BBC OnePanorama


Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Monday, 4 September 2006 12:10 UK

Climate chaos: Transcript


DATE: 4:06:06

REPORTER: In a frozen corner of the United States, an arctic crisis is unfolding. This Alaskan island is disappearing, its people forced to abandon their homes because of the pace of global warming. But when American scientists raised the alarm, they say they were obstructed.

ROBERT CORRELL: I have not seen this in my experience in upwards of 40 years of working in the science world. I have colleagues who I know in government, who work in government laboratories, who feel that it's impossible for them to speak their mind in the precise way that they used to be able to speak.

REPORTER: The leaders of the most powerful nation on earth, are accused of editing reports on global warming.

RICK PILTZ: They would come back altered in such a way as to systematically play down the global warming problem.

REPORTER: Tonight, Panorama investigates accusations that a global warming cover-up has been under way in America.

JAMES HANSEN: It reminds me of the process that occurred in the old Soviet Union, for example, where, you know, the public is given the information that the government wants them to hear, rather than an honest description of the situation.

REPORTER: Vital time has been lost while scientists say they've been working in a climate of fear.

G.W. BUSH: [public broadcast background] ¿. running for President¿

FRANK LUNZ: The red line represents Republicans, the green line represents Democrats.

BUSH: ¿to build a safer world.

REPORTER: Frank Luntz is a top American pollster, and an advisor to the Republican Party. He analyses the political concepts the public responds to and helps politicians script their approach.

BUSH: ¿ that government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives.

LUNZ: Okay, gives the phrase, watch that reaction, right there¿ Just goes up and up.

REPORTER: Shortly after George Bush was elected president, Frank Luntz met with Republicans. Some in the party doubted the evidence of global warming, but they had to make their scepticism look credible. Luntz had an answer. His strategy, which began with a warning, was contained in a confidential memo that was later leaked.

The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America

The environment is probably the single issue on which the Republicans in general, and President Bush in particular, are most vulnerable.

REPORTER: It offered key advice, cast doubt over the science, questioned the notion that the world is getting hotter, asked if global warming is even real.

The Environment: You need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue.

Republican Pollster
In 2000 the science was not definitive. There were plenty of people at that point who were challenging it.

REPORTER: The memo urged Republicans to seek out scientists who were doubters, and give them a voice.

The Environment: Be even more active in recruiting experts who are sympathetic to your view, and much more active in making them part of your message.

REPORTER: Otherwise, it implied, the Republicans were in grave danger of losing votes in the next elections.

The Environment: Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views on global warming will change accordingly.

REPORTER: Today, Frank Luntz says the advice he offered the administration on global warming, was fair when he gave it, but he's distanced himself from their policy since.

LUNTZ: It's now 2006. Now I think most people will conclude that there is global warming taking place, and that the behaviour of humans is affecting the climate.

REPORTER: But the administration has continued to follow your advice, they're still questioning the science?

LUNTZ: That's up to the administration. I am not the administration. What they want to do is their business, it has nothing to do with what I write, it has nothing to do with what I believe.

REPORTER: Since coming to office in 2001, the Bush administration is accused of taking Luntz's advice far beyond what it suggested, and turning it into a nightmarish reality. Bush's government is accused of conducting a campaign to sensor global warming scientists, and of altering or stifling their reports.

Director, Climate Science Watch

The technique varied depending on their relationship to the report: if they could suppress it, they would, if they couldn't, they would ignore it, if they could edit it, they would edit it.

REPORTER: Rick Piltz is a whistle-blower. He left his job in government appalled at the suppression of information he'd witnessed. The Bush administration now officially accepts that global warming is real and that humans contribute to it, but the president still seems to be wrestling with the basic issue.

PILTZ: I mean this is not buried in the past. Just a couple of weeks ago, the president, in a Q and A at a public event, had a question from someone from Australia.

O'CONNOR: Brendon O'Conner from Australia.

BUSH: Thank you.

O'CONNOR: I've got a question about global warming.

