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August 25 2012

11:00

Keystone XL Pipeline To Take Center Stage At Republican National Convention

Over the next few days, Republican lawmakers, Party officials, delegates, and supporters will gather in Tampa, Florida for the Republican National Convention. During their weeklong convention, we can expect to hear a lot of debunked talking points, particularly about the need to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

For more than a year, Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have been pushing for approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, while completely ignoring the environmental risks that would come along with the plan to pipe dangerous DilBit from the Alberta tar sands south to the Gulf Coast.

In addition to ignoring the risks, Republicans have vastly overstated the alleged “benefits” of the pipeline, which they claim would create thousands of jobs, lower energy prices, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. That last claim is ironic, as the pipeline would carry foreign fuel from Canada, already the largest exporter of fuel to the U.S. Americans certainly love Canada as a neighbor, but it's still technically a foreign country and its ultimate goal is to reach foreign markets in Asia and elsewhere, not the United States.

Bold Nebraska has compiled a list of the possible topic areas to be discusses regarding the pipeline, as well as the truth about the consequences of the pipeline. Here are some of the talking points they are expecting, as well as the fact-based counter arguments:

Many Republicans and Keystone XL pipeline supporters like to say that the Keystone XL pipeline will lower gas prices. The following sorts of statements may be thrown around at the Republican convention, even though pipeline supporters have been quieter on the subject since gas prices have been lower all summer and have only started to rise again because of a recent pipeline spill in Wisconsin and refinery fire in California.

Reports have shown that not only will the Keystone XL pipeline do nothing to ease the price of gas, but it could actually raise the cost for consumers in parts of the country. The reasons for that being Keystone XL is likely to both decrease the amount of gasoline produced in U.S. refineries for domestic markets and increase the cost of producing it, according to a report from NRDC, Oil Change International and Forest Ethics Advocacy.

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana has said that Keystone XL will result in “hundreds of thousands” of new jobs, created indirectly by the Keystone XL pipeline project. Senator Lugar’s “estimate is based in part on Perryman’s 2010 study for TransCanada, according to the senator’s spokesman, Andy Fisher.”

An independent analysis by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute finds that these claims are completely false. Most jobs that are created by Keystone XL, according to the Cornell study, will be “temporary and non-local.” The Cornell report concludes that the pipeline “will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work.”

Republicans claim to be have the utmost concern and concerned about landowner rights, so much so that the issue was included in the GOP party platform of 2008 following the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision with which they disagreed…

In the GOP’s rabid support for construction of the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, some members seem to have disregarded their fundamental support for property rights and opposition to eminent domain—a position that they made clear following the Supreme Court’s decision in.
Among others, Senators Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Hatch (R-UT), and Rubio (R-FL) all publically opposed the Kelo decision and now publically support the Keystone XL pipeline—despite the fact that eminent domain would be used to claim private property in seven states.
 

Keep in mind that the discussion of the Keystone XL Pipeline will be taking place in a city located on the Gulf of Mexico, an area still reeling from the effects of the 2010 BP oil geyser. To make things worse, TransCanada recently won a permit for the first leg of their pipeline that would cross several waterways in and around Galveston, Texas that feed directly into the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada has already begun that construction.

Reports over the last year have shown that the pipeline will feature dangerously inadequate supervision, and that small leaks are almost impossible to detect. (A small leak can still cause massive oil spills and contaminate water supplies.) The Gulf of Mexico cannot afford another oil disaster.

The 2008 RNC convention brought us “Drill Baby Drill,” and it looks like that battle cry will reverberate through the state of Florida again this week.

Do Republicans understand the irony of advocating for foreign interests - Canada's - on a project that will raise prices for Americans, inevitably spill and contaminate our lands and waterways, and further threaten the global climate?

August 23 2012

19:09

Daily Kos Climate Change SOS Blogathon Features Wide Range of Climate Hawk Voices

Our friends over at Daily Kos are running an amazing Climate Change SOS Blogathon this week, featuring dozens of voices from the climate hawk community. Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, John Abraham, Rep. Ed Markey, A Siegel, Richard Heinberg, Heather Libby, Brad Johnson, Kelly Rigg and DeSmog's IT director Evan Leeson are just some of the many friends of DeSmog that are contributing posts throughout the week-long blogathon.

I jumped into the action as well, contributing a piece on Tuesday titled Breaking Up With Polluters To Save The Climate.

Greg Laden just posted a scary piece about the implications of sea level rise for future generations.

There is a lot of great content. I highly recommend heading over to Daily Kos to check it out. Here is a full run-down of the posts so far. Stay tuned to the Climate Change SOS Blogathon box at the bottom of most posts to keep up with the newer entries.

 

August 22 2012

23:50

Hundreds of Concerned Citizens Protest Governor Andrew Cuomo's Plans To Frack New York

Over 350 concerned citizens turned up at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policy summit today to protest his risky plan to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York. The state has had a moratorium on the dangerous shale gas drilling technique since 2008, but Governor Cuomo is expected to announce the green lighting of fracking in sections of New York in the coming weeks.

New Yorkers concerned about threats to their drinking water and public health showed up en masse to deliver their message to Cuomo in person at a summit geared toward exploring a possible 2016 run for the White House. The gathering drew several Clinton administration veterans.

CREDO Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking organized the protest "to send a clear message to Gov. Cuomo that if he hopes to count on the support of New Yorkers and environmentalists for a future presidential run, he must say no to fracking New York."
 

Gov. Cuomo, don't frack New York,” said Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager of CREDO Action. “We have a moratorium against fracking in place now, and Gov. Cuomo lifts it at great peril to his political future. If Cuomo wants the support of New Yorkers who care about clean water, their health and the environment when he runs for president in 2016, he should abandon his plan to frack New York.”


David Braun of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of over 160 organizations across New York that supports a ban on fracking, says that "Governor Cuomo has a choice between dirty fracking and safe renewable energy. We are here on behalf of millions of New Yorkers who want Cuomo to represent the interests of our communities and not those of the oil and gas industry."

Huffington Post New York reporter Inae Oh has more quotes from folks who attended the gathering.

Below are some photos of the protest, courtesy of Credo. View more at http://www.flickr.com/photos/credopolicysummit/


  

August 20 2012

10:00

See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others

The "Wegman Report", led by Edward Wegman of George Mason University (GMU) got criticized in 2010's Experts claim 2006 climate report plagiarized.  Experts called it "obvious" even "shocking" plagiarism.  GMU's incompetent handling, mistreatment of complainants and flawed rulings were mostly documented in March, but recent FOIAs expose more untruths.

Is the harsh title fair?  Read on, then study the 69-page attachment.

GMU Provost Peter Stearns' February letter to GMU faculty made claims of non-plagiarism that contradicted not only experts, but themselves.  The process consumed almost two years to assess four (4) pages of text.  

Stearns' letter was even more untruthful than previously known.  It  fabricated an imaginary second investigation committee, seemingly to somehow excuse crucial contradictions.   This seemed an attempt to defend the Wegman Report at all costs, even with potential problems from Federal agencies who expect schools to handle misconduct properly.  They fund much of GMU's actual research, done by faculty that to the best of my knowledge are normal, credible researchers.

However, a few groups in GMU are closely, even uniquely enmeshed with people behind the machinery of anti-science, such as Charles Koch, Ken Cuccinelli, David Schnare, Fred Singer, and Pat Michaels, plus the Heartland Institute and key Washington think tanks.  GMU even has a long history of tobacco connections, oddly relevant.

Following are a few brief summaries to motivate the title's phrases:

See No Evil: Via FOIA, the only investigation committee took 200 days to produce a 9-page report.  It ruled on Ray Bradley's three complaints based on Canadian blogger Deep Climate's early discoveries:

  • 2.5 pages of text mostly from Ray Bradley's book: paraphrasing, not plagiarism although serious plagiarism experts said otherwise long ago.
  • 5.5 pages of near-verbatim plagiarism of social networks text: never mentioned.
  • 1.5 page subset re-used in later paper: plagiarism, likely unavoidable, since the publisher had forced retraction in May 2011. This is an obvious contradiction.

But there was more, found by Deep Climate and others:

  • Another 70 pages of formally-reported plagiarism, 27 in WR alone, in 6 more articles, half Federally-funded, and four PhD dissertations: never mentioned.
  • Alleged falsification in the Wegman Report: never mentioned.

Speak Little truth: GMU VP Roger Stough rarely told complainants much and when he did, he was often wrong or misleading, now seen more clearly by FOIA replies.  Stearns' letter   fabricated committee(s) and processes that never happened, casting doubt on the credibility of anything thereGMU never informed Ray Bradley of any result.  GMU acknowledged receipt of other complaints, which then seemed to vanish into limbo. Complainants got no status reports.

Break Rules: FOIA replies exposed large policy-breaking schedule slips, at best poorly explained, at worst misleading.  GMU ignored its policy of pursuing all significant issues -  Stearns said there were no more investigations.   GMU's seemed to maximize discouragement and stonewalling of external complaints, even from distinguished academics like Ray Bradley or Ohio State's Rob Coleman, an experienced misconduct expert.  One can imagine GMU's handling of internal complaints, especially from junior faculty of students.

Blame Others:   GMU violated its "retaliation" policies by making false or misleading claims about Bradley, impugning his reputation and helping incite vitriolic blog attacks against him.   Universities are supposed to guard complainants from retaliation, repair it if need be, not do it themselves.  GMU owes Bradley many apologies.

Why would they do this? FOIAs have revealed actions far outside GMU's own policies, the norms of academe and possibly Federal rules.  Big universities are expected to know how to follow misconduct policies, so mere incompetence seems an insufficient explanation, especially with experienced administrators who should know better.

