Flood-Gate: Perry Officials Try to Hide Sea Level Rise from Texans with “Clear-Cut Unadulterated Censorship”

“We Live in the State of Denial, the State of Texas” Censored Rice University Oceanographer John Anderson Tells Climate Progress

In one of the most flagrant recent instances of scientific censorship, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) refused to publish a report chapter unless all mention of climate change and its impact on sea level rise were eliminated.  The author — Rice University oceanographer John Anderson, a leading expert on sea level rise with more than 200 publications — refused.  As a result, TCEQ killed his chapter in The State of the Bay, a regular publication of the Galveston Bay Estuary Program.

Climate Progress interviewed Anderson along with other Texas scientists who revealed that this is not the first time officials removed references to climate change in a state report.  Dr. Wendy Gordon, a scientist who spent 8 years working for the TCEQ and its predecessor agencies, told me she was not surprised by this censorship at all.  She related the story of one of her colleagues whose attempt to incorporate climate change into a state water planning report was “eviscerated by the higher-ups.”

Governor Rick “4 Pinocchios” Perry is a proud denier of climate science, as is his appointed head of TCEQ, Bryan Shaw, so it’s no surprise his entire administration walks in lock step.  No doubt this is what the country should expect from a Perry presidency.  After all, we saw similar climate science censorship the last time an anti-science Texan was in the White House.

What makes this especially tragic is that Texas is one of the states most at risk from unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions — because of its vast low-lying shoreline, its vulnerability to hurricanes, and, of course, its vulnerability to devastating drought and heat wave.

But this is censorship of sea level rise, which is why I call it Flood-Gate.  Indeed, Anderson told me that “In Texas, I find people far less informed on sea level rise than even in Louisiana.   The state is not allowing this information to get out there.”  As he told Mother Jones:

“Sea level doesn’t just go up in Louisiana. We’re the next in line.  We are in fact starting to see many of the changes that Louisiana was seeing 20 years ago, yet we still have a state government that refuses to accept this is happening.”

Here is a 2009 analysis of the “The Socio-Economic Impact of Sea Level Rise in the Galveston Bay Region” by Texas scientists of what a Category 2 Hurricane like Ike would do after sea level rise (SLR) of 0.69 meter (27 inches) — click to enlarge:

And 27 inches is, optimistically, half the current business-as-usual SLR projection for 2100 (see here).

Anderson was particularly “shocked” at how ham-fisted all of this was.  His discussion of sea level rise is focused entirely on  peer-reviewed data that isn’t controversial at all.  Indeed, his discussion focused on sea level rise estimates from thermal expansion of the ocean — even though he is an expert on the West Antarctic ice sheet and thinks we are at great risk of catastrophic sea level rise this century.

The paper stated in the Summary (page 19):  “Current rates of sea level rise … are  approaching 3 mm per year and may well exceed 4 mm per year by the end of this century.”  In fact, SLR is projected to be several time faster than that by the second half of the century.  Anderson was bending over backwards to avoid exactly what happened.

We can’t even present a conservative viewpoint,” he told me.  Below is the final draft he submitted and the stunning line edits demanded by senior TCEQ officials :
Chapter 5 Rewrite Final 9-20-11
A heading that said “Impact of Sea Level Rise” becomes “Sea Level Change” and most of its contents are deleted along with a figure from the journal Science.  The fact that the disappearance of Texas wetlands is “due mainly to direct human intervention” — gone.  Ecological impact of Hurricane Ike — gone!

If only that worked in real life.  As one Texas scientists emailed me:

If we didn’t like the results of a test the doctor ran on us, would we exclude that test from our diagnosis–even if that meant we would end up with a different diagnosis that potentially missed identifying the root of the problem? No sensible person would do that. But that’s exactly what we seem to be doing with climate change these days. Removing relevant and potentially important information from a public report puts the public at risk and squanders valuable knowledge the acquisition of which was paid for, in part, by the public.

Indeed, Anderson told me “I did this as one of those things we do for public outreach.   Scientists are often criticized for being ivory tower and not communicating with the public.   The idea here is to have a knowledgeable public. That’s the reason I do it.”  But he was thwarted.

He told me, “This is just clear-cut unadulterated censorship.”

The edits were made by top TCEQ officials.  Mother Jones notes:

As the document shows, most of the tracked changes came from Katherine Nelson, the assistant director in the water quality planning division. Her boss, Kelly Holligan, is listed as a reviewer on the document as well….

Holligan and Nelson are top managers at Perry’s commission; lower-ranking staff at the agency had already approved the document, according to the publication’s editor. The changes came only after the two women reviewed the issue. TCEQ’s commissioners, who are direct political appointees of the governor, select the top managers at TCEQ. Although the director and assistant director jobs aren’t technically political appointments, those hires are usually vetted by the governor’s office.

Why did it happen?  “We have a governor who goes around saying he doesn’t believe in global climate change.”

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33 Responses to Flood-Gate: Perry Officials Try to Hide Sea Level Rise from Texans with “Clear-Cut Unadulterated Censorship”

  1. OldUncleDave says:

    The chapter mentions the ice age 20,000 years ago. Doesn’t Perry say that 20k years ago God hadn’t yet poofed the universe into existence?

