Politics of Climate Change

24 MB MP3

Tonight we’re launching into the first of the climate change shows by looking at the politics of it in the US. This means following the money trail that leads from the fossil fuel industry to political spin; and figuring out why the American press, as a whole, has been pretty quiet about the issue.

document courtesy Government Accountability Project

[courtesy Government Accountability Project (GAP)]

Ross Gelbspan

Former reporter for the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. Author of The Heat Is On and Boiling Point.

His website (The Heat Is Online) is a comprehensive source of information on climate change.

[in studio at WGBH in Allston, MA]

Rick Piltz

Former senior associate at the Climate Change Science Program, which coordinates climate research in different government agencies.

Resigned in March 2005, saying, “Each administration has a policy position on climate change… But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program.” [Quoted in the New York Times on 8 June 2005]

[by phone from Maryland]

Read Piltz’s letter of resignation, made available through the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

GAP also released a factsheet outlining the items that were cencored or rewritten.

Stephen Schneider

Climatologist in the Biology department at Stanford University. Co-director of Stanford’s Center for Environmental Science and Policy.

Maintains his own website on climate change here.

[by phone from California]

Related Content

  • loki

    Some like it Hot!

    It is very interesting that (its true) that the ozone layer is depleted over the George Bush(41) home in Kenne-bunk-port.

    George Bush(43) failed to push for new energy alternatives in bill which he signed in Albuquerque.

    Bring Back Jimmy Carter. He can run again.

  • joel

    Yes, let’s get those hot water solar panels back on the White House roof and some PV panels, as well.

    The government could provide instant motivation for mass production development of photo-voltaic panels (or the best succeeding technology) to encourage an order of magnitude (or more) drop in the price of such panels and wind turbines and the desired attendant equipment by mandating all military bases (wherever in the world) and all surface government ships and all government buildings in the U.S. and abroad be converted to solar power and wind power, starting immediately.

    Hydrogen fuel cell development and other research in alternative energy should be included in all subsidies, tax exemptions, economies of scale, priorities, etc. provided to the fossil fuel industries, and such benefits should be provided the alternative energy researchers and developers in an increase by a factor of ten.

    Fossil fuel providers, refiners and distributors should be boycotted wherever, whenever and as much as possible.

    Instead of changing the climate, let’s change the politics. After all, the politics is completely expendable and, compared to climate, worthless.


  • ann arky

    I think it would be good to spend a minute or two tonight doing some not-quite-hyper- local journalism and talking about the Cape Wind Project (http://www.capewind.org/). It has faced outrageous opposition from politicians of all varieties, and has had very little help from the media as well.

    Keep up the good work, these shows have been great!

  • shpilk

    The political will power simply does not exist. There is too much profit to be made, and too many big friends of politicians with deep pockets to make radical change.

    What needs to happen is decentralization of the power grid, and an immediate shift to regionally produced power sources. The billions just dumped to the oil/gas/nuke industry should have been put towards wind, solar and geo-thermal – using each regional areas strength to take advantage of the best technologies.

    It’s important to look at true costs of the ‘hydrogen’ economy, since most of the current proposals involve simply shifting oil/gas/nuke resources to make the hydrogen.

  • JamesFlynn

    To me. this is just another instance of the “faith-based” versus the “reality-based” battle going on in the great country that is the US right now.

    The best we know, based on the opinion of the best scientific knowledge, is that our current economic activity causes significant damage to our climate. This is the opinion of the vast, vast, majority our our scientists. There are a couple of dissenters, as there should be in any debate, but the overwhelming opinion is that is we continue to act as we are currently acting, we will damage our climate, to a degree that will require significant effort on the generations after us to repair.

    What evidence is there for this? Plenty. In fact, the overwhelming scientific evidence points to this:


    So, if you’re “reality-based”, who do you believe? Well, you believe what our best guess is in the realm of reality, and you go with that opinion.

    But – If you’ve got a blind faith in what the current government says, or what the energy industry says, well then you can ignore all that evidence quite easily – it’s a matter of believing whatever you’re told, or blind faith.

    I don’t think anything depressed the “global citizen” more than the bush administration’s decision early on to veto the kyoto protocol. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it signaled the US administration’s decision to go with its own, immediate, best interest, as opposed to what the vast majority of scientific evidence would suggest is in all our interest.

    But then, if you’re not interested in reality . . . .

