Gok’s Uncertainty Principle

Editors’ Note: Reporting based upon an article in The New York Times, March 2, 2020.

For over three years now, or perhaps even longer, a number of Trump critics and observers have shared a sense of dismay that the President had no one to call his own within the Deep State universe. Some expressed the opinion that it would be some years before the right wing minions inserted by Trump and McConnell into the federal judiciary would impress their world view upon the nation’s jurisprudence. Too, the constant shuffling and re-shuffling of personnel in the vast federal bureaucracy unsettled the establishment of the Trump kultur in that domain. As it turns out, the pundits were wrong.

The Deep State, as all are familiar, is composed of careerists within a government bureaucracy and judiciary who are determined to thwart the policy and political initiatives of any newcomers. They are imbued with the cultural, secular, and normative values from ages past that simply do not or cannot yield to the brashness of new folk on the block who claim a mandate from the electorate and/or believe in their own infallibility.  

Despite all the flotsam, jetsam, and turmoil in the Trump administration, it turns out there existed a number of Deep State inhabitants who heard his clarion call to upend the status quo. Not the quid pro quo.

In the bowels of the Interior Department since the 1980s, Indur M. Goklany toiled in obscurity to discredit the department’s science-driven trajectory in its efforts to educate the public about the dangers of global worming and climate change. In 2017, Goklany was advanced to the position in the office of the deputy secretary overseeing climate policy. There began a campaign that inserted misleading language about climate change — including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial — into the agency’s scientific reports, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The misleading language appears in at least nine reports, including environmental studies and impact statements on major watersheds in the American West that could be used to justify allocating increasingly scarce water to farmers at the expense of wildlife conservation and fisheries.

The misleading language appears in at least nine reports, including environmental studies and impact statements on major watersheds in the American West that could be used to justify allocating increasingly scarce water to farmers at the expense of wildlife conservation and fisheries. The Interior Department’s scientific work is the basis for critical decisions about water and mineral rights affecting millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of acres of land.

Not unlike some spy thriller novels from the 1950s (Ipcress File, The Bourne Supremacy, among others) the newly inserted language came to be characterized as “Goks uncertainty language,” asserting that there is a lack of consensus among scientists that the earth is warming. In Interior Department emails to scientists, Mr. Goklany pushed misleading interpretations of climate science, saying it “may be overestimating the rate of global warming, for whatever reason.”

Gok’s uncertainty language rivals the disloyal actions of the many Deep State functionaries that have plagued the administration with court decisions blocking innovative immigration policies, travel bans, environmental regulations, and other novelties emanating from the Trump White House.

In one instance, Goklany instructed department scientists to add that rising carbon dioxide — the main force driving global warming — is beneficial because it “may increase plant water use efficiency” and “lengthen the agricultural growing season.” Both assertions misrepresent the scientific consensus that, overall, climate change will result in severe disruptions to global agriculture and significant reductions in crop yields.

Scientists and policy experts say that, by embedding an inaccurate sense of uncertainty about scientific findings in its documents, the Trump administration is advancing its policy of weakening environmental rules and reallocating vast quantities of water to farming and irrigation, even though climate change projections show that use to be unsustainable. 

Mr. Goklany’s career at Interior had been at less influential positions focused on policy analysis. He had also written papers for and participated in events hosted by libertarian think tanks including the Cato Institute and the Heartland Institute, which have spread doubt about the scientific consensus that human activity is causing the world to warm rapidly. In 2009, he appeared as an expert voice in a film titled “Policy Peril: Why Global Warming Policies are More Dangerous than Global Warming Itself.”

“Who the hell is this guy?” said one senior staff person at Interior.

“Who the hell is this guy?” said one senior staff person at Interior, a former top climate policy expert who quit in 2017, later testifying in Congress that former Secretary Ryan Zinke was purging government scientists working on climate change–allegations later sustained by the agency’s inspector general.

However, like the proverbial cat with a number of lives, a quality often shown with Deep State folks, Goklany has survived and represents testimony that President Trump needs only to dig further into the federal bureaucracy to discover others who are able and willing to advocate for his administration.  Oddly, Goklany’s existence is also testimony to the even handed personnel policies that guide federal job placement.



Categories: climate change, Issues, Local, National, politics

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