As a government scientist, James Hansen is taking a risk. He says there are things the White House doesn't want you to hear but he's going to say them anyway.
Hansen is arguably the world's leading researcher on global warming. He's the head of NASA's top institute studying the climate. But this imminent [sic] scientist tells correspondent Scott Pelley that the Bush administration is restricting who he can talk to and editing what he can say. Politicians, he says, are rewriting the science.
What the science actually says, according to Hansen is that global warming is real, accelorating, and caused largely by human activity. This is the message that an Administration with strong ties to the energy industry has suppressed with tactics Stalin might have envied.
"In my more than three decades in the government I've never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public," says Hansen.
Restrictions like this e-mail Hansen's institute received from NASA in 2004. "… there is a new review process … ," the e-mail read. "The White House (is) now reviewing all climate related press releases," it continued.
Veteran of both the Clinton and Bush Administrations Rick Piltz explains the anatomy of that vetting process.
"It comes back with a large number of edits, handwritten on the hard copy by the chief-of-staff of the Council on Environmental Quality."
Asked who the chief of staff is, Piltz says, "Phil Cooney."
Piltz says Cooney is not a scientist. "He's a lawyer. He was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, before going into the White House," he says.
Cooney, the former oil industry lobbyist, became chief-of-staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Piltz says Cooney edited climate reports in his own hand. In one report, a line that said earth is undergoing rapid change becomes “may be undergoing change.” “Uncertainty” becomes “significant remaining uncertainty.” One line that says energy production contributes to warming was just crossed out.
"He was obviously passing it through a political screen," says Piltz. "He would put in the word potential or may or weaken or delete text that had to do with the likely consequence of climate change, pump up uncertainty language throughout."
In a report, Piltz says Cooney added this line “… the uncertainties remain so great as to preclude meaningfully informed decision making. …” References to human health are marked out. 60 Minutes obtained the drafts from the Government Accountability Project. This edit made it into the final report: the phrase “earth may be” undergoing change made it into the report to Congress. Piltz says there wasn’t room at the White House for those who disagreed, so he resigned.
"Even to raise issues internally is immediately career limiting," says Piltz. "That’s why you will find not too many people in the federal agencies who will speak freely about all the things they know, unless they’re retired or unless they’re ready to resign."
As for Mr. Cooney:
For months, 60 Minutes had been trying to talk with the president’s science advisor. 60 Minutes was finally told he would never be available. Phil Cooney, the editor at the Council on Environmental Quality didn’t return 60 Minutes' calls. In June, he left the White House and went to work for Exxon Mobil.