NASA Expert Criticizes Bush on Global Warming Policy


26 October 2004The New York TimesA top NASA climate expert who twice briefed Vice President Dick Cheney on global warming plans to criticize the administration's approach to the issue in a lecture at the University of Iowa tonight and say that a senior administration official told him last year not to discuss dangerous consequences of rising temperatures.

The expert, Dr. James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, expects to say that the Bush administration has ignored growing evidence that sea levels could rise significantly unless prompt action is taken to reduce heat-trapping emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes.  

Dr. James E. Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Many academic scientists, including dozens of Nobel laureates, have been criticizing the administration over its handling of climate change and other complexscientific issues. But Dr. Hansen, first in an interview with The New York Times a week ago and again in his planned lecture today, is the only leading scientist to speak out so publicly while still in the employ of the government.

In the talk, Dr. Hansen, who describes himself as "moderately conservative, middle-of-the-road" and registered in Pennsylvania as an independent, plans to say that he will vote for Senator John Kerry, while also criticizing some of Mr. Kerry's positions, particularly his pledge to keep nuclear waste out of Nevada.

He will acknowledge that one of the accolades he has received for his work on climate change is a $250,000 Heinz Award, given in 2001 by a foundation run by Teresa Heinz Kerry, Mr. Kerry's wife. The awards are given to people who advance causes promoted by Senator John Heinz, the Pennsylvania Republican who was Mrs. Heinz Kerry's first husband.

But in an interview yesterday, Dr. Hansen said he was confident that the award had had "no impact on my evaluation of the climate problem or on my political leanings."

In a draft of the talk, a copy of which Dr. Hansen provided to The Times yesterday, he wrote that President Bush's climate policy, which puts off consideration of binding cuts in such emissions until 2012, was likely to be too little too late.

Actions to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions "are not only feasible but make sense for other reasons, including our economic well-being and national security," Dr. Hansen wrote. "Delay of another decade, I argue, is a colossal risk."

In the speech, Dr. Hansen also says that last year, after he gave a presentation on the dangers of human-caused, or anthropogenic, climate shifts to Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator, "the administrator interrupted me; he told me that I should not talk about dangerous anthropogenic interference, because we do not know enough or have enough evidence for what would constitute dangerous anthropogenic interference."

After conferring with Mr. O'Keefe, Glenn Mahone, the administrator's spokesman, said Mr. O'Keefe had a completely different recollection of the meeting. "To say the least, Sean is certain that he did not admonish or even suggest that there be a throttling back of research efforts" by Dr. Hansen or his team, Mr. Mahone said.

Dr. Franco Einaudi, director of the NASA Earth Sciences Directorate at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Dr. Hansen's supervisor, said he was at the meeting between Dr. Hansen and Mr. O'Keefe. Dr. Einaudi confirmed that Mr. O'Keefe had interrupted the presentation to say that these were "delicate issues" and there was a lot of uncertainty about them. But, he added: "Whether it is obvious to take that as an order or not is a question of judgment. Personally, I did not take it as an order."

Dr. John H. Marburger III, the science adviser to the president, said he was not privy to any exchanges between Dr. Hansen and the administrator of NASA. But he denied that the White House was playing down the risks posed by climate change.

"President Bush has long recognized the serious implications of climate change, the role of human activity, and our responsibility to reduce emissions,'' Dr. Marburger said in an e-mailed statement. "He has put forward a series of policy initiatives including a commitment to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of our economy.''

In the interview yesterday, Dr. Hansen stood by his assertions and said the administration risked disaster by discouraging scientists from discussing unwelcome findings.

Dr. Hansen, 63, acknowledged that he imperiled his credibility and perhaps his job by criticizing Mr. Bush's policies in the final days of a tight presidential campaign. He said he decided to speak out after months of deliberation because he was convinced the country needed to change course on climate policy.

Dr. Hansen rose to prominence when, after testifying at a Senate hearing in the record-warm summer of 1988, he said, "It is time to stop waffling so much and say the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here."