Monday, July 27, 2009

Pulling Back Bush's Tromp L'oeil Curtain of Democracy?

My facebook pal Bory Chhor posted an article from The Observer showing these two photos of the Alaskan port of Barrow. I know the shots are small, but notice how, in the shot to the left, sea ice is fairly close to the shore. In the other shot, apparently taken a short year later, the ice has receded so far you can no longer see it in the image. Of course, we know that these things are cyclical, but apparently 2008 brought little recovery.

As interesting as this is scientifically, the part of the article that most caught my attention was the fact that these and thousands of other instructive photos were classified as secret by the Bush administration. And to be honest, I just cannot fathom why. The Obama administration just released the bunch, thinking they would be useful in building public sentiment for action on climate change.

I get that diverse opinions about global warming can co-exist. I know that thinking people can disagree on what climatic change means for the earth. Scientists' diverse interpretations of the evidence have been utilized by both sides of this debate. Compare this story,, to this one,, for example. Not till you're done reading my blog, though, pretty please.

What I do not get is the intentional hiding of scientific data for fear that it contradicts your political ideology. I can hear some of you shaking your heads at me and saying, "What do you expect from Bush and Cheney?" or something much cruder. But bear with me for a sec.

What's eating away at me here is this: Disagreements over interpretation of factual data is one thing. Hiding data from the scientists on your own ideological team is crazy. What if those scientists see the data? Either it shifts their thinking about global warming somewhat, or it doesn't shift their thinking at all - they can still explain the data within their scientific understanding of the issue. If you are so certain your perspective is correct, then you should not fear letting all evidence see the light of day and letting your science guys explain it away.

And wouldn't the President and his peeps want to know, either way? Don't they have grandchildren who will inheret our earth? It is possible for me to imagine someone, even a president, preferring to cling to the pleasanter worldview. But it is not possible for me to imagine a president who doesn't even want to know the scientific truth. It is the president's job to gather relevant data on issues critical to the nation, and act on it when necessary to protect us. And call me naive, but this is America. When did the champion of democracy - the U.S. - start believing that we, the people shouldn't have access to the very information necessary to inform public debate?

There is only one argument I can think of for hiding this specific scientific data on the ice floes along the Alaskan shoreline. It's the evangelical Christian argument that says global warming is part of God's plan for the end, the apocalypse, and that anything we do to impede the arrival of the apocalypse impedes the Lord Jesus' second coming. If this is the Bush worldview, then releasing data that might stir folks to action over climate change would be contrary to his religious imperatives.

This idea is summarized by scholar and guest-blogger at Vulpes Libres, Lizzie Rushton, who studies the impact of faith on environmental ideas and values. She writes:

As Michael Northcott notes in his book 'An Angel Directs the Storm' (2007), Bush set out his apocalyptic vision to rid the world of the wicked and evil long before 9/11 and the war on terror. However, the calamitous events of the 11th of September 2001 provided a context for visions of imperial American power visiting judgement to be accepted beyond conservative evangelical groups, and to reach the wider majority of people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this highly publicised and selective use of a widely misinterpreted biblical text, there are those who believe that the early section of chapter 21 of Revelation can reveal the true nature of the Christian responsibility towards creation. The text is as follows:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." ( Revelation 21: 1 NRSV)

This is the climax of John’s vision of the ‘end times’: the renewal of Jerusalem as the culmination of the return of Christ. This comes to us today as part of the Book of Revelation, which is a compilation of the astral visions recorded by the prophet John around 70 C.E. whilst he was living on the Mediterranean island of Patmos. The vision clearly states that at the return of Christ the ‘old’ earth and heaven shall make way for a ‘new’ heaven and earth. This has led some Christians to suggest that care for God’s creation is unimportant, as this current earth will inevitably be replaced by another. Some have been documented as suggesting that the duty of a Christian is not to impede the destruction of this earth so as not to prevent the coming of Christ [citation omitted].

Is this true? Is this really why the Bush administration chose to hide scientific data from us? I don't want to believe this could happen in America - that a president of the United States could secretly make decisions of state based on his personal religious imperatives - but I am drawing a blank on other possible conclusions as to why the Bush folks would hide these images. It's not like they expose nuclear or military secrets.

