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GOP Falsifies Government Scientist’s Claims To Renew Witch Hunt Against Climate Research

Led by Republican Representative Lamar Smith, Republicans in Congress falsely claim to have uncovered a whistleblower, who can prove the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fabricated and politicized climate science. Smith has promised to recommit the House Science Committee to a witch hunt against the government agency for engaging in a “partisan agenda.”

It is misleading to refer to the House Science Committee without putting quotes around science because the committee has become a safe space for climate denialism and merchants of doubt, who are highly influenced by the dollars contributed to them by fossil fuel industry interests. Smith himself received over $600,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies during his career in Congress.

During a House “Science” Committee hearing on February 7 chillingly called “Make The EPA Great Again,” Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas declared, “Recent news stories report that another agency, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], has deceived the American people by falsifying data to justify a partisan agenda.”

“A senior scientist at NOAA has questioned the scientific integrity of a study written by Tom Karl while at NOAA that claimed that there was no stop in global warming from 1998-2013. This official has provided evidence that Karl ‘had his thumb on the scale’ throughout the entire process,” Smith added. “The Karl study was published in Science, the journal overseen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an organization run by Rush Holt.”

The senior scientist is John Bates, who recently retired from NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center. He wrote a blog post which suggested NOAA rushed the publication of research on a pause in global warming that occurred about two decades ago. The post was seized upon by climate deniers as evidence of fraud among climate research scientists in government. Deniers even contend it helped mislead world leaders into signing the Paris climate agreement.

But as Holt, the president of AAAS, testified at the hearing, Bates’ concerns involve an “internal disagreement” that does not diminish the scientific consensus around climate change.

“A number of other studies, including one most recently in one of AAAS’s other publications, ‘Science Advances,’ have replicated the work,” Holt stated. These studies have come to similar conclusions. Plus, science has progressed so far that it does not make much sense to dwell on an internal dispute over data.

It, however, makes sense that the “Science” Committee may want to further dwell on this internal dispute if it intends to escalate its efforts to deny the threat of climate disruption to the American population as well as the entire planet. Deceiving the public into believing government scientists are corrupt is hugely beneficial to fossil fuel energy interests.

Smith has been on a witch hunt against NOAA since the study at issue was published in 2015. He previously subpoenaed the head of NOAA, Kathryn Sullivan, and demanded that NOAA scientists turn over records and internal communications. Now that the British tabloid, the Mail, hyped Bates’ allegations against NOAA on February 4, Smith pledged to redouble his efforts to go after NOAA and uncover the “truth” of how NOAA “manipulated climate records.”

Targeting government scientists is likely to be a chosen tactic of Republicans under President Donald Trump’s administration, as they are intent to roll back environmental regulations and maximize profits for the fossil fuel companies that own them. They have already won the repeal of a stream protection rule that was issued by President Barack Obama’s administration to restrict coal companies from polluting water that may lead to birth defects and increased cancer rates in children.

The Washington Post reported on scientists, who are stunned by the extreme warmth of the Arctic, and how it has been so warm for so long.

A study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution suggests by 2050 the planet will see a 35 percent increase in “mega fires” throughout the world. Western states in the United States, southeastern Australia, the Mediterranean, and southern Africa will experience the worst uptick in fires from climate disruption.

In the National Science Review journal, as UPI reported, researchers contend “current climate models focus too heavily on atmospheric inputs and and outputs and ignore human-related factors. As a result, scientists say many climate models understate the risk to the planet’s ability to support human life.”

This means that models need to better account for “population growth, migration patterns, shifting resource use, land use changes, emissions, and pollution.”

Earlier this year, a reported study showed every day that temperatures are above 86 degrees Fahrenheit “crop yields” for corn and soybeans are reduced. When combined with predictions of future droughts, it is clear climate change will lead to food crises.

Yet, Republicans have chosen to ignore all alarming evidence of impending catastrophe. Instead, they are about to confirm Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, and he is largely unwilling to say the words “climate change.”

Pruitt spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2015 and awkwardly said the Obama administration considered “carbon reduction” to be one of the “most important environmental issues of our time,” while criticizing their measured efforts to deal with climate change.

This is the language of a climate denier, someone who does not want to admit the scope of human impact on the planet’s changing conditions because it will affect the interests that own him.

Pruitt is bought and owned by fossil fuel companies, particularly companies in Oklahoma. He has allegiances to political action committees setup to serve corporations. He filed several lawsuits against the EPA, including the agency’s Clean Power Plan, which was designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, because he is a merchant of doubt.

Popular Science published a full debunking of the House “Science” Committee’s claims about what Bates revealed. What is remarkable—and this is often the case—is while launching a witch hunt against scientists at NOAA the Republicans have de-funded NOAA so that it is even harder for the agency to engage in scrupulous research.

Kevin Trenberth a distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Popular Science the issue Bates had comes down to problems with a “backlog of data that hasn’t yet been released or updated.” The complaint comes down to the idea that data was not vetted enough.

One way to resolve this issue would be to adequately fund NOAA. Yet, Trenberth noted Lamar Smith “has been responsible for some of [the problems] because they actually cut the funding to enable NOAA to properly deal with and process the data by 30 percent in 2012. So, the ability to do this properly has actually been compromised by the House Science Committee and by Lamar Smith in particular.”

However, Republicans do not want to restore funding to government agencies with research scientists who need resources to do important work. They have an interest in handicapping or kneecapping these agencies and creating a chilly environment, where it is radical to promote climate science. They benefit from agencies that put out studies that may be vulnerable to criticism because their purpose on the “Science” Committee and in the wider Congress is to protect the corporate interests of the executives who fund their political careers.

Graffiti from a solidarity action in Oakland, California (Photo by @lrsphm)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."