We cannot know exactly what happened, but GMU has some unusual connections that might help explain this.  No explicit pressure need be assumed, but a few parts of GMU are deeply involved in climate anti-science activities, so it is no surprise that something like the Wegman Report was written almost entirely by GMU faculty and students.

Funding. Charles Koch is by far the largest single foundation funder for each of GMU Foundation, its Mercatus Center and Institute for Humane Studies (IHS).   His donations to these usually exceeded the research grants of most government agencies. His lieutenant Richard Fink cofounded Mercatus and is a  Director of it and IHS. Koch is a Director of Mercatus and Chairman of IHS

Money comes from other Koch allies, such as Richard Mellon Scaife, Searle Freedom Trust, Earhart Foundation, L&H Bradley and  DONORS Trust+Capital, the second largest foundation giver, which anonymizes the real givers' identities.  The recently-discovered Knowledge and Progress Fund seems to send Koch money only to DONORS.  It is a real money maze.

Governance. Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer is the Vice-Rector of the GMU Board of Visitors. She was a Koch Industries lobbyist and an executive of Americans For Prosperity.  The Board also includes Kimberly Dennis (Searle Freedom Trust, DONORS) and Mark McGettrick, Executive VP at Dominion Resources, a large utility that has donated well to the campaign of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, as has Koch Industries.

Lawyers. Ken Cuccinelli, his Deputy Wesley Russell and his ex-partner Milton Johns (Wegman's lawyer) all got their JD degrees at GMU in the 1990s.  So did David Schnare, of the American Tradition Institute (ATI), well-known for FOIA harassment of UVA, Michael Mann, James Hansen, Andrew Dessler and Katharine HayhoeFOIA has legitimate uses, but can also be employed for harassment.  The reader can decide which these are.

Schnare is also an Adjunct Professor who recently taught a GMU course on how to do FOIAs, use the Data Quality Act, using this outline.  it starts:

'This course is an introduction on how to sue the government when it does what it should not do. Citizens, advocates of small government and Tenth Amendment proponents engage in this kind of litigation practice to address the imbalance between federal authorities and state and individual sovereignties.'

He also offers "externships" to give students practice, via a new 501(c)(3) "public charity," originally (and legally still) the George Mason Environmental Law Clinic.  it is now called the Free Market ELC, consisting of him and Chris Horner, as at ATI.  He was looking for students to file FOIAs against some Virginia university, likely not GMU.

Conclusion. We cannot know whether the strange process and absurd rulings came from overt pressure or implicit GMU culture.  A few parts of GMU form a very large gear in the machinery of anti-science and they defended Wegman at all costs.

Public funding of research depends on credibility, of which little is found in GMU's handling of this case.  Maybe it is time for a first-ever institutional debarment from Federal funding until they rebuiild a track record of normal behavior.  Given the credibility problems of key people, this may require outside teams.

Finally, people might recall the potential felony issues raised here  and wonder if this process might add more obstruction of justice to the mix.  The old saying may apply: "It's not the crime - it's the cover-up."

Image Credit: andere andrea petrlik  / Shutterstock .

AttachmentSize see.no_.evil_.speak_.little.truth_.pdf3.05 MB

August 17 2012

22:02

Just 2% of Canadians Deny Climate Change Occurring, Poll Finds

Originally published on EnergyBoom.com

A recent survey conducted by Insightrix Research, Inc. has found that only 2% of Canadians believe climate change is not taking place.

The online poll, commissioned by IPAC CO2 Research Inc., a Saskatchewan-based center studying carbon capture and storage, asked respondents where they stood on the issue of climate change.

32% of participants said they believe climate change is occurring as a result of human activity, and 54% said they believe climate change is happening because of a combination of human activity and natural variation.  Meanwhile, 9% believe climate change is the result of the natural climate cycle.  Far in the minority were respondents (2%) that believed climate change is a hoax.

Conversely, in the United States climate denial represents a much larger chunk of the population, as a recent survey shows. 15% of Americans believe climate change is not occurring.

Much like the United States, Canadians' opinions on climate change vary depending on the region.  The Insightrix survey found that residents in the Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) are least likely to believe humans are changing the climate, while those living in the Maritimes, Quebec, and British Columbia are most likely to hold the belief. 

Almost half (44%) of respondents in Quebec believe anthropogenic climate change is happening, while only 21% of participants in Alberta and Saskatchewan hold the same belief.

This regional divide also exists in regard to fossil fuel consumption.  66% of Albertan respondents believe fossil fuels will be used for electricity production in 2050, while only 37% of Quebecers held the same belief.  Across the country, 51% of Canadians believe fossil fuels will still be used for electricity in 2050.

Carmen Dybwad, CEO of IPAC CO2 Research, said:  "Our survey indicates Canadians from coast to coast overwhelmingly believe climate change is real and is occurring, at least in part due to human activity."

Image credit: ItzaFineDay via Flickr

August 16 2012

19:31

Fracking Industry Paying Off Scientists For "Unbiased" Safety Studies

As a whole, Americans have an unfortunate tendency to distrust scientists. The number of those who distrust science and scientists is skewed heavily by ideology, with self-identified “conservatives” overwhelmingly saying that they don’t trust science. DeSmogBlog’s own Chris Mooney has spent an enormous amount of time and energy devoted to finding out why science has become so controversial, and has compiled a great new book explaining why certain sectors of the U.S. population are more prone to denying many scientific findings.

And while most of the distrust that Americans have for scientists and science in general is completely without warrant, there are times when it is reasonable and often necessary to question the findings of scientists. Especially when the money trail funding certain science leads us right back to the oil and gas industry.

Five years ago, Exxon Mobil began offering large cash incentives to scientists willing to put their conscience aside to undermine studies that were coming out regarding climate change. The dirty energy industry knew that these studies would put their well-being at risk because they were responsible for so much of the global warming emissions, so they had to open their wallets to scientists who were more concerned with their finances than the well being of the planet.

A similar scenario played out in the months following BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. BP arranged meetings with scientists and academics all along the Gulf Coast, offering them $250 an hour to report on the oil spill, as long as the reports weren’t negative. This also would have allowed the oil giant an advantage in future litigation, by creating a conflict of interest for scientists that might otherwise testify against the company.

And then we have the media’s role in all of this, with 'experts for hire' like Pat Michaels allowed to pollute the public conversation with disinformation.

For years, Michaels has taken to the pages of “reputable” papers like Forbes and The Wall Street Journal in an attempt to paint climate change as fraudulent and uncertain, without the public realizing that his primary source of funding was the dirty energy industry and their front groups. One of his most recent crusades has been to convince the American public that fracking is perfectly safe, and we should all be singing the industry’s praises for providing us with cheap natural gas.

But Michaels isn’t the only one trying to convince us that fracking is safe and harmless – The industry itself has decided to jump on the science-buying bandwagon. NewsInferno has the story, based on an initial report by WIRED.com:

As the debate continues and local municipalities look to block fracking expansion in many areas, the energy industries have constantly countered, either mounting their own legal battles or now through influencing researchers to produce studies focusing on fracking’s benefits and safety.

WIRED reports that last week, the provost at University of Texas said it would have to “re-examine” a recent university report from one of its professors that declared fracking was safe on groundwater supplies when it was revealed that professor had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single gas developer in the state.

Nationwide, Americans are being influenced by seemingly unbiased research but not being told who is influencing the authors of these studies. Case in point, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also recently published a report, according to WIRED, entitled “Shale Works for US” that was directed at Ohioans caught in the crosshairs of the fracking safety debate.

One of the authors of the study, Robert Chase, has been identified as one person who’s been greatly influenced by the energy industries and was even employed as a consultant for companies like Halliburton and Cabot, leaders in the fracking industry. His influence was likely part of a Penn State University study that also found fracking to be safe and ultimately led state lawmakers there to allow some of the most unchecked fracking drilling in the U.S.
 

Just as the Exxon story made international headlines, so too should this story. Credible, honest studies have already been made public that show that there is nothing safe about the process of unconventional gas development. DeSmogBlog’s “Fracking The Future” report is a great source of information on the dangers that fracking and other risky industry practices pose to the health of human beings as well as the environment.

But this is hardly the first time that the industry has been on the wrong side of science. In May of this year, I reported on how the fracking industry was trying to keep doctors in the dark about the chemicals being injected into the ground, and also attempting to get gag orders on doctors to prevent them from speaking with patients and the public about drilling-related illnesses.

The only thing currently holding back a wave of new fracking wells in America is public opinion and opposition from elected officials. But even with those hurdles in place, the industry continues to operate with almost no oversight, and drilling activities are still expanding. If scientists are willing to tell the American public and our elected leaders that fracking is safe, that could easily be enough to expand this dirty practice to areas that, at least for now, have been off limits to the industry.

00:55

Enbridge Video Stunningly Misleading

For compulsive watchers of Enbridge Inc., the spill-crazy pipeline company that wants to pipe tar sands crude to the Canadian West Coast - or just for students of the barefaced lie - this video can't be beaten.

It purports to show the pipeline route, including an open sea exodus where tankers will pass from the proposed Kitimat, British Columbia oil port.

But as this video documents, the Enbridge auteurs airbrushed out 1,000 square kilometres of islands and rocks within the exit channel.

Given the criticism, the company has added a note saying, "The animation is for illustrative purposes only. It is meant to be broadly representational, not to scale."

Broadly representing a completely false image.

August 15 2012

21:36

"Goliath" Melting Year Shatters Records in Greenland

It’s been a “Goliath,” record-setting melting year in Greenland, home of the world’s second largest ice shelf. On August 8th, a full four weeks before the end of “melting season,” cumulative melting on the island had exceeded the previous record set in 2010, which included the full season.

