Winter is beginning to feel long here in late February, as the temperature dropped below zero for the umpteenth time again last night. Today’s crisp, clear, still weather does elevate the spirit, though. We took a walk in the sunlight to start the day — a good way to fight seasonal affective disorder at this time of year.

I’d guess that the creatures in the woods are having a harder time than we are. We and our neighbors have been seeing more of them lately; they seem to be getting hungry. Last Wednesday, as I was packing a bag for a short trip to Boston, Wendy called from her office, “Mark! Come quick! Come quick!” And there in the back yard was the first fisher cat I have ever seen in broad daylight, jet black against the snow. (I’ve seen them in the headlights before, skulking by the side of the road; they’re generally nocturnal.) He (she?) was healthy and chipper-looking, easily three feet long, a good portion of that length being a strong, shaggy tail, and he seemed to be snooping around for food, which, in a fisher’s case usually means flesh or blood, as I understand it. The first time we visited this property, we hung around admiring the place for a while after the realtor left, and the neighboring dairy farmer and his wife drove up the dirt road (they and their family are the only other inhabitants on this dead end) and stopped for a long chat. I’ll call them Bob and Marilyn. At one point, they began telling us animal stories, and Bob, who pastures a few heifers and grows hay and sweet corn on some of our fields, told one about seeing a fisher the previous spring trying to drown a baby fawn in the stream that runs through our property.

The fisher we saw last Wednesday looked beguilingly friendly, although I wasn’t close enough to see the icy weasel eyes. He was quivering with energy and intelligence as he checked out the empty chicken house in the backyard (where a squirrel and a vole or two are headquartered for the winter) wandered across the small frozen pond next to it and meandered downhill in the strip of woods that follows the stream where the attempted and perhaps successful drowning took place, checking out the trees for living inhabitants. Not finding any, he followed the stream across the road and down toward the Connecticut River.

That same day or the next, a bobcat nabbed a chicken from a neighboring friend’s coop. She happened to be outside when the cat came by the following day, hoping for another treat, and the cat was utterly unconcerned by her presence, even when she called to her roommate, who also came out to watch. The cat turned and stopped, looked them in the eyes for a while, and took its own sweet time wandering away.

It’s nice to know there are such healthy critters in the woods, but Wendy kept the cat inside for a day or two.

A thoughtful opinion piece by Root Routledge. Check it out and then send it to those of your friends who call themselves skeptics.  Most likely, they are actually misinformed …

As of a week ago, this blog has taken on an entirely new look. This is to reflect a major change in my life circumstances–and interests–since I started this blog, just as my second book was being released, a few years ago.

That was a difficult time. The writing of that book was an unpleasant experience, and I am not overly proud of the result. It’s okay, but it’s basically a first draft. The publisher showed no interest in quality. My editor denied my request for just one rewrite, and he and his colleagues wrote the book off before it was released–which happened two days after Christmas, to give an idea of the marketing savvy involved. Anyway …

At the same time, a very important person in my and my children’s life was dying–and soon did. My younger child, a daughter, left for college the following year, so I found myself an empty-nester. And for reasons having to do with the death that had occurred, my girlfriend and I were compelled to move twice in the space of a year. A lot of upheaval.

The second move has taken us from suburban Boston to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The photograph in the banner above is a view of Mt. Washington that I took last winter from a spot near our new home. To me it is a unique perspective on the defining geographical feature of this region, for it is taken from the west. I had always approached the mountain from the south or east on the many rock and ice climbing trips I took to the White Mountains before we moved up here. Mt. Washington seems larger, more peaceful, and more majestic from this side, with the smooth slopes of the Ammonoosuc ravine descending nearly from its summit to its base.

As the sparse entries on this blog may indicate, I have also been pushed back on my heels by the public relations war that climate science and climate policy has become. I may try to explain my thinking on that more fully in a post sometime, but, basically, I am very pessimistic about our prospects for doing anything real about what will almost certainly become an unprecedented global crisis in which tens to hundreds of millions of people stand a good chance of dying, and I don’t see how I can contribute effectively to what has become a childish screaming match.