PILTZ: What are you doing about it? What about it?

O'CONNOR: What is your plan?

BUSH: Good. Um¿ We ah¿ First of all I.. there is.. ah¿

PILTZ: And the President said: 'Yes, global warming, the globe is warming.'

BUSH: The ah¿ the globe is warming.

PILTZ: The fundamental debate: is it man-made or natural?

BUSH: The fundamental debate: is it man-made or natural?

PILTZ: That's not a fundamental debate. It's not a fundamental debate in the science community. To put it that way is to misrepresent the intelligence on the problem, and that's what they were doing I think.

REPORTER: It's in the Arctic that the tragedy facing the earth is most powerfully evident. This is the worst ice-melt in many thousands of years. Here, amidst this spectacle, international scientists compiled a startling report, warning what that means for this century. If the warming continues, it said, seas may rise by as much as a metre. Major species face extinction. But its chief author says delays meant its recommendations were kept from America's public during the 2004 elections.

Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

There are many who claim the delays are deliberate because the meetings that needed to be held were during an election year in the United States. Whether that's in fact true, only the United States can say. But many people believe that the delay was due to that.

REPORTER: Bob Correll led the team that wrote the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Report. He took us to the far north of Alaska, where some of the research took place. The island of Shishmaref came into view, it lies at the farthest edge of the Western world, just a hundred miles from Russia.

CORRELL: This land used to be all the way out here. It's been eroding anywhere from 10 to 25 feet inland, every year. So this island is now in serious jeopardy.

REPORTER: A small community has survived here for thousands of years, almost completely cut off. But now, global warming threatens to wipe their island from the face of the earth. The people here are about to become some of the first refugees of climate change.

CORRELL: What's amazing is this little island, that's about 5 miles long, a ¼ of a mile wide, has been home to these Native Americans now for over 4000 years.

REPORTER: The houses have started collapsing, quite literally. The ice they're built on is melting, and with the ice that holds this shoreline together crumbling too, this island is being swallowed up into the vast flat expanse of the sea. For all the scientists write about climate change, this is the reality.

CORRELL: They've been moving their buildings back and back, year after year. They didn't think this one had to be moved for another year, but they were wrong unfortunately.

REPORTER: For the first time since their ancestors came to this island, it's now becoming too dangerous to live here. The entire island is preparing to evacuate to more solid ground. Tony Weyiouanna is the man who's organising the exodus.

TONY WEYIOUANNA: We don't have a choice, you know, if we want to keep our culture, our families, our community together, we need to move on to the main land, you know, where it's safe away from the flooding and the erosion.

REPORTER: Correll's report said events here are critical, because entire coastlines and islands worldwide will go the same way if seas keep rising due to warming. His report's key message, one of policy: that governments had to cut greenhouse gas emissions urgently. When it heard this, the Bush administration stepped in.

CORRELL: There was a memo prepared by the US State Department, didn't have a title on, it wasn't signed¿

REPORTER: How do you know who it was from?

CORRELL: Because it was attached to an e-mail from the State Department in the US.

REPORTER: The memo asked the scientists to delay work on their policy recommendations. The US government argued that the preparation of the report had a fundamental flaw. They wanted its authors to stick to the science. This was seen as a delaying tactic.

Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

The observations of other countries were that the United States, because of its position on the climate change, didn't wish to have this sort of process carry out so rapidly during this current administration's view.

REPORTER: Was it because of the nature of what the report was saying?

CORRELL: Oh I think it's because the scientific side of it was such a strong statement about climate change, to the point where it was now very difficult to say that climate change is not occurring, and that if it's occurring, therefore one must do something about it.

REPORTER: A year later, in October 2004, the report was finally ready for publication. But now, it was just one month before America's elections. The report's publication was delayed until immediately after the nation voted.

Was the finalisation of the report delayed because of the US elections?

CORRELL: I can't say that, but there were a number of other countries who spoke with me in saying that they believed that that was the case.

REPORTER: What would the impact have been on the minds of the American public had this report come out on time before the elections?

