James Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, has often warned that the consequences of global climate change could be serious. He began to worry about the Earth’s atmosphere after years studying the broiling atmosphere of Venus.
Various Republican administrations have apparently wished, over the years, that they could launch him to Venus. This weekend Hansen let reporters know that NASA Public Affairs people were telling him to clear his public comments with them, and he quoted one as warning him of “dire consequences” if he didn’t follow protocol.
Hansen’s strategy worked. By Sunday, NASA was frantically writing assurances that it does not silence its scientists, just tries to coordinate their announcements. By Monday, the chairman of the House Science Committee had joined the fray.
This letter from Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) to Michael Griffin, the NASA Administrator:
“NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him. Even if this sense is a result of a misinterpretation of NASA policies – and more seems to be at play here – the problem still must be corrected.”
Boehlert’s letter is notable for two reasons. First, he was under no obligation to say anything; he could have chosen loyalty to his party. Second, Dr. Hansen is now effectively immunized against any consequences, dire or otherwise, of what he says about global warming.
Hansen knew what he was doing—because he’s been through the whole thing before. In 1989, during the first Bush Administration, he testified before a Senate subcommittee, revealing that the White House Budget Office had toned down his warnings. He said they had added a paragraph to his written testimony, making him say his predictions were only “estimates.”
“I did object to the addition of that paragraph,” he said to the subcommittee, “because in essence it says that I believe that all the scientific conclusions that I just discussed are not reliable. And I certainly don’t agree with that.”
The chairman of that subcommittee was Al Gore, then the junior Senator from Tennessee: “If they force you to change a scientific conclusion, it’s a form of science fraud by them,” said Mr. Gore.
(Read more, if you haven’t already, here.)
The Wheels of Justice Turn Quickly
11:09 AM: Samuel Alito is confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice.
11:42 AM: The Sierra Club sends reporters an email, titled “Alito Confirmation Puts Clean Water, Air Laws at Risk.”
12:10 PM: Americans United for Life sends reporters an email, titled “Alito Confirmation Provides Hope that the Abortion Will Soon Be Returned to the People.” (sic)
1:01 PM: Ariane DeVogue of our Washington Bureau reports that Justice Alito has already been sworn in by Chief Justice Roberts.
Gotta move fast in Washington.
In fairness, here’s a bit of what the first release said: “Sierra Club’s opposition to Judge Alito’s confirmation rested on his Constitutional philosophy, which threatens both the ability of Congress to pass laws to protect the environment, and the ability of citizens to enforce those laws. Judge Alito ruled (in Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) v. Magnesium Elektron) that the Constitution barred citizens from enforcing the Clean Water Act even against a company that admitted it had been violating the law for years. The Magnesium Elektron decision threatened to put a stop to most Clean Water Act enforcement. Fortunately, the Supreme Court effectively reversed this decision three years later in another case.”
In similar fairness, here’s a bit of what the second release said: “Americans United for Life President Peter A. Samuelson stated, ‘We believe that the confirmation of this excellent justice brings us one step closer to a day when the divisive issue of abortion can be returned to the people. Mr. Alito has the experience, intelligence, and character to be an excellent justice–one who respects the power of the people and upholds the Constitution.’”