Six Years of Deceit

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Internal documents uncovered by  Rolling Stone reveal that Cooney did far more than edit scientific reports to suit the administration's point of view. Just as neoconservative hawk Douglas Feith funneled false intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs to the vice president, Cooney steered industry-sponsored junk science on global warming to Cheney. "What disturbed me most," Whitman says, "was the administration's record of taking the most extreme of the science – what I call the 'political science' – and giving it the same weight as the real science."

The most egregious example of cooked intelligence was a study underwritten in part by the API, Cooney's former employer. The study, which purported to show that the twentieth century was not unusually warm, was authored by two astrophysicists, both of whom were on the payroll of the George C. Marshall Institute, a climate-denial group funded by ExxonMobil and now headed by Bill O'Keefe, Cooney's former boss. The paper's publication in a minor German journal in January 2003 quickly created a scandal, with the editor in chief and three other editors resigning in shame after acknowledging that the paper was fundamentally flawed and should never have been published.

"It was sham science," says McCarthy, the Harvard scientist. "It's almost laughable, except that this study was held up by the administration as a definitive refutation of the temperature record."

But even as the paper was being discredited, it was causing great excitement in the White House. When Kathie Olsen of the Office of Science and Technology Policy forwarded the study to Cooney, he responded with an enthusiastic, "Thanks, Kathie!" Six minutes later, according to internal e-mails, the study was in the hands of Kevin O'Donovan, who served as Cheney's point man on climate. The study also grabbed President Bush's attention, as revealed in an e-mail sent two days later to a high-ranking White House official: "Bob – if you din't [sic] already have, this is the study the President was talking about."

The study gave Cheney's office the quasi-plausible refutation of climate science it was waiting for. According to a memo reviewed by congressional investigators, but which the CEQ refused to make public, Cooney was eager to promote the sham science. The study, he e-mailed O'Donovan, "represents an opening to potentially reinvigorate debate on the actual climate history of the past 1,000 years." The paper, he added, "contradicts the dogmatic view held by many in the climate science community that the past century was the warmest in the past millennium. . . .We plan to begin to refer to this study in administration communications on the science of global climate change."

One e-mail exchange about the study underscores just how many industry foxes were guarding the climate henhouse. When Matthew Koch (a White House energy adviser who today lobbies for API) saw the study, he wrote to Cooney (the former API lobbyist who is now "corporate issues manager" for ExxonMobil) and CC'd O'Donovan (who now works for Shell Oil).

"What??!!" Koch wrote in mock disbelief at the study's claim that the planet isn't really heating up. "I want to grow oranges in the Arctic!"

Such joking aside, the administration continues to hold up the discredited study as a counterweight to the IPCC's scientific, peer-reviewed findings on global warming. Testifying before the House Oversight Committee in March, Connaughton lauded the study as a "new and major piece of science." His only regret, he said, is that "I'm not a scientist, so I can't find it conclusive."

Although Cooney resigned in 2005, the campaign of disinformation he implemented had the desired effect. Two months after Cooney returned to work for Exxon-Mobil, the Cheney energy plan was passed into law. A massive giveaway for the fossil-fuel industry, the Energy Policy Act authorized $6 billion in subsidies for oil and gas production and another $9 billion for coal producers. Worst of all, the bill fast-tracked the construction of coal-fired power plants that would hasten global warming.

Nor did Cooney's return to the oil industry spell an end to the administration's meddling in climate science. Less than a month later, before the G8 summit on climate change, the administration killed the opening line of the eight-country report – "Our world is warming" – and quashed a section that cited "increasingly compelling evidence of climate change." Last month, in negotiations leading up to the newest round of G8 talks, the administration blocked another motion that "resolute action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions."

"It's the ideological bent of the current administration," says McCarthy. "They seem absolutely resistant to any call to action, no matter what the science says."

Indeed, the campaign to sow doubts about climate change has grown more aggressive in recent years. No longer is the administration simply censoring scientific reports – it has moved to silence the scientists themselves. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the administration refused to allow a top federal scientist whose research links increased hurricane intensity to global warming to speak to the press. It sent out a gag order to top government polar scientists, demanding that anyone attending international scientific conventions agree not to speak to reporters about "climate change, polar bears and sea ice." And it ordered a former intern from the Bush-Cheney campaign in the NASA press office to prevent Dr. James Hansen, the godfather of global-warming science, from talking to the media.

"Interference with communication of science to the public has been greater during the current administration than at any time in my career," Hansen testified before Congress in March, suggesting that NASA's press office had become an "office of propaganda." This month, when news leaked that the Pentagon plans to kill a satellite program critical to monitoring the Earth's climate, NASA's scientists issued a confidential memo warning that the move "places the overall climate program in serious jeopardy."

In many ways, the administration's refusal to budge on global warming mirrors its intransigence on Iraq. No matter how bad the reports from the field get, Bush appears determined to stay the course. "Never once – not a single time – have they revisited the decision to not do anything serious about global warming," says Symons, who sat in on Cheney's task force. "They say it's more 'serious' now than they did earlier on. But the president has never said, 'Let's start over and come up with a real plan.'"

Even when Bush proposes what looks like a plan, it's designed to stall real progress on global warming. In May, America's allies in the G8 unveiled an ambitious proposal: Member nations would cut planet-warming pollution in half by 2050, accepting mandatory caps on carbon emissions. But the administration flatly rejected the plan, which it called "fundamentally incompatible with the president's approach to climate change."

Instead, at the G8 summit on June 6th, Bush pushed what he touted as his "new initiative" for combating climate change. For the first time, the president acknowledged that "long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gases" are needed. But his solution, in essence, is to take his do-nothing strategy global, turning our allies into a Coalition of the Warming. Under his proposal, mandatory caps on emissions would be replaced with "aspirational goals" to be met through voluntary cuts and futuristic technology. Countries would work independently for the next "ten to twenty years" to develop strategies to "improve energy security, reduce air pollution and also reduce greenhouse gases" – apparently in that order.

And when will the United States and other polluting nations be expected to meet the nonbinding targets they set for themselves under Bush's plan? Not until as late as 2075 – well past the point that global warming will have superheated the planet.

This story is from the June 28, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.

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