CORRELL: I am convinced that if the report had come out, it would have been a very strong piece in the presidential election in the US.

REPORTER: We put these points to President George Bush's senior advisor on the environment, James Connaughton.

Bob Correll has told us that there were repeated attempts to delay the publication of the policy document. Why was that?

Senior Environmental Adviser to the President

I'm not familiar with that.

REPORTER: You're not familiar with the Arctic Assessment Report?

CONNAUGHTON: No, I'm very familiar with the Arctic Assessment Report. It was funded in large measure by the United States, so I'm very familiar with the report, I'm just not familiar with the allegations you're describing.

REPORTER: Well, Bob Correll, the chief scientist involved in it has told us categorically that the actual policy documents publication was delayed in the run-up to the 2004 elections.

CONNAUGHTON: Yeah, I'm not familiar with that at all.


By the end of the century, much of the Arctic could be unrecognisable. Alaska is the last giant bastion of America's wilderness. But, in their last election, Americans were not able to test George Bush on what he would do about the Arctic Report's findings, or where it stood in his priorities.

The world had already been witnessing wild weather for years, but in 2001, scientists under the UN's Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, formed a consensus on the causes. They agreed in the strongest terms yet, that man was largely responsible for global warming.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The report you heard today states more categorically that we humans are affecting the earth's climate system.

REPORTER: The chairman of the scientific body, a British-born American, said governments should act.

DR WATSON: This indeed adds impetus for the governments of the world to find ways to live up to the commitments to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

REPORTER: The statement was not welcomed by everyone. Some in America's energy industry felt threatened. After a key speech on the subject, Dr Watson felt the hostility.

Chief Scientist
World Bank

After that speech, a number of individuals from the private sector came up to me and said that they thought the speech was basically a very strong speech, it was an emotional speech, and it was the sort of speech they didn't ever personally want to hear again.

REPORTER: George Bush's new cabinet had close ties to industry. The Vice President, Dick Cheney, used to run Halliburton, an oil services company. In charge of commerce was Donald Evans, former chief of a Denver-based oil company. The treasury was run by Paul O'Neill, the former chairman of the giant manufacturing company Alcoa, and Andrew Card, Chief of Staff, was formerly a senior car industry lobbyist. Just months into office, Bush formally rejected the Kyoto process, in which the world was uniting to cut emissions. He'd opposed Kyoto before he became president. His reasons are the same today.

March 2006
I told the world I thought the Kyoto was a lousy deal for America. And I'll tell you why it's a lousy deal for America: it meant that we had to cut emissions below 1990 levels, which would have meant I would have presided over massive lay-offs and economic destruction. Don't ask any questions.

REPORTER: Then, in 2001, he used exactly the same argument to reverse his pre-election promise to cap US emissions independently. It fell on Christine Todd-Whitman to explain this to a dumbfounded world.

Environmental Protection Agency, 2001-03

He disengaged in a way that lent credence to the belief that many people have: the United States just doesn't care about the rest of the world. And we disengaged talking about, well, this is bad for our economy, we really don't care what the rest of you think (laughs), if it's bad for us, we're not gonna do it.

REPORTER: Next came this from the oil industry. A memo with a cover note from Exxon Mobil, was sent to the White House. The memo asked if Dr Robert Watson, head of the IPCC, could be replaced at the request of America. The administration withdrew its support. Dr Watson was not re-elected.

Chief Scientist
World Bank

The Bush administration and the position of some in the private sector was that I was overemphasising the importance and the seriousness of climate change, and therefore probably, they viewed it would be better to have a different chair.

Senior Environmental Adviser to the President

Dr Watson was not forced out, his term has expired. The United States supported, at the strong urging of the Indian government, a leading world-renowned Indian scientist to lead this effort. And it was very important to us diplomatically to see this as an opportunity to give a major developing country a leading role in one of these international bodies for the first time.

REPORTER: George Bush set his record on the environment when he was governor of Texas in the 1990's.

BUSH: Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger which in Texas is called - walking.