The record melt was figured by the “cumulative melting index,” created by researcher Marco Tedesco of The City College of New York’s Cryosphere Processes Laboratory to measure the “strength” of the melting season. The index is basically the number of days when melting occurs multiplied by the physical area that is subject to melting.

Tedesco said in a statement, “With more yet to come in August, this year’s overall melting will fall way above the old records. That’s a goliath year — the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979.”

Earlier this summer, much was made of a massive melt event on Greenland, during which 97 percent of the island’s ice sheet surface area experienced thaw and melt over a short couple of days. While the event was startling, and a direct result of record high surface air temperatures, this measure of the overall melting is far more alarming.

The mid-July event, according to Tedesco, “generated liquid water that refroze after a few days, changing the physical properties of the snowpack but very likely not contributing to the meltwater that run offs from the ice and can potentially contribute to sea level rise.”

The cumulative melting index, on the other hand, accounts for longer-term melting trends, during which meltwater can flow into the ocean. According to Tedesco’s research, Greenland experienced “extreme” melting across most regions, especially in the south, west, northwest and northeast, particularly at high elevations.

These high elevation areas, according to Tedesco, “are generally subject to a few days of melting (if it happens at all) and this year they underwent melting for more than 2 months (so far).

But perhaps a map is worth a thousand words. Here you see the 2012 anomaly of the number of melting days with respect to a 20 year average from 1980-1999. The areas in red are where melting lasted for up to 50 days more than that baseline.

Of course, plenty of deniers will argue that Greenland was once green, and that melt events like this occur regularly and Medieval Warm Period and so on and so forth.

To which you can reply: the surface air temperatures in Greenland are warmer now than at any point in recorded history, dating back 172 years, and are likely, according to Jason Box of Ohio State University, the highest they’ve been since the time the Norse colonized Greenland in 982.

And, yes, while temperatures were abnormally warm in Greenland then, during the Medieval Warm Period, globally temperatures were actually cooler than they are today.

As this handy map reveals, over much of the globe, temperatures were actually cooler during the MWP, relative to the averages from 1961-1990.

In other words, the Medieval Warm Period was really a regional, not global phenomenon. The warming trends we see today are global, as this next map clearly shows, also based on temperature variation from the same 1961-1990 baseline.

(Both maps courtesy of Skeptical Science)

And what’s more: the warming of the Medieval Warm Period was caused by factors that simply aren’t in play today, specifically solar radiation. The causes of the Medieval Warm Period’s regional temperature increases aren’t the same as those causing the global increases today. 

So, it's true, as Tedesco warned, that "we have to be careful because we are only talking about a couple of years and the history of Greenland happened over millennia."

But he continues, "the warming that we see in the Arctic is responsible for triggering processes that enhance melting and for the feedback mechanisms that keep it going. Looking over the past few years, the exception has become part of the norm."

And it's worth keeping in mind that what we're seeing has been forecast by climate models that warn of sea level rise driven by ice loss from Greenland. The only difference is that these models didn't anticipate so much warming — and melting — so soon. 

August 13 2012

17:04

What To Expect When You’re Electing: Representative Paul Ryan

With the selection of Wisconsin Republican Representative Paul Ryan has his running mate, Mitt Romney has effectively pushed his campaign into the climate change denying fringe. While Romney hasn’t been considered a friend of the environment since he began running for national office, his tendency towards flip-flopping made some of his more extreme, anti-environment positions rather toothless. But Paul Ryan is someone that isn’t just all talk, and what he’s saying will be a disaster for our environment.

While Ryan isn’t necessarily a complete climate science denier, he is certainly classified as a “skeptic,” and oftentimes has used anecdotal evidence to say that we’re making too much of a fuss over something that may or may not be happening.

Let’s start by following the money on Rep. Paul Ryan. Since 1989, he has received $65,500 from Koch Industries, making them his sixth largest campaign donor. In total, he has pulled in a little over $244,000 from the oil and gas industries.

Those finances are clearly represented in his voting history in Congress. Here are a few of Ryan’s most anti-environment, pro-industry votes since being elected:

2000 – Voted against implementing Kyoto Protocol
2001 – Voted against raising fuel economy standards
2001 – Voted against barring oil drilling in ANWR
2003 – Voted to speed up “forest thinning” projects
2005 – Voted to deauthorize “critical habitats” for endangered species
2005 – Voted to speed up oil refinery permitting
2008 – Voted against environmental education grants
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for renewable energy
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for energy conservation
2009 – Voted against enforcing CO2 limits for air pollution
2011 – Voted NO on allowing EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions
2011 – Voted YES to opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for oil drilling
2011 – Voted to eliminate climate advisors for the president
2011 – Voted in favor of allowing Keystone XL Pipeline


Ryan’s proposals and voting history are clearly being dictated by the Koch brothers, and the money that their companies continue to throw behind Ryan’s campaigns. But his actions in Congress are almost docile when compared to his activities outside of Washington, D.C.

From Think Progress:
  

In a December 2009 op-ed during international climate talks, Ryan made reference to the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails. He accused climatologists of a “perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion,” in order to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” Because of spurious claims of conspiracy like these, several governmental and academic inquiries were launched, all of which found the accusations to be without merit. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]

In the same anti-science, anti-scientist December 2009 op-ed, Ryan argued, “Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow.” Ryan’s line is especially disingenuous because he hasn’t been trying to sell climate action, he’s been spreading disinformation. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]
 

But the story of Paul Ryan goes much, much deeper than this. It turns out that Ryan is a huge fracking supporter, and isn’t just to benefit his benefactors. Ryan actually has a financial stake in companies that are currently pillaging the state of Wisconsin. From Badger Democracy:
  

Ryan’s 2011 SEI shows his most significant interests are in four companies, all owned by his father-in-law, Dan Little (according to Oklahoma Secretary of State corporate registration). Little is a prominent oil industry attorney (who refused comment to Badger Democracy). The total value of these interests are $350K – $800K, with annual profit of $40K – $130K:

Ava O Limited Mining Co (8% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $15K – $50K in profit.

Blondie & Brownie, LLC (10% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Little Land Co., LLC – valued at $50K – $100K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Red River Pine Timber (7% interest) – valued at $50K – $100K; no reported profit or interest.

Also owned by Ryan are Mineral Rights in Oklahoma valued at $50K – $100K; and returning $15K – 50K in profit last year.

An examination of Ryan’s 2000 SEI and 2007 SEI show a large increase in the value of these investments. This increase corresponds directly with Ryan’s growing power over the Federal Budget process.
 

No matter how you look at it, Paul Ryan is an environmental disaster. His personal and professional wealth both hinge upon investments in the dirty energy industry, and his track record as a U.S. Representative shows how this will affect his policy decisions.

August 11 2012

17:59

Romney’s New Campaign Strategy: Attack Green Jobs During Massive Unemployment

Since President Obama took office, industry-funded think tanks and faux grassroots organizations, along with oil-friendly politicians have been collectively demanding to know “where are the jobs?” And with last month’s jobs report showing an increase in the U.S. unemployment rate (even though there was a net job gain for the month, making 28 consecutive months of private sector job growth) it would be unwise for any politician seeking national office to attack programs to put Americans back to work. But Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is doing exactly that.

On the campaign trail recently, Romney took a few jabs at Obama, claiming that the president has an “unhealthy obsession with green jobs,” a claim that numerous media outlets are warning will not resonate well with the American public.

The Associated Press points out, as we mentioned last week, that Romney’s energy plan (which is being guided by industry insiders) would cut tax breaks for renewable energy sources like wind energy, while expanding tax breaks for oil companies. AP also noted that the American public, by a two-to-one margin, favor renewable energy over fossil fuels, showing that Romney’s positions go against the majority of Americans.

While most media outlets have only given cursory attention to Romney’s comments about Obama’s alleged “obsession” with green jobs, it's not a remark that should be taken lightly. In fact, it tells us a lot about what we can expect from Romney should he win the presidency.


The green economy is one that has never really been given a chance to survive in our "free market system." While stimulus money has flowed to many renewable energy companies, the lack of a green infrastructure has caused these projects to remain stagnant.

Investment in green jobs shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We could create millions of American jobs – jobs that can’t be outsourced; We could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce our oil imports from hostile nations; And we would help reduce the country’s carbon footprint. None of those are partisan issues, as both major parties have talked about the need to do all of the above.

That’s not hyperbole, either. Studies abound about the benefits of investing in a green economy. But they also all say the same thing – More has to be done to create a delivery system for renewable energy. At the moment, there is no major infrastructure for delivering renewable energy to the masses, leaving the vast majority of the country reliant on fossil fuels to power their lives.

There are very few, if any, drawbacks to investing in clean energy, green jobs, and renewable technology. The benefits listed above should be enough to get any American on board, as long as that American isn’t a fossil fuel CEO.

Following the money on the issue helps us understand why we’re still so far behind in the green economy sector. USA Today has the numbers:
  

Last year alone ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute, the trade group that represents these energy giants, used $66.2 million for lobbying efforts, nearly 44% of the $150 million total spent by the oil and gas industry, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Collectively, nearly 800 lobbyists worked on behalf of oil and gas interests in 2011.

The total towers over the $53 million spent by what the center classifies as the "miscellaneous energy" industry — which counts the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the American Wind Energy Association as its members. The grouping includes 751 lobbyists.
 

The Obama administration has also met fierce opposition on their renewable energy and green jobs investments by industry-funded think tanks and astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity and ALEC. These groups are able to outspend their green counterparts, and in Washington, D.C., that gives them access to a much larger microphone.