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Show this to people the next time someone talks about “Hide the Decline”.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Cuccinelli attempts to criminalize all of climate science — with Post Normal logic & fervor

  4. muoncounter says:

    Nice job! There is a simple word for refusing to accept basic truths: denial.

    The Water Quality Planning division of TCEQ is supposed to:
    Implement scientific, strategic plans developed by their communities to protect and improve the quality of bay systems.
    Encourage and support wetland and habitat protection.

    Guess you can’t do that if the water level is rising. BTW, per the Galveston Bay Estuary Program:

    Overall, the rate of estuarine wetland loss in Galveston Bay is higher than the national average.

    The Perry guv’mint’s position on this issue is clearly thus: “What – Me Worry?

  5. Paul magnus says:

    Surely this is serious enough that they should resign.

    Not only that but the report should then be updated to state the current understanding of global warming impact not the soften version of the original.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    Perry, Romney, Harvard, etc.

    Perry is (or should be) out. My goodness, he did terribly at Texas A&M, hardly eeking through his basic science classes, and he says that climate change isn’t real; meanwhile, atmospheric/climate scientists at Texas A&M all say that climate change is real. But moving to more fertile ground …

    Romney, on the other hand, is a highly political politician (and we all know what that means), but at least he’s not an idiot. He was a JD/MBA at Harvard and a Baker Scholar at Harvard B-School, and given that he was at BCG and Bain, he presumably understands, or at least is capable of understanding, what it means when top-notch scientists all agree on something. And scientists at Harvard, as well as elsewhere, should start hooting and hollering louder than ever that climate change is real; and they should start putting that issue TO Romney. Indeed, people should be petitioning Harvard, and Harvard Business School, to step up to the plate. No more fence-sitting. What is your stance, Dean (I’ve forgotten his name) at Harvard B-School?

    Too, the climate scientists in Texas should make it known, loud and clear, how they feel about climate change. Tell Fox News. Tell Fox News again. Tell them again. If they don’t cover the matter, tell CNN and MSNBC that Fox News didn’t cover the matter, despite telling them five times. C’mon, let’s get persistent, let’s get serious. Don’t let these politicians off the hook; and don’t let the media off the hook.


  7. Hank says:

    Recent sea level numbers from Envisat show that the two year long decline is continuing, at a rate of 5mm per year.
    Is it possible that TCEQ is trying to keep things ‘real’ for a change?

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    What are Texans going to do when they find out about all this? ME

  9. muoncounter says:

    The long term trend is still 3.2 mm/yr, and is twice that in Galveston Bay. A short term blip, which may be linked to all that recent precipitation, doesn’t change that.

  10. John Hollenberg says:

    This just proves my contention that people should not be allowed to read Climate Progress unless they own a head vise and have been trained in its proper use.

  11. Leif says:

    Yup Hank, and the 5% has been accounted for. It just happens that the water is spread around the earth’s surfaces as the Biblical floods that are so common this day in age. This phenomenon is itself a function of climatic disruption. Four percent extra water in the atmosphere has to come from someplace. There was a post a bit ago on Climate Progress that even shows that that trend is itself an anomaly. Two years does not a trend make. Look at the facts Hank.

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s not just Texas. Peter Ward told me that Seattle was designing its underground rail tunnel under the old IPCC 1 foot sea level rise assumption. When it goes over that, as expected, the whole multibillion dollar project turns into mud and ocean. By any scientific standard, it has to be abandoned.

    Nobody cares. The engineering firms, politicians, and builders want the money now. Same in Texas.

  13. Rob Jones says:

    I expect they will blame the climate scientists for not being clearer with their messaging.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Dave, saying that the cosmos was ‘poofed’ into existence implies a type of ‘immaculate conception’ that will have our local God-botherers up in arms.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Facts’, Leif? Facts are what you make them. Sounds like you’re a refugee from the ‘reality-based community’. This is ‘The Age of Faith’-just make things up as you go along, and soon all your worries will disappear, I guarantee it.

  16. prokaryotes says:

    Rick Perry as President, probably makes praying to “him” mandatory and will re-introduce public flogging of scientists.
    *Yada Yada*


  17. prokaryotes says:

    Florida GOP Rep. Wants To Bring Back Electrocution And Firing Squads: ‘I’m So Tired Of Being Humane’

    “There shouldn’t be anything controversial about a .45-caliber bullet. If it were up to me we would just throw them off the Sunshine Skyway bridge and be done with it,” Drake said.
    Under his bill, electrocution would be the standard method of executions, but inmates could opt for an execution by firing squad. This bill “end[s] the debate,” Drake said. “We still have Old Sparky. And if that doesn’t suit the criminal, then we will provide them a .45 caliber lead cocktail instead.” Of course, Florida’s electric chair “Old Sparky” is nowhere near humane. In the late 1990s, “Old Sparky” left one inmate “alive for moments after the electrocution, and sparked a fire on another inmate’s face during the execution.”

