Texas politicians censor climate-change research

Gov. Rick Perry has said in numerous appearances that he doesn't buy global warming science.
REUTERS/Lee Celano
Gov. Rick Perry has said in numerous appearances that he doesn’t buy global warming science.

Something else is burning in the state of Texas besides the wildfires caused by the historic drought in the Lone Star State. Scientists are combusting in revolt, saying Texas politicians are censoring their work on climate change. Not a few of them are pointing their fingers at Gov. Rick Perry, Republican candidate for president.

The trouble began last year when the Houston Advanced Research Centre began compiling data on, among other things, the amount of sea level rise in and around Galveston Bay. An oceanographer, Dr. John Anderson of Rice University, authored the section of the report that indicated that the sea level in Galveston Bay was rising five times faster than predicted. The cause of the rise, he concluded, was global warming.

The full report was submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, where the politicians went to work editing out references to climate change and sea level rise. As a result, all of the authors have withdrawn their names from the report.

Why edit the science?

I called Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, professor at Texas A&M and the Texas state climatologist. Nielsen-Gammon told me: “This is just speculation, but the chairman of the commission is Bryan Shaw. Shaw was appointed a few years ago by Governor Perry. The chairman is an outspoken critic of the science of global warming. So, it may essentially reflect the leadership or work environment of that organization.”

Stark contrast
Shaw’s specialty is air quality as it relates to agriculture. He was picked for his assignment from the faculty of Texas A&M University, where his position stands in stark contrast to the rest of his science colleagues at the school. The science department’s website makes no bones about its position that global warming is real and that it is caused by humans.

Nielsen-Gammon, appointed by then-Gov. George W. Bush, is on record as saying that the drought and following wildfires besetting Texas this year have been enhanced by global warming. He says La Nina conditions and sea-surface temperatures are the root cause.

But, he adds, one degree of the five-degree increase over much of Texas can be laid at the feet of global warming. If he is right, that is 20 percent of the $5.2 billion loss to agriculture in Texas. That is only a fraction of the total. Government picked up much more of the loss, insurance companies and individual landowners have absorbed much more.

The state climatologist told me that he has not been muzzled. “I have never experienced any sort of censorship or pressure to edit a particular set of facts.”

He told me he is dismayed at this recent turn of events. “I hadn’t seen any attempts at suppression of summaries of scientific knowledge involving climate change by state agencies — until this,” he said. “I know some of the people involved, and I support them for standing up for scientific integrity.” You can read more of Dr. Nielsen-Gammon’s drought findings here.

Gov. Rick Perry has said in numerous appearances that he doesn’t buy global warming science. He says it is incomplete, and public policy should not be based on incomplete information. He has surrounded himself with appointees who agree with him.

These developments should make Texans uneasy because a sea-level rise would dramatically affect the state’s fortunes. Its coast is susceptible to flooding as it is, and a moderate sea-level rise could have disastrous effects, not to mention its vulnerability to heavy storm surges, and of course the “enhanced effects” of global warming on water resources, crops and livestock.

The report on the conditions of Galveston Bay may never be officially published, though you can read the original report, and the edited version, online here.

It is tempting to argue that Gov. Rick Perry’s appointees’ scientific misbehavior and his presidential candidacy are linked. An examination of the timeline suggests otherwise. The disagreement between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the work of the Houston Advanced Research Center goes back more than 12 months, well before Perry announced his candidacy.

Anti-science positions
What fits is that Perry chose climate skeptics and denialists for sensitive positions in his Texas administration to better reflect his anti-science positions, whether on global warming or on evolution. There is no reason to doubt that he would continue the practice if elected president.

Editing out facts from scientific reports that don’t comport with one’s personal beliefs must be a perk of the Texas governor’s office. Another former governor of Texas, former President George W. Bush, ordered members of his White House administration to change facts and testimony of noted scientists when those facts didn’t suit his agenda.

How can politicians get away with altering scientific fact to suit their political beliefs? Unfortunately, because they can.

According to Nielsen-Gammon, it has to do with our own inability to grasp science. “Not everyone has to be a scientist,” he told me. “They all don’t need to know the radiative impact of carbon dioxide. It would be nice, though, if they knew what the National Academy of Sciences is.”

It is surprising that Dr. Nielsen-Gammon still has a job in Texas. He says he stays away from public policy and, therefore, politics. I had to ask, however, whether his study of the science puts him in the Perry camp or with the scientists whose research say global warming is happening and humans are causing it.

