Most science advisers have taken as their job to inform the president and his administration, as well as Congress, the media, and the public, of the thinking of the scientific community on key science issues of the day. Bush’s advisor, John H. Marburger III, takes the opposite view. He believes his job is to inform (misinform? disinform?) the scientific community, as well as Congress, the media, and the public, of the “thinking” of the Bush Administration on key science issues. In 2006, he summed up the “technology, technology, blah, blah” strategy of Luntz/Bush:
It’s important not to get distracted by chasing short-term reductions in greenhouse emissions. The real payoff is in long-term technological breakthroughs.
Don’t get distracted by actions to save the climate from destruction. The real payoff is in never doing anything.
Realclimate has a good report on Marburger’s lecture at the huge American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, titled “Reflections on the Science and Policy of Energy and Climate Change”:
The good news, I suppose, is that he at least stated that he accepted the established physical connection between CO2 increase and warming — the inhibition of infrared emission by CO2, amplified by water vapor feedback. That’s about the only good thing I can say about the lecture. It was basically an hour long apology for the White House global warming policy. And don’t get me wrong — by “apology” I do not mean that he was expressing regret for the dismal performance of the White House in this sphere.
While acknowledging the correctness of the basic physics, Marburger implied that it was impossible to make useful predictions of climate damages, because of difficulties models have with forecasting regional climate change and things like response of El Nino to warming. Over and over, he castigated the community for being reluctant to do research on adaptation, and over and over stated that adaptation was cheaper than mitigation (reducing CO2 emissions). He stated that it was going to be basically impossible to reduce emissions significantly anyway, since the technologies didn’t exist to do that (I guess he never read Pacala and Socolow’s paper on the wedge concept). His basic answer to everything was that nobody would (or should) do anything until carbon free energy became cheaper than current means of producing energy by burning fossil fuels. There was no recognition that things like carbon taxes might be necessary to put the cost of harms due to climate change into the market. These damages were basically ignored in his world view — except insofar as he said they should be handled by adaptation. “Anthropogenic Climate Change is not the only source of risk to vulnerable populations” He mentioned the need for clean water — the favorite example for everybody who wants to ignore climate change.
He had lots of praise for fossil fuels “Fossil fuels have made modern economies possible” and echoed the Bush administration line by saying the goal should be to reduce carbon intensity (carbon per $ of GDP) not carbon emissions. Sorry, Dr. Marburger, but infrared radiative transfer doesn’t give a fig about GDP. It’s the emissions that count, and they somehow have to be brought down.
It will be no surprise that Marburger hewed to the line that only voluntary carbon reductions should be sought. He referred to “aspirational goals” as the basis for global carbon policy. More remarkably, he put the blame on Congress when somebody asked why no mandatory carbon caps had been put into place — conveniently ignoring that Congress is within a few votes of passing such a cap, but is laboring under a Presidential veto threat. Even more remarkably, in response to a question about White House censorship and re-writing of documents touching on climate change science, he defended these as “Legitimate attempts to improve the communication of science,” and to “correct some fine points that got glossed over.” He baldly stated, “I have not found any evidence of any attempt to censor science.”
Perhaps somebody should ask Jim Hansen for a second opinion on that. I’m sure our readers can provide Dr. Marburger with additional examples, if he needs a reminder.
Marburger should be retitled the pseudoscience advisor.
This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.