The Heat Is Online

NOAA Scientist Says "Censorship" Began About Four Years Ago

Climate scientist says 'Kyoto' barred

Investigators eye censorship claims about White House


The Rocky Mountain News, Dec. 11, 2006


A federal climate scientist in Boulder says his boss told him never to utter the word Kyoto and tried to bar him from using the phrase climate change at a conference.


The allegations come as federal investigators probe whether Bush administration officials tried to block government scientists from speaking freely about global warming and attempted to censor their research.


The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement - never ratified by the United States and opposed by the Bush administration - that requires nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming.


Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Boulder laboratory, said the ban on using the word Kyoto was issued about four years ago.


"We were under instructions not to use the word Kyoto, which of course is absurd," said Tans, who measures levels of carbon dioxide at NOAA's Global Monitoring Division. He has worked for the agency since 1990.


Tans said the order was issued verbally by his boss, David Hofmann, the division director. Another senior researcher at the Boulder laboratory, NOAA physicist James Elkins, said Hofmann told him the same thing.


Elkins studies greenhouse gases and has worked at NOAA for more than 20 years. He said he can't remember when the directive was issued, but it was "probably in 2000 or 2001."


"When I asked why we weren't supposed to use Kyoto, I was told that we're not supposed to use it in the policy context," Elkins said. "I'm not supposed to be talking about policy."


Hofmann, however, called the allegations "nonsense" and said there was no ban on using the word Kyoto.


"I never said it specifically in those words," Hofmann said. "I probably said that since the Kyoto Protocol is not ratified - is not part of the U.S. program - stay away from talking about Kyoto when you give a presentation."


"It has nothing to do with the science we're doing here," Hofmann said of Kyoto.


The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 and went into effect in February 2005, following ratification by Russia.


Elkins said the prohibition against using the word was lifted after Russia ratified the protocol.


"Once Russia signed Kyoto, it was a done deal," he said.


Last month, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., announced that inspectors general from NASA and the Commerce Department - NOAA's parent agency - had launched "coordinated, sweeping investigations of the Bush administration's censorship and suppression" of federal research into global warming.


Auditors from the inspector general's office at Commerce have been interviewing NOAA employees, agency spokesman Jordan St. John said Thursday. At the same time the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is conducting a separate review, St. John said.


Tans said he welcomes the investigations.


"I tell the truth," he said. "Whatever the consequences are, I will tell them (investigators) what my experiences have been. Period. Whether anyone likes it or not, I don't care.


"There is suspicion at the moment," Tans said. "And that detracts from my credibility as a scientist because people might now think, well, can we trust this guy or is he just saying things that are officially approved?"


Tans stressed that no one has ever tried to alter or suppress his research results. But besides the use of the word Kyoto, there was a second incident with Hofmann, he said. It occurred in late 2005, while Tans was organizing the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference in Broomfield.


Hofmann called Tans into his office before the September conference and told him the words climate change could not appear in the titles of any of the presentations, Tans said. The incident was reported by The Washington Post in April.


Carbon dioxide is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels and has been linked to human-caused climate change.


Hofmann said Tans misinterpreted what he said.


The words climate change were not barred from presentation titles, Hofmann said. But the focus of the conference was global carbon dioxide measurements, not climate change.


Hofmann said he told Tans that the presentations should stick to that topic and that organizers should "not let the conference get involved with climate change and so on."


But Tans said it makes no sense to bring together the world's leading experts on carbon dioxide measurements, then refrain from discussing the link between the greenhouse-gas buildup and climate change. Tans said he ignored Hofmann's instruction and included presentations with titles that contained the words climate change.

A schedule posted at the conference Web site shows that the presentations included one by D.G. Victor entitled Climate Change: Designing an Effective Response.


"If we as scientists neglect, systematically neglect, to mention in public that there is a link between our emissions and potential climate change, I think we are really depriving the public of essential information," Tans said.


"I am a public servant," he said. "I have to say it. If not, I am irresponsible."


In February, congressional leaders asked NASA to guarantee its scientific openness. They complained that an agency public affairs officer changed or filtered information about global warming and tried to limit reporters' access to James Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist.


The public affairs officer, George Deutsch, resigned.


Hansen said his NOAA colleagues were experiencing even more severe censorship.


"It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," he told a New School University audience in New York, according to The Washington Post.


In response, NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. sent an agencywide e-mail to employees stating, in part, "I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly."


Tans said those words don't square with Hofmann's actions. But Tans blames the Bush administration, not local NOAA officials.


"They don't want to hear what the reality is about climate change," Tans said of administration officials. "They only want to hear what they want to hear."


In September, the journal Nature said that NOAA officials on the East Coast blocked the release of a fact sheet that discussed purported links between global warming and stronger hurricanes. NOAA denied the allegation.


That prompted New Jersey's Lautenberg and 13 other Democratic senators to request that the inspectors general from the Commerce Department and NASA take a look.


Hofmann said that he and other NOAA division directors were asked last month to provide the inspector general's office with information about the agency's news media policy, climate-related news releases, and the allegedly suppressed hurricane fact sheet.


"It was basically information related to NOAA's policies or procedures related to media issues, whether there were any difficulties with doing press releases on certain subjects," Hofmann said. "And quite a few requests for information on the hurricane fact sheet."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.