  • First, thank you for tackling this issue. Before we can make any headway at all on global warning, two things must happen:

    1. We must make global warming understandable to the average, non-scientific American. That is, don’t talk about increasing cold weather (as in the film, The Day After Tomorrow): “How can global WARMING increase the intensity of COLD temperatures?” What doesn’t make sense to the public will be rejected. We must help concerned scientists by making the problem comprehensible to the public.

    And that means doing more public education, as Chris is doing tonight, regarding the incremental changes that people are beginning to notice, such as feeling more discomfort from heat during summer, noticing that air conditioners aren’t cooling homes as thoroughly as they used to do due to excessive heat, more frequent and destructive hurricanes, etc.

    “The Day After Tomorrow” was a thrilling film, but the problem was presented as so dramatic, extreme and sudden that moviegoers left the theater laughing instead of worrying that maybe climate change is real, not “junk science” as the Bush administration has assured them is the case.

    2. We must confront the fundamentalist opposition to interfering with pollution, global warming, etc.: The message being preached in countless churches across the US, particularly in the South, is that man has no business interfering with God’s will…the GOAL is the end of the earth. This is not a minority view, as much as we might wish to believe it is.

    Please see this article on my website for more info:


    We must reach the public ourselves, through vital media such as NPR, and through conversations with knowledgable friends who understand the obstacles to believing that global warming is real AND not “God’s will”.

    Not all Christians, even fundamentalist Christians, are as apathetic to the environment as they often feel compelled to pretend they are in order to get along with other churchgoers. Not all would agree with the preacher at my old church in Virginia, “We have no business interfering with pollution because GOD IS IN CONTROL”.

    Thank you,

    Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

    Watertown MA

  • MF

    I made it on the show!

    i was really glad to hear Chiris and Ross. I joined WGBH now that Chris is on the air. I made some comments live, but was cut off before I concluded my remarks.

    This is what I think:

    1- There is a world scientific consensus about global climate change, Like AIDS, we are working against a tide of intransigence and aggressvie opposition (economic and political as opposed to cultural and political- AIDS).

    2- The problem is so big, it’s hard for folks to get their heads around it.

    3- Our side has not done a good job. Our political leaders have been crippled like deers in the headlights into political stasis. Go Howard!

    4- We, the thinkers, activists and opinion people, need to start talking about the weather ( and involve weather men and women – there’s a guy in MN who is talking about this ). The south is ready for a message on climate change and hurricanes.

    5- We need our political leaders to start taling about the solutions and not just in relation to the problem. The problem is big and public acceptance will come over time.

    6- We need, to borrow a metaphor from a (better be) by-gone era: we need to hit the gas and move into the technological fast lane in terms of energy saving technologies and consumer household products that conserve energy, and re-design the built and mechanical world according to the realities of global climate disruption.

    7- The best political program that I have encountered is the “Apollo Alliance for Energy Indepence”, . These folks are putting out a program that starts with a) energy independence, b) jobs to re-build and re-tool the our buildings and physical infrastructure, c) public investmnent in renewables for the short and long term ( wind, hypbrid autos, etc ), and more. With such a program we can reach people with jobs, public and environmental health, national pride and more.

    8- Our challenge is supreme, perhaps unprecedented in the histoyr of humanity. We are in an end-game and it is the end of the oil era and the oil aristocracy. The oil barons, in this country and elsewhere, along with their political allies, are engagged in the end-game right now. They understand the stakes and they are doing their level best to prevent people from realizing their predicament. They have read the projections of oil supply and its’ exhaustion. They have read the national security study on climate change commissioned and prepared for the military establishment at the Pentagon. They know the stakes better than we do. We need to seriously consider what these people might do to the institutions that we rely on and take for granted (democracy, elections, free speech, etc) to preserve their position, their status, and provide for their family and their community (of which most of us are not a part).

    9- We confront a challenge more epic than the black plague, more immediate than the centuries-long transition from kings and peasants to bosses and workers. This is the single most important challenge we face in this epoch. We can be smart, we can be strong and we can make our camp-site cleaner than we found it. We just have to do it.

    Thanks for reading this.

    Michael Fogelberg, Boston, MA

    PS. Chris- get a show with weather-people who have a positiion on global climate change. Let’s talk about the weather!

    Pss. Please forgive for any incorrect spelling.