[Laughter & applause]

REPORTER: And, as Washington now knows, Texans do things their own way.

Climate Science Watch

It tends to be more of the boot-in-your-face style of governance. It's¿ we have the power, we have the money, we have the votes, we're not interested in talking to you¿ with your reform ideas. We have our agenda to run.


REPORTER: Welcome to Houston, home of the Texan oil industry.

MAN: The Left is hysterical, and it has been throughout my lifetime.

REPORTER: A place where global warming is seen by some as an invention by left-wingers.

MAN: They hate modern society, they hate modern technology.

REPORTER: An invention by alarmists who detest capitalism and freedom.

MAN: They hate the fact that you drive a car, or God forbid, an SUV, and that they can't control you and put you into a train. They hate that fact.

FEM: Oh, it's old. It's been updated and upgraded and as we understand¿

REPORTER: The alarmists are people like Lanell Anderson. She's accused governor George Bush of making it easier for companies to pollute, and is angry that in just six years he left an appalling legacy for both Houston and the state.

LANELL ANDERSON: Number one in smoke stacks, number one in ozone pollution, number one in toxic pollution. When you have that many number ones, it's time to stop and take account and he refused.

REPORTER: Just outside Houston, this fortress of steel spews thousands of tonnes of harmful emissions into the air. This is the biggest oil refinery in America. It's owned by Exxon Mobil and it's set in a sprawling city of factories. Houston is one of the most polluted cities in America. The oil business may not be pretty, but it's helped make George Bush.

ANDERSON: He knows that he got elected because of these corporate contributions, and he's going to protect them. He is a loyal person. He's loyal to those¿ 'he dances with those that brung him' is what he likes to say.

REPORTER: In Texas about 2 million people buy delicate little cars like these. This Hummer weighs a mere 3 tonnes and that really appeals here. After all, what's the state's slogan? 'Don't mess with Texas.'

HUMMER REP: A lot of people maybe get it as a status symbol. It just kind of fits into that image of, you know, bigger is better, and the Hummer is one way to show that you've achieved that.

REPORTER: Hummers are as mean as they look. With all the thrust of 8 cylinders and a 6 litre engine they devour the road and the fuel.

How many miles to a gallon do you get?

HUMMER REP: In the H2's we typically get 12.

REPORTER: Do people worry about that, when you're selling it to them? Is it an issue? Does it come up?

HUMMER REP: Not particularly.

ANDERSON: If Texas were a country, we would be number 6 in the world for the emission of greenhouse gases.

REPORTER: President Bush is forcing SUV's to become more fuel efficient. But in America today, you still get a tax break for buying a Hummer. In the last 6 years, most industrialised nations have cut greenhouse gas emissions, but under George Bush, US emissions have increased by an average of 1% a year. America emits a ¼ of the world's greenhouse gases. As reports have flooded in warning of the dangers, scientists say the censorship has tightened.

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

I had hoped that, as we presented a clearer and stronger story about the status of global climate, that this would begin to have some impact on the policies.

REPORTER: Dr James Hansen, one of the world's top climate scientists, has repeatedly warned of the dangers himself.

HANSON: It seems that they want to listen to those people who say the things that they want to hear, rather than listen to the scientists who know most about the topic.

REPORTER: We've tracked the fate of an environmental report produced in 2003 by the administration. It was called: 'Our Changing Planet'. The document was severely edited within the White House. Rick Piltz worked in a federal coordinating office as the managing editor of this document and others.

Climate Science Watch

There were a lot of edits, there were hundreds of edits in these documents. If it has to do with observed warming, observed changes, the language is softened. If it has to do with projected, greater changes in the future, the language will have some kind of uncertainty included to create the sense that this is a fundamentally uncertain work that is really just not a basis for any further discussion.

REPORTER: Page after page, the edits emphasise that there's no need for alarm. The earth "is" undergoing a period of rapid change becomes "maybe". Human actions "will" affect the global climate, is changed to "might". A section on global warming dangers complains the findings are always negative and asks what about the benefits. With better growing conditions there may be more food and forest products for harvesting, and that means lower prices for consumers.