And that brings us back to Romney. He’s already shown us that he’s willing to employ dirty energy industry insiders to craft his energy policy, and his claims about Obama’s “obsession” with green jobs is an extension of his pandering to the oil and gas industries. After all, they have the finances that he needs to keep his campaign alive through November.

Reports from earlier this year tell us that at least 3 million American workers are employed in the “green economy” sector, most of which are with private sector firms. Romney’s attack on Obama is an attack on the 3 million workers in this industry.

August 06 2012

16:40

House Republicans Sacrifice Human Health For Alleged Job Creation

With July 2012 officially behind us, the U.S. jobs report for the month has economists and politicians concerned about the employment situation in America. And even though the economy added 163,000 jobs (economists had predicted only 100,000 jobs to be added for July,) the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate both crept slightly upwards. And with national elections coming up in three months, poor jobs numbers could be bad for our health.

If history is any indicator, Conservative politicians and think tanks will use last month’s poor jobs report in an attempt to provide massive giveaways to their friends in the dirty energy industry. They attempted the same thing after below-average job growth in May of this year, claiming that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would be the job boon that Americans desperately need.

But Republicans in Washington didn’t wait for a bad jobs report before they started planning their dirty energy bonanza, but its likely they will use it as a catalyst to gain more support for their disastrous plans.

In mid June of this year, Republicans on the “House Energy Action Team” (HEAT) proposed a set of bills that would destroy many of the safeguards that are currently in place to protect our environment and our personal health in order to make things “easier” for businesses to create jobs without worrying about those pesky safety standards. What the package of legislation is really about is repaying HEAT members’ financiers from the dirty energy industry who stand to save a ton of cash by destroying regulations.

The legislation package would remove many current existing safeguards for environmental and public health until the unemployment rate drops below 6%, a rate that hasn’t been seen since July 2008, when it was 5.8%. Since that month four years ago, the rate has stayed consistently above 6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


When I wrote about the legislative package back in June, I focused mainly on the ties to industry of the bills’ sponsors. Recently, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards put together an analysis of the safeguards and regulations that the bills would removed if passed:
  

The House of Representatives will soon consider a radical bill proposed by Republican members: ‘‘Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act’’ (H.R. 4078). This bill is made up of provisions H.R. 4078, H.R. 4607, H.R. 3862, H.R. 373, H.R. 4377, H.R. 2308, and H.R. 1840 which would, in an unprecedented move halt all regulatory action on national safeguards that protect the health and safety of Americans and bolster the nation’s economy.

Combined, these provisions would halt or delay virtually ALL regulations and do absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy or new job opportunities. They would shut down crucial safeguards that give Americans confidence in the products at the grocery store, the safety of their workplaces, the cleanliness of the water system, the soundness of our financial system, and the safety of vital infrastructure…

Public Health and Clean Air – These bills would continue to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing standards defining power plants, industrial boilers, process heaters and cement plants compliance with the Clean Air Act. Those structures are the largest emitters of mercury and toxic air pollutants. Compliance would curb their harmful impact on the respiratory health of millions of Americans.

Food Safety – Each year, 1.2 million people get sick, 7,125 are hospitalized, and 134 die from foodborne illnesses contracted from contaminated produce. Illnesses and food recalls also hurt the U.S. agriculture and food industries. The Food Safety Modernization Act, passed with support from both industry and consumer groups, calls for new regulations on produce handling on large farms and an inspection system for foreign farms to be in place by 2013. Its implementation depends on rulemaking that would be blocked by the proposed bills.

Workplace Safety – Beryllium, a toxic substance (lung cancer and other fatal and chronic diseases) exposed to workers in the electronics, nuclear, and metalwork industries. Current1950s-based standards allow workers to continue to be exposed to levels higher than ruled safe for nuclear power plant workers. The three proposed bills would stop the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from updating exposure standards to protect all workers.

Energy and Environment – The proposed bills would block the U.S. Department of Energy from implementing the Energy Security and Independence Act, delaying for five years updates of energy efficiency standards for a wide range of products. The estimated lost savings for the U.S. economy would be $48 to $105 billion. The bills also would halt the Federal Trade Commission’s rulemaking for energy efficiency labeling designed to protect consumers from misleading and deceptive claims about product energy savings.
 

In addition to these measures, some of the bills in the package would reduce benefits for our veterans, and loosen the already lenient rules regarding the approval of medical devices in America.

If passed, these laws would sacrifice the lives and well being of American citizens based solely on the hope that companies will create more jobs. To the House Republicans who proposed this legislation, their faith in corporations to “do the right thing” is greater than their belief that every life is sacred and worth protecting.

But the most important thing to remember about their proposals is that they won’t work. As I have pointed out over the years, regulations are not destroying jobs, nor are they hindering job creation. In fact, tightening safeguards would actually lead to greater job creation than destroying regulations.

Talking points aside, House Republicans are also overlooking the fact that destroying safeguards will also have a devastating effect on the fragile U.S. economy. Studies tell us that for every dollar spent on safeguards and regulations, an economic benefit of between four and eight dollars ripples throughout the economy. To put it simply, every dollar spent on regulations has a minimum return of 400% for the U.S. economy. Any investor could see that this would be a wise decision.

In addition to the lost investments, we have to look at the jobs that would be lost by doing away with regulations. Delaying implementation, or doing away with completely, the Clean Air Act standards could cost our economy an estimated 1.5 million jobs.

And those numbers are just the ones on the surface. We would also have to factor in the economic impact of health and environmental degradation that would be placed on the economy if these safeguards were removed. It is a fact that U.S. taxpayers already pay for healthcare costs related to air pollution, estimated to be about $50 billion a year. Environmental costs shifted to taxpayers also total in the billions a year, as seen with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Exxon Valdez spill (every disaster has costs that are shifted to taxpayers, those are just two of the largest examples.)

And again, all of these costs and dangers that will be imposed on the American public are only in the HOPE that corporate America will create more jobs. After analyzing all of the available information about regulations and job creation, its clear that repealing these safeguards will do little, if anything at all, to spur job growth in America. On the other hand, tightening these safeguards and fully implementing ones that have been delayed would provide an enormous benefit to both our health and our economy. But the dirty energy industry only thinks about their profits, not what happens in the world around them.

August 03 2012

12:00

Delaware Tax Haven: The Other Shale Gas Industry Loophole

Most people think of downtown Houston, Texas as ground zero for the oil and gas industry. Houston, after all, serves as home base for corporate headquarters of oil and gas giants, including the likes of BP America, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil Company, to name a few.

Comparably speaking, few would think of Wilmington, Delaware in a similar vein. But perhaps they should, according to a recent New York Times investigative report by Leslie Wayne.

Wayne's story revealed that Delaware serves as what journalist Nicholas Shaxson calls a "Treasure Island" in his recent book by that namesake. It's an "onshore tax haven" and an even more robust one than the Caymen Islands, to boot.

The Delaware "Island" is heavilized utilized by oil and gas majors, all of which are part of the "two-thirds of the Fortune 500" corporations parking their money in The First State.

Delaware is an outlier in the way it does business,” David Brunori, a professor at George Washington Law School told The Times. “What it offers is an opportunity to game the system and do it legally.”

The numbers are astounding. "Over the last decade, the Delaware loophole has enabled corporations to reduce the taxes paid to other states by an estimated $9.5 billion," Wayne wrote

"More than 900,000 business entities choose Delaware as a location to incorporate," explained another report. "The number…exceeds Delaware's human population of 850,000."

Marcellus Shale Frackers Utilize the "Delaware Loophole" 

The New York Times story also demonstrated that the shale gas industry has become an expert at utilizing the "Delaware Loophole" tax haven to dodge taxes, just as it is a champion at dodging chemical fluid disclosure and other accountability to the Safe Drinking Water Act, thanks to the "Halliburton Loophole." The latter is explained in great detail in DeSmogBlog's "Fracking the Future."

Utilization of the "Delaware Loophole" is far from the story of a few bad apples gone astray for the industry. As Wayne explains, the use of this "onshore tax haven" is the norm.

More than 400 corporate subsidiaries linked to Marcellus Shale gas exploration have been registered in Delaware, most within the last four years, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit group based in Harrisburg that studies the state’s tax policy.

In 2004, the center estimated that the Delaware loophole had cost the state $400 million annually in lost revenue — and that was before the energy boom.

More than two-thirds of the companies in the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry alliance based in Pittsburgh, are registered to a single address: 1209 North Orange Street, according to the center.

These fiscal figures, as Wayne points out, predate the ongoing shale gas "Gold Rush" in the Marcellus. SEIU of Pennsylvania has calculated $550 million/year in lost tax revenue in the state from the shale gas industry due to the loophole.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives set out to tackle the "Delaware Loophole" quagmire in the spring of 2012, but merely offered half-measure legislation that would have allowed corporations - including the frackers - to continue gaming the system. Coryn S. Wolk of the activist group Protecting Our Waters summarized the bill in a recent post:

In March, 2012, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives created a bipartisan bill, HB 2150, aimed at closing corporate tax loopholes. However, as the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center noted in their detailed opposition to the bill, the bill would have cost Pennsylvania more money by soothing corporations with major tax cuts and leaving the loopholes accessible to any clever accountant.

Tax cheating in Delaware goes far above and beyond the Marcellus Shale. All of the oil and gas majors, with operations around the world, take full advantage of all Delaware has to offer.

"Piping Profits"

If things in this sphere were only limited to shale gas companies operating in the Marcellus Shale, the battle would seem big. Big, but not insurmountable.