“The vast majority of scientists understand humans are causing the planet to warm,” he said. “I am in the vast majority.”

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/18/2011 - 11:27 am.

    “An oceanographer, Dr. John Anderson of Rice University, authored the section of the report that indicated that the sea level in Galveston Bay was rising five times faster than predicted.”

    Wow! So, Global Warming not only makes the sea level rise, it magically makes that rise variable from place to place!

    BoyOboy…this Global Warming stuff is some powerful Ju-Ju, Don.

  2. Submitted by Pat McGee on 10/18/2011 - 11:30 am.

    Dear Gov. Perry,
    There is no such thing as complete information whether it be for a public policy decision or a personal decision. Unless, perhaps, God is speaking to your wife from a burning bush?

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/18/2011 - 11:32 am.

    Interfering with science is absolutely disgraceful.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/18/2011 - 11:47 am.

    It’s OK — sooner or later they’ll fall off the edge of the flat Earth.

  5. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 10/18/2011 - 11:56 am.

    I do not think the denial has anything to do with inability to grasp science. I get it–and many other scientific concepts–and I’m no scientist. I’m an ordinary person who hated science in college and now read what I can about it because it’s fascinating (what’s more interesting than a star being born?) and it helps me understand my world. I don’t have to know all of the details to get it–climate change, evolution, or anything else.
    I think denial has to do with unwillingness to admit the facts because they’re uncomfortable and would make us change our ways–and because many would stand to lose power or money, i.e., oil and gas barons and their influence on government.

  6. Submitted by Lance Groth on 10/18/2011 - 12:18 pm.

    “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss”

    As noted, Dubya did it. Perry is just continuing the tradition. Altering and lying about scientific findings, that is.

    They can get away with it for the short term, please the base, win a few elections. But, in time, the piper must be paid, and it will be amusing to see the denialist politicians make the case for raising taxes to pay for mitigation efforts as the seas rise and climate change plays havoc with agriculture and other industries.

    Somehow, they’ll manage to blame that on a world-wide lib’rul conspiracy, too.

    The only good news here is that Perry has no chance of becoming president. The man can’t string a coherent sentence together.

    Oh, wait…

  7. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/18/2011 - 01:39 pm.

    @#1
    “Wow! So, Global Warming not only makes the sea level rise, it magically makes that rise variable from place to place!”

    Where’d that come from?

  8. Submitted by Spencer Jones on 10/18/2011 - 01:57 pm.

    Don, that was a reasonable report. Yet, I just couldn’t get over how you so readily agree with the statement of the GW Pro science. I have see with my own eyes how some of the instruments used in this study were placed in areas where accurate data could not be gathered ie. blacktoped parking lots. So Mr. Shelby, please don’t just give one side of the news to folks. If some don’t agree with what you do, so be it, That in it’s self is pure American.
    I don’t understand how the leading climatologist in the world says, that it’s a fabrication and the media won’t report on this. Why?? I know that there are trillions at stake here for either side, but should we listen to the best in the field? The A of S has been proven wrong on some occasions. So why should we believe them with out really listening to the ones that do this on a day in day out basis. Not just scientist that have a “green” agenda. I think everyone should change their ways of waist and miss use, but I won’t be lied to to make an informed decision. Should you?

  9. Submitted by Jack Edwards on 10/18/2011 - 01:57 pm.

    > Thomas Swift writes:
    >Wow! So, Global Warming not only makes the >sea level rise, it magically makes that rise variable from place to place!

    Snark; a common device used by those who do not understand the science behind global warming. A disappointing but not unexpected level of commentary resorted to when the poster has nothing real to say about the science.

    Mr. Swift’s ‘intuition’ says that the rise in sea levels will not ‘magically’ vary from place to place. While intuition may be valuable to suggest an area to investigate we have to be clear that it is not science. For true science we have to go back to the data and postulate theories that answer the facts on the ground.

    The facts show that global warming is real. The only scientific theory that answers the observed data is that global warming is human caused. Every other theory (“It is the sun”, “It is volcanoes”, “It is cosmic rays”, etc.) is demonstrably wrong and does not answer what we are observing in our environment.

    The real question is how long can the hugely powerful economic interests in the Status Quo hide and obscure the science. How long can politicians like Perry trump science with political cronies?

  10. Submitted by john parsons on 10/18/2011 - 02:28 pm.

    Thomas Swift-You mis-stated what the article said. The article stated that the sea level rise of Galveston Bay was occurring five times faster than expected, not five times faster than other parts of the world. However, the topography of different ocean basins can cause different sea level rises in different locations. I can see why you deny the science–you are too careless understand it. Dr. John Parsons

  11. Submitted by Don Shelby on 10/18/2011 - 04:00 pm.

    Dr. Parsons, thank you for straightening out Mr. Swift. Louisiana was seeing higher sea levels in the Gulf two years before Galveston Bay saw the same. It is in the report.
    Spencer at #8, you are right to point out that certain measuring stations were misplaced, however, you need to keep up with the science. The Mulle-Berkeley team, funded by the Koch Brothers, surprised the world when it released its survey of surface temperatures. It’s aim was the same as yours. Positioning of thermometers was throwing off the science and creating a false reading on warming. It was supposed to shoot holes in the theory because of bad measurements. It did the opposite. It confirmed. You can read much of the story here.
    http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/04/local/la-me-climate-berkeley-20110404.
    Why am I so willing to grasp the current state of the science? The same reason I grasp electricity, gravity and and the orbit of the planets around the sun. Science. There are some scientists in the world who quibble with the IPCC findings, and they should. That’s how science works. To date, there is no published peer-reviewed document that arrives at an explanation for the current warming without taking into account CO2 loading by humans. None. Period.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/18/2011 - 04:09 pm.

    Dr. John, just to make sure I understand what you’re saying…ocean basins account for differences in sea level?

    Sir, that is preposterous! Tides, temperature, pressure and local input (rivers, glaciers etc.) have a *localized, short term* effect but as any fifth grade science student knows, unless completely contained, water finds a common level.

    So, I guess if you’re speaking of Crater Lake, you’ve got a point.

    If the water level was *consistently* rising in Galviston Bay 5 times faster than expected, the same would be said for Caracas…but the only thing of note rising there is the level of totalitarianism, which oddly enough is much like the atmosphere warmers are attempting to establish vis-a-vis their favorite psuedo-science.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/18/2011 - 04:21 pm.

    Jack, allow me to clarify.

    Snark; a common device used by those who understand the politics and financial interests pushing the psuedo-science behind global warming.

    Science is provable, it is repeatable; neither of which can be said for anything being sold as the science of Anthropomorphic Global Warming.

  14. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/18/2011 - 04:33 pm.

    “Louisiana was seeing higher sea levels in the Gulf two years before Galveston Bay saw the same. It is in the report.”

    *Think* about that statement!

  15. Submitted by john parsons on 10/18/2011 - 04:50 pm.

    Mr. Swift–You misunderstood the implication of my remark about ocean basins. It was mentioned as one of many local conditions that effect the measurement of sea levels. Another example is the effect of ocean currents. Another, prevailing winds. There are many, many others and many are affected by increasing global temperatures. You can’t analogize the world’s oceans to a saucer of tea. Dr. John Parsons

  16. Submitted by Lance Groth on 10/18/2011 - 05:12 pm.

    “…which oddly enough is much like the atmosphere warmers are attempting to establish vis-a-vis their favorite psuedo-science.”

    Says the non-scientist. Mr. Swift, you really ought to do some research if you’re going to pop off about scientific topics. Here are a few links to help you along your way:

    http://tinyurl.com/3g34nak

    http://tinyurl.com/cjrhjc

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/view.php?id=21457

    Clearly, the earth’s ocean basins are not like your bathtub, and sea level rise is not globally uniform, for a variety of reasons.

    Embarrassing, isn’t it, to be caught out when popping off publicly about a topic about which one is so completely clueless. The web is useful for more than posting political comments. Try Google some time.

    BTW, speaking of “financial interests”, strange that you totally ignore the financial interests that want to keep people ignorant about AGW. I mean, it’s not like the fossil fuels industries want people to keep burning their black goop, eh? Not even a smidgen of similarity to the lies the tobacco industry told to keep their gravy train rolling, is there?

    If there’s a left-wing conspiracy about AGW motivated by money, I’d sure like to get my cut. I’m one of those “warmers”, and no one has offered me a dime to support the global conspiracy and their “pseudo-science”.

    How does one enlist and corrupt a scientific discipline’s entire global community, anyway? That’s juicier than the 9/11 “truthers” conspiracy! Who’s behind it? The New World Order? The Bilderbergers? George Soros? Or did Al Gore corrupt them all on his own?

