Political censorship on climate change research

In an August 14th The Independent (UK) article, referred to by the Common Dreams network, Andrew Gumbel confirms the political pressure exercised through Paul Wolfowitz and the Bush administration on World Bank specialists to minimalize references to climate change. He also fits this in a broader silencing and cover up as appears for example in a March 2007 GAP report (GAP stands for: Government Accountability Project) that is available on the GAP website. It is worthwhile to quote some passages from the report’s “executive summary and synthesis”:

This report, which presents and synthesizes the findings of a year-long investigation to determine the extent of political interference at federal climate science agencies, demonstrates how policies and practices have increasingly restricted the flow of scientific information emerging from publicly-funded climate change research. This has affected the media’s ability to report on the science, public officials’ capacity to respond with appropriate policies, and the public’s grasp of an environmental issue with profound consequences for our future. (…)

The investigation found no incidents of direct interference with climate change research. Instead, unduly restrictive policies and practices were located largely in the communication of “sensitive” scientific information to the media, the public, and Congress. In this context, “sensitive scientific information” is meant to signify that science which does not support existing policy positions or objectives in research dealing with the effects of climate change or greenhouse gases on hurricanes, sea levels, Arctic ice loss, marine life, and human society.

I remember how, over the past years, in discussions on human induced climate change and its consequences, friends and collaborators refused to believe what they called unnecessary pessimistic and dramatic views. One of their arguments was: ‘if it were as serious as you claim, politicians would already have taken measures to respond to the crisis”. These discussions were painful, as I often did not manage to transmit the seriousness of the issue and as I felt that two dangerous arguments were used to dismiss the problem: (a) “we trust politicians”, and (b) “you are prone to exaggeration.” It is now proven that we cannot trust some politicians and that their attempts at silencing the issue were bordering on the criminal. One is wondering why they did behave in that way and, to be frank, I see only one serious reason: economic and financial profit (cf. the scientists paid by some oil companies to disqualify research as done by the IPCC – facts that were uncovered by organisations as Source Watch and Exxonsecrets), as well as the refusal to make oneself unpopular as a politician while addressing a challenge that would force us to change our life styles.

I am not sure that economic interests and an all too naive trust in scientific and technical advances will not continue to blur political decision making, but at least efforts as those of GAP will make us conscious of how easily powergames influence on real politics. Both in the public sphere and in the media there lies an important critical role. The situation is too urgent and there is too much at stake for many people.

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