Yet, as the Norway-based NGOPublish What You Pay points out in a recent report titled, "Piping profits: the secret world of oil, gas and mining giants," the game is more rigged than most would like to admit.

How rigged? Overwhelmingly so.

The report shows that ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and ExxonMobil have 439 out of their combined 783 subsidiaries located in well-known tax havens around the world, including in Delaware. All three companies maintain fracking operations, as well, meaning they benefit from both the Halliburton and Delaware Loopholes.

Adding BP and Shell into the mix, Publish What You Pay revealed that the five majors have 749 tax haven subsidiaries located in Delaware out of a grand total of 3,632 global tax haven subsidiaries. This amounts to 20.6-percent of them, to be precise.

These figures moved Publish What You Pay's Executive Director, Mona Thowsen, to conclude, “What this study shows is that the extractive industry ownership structure and its huge use of secrecy jurisdictions may work against the urgent need to reduce corruption and aggressive tax avoidance in this sector."

Tax Justice Network: $21-$32 Trillion Parked in Offshore Accounts

A recent lengthy report titled "The Price of Offshore Revisited" by the Tax Justice Network reveals just how big of a problem tax havens are on a global scale, reaching far beyond Delaware's boundaries.

As Democracy Now! explained,

[The] new report…reveals how wealthy individuals and their families have between $21 and $32 trillion of hidden financial assets around the world in what are known as offshore accounts or tax havens. The conservative estimate of $21 trillion—conservative estimate—is as much money as the entire annual economic output of the United States and Japan combined. The actual sums could be higher because the study only deals with financial wealth deposited in bank and investment accounts, and not other assets such as property and yachts.

The inquiry…is being touted as the most comprehensive report ever on the "offshore economy." 

The Democracy Now! interview below is worth watching on the whole, as oil and gas industry "offshoring" is but the tip of the iceberg.

Photo CreditGunnar Pippel | ShutterStock

Exhaustive Study Finds Global Elite

August 01 2012

20:47

Victory Declared For The Climate Science Denialists

A VICTORY has been declared in the field of climate change but the lap of honour is not being run by research scientists or renewable energy bosses, or by coral reefs, drought-stricken farmers or the citizens of low-lying countries.

Rather, if you accept as valid this declaration of victory from one of Australia’s leading thinkers, then those popping the champagne corks are the fossil fuel lobby.

Standing by the track cheering this triumph, are the conservative think tanks and the free market ideologues that believe the world should be run on their terms. To follow the analogy through to the bitter end, the losers are everyone else.

Professor Robert Manne, a political philosopher at La Trobe University, is making this declaration in a 7000-word essay published tomorrow in The Monthly magazine – its cover screaming “Victory of the Denialists: How Climate Science Was Vanquished”.

Manne’s essay charts the decades-long effort to spread doubt and confusion about the science of human-caused climate change, focusing on the think tanks and corporations that created and backed a “relentless” campaign in the United States which has infected other parts of the western world, including Australia.

Manne draws on already published books and research papers about the climate denial industry, and so in that respect close watchers won’t find anything new. But it is his declaration that climate science denialists have won which will stick in the throat of many climate change campaigners and science communicators.

I asked Professor Manne why he had come to that conclusion.

I find it difficult to see how a reasonably objective observer could deny that this is what has happened—gradually at first but also dramatically since the end of 2009 due largely to the combination of the failure of Copenhagen and the impact of 'Climategate'.

 

The victory I write about is limited to the United States, although denialism is an important and almost certainly growing movement in Canada, Australia and the UK.

If climate change denialists are pleased [by the conclusion] then they have chosen to ignore the explicit claim of the article that they are part of an irrationalist movement that is placing the future of the Earth at risk. The role of analysis is to be as faithful to the truth as one can be, not to boost morale or to support delusion.

For the denialists to be “victorious” they do not need to "prove" that global warming is a "hoax". All they have to do is to "manufacture doubt", that is to say to create a substantial level of public doubt about the solidity of the science.


According to Manne, President Barack Obama has been “nobbled” by the denialist campaign and the Republican Party almost “entirely converted” to denying the science.

Manne concludes in his essay that the success of the denialist campaign is one that subsequent generations will look upon “as perhaps the darkest in the history of humankind”.

But just as Manne makes his declaration, a project funded by two of America’s greatest supporters of the “denialist” campaign has backfired spectacularly.

Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, led a project that accepted a $150,000 donation from a foundation controlled by the Koch brothers to study global temperature records (the Kochs have pumped millions into the global climate denial campaign).

Muller had previously stated that claims by skeptics that temperature records were unreliable merited a major investigation. He has also previously criticised the work of Pennsylvania State University scientist Professor Michael Manne, whose research gave birth to the now famous hockey stick graph showing a sharp rise in recent global temperatures.

After going through 1.6 billion records from 36,000 temperature stations, Muller’s team says the world’s temperature has risen by 1.5C in the 250 years since the start of the industrial revolution. More than half of this increase has occurred in the last 50 years.

What’s more, Muller now says that human activity, mainly burning fossil fuels, is to blame for practically all of that warming.

Muller’s study, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, has been widely reported not because of a novel approach to climate science research, or because it tells us anything new, but rather because of his reported “conversion” from being skeptical to accepting the science.  He now describes himself as a “converted skeptic”.

Presumably, the oil rich Koch brothers were so convinced the world’s temperature gauges were lying, that they were happy to provide a no strings donation to Muller’s project, which stipulated its donors  “have no say over how we conduct the research or what we publish”.

But in a chronology, Muller’s work has come to essentially the same conclusion as the rest of the climate science community, except they got there a good decade or so earlier.

In The Monthly, Manne defines “denialists” as “orthodox members of a tightly knit group whose natural disposition is not to think for themselves”.

But on the same spectrum is a group of individuals, lobbyists and think-tankers who hide their skepticism behind a charade of pragmatism. Professor Clive Hamilton, recently appointed to board of the Australian Government’s Climate Change Authority, describes them as the “luke warmists”.

Luke warmists, Hamilton wrote recently, accept the science but relentlessly and unrealistically emphasise uncertainties, play down the dangers and advocate for only tokenistic, low-impact policy responses.

But what about those world leaders who have accepted the science of human caused climate change and have articulated the risks? Even these have hardly covered themselves in glory.

Because after Kyotos, Copenhagens, Durbans, Cancuns and revisits to Rio for new earth summits, the world’s emissions continue to boom reaching an all-time record last year.

Even though Australia has introduced a price on greenhouse gas emissions on the heaviest polluters, the scheme will allow these emitters to buy carbon credits from overseas to offset as much as half their liabilities.

This means that Australia’s domestically generated emissions will likely rise for the next 20 years, although not nearly as quickly as they would have risen without the scheme altogether.

Bizarrely, this situation is seen by some as major progress.

The carbon price is an important step forward and will help drive the roll-out of renewable energy in the same way that decades of subsidies have helped the fossil fuel industry to retain its market dominance.

But then there is Australia’s hypocritical position of claiming to be concerned about climate change while at the same time becoming a world leader in the export of coal and gas to be burned outside the jurisdiction of any carbon pricing mechanism (although plans to price carbon in China could change things).

Research just published by not-for-profit group Beyond Zero Emissions suggests when Australia’s domestic emissions are added to those from the coal and gas we export, Australia becomes a major global emitter, ranking sixth globally.

The BZE Laggard to Leader report finds that by 2030, the emissions locked-up in Australian coal and gas exports would combine with domestic emissions to give the country an annual carbon footprint in the region of 2.2 billion tonnes.

In terms of exports, these emissions from Australian coal and gas exports will be almost double those coming from Saudi Arabia’s exports of oil.

And this is the position currently being advocated by Australia, whose Prime Minister Julia Gillard says that inaction on climate change is “ultimately threatening for our planet”. She is certainly no “denialist”.

Robert Manne says the denialist triumph might not be stable “in the long term”.“Who can tell?” he said in an email to me. “As Maynard Keynes once famously observed: in the long-term we are all dead."

July 30 2012

14:56

Conversion Fever! Why The Media Adores Former Climate Skeptics

If you’ve been following the science of global warming for over a decade—as I have—you might find the recent conversion of Berkeley physicist Richard Muller into a climate believer kind of underwhelming. That’s certainly the reaction of many longtime climate scientists, with whom Muller now, finally, agrees.

At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of just a few years!” climatologist Michael Mann tweeted. Climate scientist Ken Caldeira also had an amusing take, as quoted by Joe Romm: “I am glad that Muller et al have taken a look at the data and have come to essentially the same conclusion that nearly everyone else had come to more than a decade ago.”

Why, then, does Muller draw New York Times op-ed attention for his conversion? Is it really news that one individual physicist has finally come to agree that the science of climate change is very solid?

Note that this is not the first time this has happened with climate skeptic conversions in the media, or in the New York Times in particular. Remember the former skeptical journalist Gregg Easterbrook, of the New Republic and elsewhere? The New York Times published his conversion op-ed in 2006. Even at the time, some of us thought Easterbrook was pretty tardy in his turnaround—and this was six years ago.

Another prominent 2006 convert was the libertarian publisher of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer. Once again, upon hearing the Shermer news some of us thought, “better late than never, I suppose.” Or as I blogged at the time:

As in the case of Easterbrook, I don’t see why people like Shermer held out so long…but as we all know, there’s a lot of misinformation out there that can lead earnest people astray. So perhaps we should simply applaud these rather late AGW converts, rather than presuming to judge…

So what is up with former climate skeptics, conversions, and media attention?