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/18/2011 - 05:17 pm.

    Oh, cripes…I’ve just been enlightened by one of my collegues.

    I had *no idea* that the Tampico Glacier was calving (due to AGW, natch), and sending ‘burgs directly into Galviston Bay.

    Explains everything.

  18. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/18/2011 - 05:31 pm.

    Intuition is neither science nor a reliable means of challenging scientific observations, Mr. Swift.

    Sea level is not the same in every location on earth, for reasons you can learn about here:

    http://www.psmsl.org/train_and_info/faqs/

  19. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/18/2011 - 05:55 pm.

    @#12 and #14
    Ok, if water on a global scale acts as water in a simple, it would follow that tides simply do not exist. Since they do exist, it would be obvious that we are not talking about a simple container of water and your “logic” does not apply.

  20. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/18/2011 - 06:06 pm.

    To follow up on my last post, Mr. Swift has made the “fifth grade science student” mistake of assuming that the Earth is simply a ball of clay with water in basins on its surface. If you want to understand why ocean levels vary, you can start with the basics of gravity on Earth. A good place to start is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_of_Earth. Then, you can take into account the specific gravity of ocean water at different locations (this has to do with salinity and the effects of salinity on density, and hence the difference in the effect of gravity per unit volume). Then, you can take into account the topographical layout of both the ocean bottom and landmass at the ocean/land boundaries at various locations. Then, you should take into account the differences in air pressures in various locations. Then, you must consider just how much water is in the oceans and how slight variations in any given factor can easily be multiplied by the BILLIONS of litres of water in just a small portion of the oceans.

    Then, you might just want to rethink how water in the oceans must behave.

  21. Submitted by Philip Haddad on 10/18/2011 - 09:16 pm.

    You can’t really blame the Texas politicians for their reluctance to blame CO2 for global warming. For sure we are contributing to global warming by our use of fossil fuels, but the Kyoto protocol is mistaken in declaring carbon dioxide to be the culprit. If they had bothered to calculate the heat evolved by all the energy we use, they would surely have concluded that the heat we emit from our power usage is more than enough (three times as much) to raise the temperature of the atmosphere by the measured average for 1980-2000. The CO2 is just a useful by-product. CO2 cools the planet through photosynthesis. Physical removal of CO2 is worse than useless.
    However, fossil fuels as well as nuclear and geothermal plants emit the heat that is warming the planet at an intolerable rate.Yes, it will be difficult to replace them with renewable energy ,but there is really no choice ultimately. Our government officials will be remiss in not recognizing the real cause of global warming and exerting some leadership internationally to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a set of guidelines which penalize heat emission and encourages tree culture and nurture, and assists financially and technologically in promoting temperature neutral processes.

  22. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 10/19/2011 - 06:56 am.

    Mr. Swift:

    Remember, you are talking to religious fundamentalists.

  23. Submitted by Gregory Ludvigsen on 10/19/2011 - 08:53 am.

    I have no idea about what is happening in Galveston Bay, It could be a local effect, like ground subsidence. But the facts don’t support that sea level rise has been increasing in response to increased CO2 levels. It has been rising since the end of the last ice age. As you can see from the following charts, the sea level rise has slowed since 2004, in spite of the rising CO2.

    Go to the following link for a good write-up about sea level rise and fear mongering, including many chart, graphs and pictures

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/10/18/the-500-year-fud-about-sea-levels/#more-49429

    “First, there has been no evidence of accelerating sea level rise. Willis writes in a previous entry:

    Does increased CO2 cause increased sea level rise?

    Short answer, data to date says no. There has been no acceleration the rate of sea level rise. Sea level has been rising for centuries. But the rate of the rise has not changed a whole lot. Both tidal stations and satellites show no increase in the historic rate of sea level rise, in either the short or long term. Fig. 1 shows the most recent satellite data.

    Up until about the end of 2004, there was little change in the rate of sea level rise. Since then the rise has slowed down. The average (dark blue line) does not stray far from the trend (black line) up until 1994. Since then, it is well below the projected trend (gray line). We were supposed to be seeing some kind of big acceleration in the sea level rise caused by increased CO2. Instead, we are seeing a decrease in the rate of sea level rise. So the first claim, that increasing CO2 will cause increased rates of sea level rise, is not supported by the evidence.

    Note that I am not saying anything about the future. The rate of sea level rise might go up again. What we can say, however, is that there is no hint of acceleration in the record, only deceleration. The claim of CO2 induced sea level rise is false to date.

    ….
    Clearly, New Yorkers have been able to stay well ahead of that 1 meter rise since the city was founded.

    The next time your friends get freaked out about sea level rise, or “high water”, show them this.”

  24. Submitted by john parsons on 10/19/2011 - 02:17 pm.

    Mr. Ludvigson–May I suggest that you do a little research on the web site you are using to inform your opinion on AGCC. “Wattsup” is a notoriously unreliable purveyor of misinformation regarding climate science. Instead of relying on a clearly ideological website, let me suggest that you refer to sites that provide the raw scientific information and then make up your own mind, without the filtering effects of a predisposed agenda. John Parsons

  25. Submitted by Gregory Ludvigsen on 10/20/2011 - 08:57 pm.

    Mr. Parson’s – in talking to people who believe that humans have or will cause catastrophic global warming, i ususually ask them to read, realclimate.org, http://tamino.wordpress.com/, junkscience.com, http://judithcurry.com/, climateaudit.com and wattsupwiththat.com for a week. For those who have done so, they all have become skeptics. For those who want a evaluation of how the IPCC drafted their reports(I have read #3 and #4) I recommend Donna Laframboise’s book “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert: An Expose of the IPCC.” Judith Curry has an excellent review at http://judithcurry.com/2011/10/19/laframboise-on-the-ipcc/#more-5396 . Dr. Curry concludes, “But overall, Donna Laframboise is to be congratulated for writing an important book. Read it, it costs only $4.99 on Kindle.
    .
    So, how will this book be received by the climate establishment? First, I suspect that they will attempt to smear Laframboise as a denier. This is not the case. Her prime motivation seems to be a concern about free speech; she has a long standing involvement in free speech issues in Canada. Second, people will pick apart some of the minor points that are arguably suboptimal interpretations.
    .
    In terms of the broader audience, I have to say that I hope that this book leads to the discontinuation of the IPCC after the AR5 report (which is already well underway, and is arguably sufficiently tarnished that it is likely to have much less influence than previous reports.)
    .
    My personal reaction as a scientist is to be very thankful that I am not involved in the IPCC. I already feel duped by the IPCC (I’ve written about this previously), I am glad that I was not personally used by the IPCC.
    .
    Does the problems with the IPCC mean that WG1 science is incorrect? Not necessarily, but I agree that a “new trial” is needed. WG2 and WG3 reports pretty much belong in the dustbin, as far as I can tell.
    .
    I regret that so much of our intellectual horsepower and research funding has gone into supporting the IPCC assessments. Donna’s book could provide some impetus for changing this.”

  26. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/21/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    Don:

    Thanks for the link to “State of the Bay 2010”.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to provide a couple snips from that report’s Summary.

    “The evolution of the Galveston Bay Estuary was punctuated by rapid changes, most of which occurred when sea level was rising at a rate faster than present and when regional climate was changing.” So, the sea is rising at a slower rate than formerly. Is this bad news?

    “Current rates of relative of relative sea level rise, due to both an increased level of eustasy (sic) and subsidence are approaching 3 mm per year”. 3 mm is less than 1/8 of an inch, and relative sea level rise is due in part to subsidence (downward shift of Earth’s surface with respect to sea level).

    The sky is falling indeed.

  27. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/21/2011 - 04:22 pm.

    Don;

    I read again your column to see if there was something I missed. I couldn’t find anything.

    Your writing seems like it is aimed at a TV audience, rather than a newspaper one. For instance, “These developments should make Texans uneasy because a sea-level rise would dramatically affect the state’s fortunes. Its coast is susceptible to flooding as it is, and a moderate sea-level rise could have disastrous effects, not to mention its vulnerability to heavy storm surges, and of course the “enhanced effects” of global warming on water resources, crops and livestock.”

    Tell the audience that they should be uneasy, and support it with words like “dramatic”, “disastrous”, “vulnerability”, and so on, without mentioning how much water you are talking about. As I mentioned earlier, it is approaching 3 mm per year, but not all of that is attributable to rising sea.

    An interesting fact might be to put the problem in terms to which people can relate, like years and an inch. Even if most of the rise was attributable to rising sea level, it would take ten years to change an inch.

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