Climate Skeptics Sue the White House

Libertarian group argues that opinion has been presented as fact

Oct 30, 2014
Outside Magazine
toronto polar vortex white house libertarians

Toronto during the 2014 polar vortex, the subject of the White House video in question.    Elenathewise/Thinkstock

On Wednesday, a libertarian think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a lawsuit (PDF) against the White House over a video produced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) linking climate change to incidents of cold winter weather.

Released in January 2014, when much of the country was enduring ice storms, snowstorms, and full-on blizzards, the video appeared to rebut the idea that bouts of cold weather suggested the planet wasn’t actually getting warmer.

“If you’ve been hearing that extreme cold spells, like the one that we’re having in the United States now, disproves global warming, don’t believe it,” John Holdren, President Obama’s science and technology adviser, tells viewers.

After explaining the difference between climate and weather, Holdren speaks briefly in the video about how global warming has been linked to frequent exchanges of warm and cold air between the poles and the midlatitudes. As temperatures in the polar regions increase at about twice the rate of the midlatitudes, he says, the polar vortex (a cold-core system that circles the polar regions) gets “wavier,” delivering colder bodies of air to places like the United States and warmer bodies of air toward the Arctic and Antarctic.

“I believe the odds are that we can expect as a result of global warming to see more of this pattern of extreme cold in the midlatitudes and some extreme warm in the far north,” Holdren says in the video.

The CEI begs to differ. In April 2014, it petitioned the White House to correct Holdren’s message, arguing that since many scientists disputed his claim, the video had violated the Data Quality Act, a law that requires federal agencies to provide the public with objective, reliable information. (CEI’s sources cited in its lawsuit include an article in the Washington Post and a blog post published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Both of these articles, in turn, link back to peer-reviewed scientific journals.)

When the White House responded by saying that Holdren’s message was presented as an opinion and therefore is not subject to the DQA, the CEI filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking that the White House disclose all documents and email discussion related to Holdren’s claim. The White House’s refusal to disclose 47 additional pages of these exchanges, which it claimed contained “privileged material,” is the basis for the CEI’s new lawsuit.

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