The short answer is that most non-science journalists (and editors!) simply don’t know much about the science of climate change, or how solid it is. In this area in particular, they are classic low information thinkers, and so they make up their minds about what is newsworthy based upon short-cuts and heuristics.

This has many consequences. For instance, it explains why journalists (like average Americans) are much more likely to focus on climate change in the context of extreme heat and weather. It also makes these non-science journalists highly susceptible to framing effects—which gets to the heart of our story.

There are few frames that journalists dig more than the conversion story, the “Nixon Going to China” narrative, in all its various incarnations. And of course, they don’t dig it for scientific reasons—they dig it for political ones. A convert represents a shift—movement—in the overall political narrative. A convert is also likely a proxy for the public, especially at a time when more and more Americans are shocked and alarmed by extreme weather, and highly open to considering global warming as its cause.

What all of this means, of course, is that while in a scientific sense Muller’s conversion is quite insignificant—in fact, its tardiness may even seem rather trying—in a political sense, his recent arrival is all that matters. So just declare victory, my scientific friends. True, we won over most of the scientists that matter a long time ago. But politically, converts still count for a great deal. 

July 28 2012

13:00

The Real Train Wreck: ALEC and "Other ALECs" Attack EPA Regulations

When business-friendly bills and resolutions spread like wildfire in statehouses nationwide calling for something as far-fetched as a halt to EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, ALEC is always a safe bet for a good place to look for their origin.

In the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists, as CMD explains, have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy." In short, they have de facto veto power over whether the prospective bills they present at these conferences become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

For a concise version of how ALEC operates, see the brand new video below by Mark Fiore.

 
ALEC Rock

ALEC, though, isn't the only group singing this tune.

As it turns out, one of the "Other ALECs," or a group that operates in a similar manner to ALEC, will be hosting its conference in the immediate aftermath of ALEC's conference: the Council of State Government's (CSG) regional offshoot, the Southern Leadership Conference (SLC).

Like ALEC, CSG produces its own "model bills," which it calls "Suggested State Legislation" (SSL). SSL is enacted via an "up or down" vote manner at CSG's national meetings. This process mirrors that of its cousin ALEC, with corporate lobbyists also able to vote in closed door meetings.

Some key differences between CSG and ALEC: the former is bipartisan in nature, while the latter is Republican Party-centric; CSG has a far larger budget, due to the fact that 43 percent of its funding comes from taxpayer contributions; and CSG is not explicitly ideological in nature because it was founded as a trade association for state legislators (not as a corporate front group like ALEC, although CSG is now heavily influenced by the same forces).

SLC's annual meeting will be held in Charleston, West Virginia from July 28-31.

TruthOut's ongoing "Other ALECs Exposed" series (written by yours truly) digs deep into the machinations of "Other ALEC"-like groups.

One of the key threads tying these two particular groups together is their agreement on derailing what they describe as "job-killing" EPA greenhouse gas emissions regulations. ALEC has referred to these sensible standards on multiple occassions as a "Regulatory Trainwreck."

ALEC, SLC and EPA "Regulatory Trainwreck" Resolutions

ALEC's "Regulatory Trainwreck" Resolution

ALEC has two model bills on the books that call for EPA regulations to be eliminated: the State Regulatory Responsibility Act and the Resolution Opposing EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck. Essentially clones, the two bills passed nearly a decade apart from one another, the former in 2000, the latter in 2011.

ALEC's description of EPA regulations reads like the apocolypse is looming.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a war on the American standard of living," it wrote. "During the past couple of years, the Agency has undertaken the most expansive regulatory assault in history on the production and distribution of affordable and reliable energy…These regulations are causing the shutdown of power plants across the nation, forcing electricity generation off of coal, destroying jobs, raising energy costs, and decreasing reliability."  

Former CMD reporter Jill Richardson wrote in a July 2011 story that the concept behind the resolution originated at ALEC's December 2010 policy summit. Richardson explained,

The policy summit included a session led by Peter Glaser of Troutman Sanders LLP law firm in which Glaser, an attorney who represents electric utility, mining and other energy industry companies and associations on environmental regulation, specifically in the area of air quality and global climate change, told the crowd that "EPA's regulatory trainwreck" is "a term that's now in common use around town. I think everybody should become familiar with it." (See the video here.) Along with the presentations, ALEC published a report called "EPA's Regulatory Trainwreck: Strategies for State Legislators" and provided "Legislation to Consider" on its site, RegulatoryTrainwreck.com. For the public, they created the website StopTheTrainwreck.com.

The Resolution calls for the EPA to stop regulating greenhouse gases for the next two years as a "jobs creation" mechanism.

After the midterm election ransacking, in which the GOP won large majorities in state legislatures nationwide, it was off to the races for "Regulatory Train Wreck" resolutions to pass around the country, and pass they did. 

The "Regulatory Trainwreck" resolution, according to ALEC, has been introduced in an astounding 34 states, passing in 13, as of a June 2011 press release.

This assault conducted by ALEC and its corporate backers is merely the tip of the iceberg. ALEC itself boasts,

There are 27 groups of state and local officials that opposerecent EPA action, including tens of thousands of state legislators, utility commissioners, agricultural department officials, foresters, drinking water administrators, fish and wildlife agencies, solid waste management officials, state wetland managers, mayors, counties, and cities.

One of these 27 groups included CSG's Southern Leadership Conference.

SLC Adopts the "Regulatory Train Wreck" Resolution as its Own

On July 19, 2011, the SLC adopted the ALEC Regulatory Train Wreck resolution at its 65th Annual Meeting in Memphis, TN. The Resolution called for, among other things, to

  1. "Adopt legislation prohibiting the EPA from further regulating greenhouse gas emissions for the next 24 months, including, if necessary, defunding the EPA greenhouse gas regulatory activity;"
  2. "Impose a moratorium on the promulgation of any new air quality regulation by the EPA, including, if necessary,the defunding of the EPA air quality regulatory activities, except to address an imminent health or environmental emergency, for a period of at least 24 months;"  

In other words, this is a copycat of the ALEC Resolution. SLC, like ALEC, chocks it up to the false dichotomy of regulation vs. jobs, and regulations "killing jobs." As DeSmogBlog has written, the opposite is actually the case.

The resolution's opening paragraph is a case in point. It reads,

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed, or is in the process of proposing, numerous regulations regarding air quality and regulation of greenhouse gases that likely will have major effects on Southern state economies, impacting businesses, manufacturing industries and, in turn, job creation and U.S. competitiveness in world markets."

Lobbyists representing the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), Southern States Energy Board (a lobbying tour de force, which has a whole host of dirty energy clients in the oil, gas, and nuclear power sectors), Piedmont Natural Gas, Spectra Energy, and Southern Company were all in attendance to vote on this resolution. 

Dirty energy sponsors of the 2011 SLC meeting included the likes of Spectra, General Electric, ACCCE, Chevron, Honeywell, Piedmont Natural Gas, BP, Southern Company, and Atmos Energy, to name several.

If adopted at a federal level, this resolution would, of course, make all of these companies a hefty fortune.  

ALEC's Bifurcated Approach: Strip Federal Regs, Attack Local Democracy

Oil, gas, nuclear and utility corporations that fund ALEC and groups like CSG would like nothing more than to see EPA regulations disintegrate into thin air.

Part one of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda showed that, along with pushing for the elimination of EPA regulations, it has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate local democracy as we know it, including altering key standards such as zoning rights - a Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

This would mean only extremely underfunded and understaffed state regulatory agencies like the New York Department of Environmental Conservation would have any oversight on environmental regulatory issues. 

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become one of Big Business' favorite domiciles for pushing its "Corporate Playbook." 

Image CreditLane V. Erickson ShutterStock

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALECExposed project)

July 27 2012

10:30

Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Supreme Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional. The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 "…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise."

Act 13 — pejoratively referred to as "the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway" by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld — would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

"It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government," Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. "It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it."

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

PA Act 13, Originally an ALEC Model Bill 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is in the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. ALEC is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative, Republican Party-centric "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze, and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy," CMD explains. They have de facto veto power over whether their prospective bills become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

A close examination suggests that an ALEC model bill is quite similar to the recently overturned Act 13. 

It is likely modeled after and inspired by an ALEC bill titled, "An Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation." This Act was passed by ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its Annual Meeting in August 2010 in San Diego, CA

The model bill opens by saying that "…the planning and zoning authority granted to rural counties may encourage land use regulation which is overly centralized, intrusive and politicized." The model bill's central purpose is to "grant rural counties the legal authority to abandon their planning and zoning authority in order to transition to decentralized land use regulation…"

The key legal substance of the bill reads, "The local law shall require the county to repeal or modify any land use restriction stemming from the county’s exercise of its planning or zoning authority, which prohibits or conditionally restricts the peaceful or highest and best uses of private property…"

In short, like Act 13, this ALEC model bill turns local democractic protections on their head. Act 13, to be fair, is a far meatier bill, running 174 pages in length. What likely happened: Pennsylvania legislators and the oil and gas industry lobbyists they serve took the key concepts found in ALEC's bill, ran with them, and made an even more extreme and specific piece of legislation to strip away Pennsylvania citizens' rights.

There were many shale gas industry lobbyists and those affiliated with like-minded think-tanks in the house for the Dec. 2010 San Diego Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where this prospective ALEC model bill became an official ALEC model bill. They included Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation (heavily funded by the Kochs), Russel Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (also heavily funded by the Koch Family Fortune), Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (again, heavily funded by the Kochs), Mike McGraw of Occidental Petroleum, and Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (a think tank that sits under the umbrella of the Koch Foundation-funded State Policy Network).