Every fiber of my being rejects such behavior - ruling the United States, home of the constitutional separation of church and state - like some fanatic mullah ruling an Islamic regime. At least in Islamic countries where mullahs are also political leaders, they don't hide it. They don't hide their religious motives behind tromp l'oeil curtains of democracy.

I know the Bush years are behind us. But it seems very important to me that we out this behavior, that we call out Bush and whomever in his cadre are responsible for this travesty of leadership, if in fact that is what happened. It seems important to me that scholars with credibility look into this behavior and find out whether, in fact, the Bush administration did secretly rule us with an eye toward facilitating the apocalypse.

It would explain so many things.

Read the rest of the article here: Revealed: the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide Environment The Observer.

You can also see Barrow and the coast of Alaska by doing a mapquest search, and then looking at the "street view." Then you will need to "zoom out" on the map, to actually get an aerial photo of the coastline. Here's the link:

Read the rest of Rushton's discussion, which sets out an alternative faith-based view, here:


  1. While it is certainly possible that Bush accepts a certain amount of apocalyptic prophecy, I don't think you can jump to that conclusion merely because Bush did not release these satellite photos. My understanding is that military spy satellite photos are automatically classified for various reasons. One is that we do not necessarily want the bad guys to know exactly how our cameras work, and how much information we have have about them. Another is that there might actually be information in some of these spy photos about locations of either our defense installations or other country's defense installations that we do not want to make public. Plus I believe it takes an affirmative act to de-classify and release military spy photos, so you can't assume that these photos were not de-classified because of some plot to keep scientific information out of the hands of scientists. But obviously, the Obama administration has a different agenda, and a motivation to get this kind of information out and public, and that is all good. What is interesting and worth commenting on is that the military has all the best equipment, and scicence is always second priority in the budget process, so scientists are sometimes forced to beg the military for information, which is obviously being collected for a completely different purpose.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Good points, and I'd prefer to believe that. But on the other hand, Obama has the same military concerns as Bush, maybe more given Korea & Iran's escalations. Obviously he doesn't have the fear. And... I think it's worth asking this question in a methodical way. The apocalypse movement spelled out by Rushton is more pervasive than one might think. My urban enviro policy students find pretty extensive material on them every year when I ask them to go out and find examples of diverse environmental frames of reference on both "sides" of the issue. If it turns out to be true, then people who haven't taken a position because they don't know what or whom to believe, given the controversy, could rethink the whole issue.

  3. You might want to check out the University Of Alaska at Fairbanks site:
    Breakup of sea ice at Barrow is variable from year to year and dependent upon many factors. Comparing pictures from one year to the next proves nothing about global warming. Apparently these two pictures of Barrow were USGS high resolution photos. I don't think conspiracy theory concerning apocolyptic Christians is what this is about.

  4. Ah, nobody likes my theory. Yes, yes, that's why I said, "Of course, we know that these things are cyclical..." What bothered me is that they weren't declassified. Why not? Maybe it's totally innocent. If so, why did the Bush people push so hard against global warming, even renaming it "climate change" to give it a fuzzier sound?

  5. Well, maybe because it is a political statement rather than a scientific one. I am suspicious when one side decides that " the science is settled, consensus is established , no more debate is acceptable." Science is opposed to that method.It smacks of politics. Are you sure these pictures were classified for the reasons you suggest? There were so many other satellites capable of capturing the same images, I question their secrecy.Certainly scientists studying Barrow ice for many years were free to express their findings. Or were they not? Is there evidence of suppression? If there were a conspiracy should we not show more evidence than two pictures and an authors findings that Christians are conspiring for the "end of time" and one of them was a president of the United States? We would ask and expect more from the opposition for proof.

  6. Anonymous, I don't know the answers to your questions, but they are good ones. There were apparently lots more photos, and I'm not trying to put on a trial here. Basically, I don't know right now, but my blog calls for a study into the potential religiousity of the Bush agenda - and to ask the same questions you asked. I just think we ought to know.