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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.

February 29 2012

23:59

How Heartland-style Climate Sceptic Campaigns Play "Hide the Deniers" Using Secretive Fund

A LOW-PROFILE funding organisation acting as a middleman for wealthy conservative businesspeople has been quietly backing climate denial campaigns across the US.

The Virginia-based Donors Capital Fund and its partner organisation Donors Trust has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups blocking attempts to limit greenhouse gas pollution and undermining climate science.

Yet the structure of the funds allows the identities of donors and the existence of any vested interests to remain hidden from public view.

Step aside the fakery of “hide the decline”. Say hello to “hide the deniers”.

During the 2009 unlawful release of the private emails of climate scientists, the phrase "hide the decline" became a catch cry for the denial industry as it tried to convince the world that global warming was some kind of hoax.

Sceptics, fake climate experts, conservative politicians and right-wing commentators latched onto the phrase contained in an email from British climate scientist Phil Jones.
 
Sceptics claimed it was evidence scientists were trying to manufacture global temperature records. In fact, Professor Jones's email said nothing of the sort. 
 
Jones, as he explained to many, including the BBC, was referring to data taken from tree rings that, up to the 1960s, had correlated well with global temperatures.
 
But “removing the incorrect impression given by tree rings that temperatures… were not rising”, as Jones explained, just didn’t have the same ring to it as “hide the decline”.
 
The most high profile case involving climate sceptics since that non-scandal of “Climategate” is the ongoing unmasking (or for some, confirmation) of the methods the free-market Heartland Institute think-tank deploys to confuse the public about the dangers of fossil fuel emissions.
 
But the case also gives an insight into how Heartland and other ideologically aligned groups gather their funding while preserving the identity of their wealthy backers.
 

read more

February 23 2012

22:29

DenierGate: Forbes Op-Ed from Heartland Fellow Doubles-Down on Lobby Group’s Lost Irony


Heartland plays by the book - the tobacco and climate denial playbookIn response to the revelation the climate scientist Peter Gleick is behind last week’s scandalous “pranking” of the Heartland Institute, James Taylor, writing in Forbes, has declared the whole affair as an example of “global warming alarmist’ deceit and desperation.”  To be sure, Gleick actions are not condoned by many within (and without) the “alarmist” camp (a.k.a. climate scientists), despite Taylor’s assertions to the contrary.

Apparently, Gleick was anonymously sent a “strategy paper” that prompted Gleick to followup on its contents by acquiring internal documents from the Heartland Institute under an assumed identity. The Heartland Institute has feigned moral outrage, insisting that the strategy paper that prompted Gleick to acquire additional documents was a forgery, though line-by-line analysis of the contents of the memo even bring that into question.

Taylor gears up his followers into a frenzy of outrage that people would stoop to such low tactics, painting Gleick as a deceitful, dishonest, and desperate alarmist; using that same brush in an attempt to smear climate science and climate scientists in general. All this he does without any apparent sense of irony, despite the fact that Heartland has engaged in desperate, dishonest, and alarmist tactics for years. When thousands of emails were stolen from the University of East Anglia, Heartland was first in line to hail the action as good and right, proceeding then to consistently misrepresent the contents of the emails to further their own sagging, desperate, deceitful attempts to further their own agenda.

Despite numerous investigations finding no “smoking gun of deceit” in those emails, Taylor wastes no time in attacking “warmist” scientists. For him, it is okay to steal thousands of emails from climate scientists, but when Gleick makes a few documents available to the press (unethically), it is, for Taylor, illustrative of all the is deceitful and desperate about all climate scientists (er… “warmists”). Gleick has apologized for his actions, Taylor and Heartland double-down. All done without a whit of irony.

Taylor is himself no climate scientist. He is an attorney; trained to make arguments in support of an agenda. He argues that the “legitimate” documents exposed by Gleick only show the inner workings of an honest, forthright organization. Taylor makes no mention of the program to introduce Heartland-style controversy into school curricula, a plan spearheaded by David Wojick. Wojick holds a doctorate in epistemology and is not a climate scientist. But who better to educate our children about climate change and sustainability than a hand-picked, non-climate-scientist from the Heartland Institute?

Instead of actually being forthright in the actions and intentions of the Heartland Institute, Taylor goes on the attack. Not just of Gleick and his questionable actions, but of climate science itself, characterizing one unfortunate incident as a “scandal” exposing the global warming “movement” as desperate, delusional and “collapsing as global warming fails to live up to alarmist predictions.”

It’s unclear to me what world Taylor is living in, but his total lack of irony in making such statements is laughable.

In his Forbes piece, Taylor attempts to turn the tables by changing the “Deniergate” label to “Fakegate.”  Again, the irony seems lost on him.

