Secret email gives advice on denying climate change
Antony Barnett in New York
Sunday April 4, 2004
George W. Bush's campaign workers have hit on an age-old political tactic to deal with the tricky subject of global warming - deny, and deny aggressively.
The Observer has obtained a remarkable email sent to the press secretaries of all Republican congressmen advising them what to say when questioned on the environment in the run-up to November's election. The advice: tell them everything's rosy.
The email - sent on 4 February - warns that Democrats will 'hit us hard' on the environment. 'In an effort to help your members fight back, as well as be aggressive on the issue, we have prepared the following set of talking points on where the environment really stands today,' it states.
The memo - headed 'From medi-scare to air-scare' - goes on: 'From the heated debate on global warming to the hot air on forests; from the muddled talk on our nation's waters to the convolution on air pollution, we are fighting a battle of fact against fiction on the environment - Republicans can't stress enough that extremists are screaming "Doomsday!" when the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.'
Among the memo's assertions are 'global warming is not a fact', 'links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy', and the US Environment Protection Agency is exaggerating when it says that at least 40 per cent of streams, rivers and lakes are too polluted for drinking, fishing or swimming.
It gives a list of alleged facts taken from contentious sources. For instance, to back its claim that air quality is improving it cites a report from Pacific Research Institute - an organisation that has received $130,000 from Exxon Mobil since 1998.
The memo also lifts details from the controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg. On the Republicans' claims that deforestation is not a problem, it states: 'About a third of the world is still covered with forests, a level not changed much since World War II. The world's demand for paper can be permanently satisfied by the growth of trees in just five per cent of the world's forests.'
The memo's main source for the denial of global warming is Richard Lindzen, a climate-sceptic scientist who has consistently taken money from the fossil fuel industry. His opinion differs substantially from most climate scientists, who say that climate change is happening.
But probably the most influential voice behind the memo is Frank Luntz, a Republican Party strategist. In a leaked 2002 memo, Luntz said: 'The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.'
Luntz has been roundly criticised in Europe. Last month Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, attacked him for being too close to Exxon.
Rob Gueterbock of Greenpeace condemned the messages given in the Republican email. He said: 'Bush's spin doctors have been taking their brief from dodgy scientists with an Alice in Wonderland view of the world's environment. They want us to think the air is getting cleaner and that global warming is a myth. This memo shows it is Exxon Mobil driving US policy, when it should be sound science.'
The memo has met some resistance from Republican moderates.
Republican Mike Castle, who heads a group of 69 moderate House members, senators and governors, says the strategy doesn't address the fact that pollution continues to be a health threat. 'If I tried to follow these talking points at a town hall meeting with my constituents, I'd be booed.'
Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, who left the Republican Party in 2001 to become an independent partly over its anti-green agenda, called the memo 'outlandish' and an attempt to deceive voters.
'They have a head-in-the-sand approach to it. They're just sloughing off the human health impacts - the premature deaths and asthma attacks caused by power plant pollution,' Jeffords said.
Republican House Conference director Greg Cist, who sent the email, said: 'It's up to our members if they want to use it or not. We're not stuffing it down their throats.'
He said the memo was spurred by concerns that environmental groups were using myths to try to make the Republicans look bad.
'We wanted to show how the environment has been improving,' Cist said. 'We wanted to provide the other side of the story.'