Published on Thursday, July 28, 2011 by The Guardian/UK
Arctic Scientist Who Exposed Climate Threat to Polar Bear Is Suspended
government conducts 'integrity inquiry' on federal biologist amid lobbying by oil firms for Arctic permits US
by Suzanne Goldenberg
It is seen as one of the most distressing effects of climate change ever recorded
Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist, oversaw much of the scientific work for the government agency that has been examining drilling in the
Some question why Monnett, employed by the
"You have to wonder
The group filed an official complaint on Monnett's behalf on Thursday, accusing the government of persecuting the (PDF) scientist and interfering with his work. It seeks his reinstatement and a public apology.
Monnett was on a research flight tracking bowhead whales, in 2004, when he and his colleagues spotted four dead polar bears floating in the water after a storm. The scientists concluded the bears, though typically strong swimmers, had grown exhausted and drowned due to the long distances between patches of solid sea ice. It was the first time scientists had drawn a link between melting Arctic sea ice and a threat to the bears' survival.
Two years later, Monnett and a colleague published an article in the science journal Polar Biology, writing
The paper quickly heightened public concern for the polar bear. Al Gore, citing the paper, used polar bear footage in his film Inconvenient Truth. Campaigners focused on the bears to push George Bush to act on climate change, and in 2008, the government designated the animal a threatened species.
It was the first animal to be classed as a victim of climate change.
In 2010 the Obama administration began an investigation into his work. The scientist was suspended with pay on 18 July. He is said to be under a gagging order and forbidden from communicating with his colleagues. The employee group's complaint alleges that the investigation is a thinly veiled attempt to disrupt scientific work on the
Oil firms, which want to drill in the pristine environment of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, have been complaining of delays caused by environmental reviews. This month Obama issued an order to speed up Arctic drilling permits.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (Boemre) said the government would continue to carry out research on the potential impacts of Arctic drilling, despite Monnett's suspension.
"All of the scientific contracts previously managed by Mr Monnett are being managed by the highly qualified scientists at Boemre," Melissa Schwartz said in an email. She noted that the investigation was being overseen by the inspector general, which is independent, and that it was being conducted according to the Obama administration's new guidelines on scientific integrity.
However, Peer argues the exercise is intended to discredit Monnett's brief paper on the polar bear.
Other organisations also accused the government agency of a long record of meddling in science. A 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office found huge gaps in Boemre's research on the impacts of drilling in the
Documents posted on the League's website include a transcript of a conversation between investigators and Jeffrey Gleason, another government scientist on the 2004 trip. Gleason, who works for the government, in the Gulf of Mexico, said he did not necessarily share Monnett's conclusions that the polar bears were killed as a consequence of climate change. "It's something along the lines of the changing environment in the
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs