CBS News “60 Minutes” airs global warming story on “Re-Writing the Science”


On March 19 CBS “60 Minutes” aired a segment titled “Re-Writing the Science,” focusing on political impediments to public communication of climate science findings. The segment drew on interviews with Jim Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences; and Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch. The program made Nielsen’s top-10 programs list for the week, with 15.2 million viewers. Most of the segment is posted on YouTube:

Partial text of the program, along with a video clip from Piltz’s interview on White House censorship of climate change communication, is posted at the 60 Minutes Web site.

From correspondent Scott Pelley’s interview with Hansen:

What James Hansen believes is that global warming is accelerating. He points to the melting arctic and to Antarctica, where new data show massive losses of ice to the sea.

Is it fair to say at this point that humans control the climate? Is that possible?

“There’s no doubt about that, says Hansen. “The natural changes, the speed of the natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes that humans are making to the atmosphere and to the surface.”

Those human changes, he says, are driven by burning fossil fuels that pump out greenhouse gases like CO2, carbon dioxide. Hansen says his research shows that man has just 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming reaches what he calls a tipping point and becomes unstoppable. He says the White House is blocking that message.

From Pelley interview with Cicerone:

“I can’t think of anybody who I would say is better than Hansen. You might argue that there’s two or three others as good, but nobody better,” says Cicerone.

And Cicerone, who is an atmospheric chemist, said the same thing every leading scientist told 60 Minutes.

“Climate change is really happening,” says Cicerone.

Asked what is causing the changes, Cicerone says it’s greenhouse gases: “Carbon dioxide and methane, and chlorofluorocarbons and a couple of others, which are all—the increases in their concentrations in the air are due to human activities. It’s that simple.”

From Pelley interview with Piltz:

“The strategy of people with a political agenda to avoid this issue is to say there is so much to study way upstream here that we cant even begin to discuss impacts and response strategies,” says Piltz. “There’s too much uncertainty. It’s not the climate scientists that are saying that, its lawyers and politicians.”

“Even to raise issues internally is immediately career limiting,” says Piltz. “That’s why you will find not too many people in the federal agencies who will speak freely about all the things they know, unless theyre retired or unless they’re ready to resign.”

Hansen talks about his view that action is needed sooner rather than later:

“We have to, in the next 10 years, get off this exponential curve and begin to decrease the rate of growth of CO2 emissions,” Hansen explains. “And then flatten it out. And before we get to the middle of the century, we’ve got to be on a declining curve.

“If that doesn’t happen in 10 years, then I don’t think we can keep global warming under one degree Celsius and that means were going to, that there’s a great danger of passing some of these tipping points. If the ice sheets begin to disintegrate, what can you do about it?

And Hansen notes the discomfort he causes among the administration’s political overseers when he talks about “dangerous” human interference with the climate system—the situation that the climate change treaty has the stated goal of averting:

Hansen says his words were edited once during a presentation when a top official scolded him for using the word “danger.”

“I think we know a lot more about the tipping points,” says Hansen. “I think we know about the dangers of even a moderate degree of additional global warming about the potential effects in the arctic about the potential effects on the ice sheets.”

“You just used that word again that youre not supposed to use—danger,” Pelley remarks.

“Yeah. Its a danger,” Hansen says.

60 Minutes had repeatedly sought to interview a representative of the administration.  No luck. Pelley reports:

For months, 60 Minutes had been trying to talk with the president’s science advisor. 60 Minutes was finally told he would never be available.

So this is the sorry state of affairs we have reached with Dr. John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The administration will not talk with CBS News.

A related segment —“A Global Warning”—aired on February 19, 2006.  The segment featured Dr. Robert Corell, who chaired the Arctic Climate Impacts Assessment, a major report published in 2004-2005.  Bob Corell was throughout the 1990s the chair, and leading architect, of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the U.S. Government’s multi-agency program to support scientific research on climate and global environmental change.

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