Integrity of Science

John Marburger, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and James Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality are still peddling their Feb. 7 Open Letter on the President’s Position on Climate Change, a letter that plays fast-and-loose with the historical record. Despite having portions debunked cherry-picking data and misquoting President Bush, it showed up yesterday as an op-ed in the Leading the News section of The Hill under the headline President Bush consistently has addressed climate change issues.

First off, note the difference between “consistently has addressed” and “has addressed consistently.” At least the headline was honest, since the President’s may consistently address the issue without addressing it consistently (as has been the case). Headlines aside, here’s what’s wrong with this open-letter-turned-op-ed.

These responsible policies are working. America’s emissions performance since 2000 is among the best in the world.
According to the International Energy Agency, from 2000 to 2004, as our population increased and our economy grew by nearly 10 percent, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions increased by only 1.7 percent. By comparison, during the same period, European Union carbon dioxide emissions grew by 5 percent, with lower economic growth.

On March 12, the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick shows why this is a deceiving case of cherry-picking data.

Between 2000 and 2001, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions temporarily declined because of the modest recession, and the dramatic drop in air traffic and travel following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Thus, the only way to support a statement that the U.S. is “doing a better job of reducing emissions” is by choosing a starting date of 2000.


That’s not the only dubious part of the letter. Also from the op-ed:

Beginning in June 2001, President Bush has consistently acknowledged climate change is occurring and humans are contributing to the problem. In his words:

  • “We know the surface temperature of the Earth is warming … There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming … And the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the increase is due in large part to human activity … The policy challenge is to act in a serious and sensible way, given the limits of our knowledge. While scientific uncertainties remain, we can begin now to address the factors that contribute to climate change.” — June 11, 2001

More than two months ago, Republican War on Science author and fellow ScienceBlogger Chris Mooney showed why these ellipses distort the actual quote.

In the context of the actual speech, the “increase” being referred to here is clearly the increase in greenhouse gase (sic) concentrations, not the increase in temperature. Read in full what Bush actually said, and you’ll quickly see how deceptive the White House is being, by literally misquoting the president himself:

First, we know the surface temperature of the earth is warming. It has risen by .6 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years. There was a warming trend from the 1890s to the 1940s. Cooling from the 1940s to the 1970s. And then sharply rising temperatures from the 1970s to today.

There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming. Greenhouse gases trap heat, and thus warm the earth because they prevent a significant proportion of infrared radiation from escaping into space. Concentration of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And the National Academy of Sciences indicate that the increase is due in large part to human activity.

So why is The Hill still publishing this High School Sophomore-level Grade C report?