Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who's Kidding Who?

You know Steve, here at this blog you've alluded repeatedly to an organized conspiracy involving an overwhelming majority of the world's climate scientists, allied to various political leaders and opinion makers. Ominously, the purpose of this conspiracy would be to use a scientifically unsupportable theory (AGW) as part of a plan to achieve a new political order. Yet so far, you haven't come up with any verifiable evidence for this, aside from the vague assertion that credentialed scientists in the relevant fields are smug elitists who are probably lying to us. I've said before I don't care for smug, know-it-all academics any better than you do. But to build a massive conspiracy on that bare annoyance is questionable logic to say the least.

Not to sound overly critical, but it seems to me that for a man who claims to be sensitive to possible conspiracies, especially those which have to do with climate change, you've made precious little effort to examine the evidence that if a conspiracy really does exist, it is probably the exact opposite of the one you believe is taking place.

Have you spent any time considering that global warming skepticism might be the product of an effort to discredit perfectly valid and well supported scientific theory? I mean, wouldn't it be logical to give at least some thought to the motivation and practices of companies and individuals who stand to lose billions in profits if carbon emission roll-backs become policy?

Isn't it is at least plausible to assume that well connected and highly motivated people in some industries will promote policies for personal gain which are generally harmful to society as a whole? Certainly there is ample precedent for this.

Just take a look at the Enron scandal. As you know, Enron was the lead conspirator in manufacturing an energy crisis in California back in 2000 and 2001. That "crisis" caused rolling black-outs which almost certainly resulted in the loss of human life.

If a massive, publicly traded corporation like Enron would knowingly conspire with other energy producers to engineer an energy crises involving the potential cost of human life, why would it be so difficult to surmise that at least some energy companies might conspire to alter public policy and opinion on the issue of climate change, especially with billions in profits at stake? Why would you automatically assume that big corporations in any field would always act in the public's best interest?

As recently as 1999, the DOJ filed a racketeering lawsuit against Phillip Morris and several other major tobacco companies - and won the suit. The judge ruled that Phillip Morris (et al):

1. conspired to minimize, distort and confuse the public about the health hazards of smoking; 2. publicly denied, while internally acknowledging, that secondhand tobacco smoke is harmful to nonsmokers, and 3. destroyed documents relevant to litigation.

In addition, and most relevant to this post:

"The ruling found that tobacco companies undertook joint efforts to undermine and discredit the scientific consensus that passive smoking causes disease, notably by controlling research findings via paid consultants."

And here's the real kicker: amazingly, some of the same "scientific consultants" who worked on behalf of the tobacco companies to discredit the scientific consensus on tobacco smoke, are today involved in an effort to discredit the consensus on climate change. And I'm not talking about little fish either. Fred Singer, one of today's most vocal and visible climate skeptics, wrote a paper questioning the science behind the hazards of second hand smoke - a paper by the way, which was paid for by The Tobacco Institute. Ironic, isn't it? The agency which paid him to write the paper already knew it wasn't true!

In 1972 Johns-Manville, along with six other major asbestos companies created the "Asbestos Information Association", the sole purpose of which was to discredit the growing body of scientific evidence linking asbestos to serious disease. In 1980, DuPont created the "Alliance For Responsible CFC Policy", to discredit the evidence linking CFC's to ozone depletion. Both of these organizations are now defunct.

People like Fred Singer, Sallie Balliunas, Willie Soon, Frederic Seitz, Stephen Milloy, Pat McMichaels and many others keep appearing and reappearing as "experts" and "consultants" in all of these and other similar industry funded (and now failed) disinformation campaigns.

Steve, I need hardly remind you that the potential health hazards of tobacco, asbestos and CFC's are no longer controversial issues. It is virtually impossible to believe the companies and industries which financed disinformation campaigns about these products were not themselves aware of the hazards. Despite this, and usually contrary to their own internal reports, they patiently set about creating doubt in the public's mind about the scientific evidence, simply to sell products which they knew posed serious and long term health risks. And they had no trouble finding "experts" to go along with the whole charade.

With these examples to go by, why would it be so hard to believe the fossil fuel industry would not be tempted to pursue the same kind of strategies? I mean, how are Exxon and Peabody Energy so different from Jons-Manville and Phillip Morris, that we should just innocently assume they would not fund the same sort of disinformation campaigns?

It's a perfectly valid question. And don't you think its at least a little revealing that many of the same "experts" who hired themselves out to spread disinformation about tobacco, asbestos and cfc's, have now become "experts" on carbon dioxide? Why is that? Wouldn't this fact alone raise enough suspicion in your mind that you would do a little checking into it?

In politics especially, a good friend of mine advised, always follow the money. Well, what about the money?

In the last election cycle (2008), oil, gas and coal industries contributed a little over 25 million dollars to congressional campaigns. Compare that to the 5.5 million (about one fifth as much) contributed by environmental and alternative energy interests.

Lobbying? In 2009, oil, gas and coal industries spent 190 million dollars to lobby congress. Environmental/alt energy interests spent 54.5 million - or roughly a quarter as much.

