Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Global Warming? What Global Warming?

An article in The Nation about embattled NASA climatologist James E. Hansen (The Nation Provide this link to the back story) suggests that another federal scientific body, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is getting tossed about on the rough seas of political pressure.

Hansen took aim at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for failing to recognize clear evidence of the link between increasing ferocity of tropical storms and greenhouse gases.

"We calculate an ocean surface warming in the region of hurricane formation, caused by human-made climate forcings," Hansen said. "So the categorical contention of the NOAA National Hurricane Center that recent hurricane intensification is due to a natural cycle of Atlantic Ocean temperature, and has nothing to do with global warming, is irrational. How could a hurricane distinguish between natural and greenhouse-gas warming?"

Hansen acknowledged that the topic is quite complex and still being explored by the scientific community, but he added that it seems "the public, by fiat, received biased information." Hansen asserted that NOAA scientists "were told not to dispute the hurricane conclusion in public" and that many of his colleagues at NOAA have told him their conditions are, in general, much worse.

"A NOAA scientist cannot speak with a reporter unless there is a 'listener' on the line with him or her," Hansen said, adding, "it seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States. The claim is that the 'listener' is there to protect the NOAA scientist. If you buy that one, please see me at the break; there is a bridge down the street that I would like to sell to you."
A few qualifiers: Hansen works for NASA not NOAA so his insight into NOAA is secondhand. And after being bullied by the NASA public affairs people, Hansen understandably has an axe to grind with the forces of scientific censorship.

Nonetheless, if even a fraction of what Hansen implies about NOAA is true, we’ve got a serious problem. NOAA’s vision is “[a]n informed society that uses a comprehensive understanding of the role of the oceans, coasts and atmosphere in the global ecosystem to make the best social and economic decisions.” That vision is an important one, but it can’t co-exist with implicit (or explicit) pressure to toe the party line with respect to climate change.