  • shpilk

    I know it’s ‘early’ in the evolution of this show, but I think these shows need to be 2 hours {or maybe even longer}. There is not enough time to delve into details.

    Perhaps the show could be extended into cyberspace – the first hour live on the radio and streamed, the second hour streamed.

    Good idea?

  • Potter

    This was a good start. Please do not let go of this. Keep at it. There are many angles, but even this angle, the politics of it, I hope will be revisited because the politics of this is a bottleneck. There is so much that we have to do in concert and in such a short time- it’s almost depressing. Some say it’s too late… it’s that feeling, that attitude, that resignation that scares me. Chris kept asking the same questions… why? how? in disbelief. I too am in disbelief.

    It was really disturbing to hear that this administration is in another category altogether in terms of sweeping this looming global catastrophe under the carpet. If there is evil, this is it.

    It’s apparent that we cannot and should not wait for government to tell us what to do or to do it for us. Also this must be a major issue in campaign politics.

    Nobody listens to scientists, and they are quiet types. They should be gathering outside of the Bush Ranch along with Cindy Sheehan.

  • Deniss

    I listened to the show tonight and liked it a lot. Though I thought that the gentlemen who was asked 3 or 4 different ways “what is the difference between this and any other administration?” never answered the question! He continued to rant, which made him sound a little foolish, even though he was quite competent.

    The one thing I think never even is discussed is the systemic nature of this problem, economically and politically. Too often “liberals” (and in this issue, the scientific community) for the lack of the better words regard these issues as “bad guys” or “bad companies” or “misguided” or “mistaken”. I think this is B.S.. What is going on in the Bush whitehouse is just capitalism with the gloves off, the true face. It isn’t about good or bad people or companies, it is about a system that is just out of control, that no entity really controls, and is flooring it to the brink of disaster, in many ways, global warming is just one.

    How about nationalisation of the energy industry, and a massive effort to redesign our lifestyles to be vastly simpler? Does anyone truly think that just curbing emmissions using tax incentives or switching to individual hybrid vehicles will turn this around?

  • Potter

    Deniss I believe the answer was something like another order of magnitude. If you want to be kind about it you can say our leaders are ignorant and such rabid capitalists that they are not capable of thinking globally. How can they look at their grandchildren?

    Suggeston: Anyone who flies can see what is happening from the window of the plane. Do we have pictures and reports from space? Let’s see it. Post pictures here, everywhere.

    A good group to support that I wish was even more vocal, The Union of Concerned Scientists here in Cambridge MA:


    I am thinking of cancelling my subscription to the NYTimes- we will read it online. We must think globally in everything we do now.

  • Jon

    Excellent show. It was fascinating how such a similar observation arose from this discussion as for the Intelligent Design topic: When professional scientists honestly demarcate what is presently known from what still remains unknown, these gaps in current knowledge are forcefully exploited by those with other agendas. The gaps are offered as populist evidence that the underlying scientific approach is itself fatally flawed.

    When I was growing up, my father who was a physicist/engineer by profession, but a very classically educated graduate of the Boston Latin School in his youth, used to tell anyone who would listen that in order to be a good citizen in this country, one truly had to become educated in science and math in addition to the more readily accessible humanities and social sciences. Over and over again, I now see how correct he was. My answer to Chris’s repeated expression of disbelief as to how we could be in such communal denial, is that most of our citizenry (perhaps excluding the 02138 zipcode) has conveniently avoided the demanding educational prescription that prepares one to analyze issues such as climatic change, evolution, etc in a critical fashion. Lacking independent analysis of complex issues, one too readily can instead rely on the messages of smooth-tongued speakers who are fueled by their own motives.

  • joel

    Perhaps those above and others interested in this subject matter would care to see the information and data presented in the sites below. They may demonstrate how difficult it can be to get a handle on what is happening, the great effort being made to do it, some of the fantastic instrumentation and techniques devised to help. To get the significance of it all straight in one’s head may require thinking with much more effort than many may care to spend time on, but it may be worth the try:

    The latest from NASA’s Earth Observatory (09 August 2005)


    New Features:


    * Cloudy with a Chance of Drizzle


    By analyzing data from the MISR instrument, scientists discover that

    a unique type of cloud formation is much more prevalent than previously



    In the News:


    * Latest Images:

    Iraq Dust Storm


    Hurricane Alley Heats Up


    Palm Island Resort, Dubai, United Arab Emirates


    Fires in Portugal


    Kavir National Park, Iran


    The Size of Dust and Smoke


    Aerosols Increase Clouds, Brighten Atlantic Skies


    Aerosol-Cloud Interactions


    * Media Alerts


    – Global Warming’s Effects Extend to World’s Smallest Butterfly

    – Climate Change over the Last 2000 Years — What do we (Really) Know?

