Week of 05/27/07

Dear EarthTalk: I heard a reference to "The Magazine Paper Project." What are they trying to accomplish?

—Phil Z., Stamford, CT

A project of the nonprofit consumer group Co-Op America, the Printing Alternatives Promoting Environmental Responsibility (PAPER) Project educates magazine publishers about the benefits of recycled papers and helps them make the switch from less green paper choices. By participating in the project, publications can both reduce their industry’s impact on the environment and, by promoting their involvement in the organization, look good in the eyes of readers.

Thus far the project has helped more than 100 magazines find sources for recycled paper or increase the environmental friendliness of the paper stocks they choose. This includes papers that avoid the use of chlorine-based brighteners, which are now widely acknowledged to be introducing highly toxic and cancer-causing dioxins into the environment.

The PAPER project was launched in 2001 by Co-Op America in conjunction with two other nonprofits, the Independent Press Association, a consortium of primarily small, independent magazine publishers, and Conservatree, a former paper distributor that turned to advocacy and consulting in order to help stem the tide of deforestation by the paper industry.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, 42 percent of the global industrial wood harvest goes to making paper. Nearly half of all trees harvested in North America go to making some kind of paper product, and the pulp and paper industry is also the largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in developed countries, and the third largest contributor of industrial greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Some 12 billion magazines are printed each year, and only five percent contain recycled paper content. Further exacerbating the magazine industry’s impact on the environment is the fact that roughly half of all magazines placed for sale on newsstands and in bookstores do not get sold and are either discarded or recycled. (And, of course, even magazines that do sell are ultimately discarded or recycled.)

In 2004, the PAPER project conducted a workshop and produced a guide for publishers as part of an annual magazine industry conference hosted by Folio: magazine. Several magazines reportedly switched to recycled paper stock as a result. The following year, project coordinators worked in conjunction with Folio: and natural cosmetics company Aveda in pioneering the first environmental award recognizing magazine publishers for their environmental commitments. Nine different publications, including large circulation titles like Natural Health, Mother Jones, Shape and Mother Earth News have been recognized by the award since its inception two years ago.

Magazine consumers can do their part by asking the publishers of their favorite titles to consider switching over to recycled and/or chlorine-free paper stock and taking a look at the resources offered by the PAPER project to ease the transition if they haven’t already done so.

CONTACTS: Magazine PAPER Project; Conservatree; Independent Press Association

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that the Bush Administration is said to have "censored" climate scientists?

—Anna Edelman, Seattle, WA

Word of the White House censoring federal climate scientists on global warming began leaking out to the press early in George W. Bush’s first term in office, but only in the last few years have a few federal employees themselves been willing to go on record with such accusations.

A report released last January by two leading nonprofits, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP), found that nearly half of 279 federal climate scientists who responded to a survey reported being pressured to delete references to "global warming" or "climate change" from scientific papers or reports, while many said they were prevented from talking to the media or had their work on the topic edited.

"The new evidence shows that political interference in climate science is no longer a series of isolated incidents but a system-wide epidemic," says UCS’s Francesca Grifo. "Tailoring scientific fact for political purposes has become a problem across many federal science agencies."

The issue first bubbled to the surface when Rick Piltz, who worked for a decade coordinating federal research on global warming as part of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program—first under President Clinton and then Bush—quit in mid-2005 alleging that his superiors were misusing and abusing the scientific information he was providing.

Piltz told reporters that Phil Cooney, an official with the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) who worked for an oil industry trade group before coming to the White House, had been editing and altering documents published by the program. "The changes created a greater sense of scientific uncertainty about observed climate change and potential climate change," said Piltz. Soon after Piltz’s accusations became known, Cooney left CEQ to work for ExxonMobil, which has itself been accused of publicly misrepresenting the science of global warming.

Just when the brouhaha stirred up by Piltz appeared to be dying down, National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) climate scientist James Hansen, who has been sounding alarms about global warming since the 1980s, rekindled the debate by telling reporters that NASA public affairs staff, under pressure from the Bush administration, were trying to censor his lectures, papers and website postings and keep him away from journalists. In response, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin vowed to support "scientific openness" on climate and other topics.

But openness is only a first step. Says Piltz: "Even if we succeed in lifting this heavy hand of censorship, there is still the problem of getting the political leadership to embrace the findings put forward by the scientists."

CONTACTS: Suppression of Federal Climate Research; U.S. Climate Change Science Program