The old blog banner, which featured a quote by Jim Hansen about climate tipping points, seems restrictive. I’m interested in, and writing about, other things now. (I’m working on three books at the moment, only one of which has anything to do with science.) Since I’d like to feel free to write about anything in this blog, I’ve decided to give it a new look (with the help of John Lehet, a fine photographer and Web designer, to whom kudos and many thanks). I may come up with a new name as well. Let’s see what happens …

This is the best thing I’ve read lately about the fundamental facts and the fictional “debate” about global warming, the latter of which, as I’ve pointed out before, is actually a public relations war. The letter was written by dozens of members of the United States National Academy of Sciences. They submitted it to a number of news outlets who refused to print it, including the New York Times. It was ultimately published in Science (link).

Please read this.

Thanks,

Mark

=========

Science 7 May 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5979, pp. 689 – 690
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5979.689

Letters

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial—scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That’s what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of “well-established theories” and are often spoken of as “facts.”

For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that our planet is about 4.5 billion years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14 billion years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today’s organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into this category: There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business-as-usual practices. We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels.

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.

P. H. Gleick,* R. M. Adams, R. M. Amasino, E. Anders, D. J. Anderson, W. W. Anderson, L. E. Anselin, M. K. Arroyo, B. Asfaw, F. J. Ayala, A. Bax, A. J. Bebbington, G. Bell, M. V. L. Bennett, J. L. Bennetzen, M. R. Berenbaum, O. B. Berlin, P. J. Bjorkman, E. Blackburn, J. E. Blamont, M. R. Botchan, J. S. Boyer, E. A. Boyle, D. Branton, S. P. Briggs, W. R. Briggs, W. J. Brill, R. J. Britten, W. S. Broecker, J. H. Brown, P. O. Brown, A. T. Brunger, J. Cairns, Jr., D. E. Canfield, S. R. Carpenter, J. C. Carrington, A. R. Cashmore, J. C. Castilla, A. Cazenave, F. S. Chapin, III, A. J. Ciechanover, D. E. Clapham, W. C. Clark, R. N. Clayton, M. D. Coe, E. M. Conwell, E. B. Cowling, R. M Cowling, C. S. Cox, R. B. Croteau, D. M. Crothers, P. J. Crutzen, G. C. Daily, G. B. Dalrymple, J. L. Dangl, S. A. Darst, D. R. Davies, M. B. Davis, P. V. de Camilli, C. Dean, R. S. Defries, J. Deisenhofer, D. P. Delmer, E. F. Delong, D. J. Derosier, T. O. Diener, R. Dirzo, J. E. Dixon, M. J. Donoghue, R. F. Doolittle, T. Dunne, P. R. Ehrlich, S. N. Eisenstadt, T. Eisner, K. A. Emanuel, S. W. Englander, W. G. Ernst, P. G. Falkowski, G. Feher, J. A. Ferejohn, A. Fersht, E. H. Fischer, R. Fischer, K. V. Flannery, J. Frank, P. A. Frey, I. Fridovich, C. Frieden, D. J. Futuyma, W. R. Gardner, C. J. R. Garrett, W. Gilbert, R. B. Goldberg, W. H. Goodenough, C. S. Goodman, M. Goodman, P. Greengard, S. Hake, G. Hammel, S. Hanson, S. C. Harrison, S. R. Hart, D. L. Hartl, R. Haselkorn, K. Hawkes, J. M. Hayes, B. Hille, T. Hökfelt, J. S. House, M. Hout, D. M. Hunten, I. A. Izquierdo, A. T. Jagendorf, D. H. Janzen, R. Jeanloz, C. S. Jencks, W. A. Jury, H. R. Kaback, T. Kailath, P. Kay, S. A. Kay, D. Kennedy, A. Kerr, R. C. Kessler, G. S. Khush, S. W. Kieffer, P. V. Kirch, K. Kirk, M. G. Kivelson, J. P. Klinman, A. Klug, L. Knopoff, H. Kornberg, J. E. Kutzbach, J. C. Lagarias, K. Lambeck, A. Landy, C. H. Langmuir, B. A. Larkins, X. T. Le Pichon, R. E. Lenski, E. B. Leopold, S. A. Levin, M. Levitt, G. E. Likens, J. Lippincott-Schwartz, L. Lorand, C. O. Lovejoy, M. Lynch, A. L. Mabogunje, T. F. Malone, S. Manabe, J. Marcus, D. S. Massey, J. C. McWilliams, E. Medina, H. J. Melosh, D. J. Meltzer, C. D. Michener, E. L. Miles, H. A. Mooney, P. B. Moore, F. M. M. Morel, E. S. Mosley-Thompson, B. Moss, W. H. Munk, N. Myers, G. B. Nair, J. Nathans, E. W. Nester, R. A. Nicoll, R. P. Novick, J. F. O’Connell, P. E. Olsen, N. D. Opdyke, G. F. Oster, E. Ostrom, N. R. Pace, R. T. Paine, R. D. Palmiter, J. Pedlosky, G. A. Petsko, G. H. Pettengill, S. G. Philander, D. R. Piperno, T. D. Pollard, P. B. Price, Jr., P. A. Reichard, B. F. Reskin, R. E. Ricklefs, R. L. Rivest, J. D. Roberts, A. K. Romney, M. G. Rossmann, D. W. Russell, W. J. Rutter, J. A. Sabloff, R. Z. Sagdeev, M. D. Sahlins, A. Salmond, J. R. Sanes, R. Schekman, J. Schellnhuber, D. W. Schindler, J. Schmitt, S. H. Schneider, V. L. Schramm, R. R. Sederoff, C. J. Shatz, F. Sherman, R. L. Sidman, K. Sieh, E. L. Simons, B. H. Singer, M. F. Singer, B. Skyrms, N. H. Sleep, B. D. Smith, S. H. Snyder, R. R. Sokal, C. S. Spencer, T. A. Steitz, K. B. Strier, T. C. Südhof, S. S. Taylor, J. Terborgh, D. H. Thomas, L. G. Thompson, R. T. Tjian, M. G. Turner, S. Uyeda, J. W. Valentine, J. S. Valentine, J. L. van Etten, K. E. van Holde, M. Vaughan, S. Verba, P. H. von Hippel, D. B. Wake, A. Walker, J. E. Walker, E. B. Watson, P. J. Watson, D. Weigel, S. R. Wessler, M. J. West-Eberhard, T. D. White, W. J. Wilson, R. V. Wolfenden, J. A. Wood, G. M. Woodwell, H. E. Wright, Jr., C. Wu, C. Wunsch, M. L. Zoback

