Issue 103, Winter 2006/2007
Recently, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case questioning whether the EPA is obliged to regulate carbon dioxide, a major component of greenhouse gases, as an air pollutant. What the casual observer might not realize is that the case is also about censorship and the distortion of science for political purposes.
To please its allies in the oil industry, the administration pretends that global warming isn’t a big deal, because there isn’t enough evidence that the climate is changing as a result of human activity. In fact, the very words "global warming" have been excised from official reports, and government scientists have been instructed not to speak about the topic in public, except to express officially-sanctioned positions.
The head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a lawyer with no science background and a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, routinely altered reports to cast doubt on the scientific evidence for global warming. (He has since taken a job with Exxon Mobil Corporation.) The EPA also ditched a whole chapter on global warming in a major report on the environment, because the White House demanded skeptical language that EPA scientists said was not scientifically accurate.
Now, in the Supreme Court, the EPA argues the same thing: that there is too much uncertainty about climate change to justify regulation of heat-trapping gases. According to the Government’s brief, "the science of global climate change is evolving and remains subject to substantial debate and uncertainties…"
This position is refuted by a group of renowned climate scientists, including two Nobel prize winners, directors of major federal programs on climate science, and scientists who participated in the very report the government cites in its brief, from the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists say that the government either misunderstands the NAS report or is misrepresenting it, and that the evidence of global warming is "so compelling that it has crystallized a remarkable consensus within the scientific community: climate warming is happening, and human activities are very likely a significant causal factor…"
Censoring science is bad, not just as a matter of principle, or because the Constitution prohibits it. It’s bad because suppressing and distorting science keeps us from responding to a reality that won’t change just because we ignore it. It makes us a nation of the ignorant, uninformed, and just plain stupid – and in this case, it puts the future of the entire planet at risk.