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February 08 2011


Climate Scientist Sues Skeptic for Libel

An article described an expert who served as a lead author of a crucial 2007 report as lacking a basic understanding of climate science -- and incorrectly stated that he would not take part in the next United Nations climate-change panel because of concerns about its credibility.

November 24 2009


Solomon has questions he doesn't like: the DeSmogBlog has answers he won't like either

Lawrence Solomon, the National Post’s champion of imagined climate change Deniers complained in a weekend column that Anna Maria Tremonti, host of the CBC radio show, The Current, was too hard on him and too soft on me in a series of interviews last week. In this, Solomon reminds me of some PR clients I have had over the years, people who, in the midst of a problem of their own making complain about the questions reporters ask rather than accepting that they looked bad because they didn’t have good answers.


Solomon’s in a tough spot because nobody could gracefully answer the questions he was asked. He wants to say that climate change isn’t happening, even when an overwhelming majority of the world’s best scientists say otherwise. He wants to call people like the UK astrophysicist Nigel Weiss “deniers,” when they respond that his work is a “slanderous fabrication.” And when Tremonti challenges him on these assertions, he blames her for treating him roughly.


Solomon should understand: all questions are hardball when you don’t know – or can’t stomach – the answers.


As for answers, Solomon demanded some from me in that same weekend column. He posed a series of questions that he wished Tremonti had asked, actually going so far as to attribute them to her in his presentation. I have repeated the questions here verbatim, though I have replaced her name with his. Tremonti is too good and impartial reporter to have made the minor blunders or major ideological assumptions characterized in these questions. My answers follow.


Solomon: Mr. Hoggan, during this interview you have three times cited NASA in making your point that the science is settled on climate change. How does that square with the comments two years ago from the head of NASA, Dr. Michael Griffin, a scientist with six degrees, who said that global warming is nothing to worry about? Or with calculations by a group of NASA scientists, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which cites reduced solar activity as the most important cause of stagnating global warming?

This is a denier industry classic: quote an “expert” who has no expertise. Dr. Griffin is a brilliant aerospace engineer. He has seven degrees, not six, but none of them is in climate or atmospheric science, and he has never done research in the field. It’s relevant too that this reassuringly conscientious George W. Bush appointee later apologized to his NASA colleagues for commenting outside his field and for embarrassing the organization.


As to the article in GRL, you have to be more specific, but perhaps the answer arises in the next question.


Solomon: You say the debate over whether the globe is warming or cooling is taking place at the Kiwanis Club and small community newspapers, not among real climatologists or in peer-reviewed journals like Science. How do you explain the Science magazine article of last month, entitled “What Happened to Global Warming? Scientists Say Just Wait a Bit,” in which scientists grapple with whether the globe is warming or cooling and whether their models are working? And how do you explain the stir caused in September at the UN’s World Climate Conference, where Mojib Latif of Kiel University — one of your own — shocked the gathering of 1,500 climate scientists by saying that temperatures could fall over the next two decades, again contradicting the past predictions of climate models?


There is a lively and legitimate scientific debate about how fast humans are warming the earth. That shouldn’t give journalists license to imagine there is an argument over whether humans are doing so. And regardless of how many times Solomon does something like this, it is still shocking to witness his cherry-picking of facts. For example, he quotes the Science article headline without acknowledge the thrust of the article itself. Here, for example, is the first sentence:


“The blogosphere has been having a field day with global warming's apparent decade-long stagnation. But climatologists are finding that although global warming has indeed paused, it is likely to return with a vengeance within a few years.”


As for Mojib Latif, the thrust of the good professor’s presentation at the World Climate Conference was that global warming is real and inexorable, but that we should talk openly about the possibility of short-term lulls, in part to prevent unscrupulous people from suggesting that those lulls indicate that warming is somehow “over” or not proven.

Solomon: You paint the corporate sector as working behind the scenes to undermine global warming legislation such as the Waxman-Markey bill, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed recently. Yet it is well known that this bill was largely written by a powerful lobby called the United States Climate Action Partnership. This lobby is dominated by a long list of multinationals, including major oil multinationals that you love to excoriate such as BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips. Doesn’t this support the claims of the skeptics, who point to the immense profits that the multinationals stand to make should global warming legislation pass?


I never have suggested that corporate America is endemically corrupt. Neither do I contest the legitimate contributions that corporations can make to the public debate and to good policy making. My complaint is with those corporations that have been implicated in the backchannel promotion of disinformation, in the financing of anti-science front groups, phony grassroots organizations and “think” tanks that have, in fact, corrupted the public conversation.


As to whether this is some complicated play for a profit, how can the deniers be so worried about imagined future profit on an environmentally benign green technology, and yet so oblivious to the fact that Exxon has been the most profitable corporation on earth for years and that the leading U.S. coal companies have been making more money in recent years than at any time in history. In a desperate – and sometimes desperately disingenuous – effort to protect those profits, these players, through organizations like the American Petroleum Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity have acted with inexcusable misdirection to create confusion in the climate discourse. 

Solomon: I’d like to follow up on why my listeners should trust someone in the PR business to be impartial in this debate. When I look at your client list on your firm’s corporate website, I see that it includes ALCOA among your firm’s blue chip clients. ALCOA happens to be part of this lobby, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, that’s pushing climate change legislation. Can you explain why exactly you don’t have a conflict of interest here, when you are attacking those who would derail your client’s legislation? While you’re at it, can you elaborate on the “Hoggan Credo” that you advertise on your website. The way I read it, your advice to corporations is that they need PR services, but that they should be sure that the public doesn’t know it’s having a PR job done on it.

I am happy to be judged by the company I keep, by the transparency of my actions and by the accuracy of the positions that I put forward, whether I am working for clients or pursuing pro bono advocacy on issues that I believe are critically important to the survival of humankind. On the issue of climate, I am not engaged in defending a specific client’s interests. I am attacking people who lie, mislead or spread confusion on climate change science – especially when they do so without acknowledging their own associations and sources income.


As to the Hoggan credo: thanks for bringing it up. I cannot stand accountable for the way you read it. I can’t begin to explain the way you read or misread any number of documents. But here’s what the Hoggan Credo says:


  1. Do the Right Thing
  2. Be Seen to be Doing the Right Thing
  3. Don’t get #1 and #2 Mixed Up, which is to say, don’t get caught up trying to pretend you are doing the right thing, just for the PR benefit.


That’s the advice we give our clients, in part because we find it works really well. People who do the right thing deserve to have a good reputation. And we’re proud to work with such people, to make sure their stakeholders know about the right things they do. It’s so much better than defending the rights of oil and coal companies’ right to deny the science of climate change because they know it will end their profitable, but unforgivably destructive free ride.


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