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: petergleick@pacinst.org
Notes

1. The signatories are all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences but are not speaking on its behalf.
2. Signatory affiliations are available as supporting material here.

As the sparseness of this blog indicates, I’ve been watching the climate policy debate from a distance, lately. (There is no debate about the science.) But I was dragged into it over the weekend by a shoddy bit of reporting in the Sunday Telegraph (UK) — which reminds me yet again why it’s probably best to maintain my silence.

Late last week I received an e-mail from a young man named Richard Gray, who was seeking information about an article I wrote for Climbing magazine a long time ago, in 2001. Innocently, I responded. At his request, I sent him a copy of the text and a minor correction that appeared in the subsequent issue of the magazine (see the previous post on this blog) and agreed to an interview by phone.

Mr. Gray is a “science correspondent” for his newspaper. Unfortunately, the article he proceeded to write, “UN climate change panel based claims on student dissertation and magazine article,” indicates that he failed to understand a simple table in a report by this UN panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. One would prefer to believe that he doesn’t understand the science, but it appears to be something more basic than that: he seems to have difficulty with simple reading comprehension — unless, of course, his true purpose was to misrepresent the report. Furthermore, he manufactured a quote for his article that supposedly came from my mouth. I’m afraid that it did not.

And now his article is creating a stir in both the blogosphere and the more traditional news media. Stories are cropping up in India and New Zealand. Rajendra Pachauri, the Chairman of the IPCC, is being asked questions about it. Even I am getting requests for my point of view (“POV” in journalist jargon). One news outlet is proposing to drive for five hours to interview me in front of a camera.

… But wait a minute. There is no actual story here. Mr. Gray made it up. These Johnny-come-latelys are writing a story about his story, and they haven’t bothered to check on its veracity. Now, any comment about his story is simply a POV, and all POVs are equal. (“[A]n effort should be made to broadcast the different points-of-view in any debate/development,” one journalist assures me.) The next round will bring stories about their stories about his story and produce yet more POVs even farther removed from the facts. Does it matter if a POV is based on false reasoning or conscious ideological blindness? Apparently not. And what if the trigger for the entire fantasy was based on the same?

