Industry’s Spin on Climate Change

An excerpt from Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science (Northbrae Books, 2013)

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The fossil fuel industry often works through proxy organizations and individual climate skeptics, who generally have no credibility on climate issues but who are good at shaking public confidence in the conclusions of climate science to paralyze the policy making process.

The Greening Earth Society was one such organization. You might think from its name that it was an environmentally oriented group. But no, The Greening Earth Society was a creation of the Western Fuels Association, a $400 million coal producer co-op.

From its website (www.greeningearthsociety.org), this benevolent-sounding “green organization” served as a gateway to coal, oil, and mining industry-funded think tanks and institutes as well as to publications rife with misinformation. Some of the materials circulated by the “Just Say ‘No’ to Climate Change” folks even targeted elementary school children through their teachers.

When I last searched for http://www.greeningearthsociety.org in 2008, the website was no longer operational. However, at the Western Fuel Association’s website, I found a link to the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, whose website denies a connection between the Earth’s recent warming and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.

C.D. Idso and K.E. Idso’s 1998 treatise, “Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming: Where We Stand on the Issue” was prominent on the Center’s website, http://www.co2science.org, in June 2008. “Atmospheric CO2 enrichment brings growth and prosperity to man and nature alike,” they claimed; translation: global warming is good for nature and humanity. Co-author Craig D. Idso, is the Center’s founder and former president and he’s the former Director of Environmental Science at Peabody Energy Company. Peabody is the world’s largest private coal company, fueling 10 percent of all U.S. electricity generation.1

Climate skeptics have played a critical role in the coal and oil industries’ efforts to foster doubts about climate science and fears of an economic meltdown. Although the skeptics present themselves to the public as independent scientists or respected climate experts, most of the best known of these “objective thinkers” have taken significant amounts of energy industry money for themselves or their organizations, and they espouse scientifically dubious positions.

Prominent examples include Dr. S. Fred Singer, funded at times by Exxon, Shell, Unocal, ARCO, and Sun Oil; Dr. Pat Michaels, recipient of at least $165,000 from coal and other energy interests; Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT, who has received money from the Western Fuels Association; and climatologist Dr. Robert Balling of Arizona State University, whose work received over $300,000 from coal and oil interests.2

Individuals like these, supporting views far outside main- stream climate science, have paraded before the media, their presence falsely suggesting a pervasive disagreement among climate scientists and obscuring their wide consensus. At times, climate skeptics have recycled discredited scientific opinion on the assumption that the public would be unable to sort out the truth.

In doing so, they enjoyed a great advantage. Unwary or irresponsible members of the press have often given these erratic views equal time with those of responsible, reputable climate scientists, creating the false impression that the basic ideas of climate science are widely disputed. Uninformed readers and listeners might be inclined to regard both sides of the make-believe controversy as equally credible, and “split the difference,” since one side said there was a serious problem and the other side claimed there was none.

For an example of just how irresponsible a newspaper can be in publishing nonsense about climate change, see, “Science Has Spoken: Global Warming is a Myth,” which appeared in The Wall Street Journal on December 4, 1997. Its authors, chemist Arthur Robinson and his son Zachary, ran the tiny Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine outside Cave Junction, Oregon, from which they marketed nuclear bomb shelters and home-schooling advice.

Relying on the mistaken claim that changes in solar activity explain the Earth’s increase in temperatures since the Little Ice Age, the article concludes, “There is not a shred of persuasive evidence that humans have been responsible for increasing global temperatures.” The article then advises readers not to worry “about human use of hydrocarbons warming the Earth.”

“Carbon dioxide emissions have actually been a boon for the environment,” the article states. “Our children will enjoy an Earth with twice as much plant and animal life as that with which we are now blessed. This is a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution.”3

Another attempt to cloak the climate disinformation campaign in the trappings of science was a “Global Warming Petition” supposedly signed by 17,000 U.S. scientists, but whose names were published without any identifying titles or affiliations. (The list included author John Grisham, several actors from the TV series M*A*S*H*, and a Spice Girl.) The petition was circulated by none other than Dr. Robinson’s Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.

With the petition came a bogus “eight-page abstract of the latest research on climate change,” formatted to look like a pub- lished scientific article from the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with which it had no connection.

Filled with misinformation and put together by the Robinsons and two coauthors affiliated with the George C. Marshall Institute, the tract was accompanied by a letter of endorsement from the late Dr. Frederick Seitz, a former pres- ident of the National Academy of Sciences in the 1960s, who contended that “global warming is a myth.” Dr. Seitz was a physicist, not a climatologist, and in the opinions of at least two very prominent scientists, “has no expertise in climate matters.” He had been, however, “one of the last remaining scientists who insist that humans have not altered the stratospheric ozone layer, despite an overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary.” Dr. Seitz’s views illustrate that expertise and professional distinction, even in physics, does not insure good judgment in another area of science and policy.

1.  Samuel Thernstrom, “Beyond Kyoto,” The American, September 27, 2007.

2.  David Callahan, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, “$1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s” (Portola Valley, CA.: The Commonweal Institute, 1999).

3.  “Patrick J. Michaels, Cato Institute: Policy Scholars” (Washington, D.C.: The Cato Institute, 2010), http://www.cato.org/ people/patrick-michaels.

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