A Model That's Been Passed and Proposed Elsewhere

The Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation model bill has made a tour to statehouses nationwide, popping up in Ohio, Idaho, Colorado, and Texas. The model passed in some states, while failing to pass in others.

Here is a rundown of similar bills that DeSmogBlog has identified so far:

Ohio HB 278

Long before the ALEC model bill was enacted in 2010, Ohio passed a similar bill in 2004, HB 278, which gives exclusive well-permitting, zoning, and regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Ohio is home to the Utica Shale basin.

Mirroring ALEC's model, HB 278 gives the "…Division of Mineral Resources Management in the Department of Natural Resources…exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells in the state.."

Could it be that the ALEC model bill was actually inspired by HB 278? It's very possible, based on recent history.

As was the case with ALEC's hydraulic fracturing chemical fluid "disclosure" model bill (actually rife with loopholes ensuring chemicals will never be disclosed), ALEC adopted legislation passed in the Texas state legislature as its own at its December 2011 conference.

Idaho HB 464 

Idaho's House of Representatives passed HB 464 in February 2012 in a 54-13-3 roll call vote. A month later, the bill passed in the Senate in a 24-10-1 roll call vote. Days later, Republican Gov. Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

Key language from HB 464 reads

It is declared to be in the public interest…to provide for uniformity and consistency in the regulation of the production of oil and gas throughout the state of Idaho…[,] to authorize and to provide for the operations and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be obtained.  (Snip)

It is the intent of the legislature to occupy the field of the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production with the limited exception of the exercise of planning and zoning authority granted cities and counties…

The Democratic Party State Senate Minority Office was outraged about the bill's passage. 

"[HB] 464 establishes Idaho law governing oil and gas exploration and development including limits to local control over the location of wells, drilling processes, water rights and the injection of waste materials into the ground," reads a press release by the Idaho State Senate Minority Office. "[HB 464] preempts local land-use planning statute dating back to 1975. Counties will have little input in the permitting process whereby well sites are selected (or restricted) and no role in planning and zoning."

Sound familiar? Like PA Act 13 and the ALEC model? It should.

Full-scale fracking has yet to take place in Idaho, though the race is on, with Idahoans signing more and more leases with each passing day. Thanks to gas industry lobbyists' use of ALEC's model bill process, the industry will have far fewer hurdles to clear in the state when the race begins. 

Colorado SB 88

The Demoratic Party-controlled Colorado State Senate struck down an ALEC copycat bill, SB 88, in February 2012.

The Bill Summary portion of SB 88 explains the bill concisely, mirroring, once again, PA Act 13 and the ALEC Model Bill: "…the Colorado oil and gas conservation commission has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operations, and local regulation of oil and gas operations is preempted by state law."

Colorado sits atop the Niobrara Shale basin. Like Pennsylvania, it has seen many cities successfully move to ban fracking, making the goal of a bill of this nature all the more obvious.

From Colorado Springs to Boulder County, cities and counties across Colorado have passed measures against fracking,” Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch told the Colorado Independent at the time SB 88 was struck down. “This bill is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip local governments of what little power they have to protect their citizens and water resources from the harms posed by fracking.” 

Far from a completed debate, as covered in a June 2012 follow-up story by the Colorado Independent, things are just getting underway on this one in The Centennial State.  

I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” Democratic Party State Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the Independent. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”  

Former Sen. Mike Kopp (R) was one of the public sector attendees at the Dec. 2010 Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where the ALEC model bill passed. 

Texas HB 3105 and SB 875

In May 2011, TX SB 875 passed almost unanimously. The bill essentially calls for the elimination, in one fell swoop, of the common law of private nuisance in Texas.

SB 875's key operative paragraph explains,

[Entities] subject to an administrative, civil, or criminal action brought under this chapter for nuisance or trespass arising from greenhouse gas emissions [have] an affirmative defense to that action if the person's actions that resulted in the alleged nuisance or trespass were authorized by a rule, permit, order, license, certificate, registration, approval, or other form of authorization issued by the commission or the federal government or an agency of the federal government…

Texas — home to the Barnett Shale basin and the Eagle Ford Shale basin — played a dirty trick here, but what else would one expect from the government of a Petro State?

The ALEC model bill calls for a transition from centralized power by local governments to individual property rights under the common law of private nuisance, a civil suit that allows those whose private property has been damaged to file a legal complaint with proper authorities. Now, under the dictates of SB 875, even these rights have been eviscerated.

Perhaps Texas exemplifies a realization of the oil and gas industries' ideal world: legal rights for no one except themselves.

"This [bill allows] the willful trespass onto private property of chemicals and or nuisances, thus destroying the peaceful enjoyment of private property, which someone may have put their life savings into," Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas and one of the stars of Josh Fox's Academy Award-nominated documentary film, "Gasland," wrote in a letter. "Therefore, private citizens would have no protection for their private property if this amendment was added."

HB 3105's key language, meanwhile, makes the following illicit (emphases mine): 

the adoption or issuance of an ordinance, rule, regulatory requirement, resolution, policy, guideline, or similar measure…by a municipality that..has effect in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality, excluding annexation, and that enacts or enforces an ordinance, rule, regulation, or plan that does not impose identical requirements or restrictions in the entire extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality…or damages, destroys, impairs, or prohibits development of a mineral interest

This bill, unlike SB 875, never passed, though if it did, it would do basically the same thing as PA Act 13 and the ALEC model. If it ever does pass, however, it would mean that Texans would have literally no legal standing to sue the oil and gas industry for wrongdoing in their state.

ALEC's Bifurcated Attack: Erode Local Democracy, Strip Federal Regs,

Coming full circle, though PA Act 13 was struck down, for now, as constitutional, that doesn't necessarily mean ALEC copycat versions like it won't start popping up in other statehouses nationwide. 

Sleep on this for awhile. There's more to come.

Part two of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda will show that, along with pushing for the erosion of local democracy as we know it today, ALEC has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions - another Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become a favorite clearinghouse for polluters to install the "Corporate Playbook" in place of democracy.

Stay tuned for Part Two of DeSmog's investigation, coming soon.

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALEC Exposed project)

Image Credit: Center for Media and Democracy | ALEC Exposed

July 25 2012

14:19

If Conservatives Were Really “Conservative,” They Would Want to Do Something About Global Warming

Originally, when I asked MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel to be a guest on the Point of Inquiry podcast, my goal was simple. I wanted someone who could give an expert take on the relationship between climate change and all the freakish weather we’ve been seeing. As for having this individual also be a self-described conservative and onetime voting Republican, and someone who fell under attack from Tea Party types because of his stance on climate change…well, that it was kind of icing on the cake.

As the interview progressed, though, I came to feel something quite different. I felt, ever so tentatively at least, that there is a real persuasive case to be made by conservatives to other conservatives about climate change, one that just might help bring them around to seeing the need for real policy solutions. What’s more, such a case might even prevail if conservatives in the U.S. today truly embraced the principles of their Burkean intellectual forefathers—which one can conclude almost by definition that they don’t, since they largely deny the science of global warming.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the start of the interview, Emanuel expertly detailed why we know climate science is reliable, how climate change manifests itself in extreme weather—statistically, of course, and not anecdotally—and why outright skepticism of global warming caused by humans just isn’t a credible intellectual position for one to hold any longer. So far, so good.

But where things got really interesting was around minute 14, where the conversation shifted towards policy and Emanuel made a conservative case for taking the science of climate change seriously, and finding a solution to the problem. “The thing to do is to get [conservatives] to understand how much they could potentially bring to the table in trying to figure out how we deal with these risks,” Emanuel explained.

What did he mean? Well, if one is a Burkean conservative, then one by definition wants to prevent risk to the existing order of things. One wants to conserve, to ensure stability. And since climate change is clearly a grave risk to economic, ecological, and overall planetary order, Emanuel naturally sees addressing global warming as a conservative idea. As he explained at minute 16 or so of the podcast:

It’s conservative in the little C sense that most people mean when they say, a conservative family insures itself, for example, and doesn’t take unnecessary risks and gambles. And that’s an important point, because what we’re dealing with here is risk. And a conservative approach to risk is, to take out an insurance policy, for one thing. And that’s the way we ought to be thinking about this problem.

Are you listening to that, conservatives?

But that was only the beginning of Emanuel’s conservative argument that today’s U.S. conservatives are doing global warming all wrong. Emanuel then went on to explain how the current state of affairs on energy policy is anything but…conservative:

On the energy side, there are a lot of things [going on] that aren’t conservative at all, that are at the heart of the problem. Is it a conservative free market principle for the U.S. taxpayer to be massively subsidizing one industry at the expense of another? No, I don’t think it is, but that’s precisely what we’re doing with fossil fuels. There are huge tax subsidies.

Is it a conservative principle to permit one business to pass on a major part of its cost of doing business to some completely different industry, make them pay the bill? There’s nothing conservative about that, but we do that massively for the coal industry. The coal industry racks up somewhere around 180 billion dollars a year of health costs, that have to be absorbed by ratepayers of insurance policies, and by taxpayers who are underwriting things like Medicare.

These aren’t conservative principles.

I have to confess that at around this point in the interview, I wanted to cry out, preach it Brother Emanuel. I was getting pretty darn fired up. It all makes so much sense that a conservative wouldn’t want to put up with this kind of stuff. Subsidies? Come on.

But of course, it doesn’t really help for me to have some weird out of body experience and get all psyched up on behalf of conservatives being principled. After all, I’m still a liberal at the end of the day. It’s not me who needs psyching or convincing.

The question, then, is why today’s U.S. conservatives don’t listen to people like Emanuel, despite the fact that he speaks to them in a language that they ought to understand, and furthermore, speaks as one of them?

