The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The debate climate of the climate debate

December 16, 2007

The press has periodically made note of various allegations, but the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee just released (December 12) its full report on Political Interference with Climate Change Science Under the Bush Administration. The Committee has been gathering evidence for 16 months and examined 27,000 pages of documents from the Bush administration. It also conducted multiple hearings and interviewed key figures.

What did the Committee find? The Report’s homepage provides this summary:

The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.

In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed an internal “Communications Action Plan” that stated: “Victory will be achieved when … average citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’” The Bush Administration has acted as if the oil industry’s communications plan were its mission statement. White House officials and political appointees in the agencies censored congressional testimony on the causes and impacts of global warming, controlled media access to government climate scientists, and edited federal scientific reports to inject unwarranted uncertainty into discussions of climate change and to minimize the threat to the environment and the economy.

Long-time readers may recall that I’ve blogged previously about the administration’s secrecy and exclusionary practices in regard to the climate change debate.

I’m particularly concerned about the context for deliberation since it is vitally important for public truth-seeking. Debates distorted (and dominated) by powerful actors are not likely to result in legitimate outcomes.

IR scholars interested in deliberation and the public sphere might want to check out the scholarly work of James N. Druckman. For example, this is a useful article: “Political Preference Formation: Competition, Deliberation, and the (Ir)relevance of Framing Effects,” American Political Science Review (2004), 98: 671-686.

Druckman finds that distortions can be checked by elite competition and heterogeneous discussion. Thus, congressional oversight of this type potentially has tremendous political value — both procedurally and substantively.

+ posts

Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.