Thus do global warming deniers dupe the media, and this is why they will always have an upper hand in the fictional “global warming debate.” It’s not a debate; it’s a public relations war. Continue reading »

This article appeared in Climbing, No. 208, on December 15, 2001. The magazine did a great job producing it; there were some excellent photos. I recommend getting a hold of a copy if you can … or maybe they’ll post it on their site … ?

I am posting it now because it is playing a role in an odd little tempest in a teapot that was initiated by the Telegraph in England on Sunday. I hope to post another entry about that episode shortly.

I’m still quite happy with the article, even though I wrote it a long time ago. Obviously, the political situation has changed. The science still holds up pretty well, although I do point out a few minor errors below.

Canaries in a Coal Mine

As the Earth warms, its mountain glaciers are disappearing. How will climbers-and life-be affected?

By Mark Bowen

Topher Donahue, 29, has been climbing and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park since his childhood. He remembers that Mills Glacier, at the base of the east face of Longs Peak, used to be covered in soft white snow year-round. Now, it reverts to hard gray ice every August.

Last September, he and some friends walked in to climb the short ice flows that form near the base of the east face. The climbs were in, but the glacier had changed significantly.

“We walked to the base of the wall without stepping on ice once,” he says. “It used to be that you walked for the last quarter-mile on ice.”

Other formerly permanent snowfields, near Jim’s Grove on the trail to Longs, and on the hills above Trail Ridge Road, now disappear completely for a few weeks every summer.

Gerry Roach of Boulder, Colorado, has climbed El Pico de Orizaba, the highest of Mexico’s three big volcanoes, once in each of the last five decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, he recalls, Orizaba’s south side was covered with soft, sun-cupped snow. Now, you can climb to the summit without stepping on snow once. He says the loss of ice is “dramatic” on all three volcanoes, and says he almost cried 10 years ago when he saw how fast it was going on Iztaccíhuatl, the third highest. “I probably won’t go back to that mountain again, it was such a mess. Everything was dripping. I don’t know whether we’ll live to see [the snow's] complete disappearance, but it will be mostly gone in our lifetime. That’s sad, because volcanoes look prettier with a snowcap on them.”

In 1970, when Roach first climbed Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, he followed the route Edward Whymper had used in 1880 on the first ascent. By the time he returned in 1981, however, the snowfields below the prominent “red wall” had retreated to reveal what he calls “a very nasty rock slope” of slabs covered with loose rock. Thus, on about the 100th anniversary of Whymper’s ascent, his route fell out of favor, not only because of the rock slope but also the seracs and crevasses that had opened up on the shriveling glacier above. The hut was moved west to give better access to the Direct Route. Since then, even that route has changed: You used to walk straight up the tongue of the Thielmann Glacier, but it, too, has retreated, and its margin has steepened. Climbers are forced along its edge, with the Scylla of rock cliffs on one side and the Charybdis of hanging seracs on the other. The approach has been changed twice in the last year-and-a-half. Both new lines are more dangerous than the original. Continue reading »

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Sunday “Viewpoints” section of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, Free Lance-Star. It appeared on August 23rd and was picked up by the McClatchy wire service, so it turned up in a few other places as well, the most gratifying to me being the Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette, at pretty much ground zero in the fight against Big Coal. This is the draft I originally submitted, with links to provide some background. The draft wasn’t much changed in the editing room. They gave it the pithy title, “Averting Catastrophe: A Tale of Censorship, Civil Disobedience, Greed, and Willful Ignorance.” (As Jim Hansen explains near the end of this piece, he actually prefers the phrase – and the philosophy — of civil resistance to civil disobedience, and he takes this from Gandhi, whom he has been reading lately.)

——————–

Our planet’s preeminent climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen of NASA, faces the very real threat of spending a year in jail. He and thirty others were arrested in June (see this too), during an act of civil resistance at an elementary school in West Virginia where children learn their lessons at the defenseless edge of the 2,000-acre mountaintop-removal mine on Coal River Mountain, owned by Richmond-based Massey Energy. The school “stands as the prime example of just how far this country has gone to support its addiction to coal, and just how far Massey Energy will go to support its profit margin,” wrote the resisters on the day of the arrests. “The West Virginia Supreme Court has joined Governor Manchin in turning their backs on these children, subjecting them to expanded operations within 300 feet of the school … . According to Massey’s own documents, [the expanded] operations will add over three tons of coal dust to the air the children breathe every school year during their most formative years.”

