Let government scientist speak freely on warming
News reporters have learned that the National Weather Service office in Huntsville provides quick, reliable information. Its meteorologists speak readily with facts and expert opinions about what the weather has been and what to expect.
Of course, what to expect is the hardest part, and weathermen are famous for not always getting it right. But they make an honest effort and use the best technology available. That's what citizens deserve because weather forecasts help them plan their lives.
James E. Hansen is a weatherman of sorts. He's a respected physicist and the longtime director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies — a climate scientist. The weather he studies is long-term, stretching into centuries.
Mr. Hansen is at odds with the Bush administration on global warming. "It's not something we can adapt to," he told The Washington Post. "We can't let it go on another 10 years like this. We've got to do something."
Not so fast, says John H. Marburger III, President Bush's chief science adviser. "There's no agreement on what constitutes a dangerous climate change." He added: "We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."
The administration is swimming against scientific consensus. The Post reported last week that most scientists no longer debate whether global warming is occurring, but now worry about how soon it will be irreversible. Policymakers need to act fast, they say, to avoid such consequences as damage to fisheries within three decades, a dramatic rise in sea level this century, and a shutdown of the ocean current that keeps temperatures mild in northern Europe.
Global warming is slower than Hurricane Katrina, but potentially even more devastating. Scientists say the way to avoid it is to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions, which could cost businesses money.
Mr. Hansen said the Bush administration is trying to muzzle him. He told The New York Times that NASA headquarters officials had ordered their public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, Internet postings and interview requests from journalists.
Dean Acosta, NASA's deputy assistant administrator for public affairs, denies any effort to silence Mr. Hansen. NASA just wants "coordination" and an orderly flow of information, Mr. Acosta said. After the chairman of the House Science Committee asked for an explanation, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin on Friday pledged his commitment to "scientific openness."
Mr. Hansen said he plans to ignore restrictions. The administration's response will show whether it wants good science or wants science distorted to fit its preconceived policy.