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Global Warming Heat Wave? January Temps Hit Record Highs Across Northeast

StoryJanuary 08, 2007
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John Passacantando

executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Temperatures this weekend reached record highs across the Northeast, climbing to 72 degrees in New York and New Jersey and hitting almost 70 in Boston and Connecticut. The world’s 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1994 with 2006 the sixth warmest on record. We take a look at global warming with Greenpeace USA executive director John Passacantando. [includes rush transcript]

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Temperatures this weekend reached record highs across the Northeast, climbing to 72 degrees in New York and New Jersey, hitting almost 70 in Boston and Connecticut. Britain’s Meteorological Office predicted 2007 is likely to be the hottest year since record keeping began in the mid 1800s. The organization cited rising temperatures due to global warming from greenhouse gases and human activity, combined with the naturally occurring El Nino, as likely to break the Earth’s temperature record this year. The world’s 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1994, with 2006 the sixth warmest on record.

Just recently, the Bush administration, under the threat of a lawsuit, agreed to declare polar bears an endangered species. The bears’ Arctic habitat has experienced declining ice coverage due to global warming. Greenpeace was one of three organizations that filed the lawsuit against the government.

John Passacantando is the executive director of Greenpeace USA. He joins us in the studio from Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, John.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, first of all, this record heat that we’re experiencing in the Northeast, can you talk about the crisis of global warming now?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, with no particular weather event can we say this is from global warming, but what we can say from a heat wave like we’re experiencing in the East is that this is exactly what the scientists have been telling us to expect from global warming: not only increasing temperatures, but disturbed weather patterns and much warmer winters. Now, while some people have been sunbathing this weekend and enjoyed the warmer weather, most people understand that there’s something very wrong with this, that this effects the size of the insect populations we’re going to see in the spring. It’s going to affect birds when they migrate. It’s going to effect so many things. It’s going to effect when water falls and when reservoirs are filled, and that throwing this kind of wrench into our climate systems is a very dangerous thing.

AMY GOODMAN: The polar bear, explain what your lawsuit was about.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace launched a — we proposed that the U.S. government list the polar bear as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Environmental Protection Agency dragged its feet on this for a full year and didn’t rule on this until the very last day, when — we had sued them, and they were forced to rule on this and has now proposed that the polar bear be listed as threatened. They now have a year to come up with a management plan.

The difficulty the government is in is that this is the first time the Endangered Species Act has been used to protect a critter — in this case, the polar bear — from global warming. In other words, not from a localized impact of losing land to developers, for example, but in this case, from losing ice pack that the polar bears need to survive in the Arctic, which was at a record level of shrinkage in 2005 and a near record in 2006. So the government, on the one hand, is saying we are going to ultimately list the polar bears as threatened. On the other hand, the government is speaking out of the other side of its mouth, saying we’re still not sure if global warming is happening or what exactly the impacts are.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now, Greenpeace has experienced an IRS audit. Can you talk about what you went through and who you think was behind what happened to you?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, it’s very clear, and it ties to the larger story about global warming. Why has the United States been so far behind the other industrialized nations in recognizing that global warming is from our emissions, CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, and so far behind taking actions? It comes down to a concerted effort by companies like ExxonMobil. Our records at Greenpeace show — and this is all documented on a research website called — that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil funded groups that were going to be skeptical of global warming, in some cases lie about the truth about global warming, gave them almost $20 million to confuse the American public about global warming.

Greenpeace, being one of the groups that was exposing these lies, ExxonMobil — it was later found — created a small group called Public Interest Watch. Public Interest Watch in 2004 wrote a completely erroneous report that said Greenpeace was doing illegal things with its money. This report instigated an IRS audit that Greenpeace went through for a three-month period in 2005. Greenpeace came through this audit with flying colors, but what we later learned, a Wall Street Journal reporter found that ExxonMobil funded the group that called for Greenpeace to be audited, in fact funded the group in its entirety, in the year that it published the report, 2004. So ExxonMobil has been involved in a whole array of attempts to confuse the American public and to delay any measures to put a cap on global warming pollution.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does the U.S. stand in relation to the rest of the world on this issue?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: The U.S. stands incredibly far behind virtually every other industrialized democracy. The U.S. has essentially taken the position of ExxonMobil to the international negotiations, expressing skepticism about the science of global warming, when, in fact, it is airtight, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, now with decades of research, is showing the public just exactly what is happening from global warming. So the U.S. administration, the Bush administration, has essentially run the oil industry’s agenda.

The analogy is to the tobacco companies. The oil companies have denied global warming is a problem, and the U.S. administration has repeated that, and now, as the evidence becomes so irrefutable, it becomes so obvious the administration is taking almost a flat earth position. They’re saying, "Well, we know something’s happening, but we still need more evidence and more research." It’s an effort to stall.

And hopefully, now with more Democrats in the Congress and Democrats in the majority, they can push through this, actually have the hearings they need to have to expose this lie that was perpetrated on the American people by ExxonMobil and others through our government, because I believe it was really one of the great corporate crimes of the late 20th and the early 21st century.

AMY GOODMAN: John Passacantando, what about the government scientists, like the NASA climate expert, James Hansen, who has been talking about the squelching of government research that is taking place?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Again, this is part of the same pattern, where this government, at the behest of its oil company contributors, has been told not to put out information about global warming, not to allow the scientists to talk about their expertise with the press, about the connection between global warming and hurricanes. That happened at NOAA. There’s been pressure on Dr. James Hansen at NASA and others, Rick Pielke phon. at the Environmental Protection Agency. There have been numerous scientists who have come forward and gone public with the fact that they have been really shut down working for the government, and there are many others that we have talked to that are still afraid to come forward. So there’s been a — really a great crime has been perpetrated on the public, in terms of allowing the public to know what the government scientists know about global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, John Passacantando, there’s a website, Can you explain how it works, what it is?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Yes. is — at Greenpeace, we’ve been gathering for about 15 years everything we can find, when it comes to the connection between ExxonMobil and other companies — the American Petroleum Institute, the trade association, the auto companies — funding the lies about global warming, knowing that until we pull their hands, the hands of these big corporations, off of the public policy, we’re not going to get public policy that stops global warming; we’ll only get policy that keeps the status quo, these guys making a lot of money selling this oil to burn. So we put all this research on a public site,, so journalists could look at this — and all our sources are there — and do their own research.

Interestingly, many of our FOIAs are up there, as well, showing the conversations between the Bush administration and the American Petroleum Institute, the auto makers, the oil producers. And if you go to the White House website,, and under the search bar you just put in "Greenpeace," you’ll get a long list of all the FOIAs we did, which has a remarkable — it’s a remarkable library of conversations, and readers will see that their government was truly in bed with the energy industry.

AMY GOODMAN: And the connection of the extreme weather that we’ve been seeing in Colorado — we talked about the Northeast being record heat — Colorado, these massive snowstorms.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Yes, and again, any one event I can’t link straight to global warming. We know that part of this is due to an El Nino event, where parts of the Pacific are hotter than usual. This is a very old cycle, a cycle that predates human-induced global warming. Scientists are right now trying to decipher just how much El Nino is affected by global warming, if indeed there are more extreme and more frequent El Nino events from global warming, but they’re not absolutely positive on that yet. What we do know is the kind of heat we’re experiencing here, the kind of superstorms we saw in Katrina and Rita, the kind of raging wildfires that we’ve seen record numbers of in the West, all of that is exactly what the scientists have been telling us to expect from global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: John Passacantando, I want to thank you for being with us. Greenpeace USA is his organization.

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