Fakegate it is. I can think of no better way to describe the Heartland Institute.

Image credit: Climate Crocks

December 02 2011

22:45

Old Talking Points Die Hard: "Climate Change Is Beneficial" Edition

If you follow the cycle of anti-climate change talking points, you’ll notice a pattern that repeats itself every few years. In between spurts of outright denial, the anti-science crowd will occasionally revert back to a less-heard talking point: Climate change is actually a good thing.

Even as the year 2011 has ranked the 10th warmest year on record, the “climate change is good” talking point has crept back to center stage among conservative pundits and dirty energy apologists who can't help but to acknowledge that climate change is real, but suggest that we don’t need to worry about it.

This particular talking point gained a lot of steam in 2004, when the Cato Institute began hyping the idea that climate change was going to be a net benefit for mankind. From Cato:

Theory predicts and observations confirm that human-induced warming takes place primarily in winter, lengthening the growing season. Satellite measurements now show that the planet is greener than it was before it warmed. There are literally thousands of experiments reported in the scientific literature demonstrating that higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations — cause by human activity — dramatically increase food production. So why do we only hear one side about global warming?

Keep in mind, the Cato Institute was co-founded by oil billionaire Charles Koch and has received over $5.5 million from Koch family foundations since 1997, in addition to at least $125,000 from Exxon in the last 13 years.


During the same period that Cato was touting the benefits of warmer climates, other media outlets like London’s The Telegraph were also downplaying the disastrous effects of climate change. The Telegraph told us that, yes, climate change is absolutely real, but that we shouldn’t worry about it because it isn’t a man-made phenomenon. According to The Telegraph, and a host of conservative media in North America, the earth was just in a “natural warming phase” that would soon end and bring about another “natural cooling phase.”

Well, a few years later, we’re beginning to hear that familiar drumbeat of the positive aspects of climate change all over again.

The New York Post told its readers last month that not only are we currently in an ice age, but that “global warming” is going to benefit us all by preventing a full-blown ice age from taking over the planet.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute staffers who run the website GlobalWarming.org have taken it upon themselves to promote the “climate change is good” talking point each week by posting excerpts from books that also make the claim. This week, they led with an excerpt from Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist:

…Once again, people will adapt, as they do today. People move happily from London to Hong Kong or Boston to Miami and do not die from heat, so why should they die if their home city gradually warms by a few degrees? (It already has, because of the urban heat island effect.)

Pause for a moment to digest the fact that CEI and Ridley are still pushing the myth of the "urban heat island effect" even after the Koch-funded BEST study debunked it thoroughly.

According to Forbes’ contributor Tim Worstall, we can all sit back and relax because climate change isn’t going to be as bad as all the environmentalists and activists want us to believe:

This is however the most important remaining question in the science of climate change. Not is it happening, but how bad is it going to be? The lower climate sensitivity is the less bad it will be and the less attention we have to pay to it.

We’re also seeing numerous articles about how climate change will bring down the cost of goods as it opens up new, easier shipping routes in the arctic.

While certainly a clever attempt to paint a rosy picture of climate change, the “climate change is good for us” talking point is completely false. In North America alone this year, we’ve seen record snow falls, record floods, record droughts, record wildfires – many of them deadly events - and a further list of seemingly endless disasters and extreme weather events that are consistent with climate scientists's warnings about what the future holds for us.

To understand the effects that climate change is already having in some areas of the world, I recommend reading Jeff Goodell’s recent piece in Rolling Stone magazine “Climate Change and the End of Australia.” As Goodell points out, Australia is one of the best examples to see how disastrous climate change will be for the rest of the world. The continent is already experiencing severe hurricanes and droughts, both of which are the direct result of climate change.

The NRDC has also worked to show what the real effects of climate change will be – and it isn’t Christmas Eve pool parties for Canadians, as the climate deniers would have us believe.

The reality is that climate change is going to have a disastrous effect on human health. As they point, in 2011, NRDC points to the following statistics from climate change-related events:

1,689 premature deaths
8,992 hospitalizations
21,113 emergency department visits
734,398 outpatient visits.

How exactly are these statistics "beneficial?" Are those numbers what the “climate change is good” crowd want us to celebrate? The truth is that there is nothing “good” about climate change. And as long as we continue down our path of mutual fossil-fueled self-destruction, things are only going to get worse.

September 14 2011

19:48

Solyndra Solar Panel Corporation Scandal Ablaze - ThinkProgress Sets Record Straight

The ongoing scandal continues to blaze at Solyndra. Solyndra Corporation, a San Francisco Bay area solar panel start-up company, is under fire in the immediate aftermath of its August 31 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and laying off over 1,000 workers, which is roughly one-fourth of those who were employed by Solyndra at the time.

