Oil Company Memo Calls for Dr. Watson's Dismissal; Administration Obliges
WASHINGTON (April 3, 2002) -- The Bush administration this week moved to oust a top scientific official targeted by ExxonMobil in a confidential memo to the White House. Bold language in the ExxonMobil papers released today by NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) reflects a brazen, behind-the-scenes effort by the oil company and other energy giants to disrupt the principal international science assessment program on global warming.
Dr. Robert Watson, a highly respected atmospheric scientist, has been chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 1996. Operating under United Nations auspices, the 2500-member expert panel provides policymakers around the world with rigorous, consensus-based assessments generally regarded as the most authoritative word on global warming and its causes.
Without formal announcement, the administration has decided to oppose Watson's appointment to a second term as IPCC chair, seriously damaging his prospects when representatives of more than 100 governments meet in Geneva April 17-20 to elect a new IPCC head.
The memorandum, obtained by NRDC from the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that ExxonMobil began a secret campaign for Dr. Watson's removal in the first weeks of the Bush administration, and reveals ExxonMobil's intention to replace Watson and other key scientists with contrarians known for disagreeing with the prevailing consensus that man-made pollution is causing global warming.
In meetings this week with State Department officials, lobbyists for the coal industry, electric utilities, and automakers joined ExxonMobil's call to replace Watson.
"It's bad enough that ExxonMobil controls White House energy and climate policies," said Daniel Lashof, science director of the NRDC Climate Center. "Now they want to control the science too."
Under Watson's tenure, the IPCC last year produced its third comprehensive assessment of the state of climate science, concluding that "[t]here is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities," and predicting that average global temperatures will rise between 3 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century -- conclusions reaffirmed last spring at White House request by the National Academy of Sciences.
In a letter yesterday to Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, NRDC's Lashof said: "The industry effort to block the reappointment of Dr. Watson is a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the effectiveness of the IPCC as a body that produces high quality, objective scientific assessments. I urge you to reject this campaign and to give Dr. Watson the United States' strongest possible support."
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.