Steve, these ratios have been consistent for the last 20 years. During this period, the fossil fuel industry has outspent environmental and alternative energy interests by anywhere from 4 or 5 to one to influence legislation. So who exactly is the 300 pound gorilla in the room, and who's the 97 pound weakling?

This is a great deal of money. But this doesn't even count the millions more contributed individually by majority stockholders and directors of these companies to political campaigns. Nor does it include the millions contributed to finance the so called "think tanks" and phony advocacy groups which promote AGW skepticism.

Generally speaking, fossil fuel companies either own or lease the rights to recover literally trillions of dollars in carbon based energy resources. Any effective international agreement to limit and eventually reduce carbon emissions would clearly diminish the dollar value of those assets. And, as we know from experience, any such agreement would require a political consensus which agrees with the scientific consensus. If you were trying to prevent or delay that agreement, how would you go about it?

Well, first you would try to get politicians elected who were willing to prevent or delay legislation aimed at limiting carbon emissions and promoting renewables. To give them cover, you would fund a group of phony "experts" willing to cast doubt on climate science. Finally, you would spend millions on lobbying firms to gain privileged access to the legislators you wanted to influence.

Is this happening? FACT: It's well documented that the fossil fuel industry contributes almost exclusively to the campaigns of those who oppose limits on and regulation of carbon emissions. FACT: Most of the leading "experts" promoting skepticism on climate change have documented histories of contributing to previous disinformation campaigns on behalf of other industry funded front groups. FACT: The fossil fuel industry spends nearly 200 million a year on lobbying and political contributions.

Ever heard of "The Greening Earth Society (GES)"? I didn't think so. Apparently it went defunct back in 2005, but you can still have a look at archived versions of their web site here (courtesy of The Wayback Machine).

GES billed itself as a "grassroots organization". From their website:

"We encourage you to join Greening Earth Society’s group of concerned citizens. Our members seek and disseminate information, encourage activism within communities and contribute financially to our projects. Together, we provide useful materials to educators, grassroots activists, families, students, politicians and scientists. We commission original research exploring CO2’s effect on our environment."

Concerned citizens? Original research? Truth is, GES was created and funded by The Western Fuels Association, with which it shared the same offices and director, Fred Palmer, a registered lobbyist for WFA. Not surprisingly, Fred Palmer was also a senior vice president of Peabody Energy. On the GES "scientific advisory panel": Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon and Patrick McMichaels. Small world ain't it?

One last thing. If fossil fuel companies were actually looking for information instead of disinformation, why do they generously fund think tanks, front groups, critics and consultants, instead of actual research? In the last 5 years, Exxon-Mobil's profits have averaged over 35 billion a year, after an expense of roughly 20-30 billion annually for capital improvements, exploration and research.

With the question of climate change being so important to Exxon and all the other fossil fuel companies, don't you think it would be in their own interest to conduct research? Why wouldn't they? Surely they have the money to fund it. But they don't, and I'll tell you why. Just as the tobacco companies knew about the connection between smoking and cancer, the big players in the fossil fuel industry already know the connection between carbon emissions and global warming is backed by sound science. Why would they spend a few million to conduct honest research which would only verify the conclusions they don't want the public to believe?

Anyway, enjoy...



  1. Chris wrote in the main essay, "And here's the real kicker: amazingly, some of the same 'scientific consultants' who worked on behalf of the tobacco companies to discredit the scientific consensus on tobacco smoke, are today involved in an effort to discredit the consensus on climate change."

    I believe you might like the following:

    "For those who are interested, here is a list in alphabetical order of 32 organizations involved in both the denial campaign surrounding tobacco and that surrounding Anthropogenic Global Warming. I also researched the organizations to see which would appear to be libertarian, including a source for each."

    Blowing Smoke: 32 Organizations...

  2. I will respond in a separate post. I will say this for now...

    True peer-review scientific inquiry *requires* an effort to DISPROVE a theory (not find a way to support it). You appear to operating from the position that the funding source for the research drives the 'scientific' results produced. Thus, if the provider of the funding desires a specific result, it'll be found by the 'research' it is supporting. This violates the principles of scientific integrity, a very serious allegation that should be dealt with harshly.

    However, Let's (temporarily) assume that allegation is True for AGW research.

    FACT: There is a LOT more money being spent by government-backed organizations than by private groups, e.g., oil & energy producers. And so, we must assume that the vast, vast sums of money being spent by government organizations will ALSO influence the results of THOSE research efforts. The sword cuts both ways...

    The science behind legitimate research will stand up to an unbiased, logical review of the *DATA* (not unprovable opinions) REGARDLESS of who paid for it.

    Q: If you found an indirectly associated, non-tobacco organization with a clear vested interest in the process, i.e., medical and pharma groups, who generated reports SUPPORTING the position of tobacco companies, should that research be discarded SOLELY because the researchers were supported by a group that had a vested interest in the outcome? Of course not.

    I personally do not consider the source of the funding as relevant to the scientific integrity of the research, UNLESS the *results* of the research can be proven to be falsified.

    This entire discussion leads to tail-chasing... The research itself - on both sides - stands up under close scientific evaluation or it doesn't. Our personal preferences for a particular outcome should remain that way: personal. Period.

    More to come.

    - Steve