Fast facts on the Environment


The EPA Global Warming Report, the Bush Administration and the News Media: Cooking the Books or Cooking Up Stories?

 

DATE: June 20, 2003

BACKGROUND: "The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs...." so began a June 19 New York Times story by Andrew C. Revkin and Katharine Q. Seelye that has received national attention, including a story by the AP and commentaries by FNC's Bill O'Reilly and the editorial page of the Boston Globe, among others.

A brief synopsis: The Times piece essentially carries water for unidentified EPA staffers who are upset that an upcoming EPA report on the environment will not assert there is a scientific consensus on global warming.

According to available information, the staffers hoped the report would assert there is a scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and humankind is partly responsible. Others in the Bush Administration, specifically, within the Council on Environmental Quality, do not believe a scientific consensus exists, and preferred to say so. A compromise was decided upon under which the report will neither assert a consensus nor deny one.

The Times also reported the complaint that at one point the White House wished to include in the report a reference to a climate change study identified by the Times only as a "new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute."

This, says Michael Catanzaro of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staff, is a reference to a study by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Harvard-Smithsonian study is based on a review of 240 independently peer-reviewed studies conducted over 40 years and its funders included NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The Times reports that EPA Chief Christie Whitman told them she is "perfectly comfortable" with the compromise and the report.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The Times story contains its own rebuttal. Unidentified EPA staffers are upset that an upcoming report will not claim there is a consensus on global warming -- because Administration employees could not reach a consensus on global warming.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: The EPA report apparently was never expected to contain new research on climate change. Had it asserted opinions at odds with President Bush's views, however, it would have been used as a tool against the President by the environmental left. Activists on the environmental left thus are disappointed at their inability to use the EPA report as a political tool, but they can console themselves that they have successfully used the New York Times and others in the news media as one.

DISCUSSION: On its merits, this story is about nothing more than a disagreement about the phrasing of a government report few Americans will read -- a report that apparently was to contain no new global warming studies, merely references to other well-known studies long in the public domain.

However, some media commentators -- Fox's Bill O'Reilly and the Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson are standouts -- have misreported the story, making it worthwhile to set the record straight.

This is particularly true in the case of O'Reilly, whose comments are less obviously silly than Jackson's and who has a reputation as a quasi-conservative, although his views on global warming are closer to Al Gore's than to those of George Bush.

O'Reilly began his June 19 broadcast with a "talking points" editorial saying, in part: "...Today we find out that the White House tried to sanitize a government study on global warming. Instead of including both points of view on the issue, the Bush people have shaded the report to the side that sees warming as bogus... censoring global warming studies is wrong. And no amount of spinning can make it right."

It has been evident for some time that O'Reilly's understanding of the global warming issue is superficial. This passage confirms his confusion. Even using the slanted New York Times article as a source, it is clear that the White House was attempting take an apparently one-sided draft on global warming (aka, stating or implying that the theory is true and that human beings are in part responsible for warming) and adding to it a statement that climate change is a complex issue and that fully understanding climate change is a challenge for scientists.

The Times reports the sentence "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment" was replaced by the White House with a paragraph beginning: "The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future."

This, apparently, is what O'Reilly considers "sanitizing," but the deleted sentence is unremarkable, 6th grade stuff, and the White House-drafted sentence is more informative and clearly true. Even global warming theory proponents agree with it.

A better word than "sanitizing" might be "improving."

Finally, referring to a partly U.S. government-funded Harvard-Smithsonian review of 240 peer-reviewed studies merely as a "new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute," as the New York Times did, certainly qualifies for first prize in the spinning category.

The Times's harsh description could lead readers to suppose -- and probably was designed to lead readers to suppose -- that a study affiliated with two of America's most prestigious academic institutions was scarcely more significant than half-baked crayon scribblings by greedy oilmen.

O'Reilly's second charge, that the White House was "censoring global warming studies," is silly. There's no indication that any draft of the EPA report contained new climate change studies, merely references to well-known studies already in the public domain.

Furthermore, the EPA is part of the Bush Administration. When Administration officials involve themselves in the preparation of an Administration document, the process is called "writing," not "censoring."

Somewhat in O'Reilly's defense -- as the second part of his June 19 editorial criticized John Kerry -- he was probably seeking to be fair and balanced by criticizing both a Republican and a Democrat in his editorial. But climate change science is a serious business, to which many people have devoted their entire professional lives. It deserves to be treated more seriously than as a throwaway line in a hopeless attempt to mute left-wing criticism of the Fox News Channel.

Writing in the New York Times-owned Boston Globe, editorialist Derrick Jackson took the environmental left's approach and then some, claiming that the Administration's participation in an Administration report (Jackson called this "fry[ing] climate change") raises suspicions that "Bush cooked the books for war [against Iraq]." Jackson has a taste for over-the-top rhetoric. On September 19, 2001, just after the terrorist attacks, he claimed God shares his global warming views: "God cannot be all that happy with a nation that is 5 percent of the world's population, produces a quarter of Earth's carbon dioxide emissions, yet walks out of global warming talks."

In his June 20 piece, at least, Jackson made no claims about the Divine's opinion of the EPA report.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Andrew C. Revkin and Katharine Q. Seelye, "Report by the E.P.A. Leaves Out Data on Climate Change," New York Times, June 19, 2003 at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/19/politics/19CLIM.html

Michael Catanzaro, U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, "Climate-Gate: What Is the President Being Accused Of, Exactly?," e-mail posted online with permission at http://www.nationalcenter.org/Climate-Gate.html

"20th Century Climate Not So Hot," Press Release of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, March 31, 2003, at http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/press/pr0310.html

H. Josef Hebert, "Documents Reveal that EPA Downplayed Climate Change in a Report on Environmental Challenges," Associated Press, June 20, 2003, as posted by the Environmental News Network at http://www.enn.com/news/2003-06-20/s_5570.asp

Text of Bill O'Reilly "Talking Points Memo" from his June 19, 2003 broadcast at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,89964,00.html

Derrick Z. Jackson, "Bush Fries Climate Change," Boston Globe, June 20, 2003 at http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/171/oped/Bush_fries_climate_change+.shtml

A Sticky Wicket for the Boston Globe [Excerpts of Derrick Jackson's editorial of September 19, 2001], The National Center for Public Policy Research, September 2001 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/GlobeWicket901.html

Tom Randall, "New York Times Sounds False Climate Alarm Once Again: Bush, Not Times, Has It Right On Global Warming," Ten Second Response #82002, National Center for Public Policy Research, August 20, 2002 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR82002.html

Gerald Marsh, "Climate Change Science?: National Academy of Sciences Global Warming Report Fails to Live Up to Its Billing," National Policy Analysis #349, National Center for Public Policy Research at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA349.html


by Amy Ridenour
President
The National Center for Public Policy Research

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110 x110 or [email protected]

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