    – NRL Measures Record Wave during Hurricane Ivan

    – Spanish Forest Fire Aftermath Surveyed by Envisat

    – LSU Researchers Say 2005 Hurricane Season Could Be Historic

    – Drought Bumps Up Global Thermostat

    – Fossil Fuel Emissions Can Overwhelm Planet’s Ability to Absorb


    – Envisat Monitoring China Floods as Part of Dragon Program

    – Collapse of Antarctic Ice Shelf Unprecedented

    – Scientists Weather a Space Storm to Find Its Origin

    – Penn State to Host U.S. DOE Regional Climate Center

    * Headlines from the press, radio, and television:


    – Alaskan People Tell of Climate Change

    – Forest Fires Continue to Rage in Spain

    – New Forest Fires Hit Tinder-dry Southern France

    – Taiwan State Power Firm Mulling Multi-billion Dollar Wind Power


    – Tropical Storm Irene No Immediate Threat

    – Southern Europe Battles Blazes and Blazing Heat

    – Chemist Tries to Solve World’s Energy Woes

    – Canada, U.S. Agree Ways to Drain North Dakota Lake Safely

    – Bird-Filled Emirates Wetlands Diminishing

    – Taiwan Sizes Up Damage after Typhoon Matsa

    – Over 1.2 Million Evacuated as Typhoon Lashes East China

    – Over 222,000 Villagers Evacuated as India Reels from Rural Floods

    – Indian Task Force Says Tigers under Siege

    – Indian Ocean Nations Agree to Share Tsunami Data

    – Portugal Calls in Troops to Help Contain Heat-fueled Wildfires

    – Scientists Study Arctic Climate Changes

    – Green Sea Turtle Makes Rare Virginia Delivery

    – Listening System May Help Save Whales

    – Tropical Storm Harvey Leaves Bermuda Behind

    – Giant Ocean Waves More Common Than Thought

    – Taiwan Battens Down for Typhoon Matsa

    – Marble Dispute Threatens Michelangelo’s Peak

    – Fear over Scottish Climate Change

    – Ice Cap on Germany’s Highest Peak to Melt Away within 20 Years

    – Bugs Chewing Up Trees, Raising Fire Danger

    – Crew to Track Monarch Butterflies

    – Trees Are Killed to Save Rare Woodpecker

    – Rare Portuguese Seabird Moves Away from Extinction

    – Endangered Turtles Disappear from Malaysian Nesting Sites

    – Overflowing Dams Pose New Threat to Flood-hit Western India

    – Scientists Drill Into San Andreas Fault

    – Biologist: Yellowstone Wolf Pack May Have Died Out

    – Official Says Pelican Exodus Not Alarming

    – NY Authorities Battle Intruding Snakehead Fish

    – Earth from Space: Bloom in the Baltic

    – India to Chair New Tsunami Warning Group

    – Can We Control the Weather? Maybe

    – Lightning Strikes Airliners Every 1,000 Hours

    – Earth “Air” Found on Moon

    – Dramatic Collapse of Antarctic Ice Shelf Linked to Global Warming

    – Senators Heading to Alaska to Study Climate Change

    – Fresh Analysis Points to Potential for Rising Seas

    – New Energy Probe May Harm Sea Life

    – Greenpeace Boards Trawlers in the Northwest Atlantic

    – Beach Pollution Worse during Full Moon

    – Portugal Put on Alert for Wildfires as Temperatures Soar

    – Relief Operations Underway in India

    – Malaysia’s Capital Covered in Choking Haze

    – NAU Picked for Regional Climate Research Institute

    – New Mexico Tries to Grow Rare Plant in New Spots

    – Ivory Bill’s Doubters Convinced by Tapes

    – Weather Service Boosts Hurricane Forecast

    – Slovakia’s Worst Fire in 60 Years Not Completely Under Control

    – Rain-hit Mumbai Continues Clean-up, High Water Forces Thousands to


    – Loss of Wolves Changes Canadian Ecosystem

    – War of the Exotic Species in the West

    – Rare Beetle Found in Massachusetts Forest

    – Scientists Tracking Fast-moving Glaciers

    – Researchers Say Arctic Teeming With Life

    – Survey Finds Gulf ‘Dead Zone’ Much Larger

    – Pacific Coast Life Concerns Scientists

    – How Lowly Bacteria Froze Earth Solid


    New Data:


    * Updated Data:

    TOMS Aerosol Index data for July 2005


    Global Chlorophyll data for June 2005


    Global Chlorophyll data for May 2005


    Global Chlorophyll data for April 2005


    Ozone data for July 2005


    Global Sea Surface Temperature data for June 2005



    Earth Observatory weekly mailing — http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/

    To unsubscribe, e-mail: eo-announce-unsubscribe@eodomo.gsfc.nasa.gov

    Cheers, everyone.

  • loki

    Great Show. Important topic! Keep the heat on this issue.

  • Pingback: How did they know?()

  • MaxEntropy

    More to worry about, published the other day…

    Warming hits ‘tipping point’

    Siberia feels the heat It’s a frozen peat bog the size of France and Germany combined, contains billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas and, for the first time since the ice age, it is melting

    Ian Sample, science correspondent

    Thursday August 11, 2005


    The positive feedback from liberating so much trapped methane will have severe effects, and pretty quickly, it says.

  • tmeckel

    I wonder if we will even be talking about this topic in 20 years.

    There is a vast amount of research from the scientific community in zero emission technologies (e.g. FutureGen) and the point source capture and subsurface storage of carbon dioxide (Norway has been doing this for years sucessfully and projects in the United States are already underway) that the public is generally unaware of. International groups including developed as well as developing nations are initiating the local and international legal framework that will have to accompany such activities. Economists have been working for at least a decade on establishing the theory that will make this a profitable enterprise, eliminating the need for government intervention. Once all these diverse activities iron out the details, the ‘problem’ of CO2 emissions will be overcome just as we’ve done for other problems in our species’ messy history (after all, at one point open sewers were standard). If only we had acted sooner, something we never seem to learn.

    After extensive public education efforts, we don’t seem to feel guilty about recycling paper, glass, and plastic anymore, despite the continual harvesting of trees, sand, and refining of oil. I submit that culturally, it is not the actual ‘dirty’ activity that we are concerned about, but rather how that activity reflects the qualities we aspire to. I imagine one day we’ll feel just fine about storing carbon safely underground, as we do with our other trash. Humanity will happily keep using resources provided they feel they are doing so ‘responsibly’.

    Once storage becomes a reality, we’ll just have to find something else to feel guilty about……..

  • Pingback: Preston L. Bannister { random memes } » Global Warming - for a Change()

  • Further information on climate change policy and the systematic failure of the U.S. government to recognize and respond to the importance of the fundamental science of global climate is available through publically accessible courses on the Internet and websites including:




    The consequences of ignoring the warnings are just beginning to be recognized in the wake of the Louisana/Katrina disasters.

  • Pingback: Agroblogger » Blog Archive » The Global Warming Hoax()

  • adrianem

    The moment when the unusually powerful hurricane ‘Katrina’ hit New Orleans in the summer of 2005, people insisted on being informed and on understanding the phenomenon. Let’s assume that winter temperatures turn suddenly to Ice Age conditions (not experienced for more than one hundred years), but no one talks about this because there is a war going on. That was the case during the winter of 1939/40, when, in several locations in Northern Europe, average temperatures were more degrees lower than during the previous century, and the WWII war machinery cooled down the earth for four decades.

    If this investigation succeeds in proving that two major wars changed the course of the climate twice in the last century, it will also prove that shipping, fishing, off-shore drilling, and other ocean uses had constantly contributed to the global warming since the start of industrialization, more than 150 years ago. A new chapter on the climate change issue could be now opened, giving more attention to oceanic phenomena under the influence of the potential of the “1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” . All research would lead to a better understanding and protection of the stability of our short-term weather and long-term global climate.

  • Pingback: open more refiners()

  • Stymer

    So, I’ve started hearing about a bunch of e-mails and documents that were supposed to be secret between some “climate scientists” that were posted on the internet and now prove that global warming is a giant scam. Does anyone know what the deal is with this one?

  • Pingback: The Global Warming Hoax | Agroinnovations()