This is just one of a number of major reports we've had access to. Some were edited in the same way. In another, the entire section on global warming was simply removed. And in one case the whole report was sent into - what was described to us as - 'a bureaucratic black hole'.

PILTZ: It wasn't a matter of: 'How can we edit this in such a way as to most clearly communicate the state of science to the public?' It was: 'How can we spin this in such a way that it doesn't cause problems for the White House by conveying the impression that we're acknowledging the seriousness of the global warming problem?'

REPORTER: The White House office is responsible for the changes, the Council on Environmental Quality. They argue that only policy, not science documents, have been edited, and that not all the edits are final. James Connaughton is in charge.

Senior Environmental Adviser to the President

What matters is, are they being vetted by the right people? And at the end of the day, comments are accepted or rejected, in the case of science, by our scientists.

REPORTER: With the "Our Changing Planet" were the edits to the "Our Changing Planet"¿final edits, were they in the final report?

PILTZ: Yeah, very often they were in the final report, yes.

REPORTER: So was the final document a lot weaker than the original suggested document?

PILTZ: It was weaker in key ways.

CONNAUGHTON: The ultimate decisions are made by the expert people with responsibility to be sure they're correct.

PILTZ: The Chief of Staff was a former oil industry lobbyist from the American Petroleum Institute. These were not career science people. They were politicals, their principal job was to further the policy agenda of the White House.

CONNAUGHTON: Energy is central to our economy. I mean if you look around the world today, energy security is one of the topmost issues worldwide. If you're going to make energy policy, for goodness sake, you need to talk to the energy industry, and it's ridiculous to suggest you shouldn't.

REPORTER: To see just how central the energy industry is to America, West Virginia is the place to go. Beneath the magnificence of the Appalachian Mountains, lie deposits of a fossil fuel that keeps America running.

[Filming from aircraft]

PILOT: You get up in the sky, you can see what they're doing that you don't know about.

REPORTER: That fossil fuel is coal. The true scale of how these mountains are mined is only visible from the air. This is the oldest mountain range in the world and for a 100 years, mining these mountains has brought jobs for the people here. But nowadays when they mine here in West Virginia, they don't take the coal from the mountains, they literally take the mountains from the coal. Strip-mining, a form of open cast mining, has devastated whole sections of this landscape.

PILOT: Hard to believe that the people has no idea of what they're doing up here on top of these mountains, but they know it's something.

REPORTER: South Wings, an environmental group, runs flights to show that for miles around, the mountains have been ripped up, leaving vast brown ulcers. But to the miners, all this is just a necessary evil. Coal means jobs and electricity in the area.

West Virginia Coal Association

There's probably close to a 100,000 people that are dependant on the coal industry working in West Virginia.

REPORTER: These machines gouge the tops right off the mountains. It's one of the most brutish and efficient methods of mining known to man. This is how an estimated 500 square miles of ancient hills have been obliterated, the land churned into an apocalyptic moonscape which the miners then try to clean up.

JESS BALDWIN: We remove the top, we remove the rock over the coal, then we take the coal out.

REPORTER: That's a big job, taking the top off a mountain. How long does it take to do that?

JESS BALDWIN: Well, not a lot with the equipment that we have, it don't take long.

REPORTER: Coal is a filthy business, from when it's mined to when it's burned. In the power plants it gives off massive greenhouse gas emissions. But the reality is, it's a secure supply of energy, which turns the lights on in more than half the United States. Talk of global warming or forced emission cuts, doesn't go down well here.

RANEY: People can talk conservation, they can talk windmills, they can talk solar panels, but no-one ever offers a viable substitute for the use of coal to make electricity in this country.

REPORTER: Larry Gibson lives on a mountain not yet destroyed, but he's surrounded by coal mines. His family's been here for more than 200 years, and he refuses to sell his land.

LARRYGIBSON: These headstones here, like this one here's been shot up several times. You've seen...