  18. Lionel A says:

    Have these entities tunnel vision (sorry could not resist)?

    Have they not heard of the Juan de Fuca Microplate System and what it is likely to do some time the not too distant future?

    The Juan de Fuca is a complex system with many possible varieties of tectonic activity which could unfold.

  19. Hank says:

    It’s not that nobody cares…. it’s that nobody believes.

  20. Peter Mizla says:

    1 foot rise? laughable. 1 foot rise by 2050- perhaps, increasingly possible before that.

    Hansen and Sato predict doubling of GIS ice loss per decade which, by 2050 would result in cumulative loss of 48,000 gigatonnes with annual loss increasing to 3,200 gigatonnes per annum.

    3-4 meters by 2090 seem likely.

  21. Mike Roddy says:

    Yep, that’s another little problem. Downtown Seattle is going to turn into the worst disaster movie imaginable, at any moment, really.

    The Pacific quake, shown via paleo evidence to occur every 300 years, is overdue. Seattle skyscrapers were designed for a 7. I talked to a facilities manager of the biggest downtown building, who told me it’s now rated for an 8, but that’s bullshit, because they didn’t even dig into the framing and do anything as far as I could tell.

    The Big One will be a 9. Those buildings are going down. You won’t hear about it from Green Seattle, but engineers and scientists know.

  22. Sassinak says:

    No. No. It IS that nobody cares. As long as the beer flows, and the car cruises, and The Simpsons play, and the Dollar Store sells those cute puppy booties, and the painted little girls giggle at Daddy’s jokes, there IS no problem. Nothing matters more than that short list above. Understood ?

  23. Lou Grinzo says:

    Rick Piltz, a name familiar to most here, I suspect, has also commented on this fiasco:

    It’s always enlightening, and sometimes deeply depressing, to view events like Flood-Gate as an economic transaction. Perry and his administration are actively trading off real world impacts on human beings, including your kids and grand kids and ensuing generations, in exchange for short-term political gain. They are grabbing all the advantage they can and passing the cost on to future generations, with a staggeringly high effective interest rate.

    Perhaps it’s time to start making up bumper stickers for the right wingers: “I voted Republican because it’s much neater than shooting your kid in the head.”

  24. Jay Alt says:

    Vote for Perry because they like his message?
    They already did that. 3X.

  25. Michael Tucker says:

    First I would remember that this tactic worked fairly well for BushII so why wouldn’t Perry try it. And, I think that the folks in Texas welcome censorship of the science. After all they believe it to be a hoax perpetrated by elitist scientists for personal gain, they do not want the science taught in grade school, and they definitely do not want big government to do anything. So hiding the facts about sea level rise is not such a big deal and is welcomed by the economic interests of his state. It ain’t just the governor!

  26. Ed Darrell says:

    If Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott were alive today, there would probably be an investigation into this political chicanery.

    But, perhaps some political person may note that the only purpose of this censorship is to turn the documents in to campaign support for Rick Perry. That is, this editing job is in-kind political contributions to Perry’s presidential campaign.

    Consequently, the value should be reported on the campaign reports (was it?), and the contributors (report editors) need to report their affiliations and assure that they are not government employees, nor taking money from anyone else to do this damage to the state of Texas.

    I’ll wager it’s not reported accurately in any FEC report.

    Who would have the guts to file the complaint, or sue?

  27. Russell says:

    Let us not forget what that great Texan, Robert Bryce, has done to change the nation’s mind :

  28. riverat says:

    Mike, the big one will be a 9 but its epicenter will be hundreds of miles from Seattle (off the Pacific Northwest coast) so the shaking in Seattle may only be level 8.

  29. BillD says:

    According to my local paper, Perry, speaking in Indianpolis, said that the US has plenty of fossil fuels to make the US energy independent for 300 years. He also said that Obama had been swayed by the enviromental extremists. When is the media going to call Perry out on this BS?

  30. a face in the clouds says:

    Talk about An Inconvenient Truth. The immediate stakes alone are indescribable. In Hurricane Ike’s aftermath, Perry was successful in strong-arming the University of Texas Medical Branch into rebuilding on Galveston Island, and there was talk of raising a seawall the length of the Texas coast. Everything was going to be hunky dory, said our Governor. However, many residents, insurance companies, developers and investors were already spooked by the 2005 hurricane season, and in ’08 they got a firsthand look at a new frontier storm. Three years later, some communities in Ike’s path still look much the same as they did the day after. Now John Anderson has confirmed their fears with science, Perry tried to censor him, and everyone is about to find out.

  31. J Bowers says:

    Liquefaction. Seattle’s built on the perfect medium for it and Cascadia (includes Vancouver, Seattle and Portland) could be getting an entire day’s worth of waves of repeated quakes (not aftershocks) in a megathrust. Most old buildings in those cities are not reinforced at all, just bricks and mortar.

  32. Nichol says:

    what was that story Reagan is famous of telling .. about the guy at your door saying: “I am from the government to help you with your science”

  33. LongTimeObserver says:

    Stake Perry to the shore at the high tide mark and watch him beg to be released as the sea level rises.