1. PROMOTING SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY & EXPOSING DISINFORMATION AND THE DENIAL OF CLIMATE SCIENCE
CSPW, a flagship program of GAP’s oversight of federal environmental programs that go beyond climate change, has its roots in the exposure of government officials who censor or suppress critical information generated by federal climate scientists in order to serve a purpose other than the public good (see CSPW History). Some elected officials and political appointees have taken it upon themselves to abuse the power of their office to tamper with federal, peer-reviewed scientific reports by modifying or redacting content – not for purposes of clarity or accuracy – but for more pernicious reasons. It is well-documented that the US fossil fuel industries have orchestrated a decades-long campaign to manipulate public opinion and policymakers alike to inject doubt and confusion regarding the existential threat climate change presents; through a vast network of organizations and individuals, oil, gas, and coal interests have spun a web of deception we have dubbed the “global warming denial machine.” Coal, oil, and gas corporate money and power, greatly enhanced by the Citizens United court decision of 2010, has all but ensured that our carbon-intensive energy economy can continue, business-as-usual.
Government scientists working diligently to more accurately understand and earnestly convey all of the various ways that Earth’s climate system is disrupted as a consequence of escalating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions – how communities everywhere face escalating risks as a result of massive flooding, prolonged droughts, coastal inundation, heat waves, extreme weather events, and so on – are often drowned out by a counter-message. “The science is too uncertain to warrant action” goes the manufactured missive: it is a deny-to-delay ploy first used by tobacco companies, one that intentionally exaggerates scientific uncertainty in order to stop or slow the adoption of public policies that would curtail carbon dioxide emissions and thus cut into corporate profits. Diabolically clever and surprisingly successful, this tactic of mass deception has warped public opinion, infected political discourse, damaged honest public policy debate, and instilled confusion and doubt in the psyche-at-large, just at a time when highly focused, reality-based, intelligent decision-making and swift action is needed the most in order to avert climate catastrophe.
This is neither hyperbole nor ideology: the science behind the global warming trend and all it implies is as solid as a confirmed medical diagnosis of carcinoma, and potentially just as deadly. In short, the array of climate change impacts predicted decades ago by scientists here and abroad are now occurring in real time, killing and injuring people and wildlife, destroying property and ecosystems, ruining natural resources, devastating neighborhoods and communities, and worsening with time. Our inevitable transition to a much less carbon-intensive energy economy has been delayed, as has US national preparedness for climate impacts, which in too many places gets a failing grade. Overall, with few exceptions, we are not ready for a climate-disrupted future. Too often, those we have elected to govern and protect us from actual threats have been corrupted and co-opted into a belief system regarding climate change that puts fiction over fact, short-term profit for the few over longer-term prosperity for all, expedience over good governance, denial over discovery and disclosure. For too many in power, climate science is no longer perceived as generating important and useful information but as a belief one can choose to embrace or reject, or even an idea that can be banned legislatively. Florida Governor Rick Scott forbade his staff from uttering the words themselves or considering climate change in their work; North Carolina literally banned the use of scientific studies on sea level rise after evidence showing the state’s coastal areas would be adversely affected.
The Trump Administration is populated with leaders who have chosen to reject the notion that climate change is real, and that it poses real threats to real people in real places. Government communications regarding climate science and impacts – via websites, conferences, presentations, media interviews, writings and publications, and so on – are now in the cross-hairs of White House cabinet officials. We are already witnessing specific acts of censorship and information suppression. Key pages on the official websites of the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have already been altered or removed altogether. CSPW has responded to this new threat to open and transparent government by joining and actively participating in a newly developing network of watchdog groups and individuals, calling attention to censorship through our blog and other means, and by readying a legal team for filing motions and using the judicial system to keep our federal government honest and law-abiding. For example, the Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires agency participants in the US Global Change Research Program to report periodically to Congress and the public on scientific assessments by region and sector of climate change impacts. The George W. Bush Administration’s attempt to suppress the National Climate Assessment of 2000, to water down scientific conclusions made by federal scientists without basis, and to significantly delay additional climate impacts assessments are examples of illegal and/or highly unethical activities that we helped to expose and correct through media attention and court action. Announced in the Washington Post and released in the beginning of 2017, CSPW’s latest White Paper addressed this critical issue. CSPW, through GAP, is now strategically positioned to galvanize significant change and take legal action necessary to ensure compliance with the GCRA and other environmental protection laws, and to represent whistleblowers who come forward and disclose instances in which components of the Executive branch fail to comply with Congressional mandates.
CSPW is also deeply concerned about the tendency of government civil service employees to self-censor, to operate in a fear-based manner and filter their own communications and activities to avoid a perceived future threat, such as job loss, demotion, or programmatic budget cuts. Self-censorship is already occurring: for example, the Centers for Disease Control canceled a conference on the nexus between climate and public health scheduled for February of this year, in anticipation of interference by the Trump White House. The end result of self-censorship is the same as externally-imposed censorship: the American public loses out on receiving important information and guidance, on work products that are taxpayer-funded and presumably conducted for the public good. By calling out each and every instance of politically-motivated censorship, suppression, and key examples of self-censorship in response to an environment of repression, CSPW is and will continue to be on the front lines of the fight to protect and promote integrity in the use of climate science in government, our core mission and the Government Accountability Project’s organizational identity.