REPORTER: What, these are bullet marks?

GIBSON: Yeah, bullet holes.

REPORTER: Larry says the miners hate him, because they think his fight for his land threatens their jobs.

Do you think people are trying to run you off?

GIBSON: Oh sure, oh sure. Scared people make dangerous people.

REPORTER: Larry won't sell his land on principle. He thinks the coal industry is more about money than America's future.

GIBSON: This is what I call Hell's Gate. It's about profits. They tear one mountain down like this and they build another mountain like this. The other mountain they build is dollar bills. The other mountain they drop down can never be replaced.

BALDWIN: It looks like a mess now, but it's just like an old house. When you start tearing something down to put something back new¿ and we are proud of our state, so we're not gonna, we're not gonna go off and leave it like that, you know, we're gonna do our best to put it back like it was, if not better.

REPORTER: The Bush administration has pledged large sums to establish cleaner ways of using coal. It would like to cut emissions without risking industries like this. But, many scientists fear that by the time new technology is in place, global warming will have accelerated beyond control. In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina thundered along the Gulf coast. It became one of the worst natural disasters in America's history. It was a year of more category 5 hurricanes than ever recorded. New scientific evidence emerged, indicating global warming could fuel intense storms. Scientists accused the Bush administration of deliberately misleading the public on the issue.

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

When much of the country were glued to their television watching the events unfolding in New Orleans. It was disturbing, the fact that they were repeatedly told that there was no relationship between global warming and hurricanes. That was the official position.

REPORTER: Today New Orleans is still eerily desolate. Houses and possessions left as they were on the day. Reverend Jack Boudreaux knew people in this area, but almost no-one's returned.

BOUDREAUX: It's taken off the whole back of the house, hey this is horrible.

REPORTER: Hurricane Katrina ripped through people's lives abruptly and without mercy. It was one of the strongest storms ever to hit the Gulf coast. The crushing floodwaters killed at least twelve hundred people, some right here on these streets.

The water just came right over, went right over¿ went right over this roadway?

Rev JACK BOUDREAUX: This is the exact area where the levees failed. This particular house is probably one of the first to get hit.

REPORTER: Oh really?

BOUDREAUX: And the force of the water literally took the bricks off the side, took the insides out of the house, tore up the trees around. You can see the total devastation.

REPORTER: Few Americans knew it, but just 4 weeks before the hurricane's waters surged down these roads, alarming new scientific evidence had been published. It found that global warming could be significantly increasing the intensity of hurricanes.

KNUTSON: These hurricanes are forming spontaneously.

REPORTER: A specialist on the subject, Tom Knutson, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, was asked to discuss the new research on television, but he says he was gagged by the administration. Just before Katrina hit, he'd been contacted by his office.

Research Meteorologist

We're just checking to see if you might be interested in appearing on this show, a talk show, where you can talk about your research.

REPORTER: He agreed for the next day, but his office called back. His interview had been vetoed by an unexpected source.

KNUTSON: It's the White House.. the White House said no. This was just a voicemail message. So I was¿

REPORTER: The White House?

KNUTSON: The White House said no. So I was a bit surprised, I said oh¿ to hear that.

REPORTER: On August the 23rd, Katrina's winds set out northwards. It began as a category one hurricane. But then it swept over a pool of unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico. The world's oceans were at their hottest in recorded history, and Katrina was rapidly transformed into a raging demon.

So it was that warm water that turned it into a category five hurricane?

KNUTSON: We believe it's likely that it played a substantial role in creating that monster hurricane that we.. that we saw on the gulf.

REPORTER: NOAA, the federal body that monitors hurricanes, then made this categorical statement. It said on its website that: "Unusual hurricane activity is not related to greenhouse warming".

Climate Modelling Laboratory
NOAA, 1984-2000

My reaction was that it was categorically incorrect. Hurricanes that are going over warm water intensify, and hurricanes in a global warming earth going over ever more warming water, will intensify more.

REPORTER: You worked in NOAA for 30 years, why would NOA have come out with a statement like that?