Hansen’s prospects for a fair trial don’t look good. For Big Coal, and Massey in particular, have undue influence in West Virginia courts. The state supreme court has twice overturned a $50 million jury verdict against Massey, and in each case the deciding vote was cast by a judge with an alarmingly close relationship to the company’s CEO, Don Blankenship. After the first vote, photographs surfaced of justice Elliott Maynard dining with Blankenship on the French Riviera and in Monaco. When the court reconsidered the case, justice Brent Benjamin, who tipped the scales the second time, failed to recuse himself even though Blankenship had spent over $3 million on television advertisements for his election campaign. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled this a violation of the Constitution. The case will be reconsidered again.

The schoolchildren, their parents, and their neighbors near the mine on Coal River Mountain face other dangers from this most destructive form of coal mining: a 2.8 billion-gallon sludge dam stands 400 yards upstream from the school, and Massey has an egregious history of water pollution. In 2000, a break in a dam at a Massey mine in Kentucky released 250 million gallons of coal slurry and killed wildlife as far as sixty miles downstream. Last year the company agreed to pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit by the Environmental Protection Agency over more than 4,600 documented cases of illegal dumping into Appalachian waterways.

But it was not only concern for local citizens and ecosystems that took Jim Hansen to West Virginia. For almost three decades, he has been warning of a threat that stands to kill many times the human population of all Appalachia and eliminate perhaps half the other species on Earth: human-induced climate change. Coal represents the single largest component of that threat and the one that could push the planet across the threshold where catastrophic change cascades out of our control. Amazingly, Jim first warned about coal in 1981, when he and some colleagues published a landmark paper in Science that marks the beginning of his still unbroken string of accurate predictions. It is chilling to read the paper today, not only for its prescience, but also because it raises the same difficult issues we now face, which today loom three decades larger, for we’ve done nothing to address them but talk. The scientists pointed out that if humans were to burn all the available oil and natural gas on the planet, we would probably increase the atmospheric abundance of carbon dioxide by less than half the preindustrial amount: to a dangerous, but perhaps not catastrophic level. They added, however, that there is enough coal to double the pre-industrial amount at least. The informed scientific community agrees almost unanimously that this spells catastrophe. The paper suggested, therefore, that the “key fuel choice is between coal and alternatives that do not increase atmospheric carbon dioxide.” Massey Energy has applied for permits to remove more than ten square miles of a ridge on Coal River Mountain that would make a fine location for a wind farm. As the ridge is destroyed, this renewable opportunity disappears with it. Such are the choices we have made for the past twenty-eight years in the face of increasingly undeniable evidence that they will change the face of our planet and burn large holes in the web of life.

Politicians have rarely been comfortable with Jim Hansen’s words. When the 1981 paper led to the first story about global warming ever to appear on the front-page of the New York Times, the Reagan administration cut Jim’s budget and warned other scientists that they would lose funding if they based their work on his computerized climate model. All three Republican administrations since 1981 have censored him, and while Democrats haven’t been quite as bare-knuckled, he and Al Gore enjoyed frosty relations for more than ten years, for example, after Gore, as vice president, pressured him to make the science seem stronger and more dire than it was at the time. (Today’s science shows, incidentally, that Gore was mostly right.)

Now Jim has parted ways with the Obama administration by calling for a ban on mountaintop removal mining and on new coal-fired power plants unless they capture and store the carbon dioxide they emit. He objects strongly, moreover, to the American Clean Energy and Security Act, sponsored by congressmen Waxman and Markey, pointing out that it contains so many concessions to Big Coal and other special interests that its effect on future climates will be nil: it is just more talk.

We should listen when a man of Jim’s impeccable integrity, who has been right for thirty years, is willing to lay his freedom on the line. He knows that we are perilously — perhaps hopelessly — close to the edge. Is coal so important that we will compromise the lives of our children and grandchildren for it? And is this how our democracy should work?

 Comments welcome.

(I restrained myself and left the exclamation point off the end of the title.)

Yesterday the Obama Administration named a new interim leadership team and officially stated that associate administrator Christopher Scolese “will serve as acting administrator until a successor to Michael Griffin has been nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.” It is not a surprise that Griffin will not be kept on, but this is the first official indication to my knowledge.

