made increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Despite the facts, minutes after Goler’s report, Sammon sends his email to the staffs of Fox News’s “straight” news shows and others, ordering them to report that claims of human-caused climate change are controversial. That evening, news anchor Bret Baier introduces another report by Goler by saying in part that as “Climategate-fueled skeptics continued to impugn global warming science, researchers today issued new and even more dire warnings about the possible effects of a warmer planet.” After Goler’s evening report, Baier tells viewers that “skeptics say the recordkeeping began about the time a cold period was ending in the mid 1800s and what looks like an increase may just be part of a longer cycle,” and runs a clip by American Enterprise Institute scholar Kenneth Green impugning the credibility of climate change science. And a few minutes later, correspondent James Rosen falsely claims that climate scientists “destroyed more than 150 years worth of raw climate data” in order to promote the theory of climate change. [Media Matters, 12/15/2010]
Sammon Previously Manipulated Fox News Reporting - Less than two months ago, Sammon ordered journalists and producers to use the term “government option” instead of “public option” to describe a specific health care proposal by Senate Democrats, as his preferred term had been shown to be less favorable to that proposal (see October 27, 2009 and After).

Entity Tags: Kenneth Green, Bill Sammon, Ben Dimiero, Bret Baier, James Rosen, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fox News, World Meteorological Organization, Wendell Goler, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda

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