MAHLMAN: The only thing I can say is that it was ideologically driven.

REPORTER: Tens of thousands of Katrina's victims are still living in trailers.

NED HENRY: I lost a few friends. I lost a co-worker, drowned, yeah. Seven people that I knew lost their lives.

REPORTER: Unusual hurricane activity is predicted again this year, and Ned Henry's trailer offers almost no protection.

HENRY: I'm not too sure about the storms. They're becoming more violent every year.

REPORTER: You're worried about the hurricane season in June, July?

HENRY: Yes I am, very much, very much worried about it.

REPORTER: Do you think the Bush administration is taking global warming seriously enough, from what you see?

BRIDGETTE BEDNEY: I don't think the Bush Administration is taking anything seriously.

HENRY: It's gonna get worse. You know, I notice the summers here are getting warmer and warmer. I mean, up in the north, it's glaziers are melting, then, hey, something's wrong.

REPORTER: The might of Katrina woke many Americans up to climate change. This week there have been calls for the head of NOAA to resign. He's denied any wrongdoing.

REPORTER: The head of NOAA has come out and said publicly and to his employees, that there is no problem, that scientists can say whatever they like. What do you make of his statement?

MAHLMAN: Yeah, it's very, very clear that he's pretending that in the first part of his tenure as administrator of NOAA, that somehow none of this ever happened.

REPORTER: The world was changing dramatically, but few scientists yet dared speak of censorship. Then in December, it got worse. NASA announced that last year was the hottest year ever recorder. It's top climate scientist issued a warning: we're rapidly reaching the point of no return.

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

We're getting very close to a tipping point, where we're going to have climate changes that are out of our control.

REPORTER: Scientists say if action's not taken within a decade, millions of the world's poorest could face drought and starvation. Heat and ice-melt could swell seas far more than originally predicted, and critically for the administration, this means mainland America would be hit too.

HANSEN: So there would be enormous impacts, not just New Orleans, but in the United States you'd be talking about Boston, New York, Washington DC. There'd be many cities under water.

REPORTER: When Dr Hansen rang this alarm bell at a speech in December, the repercussions were swift.

HANSEN: People had been bouncing off the walls at NASA headquarters. It was described as a shit-storm. And I was told that I could.. should not give any further talks without first getting approval from NASA headquarters, and if I did¿ if I didn't obey this ah.. instructions that there would be dire consequences - without explanation of what dire consequences were.

REPORTER: Hansen says his public utterings were then all subjected to official review. He felt cornered.

HANSEN: Anything that was to be put on our website, would have to have prior approval from NASA headquarters. And any future talks would need to have prior approval from NASA headquarters. And any interviews with any of the media would require prior approval by NASA headquarters.

REPORTER: James Hansen went public. NASA reacted, declaring scientists were free. But scientists say it's not clear yet that the battle's been won. The administration says there was never a problem.

Senior Environmental Advisor to the President

I do find pretty shocking these allegations of censorship, given the very public availability and access and engagement of our scientific community on these issues, and it's the US that's leading the way in this.

REPORTER: So are you saying that there's been no censorship, no gagging, that these scientists are making it up, or what?

CONNAUGHTON: The fact that documents are edited is a given course of government. I do not regard that as censorship.

REPORTER: Far beyond Washington, the demise of a small, distant island off the north of Alaska, may seem marginal. But as the people here prepare to leave their homes, they're experiencing the real impact of a physical phenomena more immense than any other.

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

There will be a day when this island will not be here. It will just be eaten away by the storms that come when the ice is no longer there, ice that used to be there because the planet was cold enough.

REPORTER: As a small part of the earth slips away into oblivion, the Bush administration stands accused of trying to silence nature's most compelling warnings and of misleading its people. Precious time has been lost, and that carries a price.

HANSEN: For 5 or 10 years the public has not been fully informed, and we're not taking the initial steps that need to be taken, so¿ and if we continue down this path another 5 years or so, we're going to be past the point at which we can avoid really large climate changes.


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