It is also worth noting that the mendacious and clearly dishonest David Mould, the Assistant Administrator of Public Affairs who actively censored Jim Hansen, is gone as well.

So, the first good moves have been made. It appears that Mr. Obama is conducting one of the most thorough and patient reviews of the space agency that has ever been conducted by an incoming president, so one expects the next few moves to be wise as well. Given his stellar choices for other scientific and technical positions in his administration, I imagine the president’s choice for NASA Administrator will also be inspiring.

 Hear! Hear!

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos)

As the Washington Post and Daily Kos’s mcjoan reported last week, the Bush administration is resorting to the time-honored tactic of burrowing, that is, shifting political appointees into tenured senior civil servant positions, in the rush to preserve as much as it can of its disastrous pro-industry ideology before Obama takes over. The most brazen example, mentioned by the Post and mcjoan, was the burrowing of six ideologues into senior positions at the Interior Department. Now I€™ve learned of what looks to be a similar attempt at NASA.

The agency has announced that the position of Chief Information Officer is open€”but, here€™s the catch, only for a grand total of nine working days, spanning the Thanksgiving Holiday. This is too short and too distracted a time for an adequate search in any event, and also gives someone on the inside track an overwhelming advantage. CIO is a critical position in this information-savvy age: he or she will be responsible for €œleading and managing all information technology strategies and initiatives€ at the agency. Shouldn€™t the Obama administration have an opportunity to make or at least contribute to this important decision? Administrator Michael Griffin doesn€™t seem to think so.

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos)

In the days since the election, a few people have asked for my thoughts on the “transition” that needs to take place at NASA as the reins of power are passed to Barack Obama. While I would not pretend to be an expert on the agency as a whole, I think I may, in the years that it took to write Censoring Science, have developed enough of an understanding of the way the agency’s science effort has been “managed” under Bush, Cheney and administrator Michael Griffin to voice some informed opinions there.

Other reporters or bloggers always have their own deadlines and points to make, and ask me to squeeze my thoughts into a sentence or two. But my main recommendation here is controversial enough to require more than that. It must be supported by facts. Many relevant facts will be found in my book, and new crucial details were revealed in the report on censorship at NASA that the agency’s own Office of Inspector General released this past June, six months after the book’s release. In Censoring Science, I reviewed facts and testimony that cast serious doubt on the administrator’s account of his own involvement in the censorship of climate science at his agency (he denied knowing anything about it), but I refrained from stating directly that I believed he was involved.

The new facts in the Inspector General’s report have changed my mind. I now believe that the preponderance of evidence shows that Michael Griffin not only knew what was happening while the single most egregious act of censorship–directed at climatologist James Hansen, specifically–was taking place, but that Griffin in fact authorized this activity.

This alone should be grounds for his dismissal. On top of that, the ignorance and outright animosity he has displayed toward science in general, climate science in particular, and even scientists as individuals (he has referred to them as children) should disqualify him from leading what was once arguably the most inspiring scientific organization in the world. There has been a brain drain during his tenure, and morale is low in the agency’s science mission. We should also remember that NASA’s climate science program, at more than $1 billion a year, is by far the largest of any single organization in the world, while Griffin’s public statements indicate that he is remarkably ignorant of climate science and completely out of step with mainstream scientific thinking on the causes and consequences of global warming. It seems highly inappropriate for such an individual to lead such an important program.

NASA might have a chance to recover its prowess and inspire entire generations once again, but it has no chance, in my view, with Michael Griffin at the helm.

Why I believe Administrator Griffin helped censor Jim Hansen

Censorship at NASA makes for a long and dismal story. It began early in George W. Bush’s first term and was too widespread to cover even in a book. Michael Griffin inherited an active, though secretive, censorship program when he became administrator in mid-2005. The crucial series of incidents I will review here gave him his first chance to do the right thing, but instead of stepping in to stop the censorship, he helped escalate it. When Jim Hansen finally brought these incidents to light in the media more than six weeks after they began, Griffin and his top aides performed a deft public relations move, cut loose and scapegoated the young man who had been carrying out their orders, twenty-four-year-old George Deutsch, and managed to portray the administrator as a champion of scientific openness and integrity. The media and Congress then bought into this cynical and shameless ploy.

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