This is, of course, a question that takes us very deep into the Republican brain. Emanuel, in our the interview, basically blamed it all on the extremism of the Tea Party—the very same extremism that pushed him out of the Republican Party and made him call himself an Independent (although philosophically still a "conservative").

But I’m not so sure it’s that simple. I think that the natural conservative tendency to want order and stability tends to travel along with a lot of other tendencies—to want find such stability in the group, the tribe, the team; to more adhere to dogma and religious beliefs; to staunchly defend the tribe and banish outsiders (like Emanuel)—and an overall tendency towards closure and fixity of beliefs, rather than openness to new ideas. In other words, psychological conservatism all too readily undermines sensible intellectual conservatism—leading to a situation where someone like Kerry Emanuel makes a whole lot of conservative sense…and so-called conservatives want nothing to do with it, because they've gone all in on a worldview that won't allow it.

So perhaps Emanuel’s response, when I bluntly asked him why he didn’t stay around and fight to reclaim his onetime political party, makes sense. He laughed, and then frankly added,

I’m still quite willing to talk to anybody about this problem that wants to listen to it, and talk about the fact that we ought to be debating the things that are really debatable about these problems.

Here’s hoping Emanuel will find a lot of conservative people to talk with. At least in a former incarnation, I think Mitt Romney is just the sort of conservative who would have listened.

Which…yeah. Which gets at the very root of the problem.

To listen to my full interview with Kerry Emanuel, click here.

02:07

Climate Science Denier Debunks Greenhouse Theory With Two Fish Cooler Boxes And A Roll Of Cling Film

SOMETIMES in the world of climate science "scepticism", things can become a little surreal. A bit odd, if you will, to the point where you need to inflict a sharp pain upon your person to confirm you've not drifted off into an alternate reality.

Like the time, for example, when Australian mainstream TV station Channel Seven chose a "climate expert" who once wrote a book called "Pawmistry" detailing how to read your cat's paws. 

Or the time when a Christian fundamentalist claimed the Victorian bushfires were his god’s revenge for the state’s “incendiary abortion laws which decimate life in the womb”. 

Then there was the time when US free market think-tank the Heartland Institute said "the people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

To me, the odd thing about these instances is not that they actually happened or that there are people with enough arrogance and ideology to believe their own fantasies. What's odd, is that people in positions of influence still associate themselves with them.

Ken Ring, the "pawmistry" guy, still gets slots on Channel Seven. He was on again just a couple of months ago.

The fundamentalist Christian Pastor Daniel Nalliah later hosted a lecture by climate science denier extraordinaire Lord Christopher Monckton, who is also favoured by the world's richest woman Gina Rinehart.

The Heartland Institute may have paid the price for its billboard campaign juxtaposing climate science and the unabomber but it didn't stop Australia's Institute of Public Affairs science fellow Professor Bob Carter concluding the campaign was a good idea.

And so with all this in mind, we come to the latest episode in this compendium of climate contrarian curios.

To fill you in, Queensland's ruling Liberal-National Party has overwhelmingly accepted a motion that climate science shouldn't be taught in schools. The proposer of the motion (which may not be taken up by the parliamentary wing of the party), is a Dr Richard Pearson, from the Sunshine Coast town of Noosa.

It now appears that Dr Pearson has been running his own climate science experiments at home, in his kitchen, with results that some may find remarkable.

Armed only with thermometers, two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film, Dr Pearson believes he may have disproved the greenhouse effect (you may now pinch yourself).

We know this because he wrote about his experiment on the website of the climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement (patron, popular radio presenter Alan Jones, with a cornucopia of climate contrarian advisers). What was Dr Pearson's conclusion after running his fish box test?

 The Greenhouse Effect theory is not confirmed by this experiment and may be disproved by it.

Now, even though the notion that a guy in his kitchen armed with two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film could disprove the greenhouse theory may seem a little fanciful (because I acknowledge that to some it may), I thought I'd waste the time of an actual atmospheric scientist.

Because after all, I don't presume to be a scientist even though I did once make one of those volcanoes from bicarb of soda, vinegar and food colouring. My experiment was a success and also falsified the outrageous claim that my mum's tablecloth was "stainless".

I guess though that there's an extraordinarily slim chance that a Nobel prize could be winging its way to Dr Pearson's residence (he could put it in his fish cooler box for safe keeping). 

So I asked Professor Steven Sherwood at the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre to review Dr Pearson's experiment. This is his response. Settle in.

This request falls at an interesting time, as I just finished lecturing about the greenhouse effect to students who have no background in science  - they're mostly arts majors.  At this point I would expect - or hope - these students have sufficient understanding to see why this "experiment" by Dr. Pearson did not work.  In fact I may use this as a test question or follow-up question to see if they understood the lecture. 
Also, if Dr. Pearson would spend even one hour studying the greenhouse effect he would learn why this test does not work. The greenhouse effect is determined by the difference in temperature between the added infrared absorber (in this case, CO2) and the surface.  Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere radiate to space at an average temperature of about 250K (-23C).  It is because they are so cold that they exert a greenhouse effect.  Absorbers at temperatures matching those of the surface would exert no greenhouse effect. In his film-covered boxes, the temperature is essentially uniform.  Thus there is no greenhouse effect, no matter what substance he puts into the box. 
Incidentally for a number of years I had students build such boxes(not filled with CO2) and they can be a good way to learn about radiation — for example, if he places this (air-filled) box outside at night he will see that the temperature falls below the surface temperature.  This is because of emission of infrared radiation which is not balanced by sunlight. In fact, Dr. Pearson could mimic the true greenhouse effect if he could build a several-layer system and put CO2 in the top layer, but thermally insulate it from the lower layer.  This would be quite a bit more difficult to build, and the performance could be severely compromised by diffusion of heat within the apparatus and to the outside, but in principle could begin to reveal the greenhouse effect.
By the way, the greenhouse trapping of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is not a theory as Pearson falsely claims but is directly observed by satellites.  It is an observed fact, and the warming follows from the principle of conservation of energy, which is as close to observed fact as one gets with theories in physics.

So there you go.  If only Dr Pearson had checked with an actual expert in atmospheric physics, then he could have saved himself some time and the cost of some Glad Wrap. If you bother to read Dr Pearson's "experiment" then it might well sound vaguely plausible to non-experts, which includes the vast majority of the general public.

At the end of his experiment, Dr Pearson recounts how his daughter then asked how a man bearing cling film could "disprove a theory that hundreds of climate scientists around the world say is true". A fair question. “That my darling is science”, was Dr Pearson's response.

Is it really? Professor Sherwood again.

When Dr. Pearson says,'that's science' he is I am afraid kidding himself. The way a real scientist interprets an observation is to write down the equations governing the system.  This is what my students have done.  They are not hard, and for the type of system Dr Pearson is putting together do not involve, for example, calculus - only the ability to solve a coupled system of linear equations.  Only then do you know whether you are interpreting it correctly.

Professor Matthew England, of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre and also chairman of the Australian Climate Commission's science advisory panel, says the motion Dr Pearson succesfully proposed to the LNP could have broad ramifications, if only for the state's reputation.

If the proposal to remove greenhouse science from the school curriculum is enacted, Queensland's education system will become an international joke overnight.  Basic greenhouse gas physics has been established with around 200 years of scientific progress - any move to muzzle climate science facts from being taught at schools will be condemned as world's worst practice in scientific education.
So if the Queensland Education Minister John Paul Langbroek does act on the motion (campaigners are petitioning) from his party, then Prof England says the state will be a laughing stock.
 
Until then, we'll just have to settle for the majority of the members of the LNP.

 

April 04 2012

21:11

Young Americans Sue Government to Stop Global Warming, Polluter Interests Granted Intervention To Defend

Last May, a group of young Americans, fed up with government inaction on climate change, decided to sue to protect their future. The group, led by 16-year old Alec Loorz, founder of Kids vs. Global Warming and the iMatter campaign, filed legal actions against the federal government and 49 states, seeking to force the states and federal government to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to levels deemed necessary by the best available science.

Earlier today, a D.C. District Court judge ruled that the National Association of Manufacturers and other polluter interests can intervene on the government's behalf to argue that they have the right to keep on dumping carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

So the case is sure to prove controversial and the world will be watching to see how the courts handle the matter in the weeks and months to come.

As Loorz, now 17, explained to me last week, the decision to sue the government came only after seeing the failures of the Executive and Legislative branches in addressing the problem.

read more

April 03 2012

12:59

The Farce Of The "Golden Age Of Gas"

Oil and gas industry insiders revealed earlier this year the high probability that we're headed into a shale gas bubble. But that's not what the industry's CEOs and PR departments want you to hear.

"The reality of at least 100 years’ worth of shale gas abundance has been supported by virtually every credible third-party expert…The collective market cap of these energy leaders approaches $2 trillion – ask yourself: do I believe Rolling Stone and Arthur Berman or the world’s biggest and most successful energy companies?"

So spouts off Chesapeake Energy in a press release earlier this month responding to a Rolling Stone article which likened fracking to a huge industry Ponzi scheme. Arthur Berman is an energy consultant based in Houston, and not swayed by the industry's vibrant plumage they are putting on display to the nation.

The energy companies want the public to believe in the "Golden Age of Gas"- as it has been dubbed- where the supplies are bountiful and the profits are high. While it's true that there have been economic booms in some areas that have gas reserves, the numbers are showing that these booms will not be long lived. Meanwhile, the falling price of gas along with the inherent public health risks and environmental devastation that comes along with it makes the gas rush less profitable in the long run. But the gas industry wouldn't have you believe that.

read more

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