WHEN THE top public health official of the United States addressed the Senate last Tuesday on the health impact of global warming in this country, the senators - and the public - had a right to expect Julie Gerberding's full, unvarnished thoughts on this important issue. That's not what they got. In another case of the White House censoring what the public learns about climate change, the administration cut her testimony in half.
As a result, Gerberding, who heads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not tell senators, as she had planned to, that "the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed." Nor did the senators learn that areas in the northern part of the country "will likely bear the brunt of increases in ground-level ozone and associated airborne pollutants. Populations in Midwestern and Northeastern cities are expected to experience more heat-related illnesses as heat waves increase in frequency, severity, and duration."
All of that information was included in the six pages stricken from Gerberding's original draft of 12 pages. The White House says it made the deletions because the information "didn't align" with a report this year from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In response, Senator Barbara Boxer of California released a comparison of the UN report and phrases stricken from the Gerberding draft. Both raise the threat of heat stress on vulnerable populations, increased respiratory diseases, and more waterborne infectious diseases.
This is not the first time the White House has muzzled government researchers who have raised concerns about global warming or pointed the way to addressing it. After NASA scientist James E. Hansen said in 2005 that greenhouse gas emissions were creating "a different planet," his superiors tried to control his appearances and limit his interviews.
In 2002, the White House made the Environmental Protection Agency drop a chapter on the risks of climate change from an annual EPA report that for six years had included such information. In 2003, the EPA did its best to bury an analysis by staff members showing that a proposal to cap carbon dioxide emissions by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman would not seriously damage the economy.
Recently, the Bush administration has been more willing to acknowledge the role of manmade emissions in the warming of the planet, while still shrinking from mandatory actions to deal with the problem. By watering down the views of a top official like Gerberding, the White House hopes to reduce pressure in the public and Congress for a carbon cap or tax that would force limits on emissions. But this is a case of what we don't know can hurt us. The Senate should bring Gerberding back to give her full testimony.