Shortly after this development, on September 8, Solyndra was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  

Critics, such as climate change denier and Republican Party Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, are referring to the deal as "crony capitalism" gone arwy. In an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, Bachmann stated, "This is what the American people don't want. They don't want crony capitalism. It infuriates them. We saw that with President Obama, when we saw over $500 million dollars go to Solyndra, who was a political donor of President Obama."

The $500 million Bachmann is referring to is a loan guarantee that was given to Solyndra from the Obama Department of Energy in March 2009.

Others, such as The National Journal and The New York Post have also gone into "blame Obama" attack mode, blaming him not only for giving a loan to a company that went under, but furthermore, for taking campaign money from a fundraiser set up by George Kaiser. ThinkProgress' Stephen Lacey explains who Kaiser is and why he matters:

Because one of the Solyndra investors, Argonaut Venture Capital, is funded by George Kaiser — a man who donated money to the Obama campaign — the loan guarantee has been attacked as being political in nature.

And yet, a deeper probe shows that, while an easy scapegoat, there was another key player in this game, who has gone unmentioned by the mainstream press — former President George W. Bush.

ThinkProgress Lays Out Real Timeline

In an article titled, "Bush Administration Advanced Solyndra Loan Guarantee for Two Years, Media Blow the Story," Lacey revealed that although the popular narative has been to blame Obama in exclusivity, the reality is that Solyndra was, in actuality, a project spearheaded by the Bush Administration in 2007.

Lacey wrote,

To set the record straight, Climate Progress is publishing this timeline — verified by Department of Energy officials — that shows how the loan guarantee came together under both administrations. In fact, rather than rushing the loan for Solyndra through, the Obama Administration restructured the original Bush-era deal to further protect the taxpayers’ investment.

The complete, month-by-month, year-by-year timeline, provided by Lacey and ThinkProgress in the article, can be seen below:

May 2005: Just as a global silicon shortage begins driving up prices of solar photovoltaics, Solyndra is founded to provide a cost-competitive alternative to silicon-based panels.

July 2005: The Bush Administration signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law, creating the 1703 loan guarantee program.

February 2006 – October 2006: In February, Solyndra raises its first round of venture financing worth $10.6 million from CMEA Capital, Redpoint Ventures, and U.S. Venture Partners. In October, Argonaut Venture Capital, an investment arm of George Kaiser, invests $17 million into Solyndra. Madrone Capital Partners, an investment arm of the Walton family, invests $7 million. Those investments are part of a $78.2 million fund.

December 2006: Solyndra Applies for a Loan Guarantee under the 1703 program.

Late 2007: Loan guarantee program is funded. Solyndra was one of 16 clean-tech companies deemed ready to move forward in the due diligence process. The Bush Administration DOE moves forward to develop a conditional commitment.

October 2008: Then Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet touted reasons for building in Silicon Valley and noted that the “company’s second factory also will be built in Fremont, since a Department of Energy loan guarantee mandates a U.S. location.”

November 2008: Silicon prices remain very high on the spot market, making non-silicon based thin film technologies like Solyndra’s very attractive to investors. Solyndra also benefits from having very low installation costs. The company raises $144 million from ten different venture investors, including the Walton-family run Madrone Capital Partners. This brings total private investment to more than $450 million to date.January 2009: In an effort to show it has done something to support renewable energy, the Bush Administration tries to take Solyndra before a DOE credit review committee just one day before President Obama is inaugurated. The committee, consisting of career civil servants with financial expertise, remands the loan back to DOE because it wasn’t ready for conditional commitment.

March 2009: The same credit committee approves the strengthened loan application. The deal passes on to DOE’s credit review board. Career staff (not political appointees) within the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out terms for a guarantee.

June 2009: As more silicon production facilities come online while demand for PV wavers due to the economic slowdown, silicon prices start to drop. Meanwhile, the Chinese begin rapidly scaling domestic manufacturing and set a path toward dramatic, unforeseen cost reductions in PV. Between June of 2009 and August of 2011, PV prices drop more than 50%.September 2009: Solyndra raises an additional $219 million. Shortly after, the DOE closes a $535 million loan guarantee after six months of due diligence. This is the first loan guarantee issued under the 1703 program. From application to closing, the process took three years – not the 41 days that is sometimes reported.

January – June 2010: As the price of conventional silicon-based PV continues to fall due to low silicon prices and a glut of solar modules, investors and analysts start questioning Solyndra’s ability to compete in the marketplace. Despite pulling its IPO (as dozens of companies did in 2010), Solyndra raises an additional $175 million from investors.November 2010: Solyndra closes an older manufacturing facility and concentrates operations at Fab 2, the plant funded by the $535 million loan guarantee. The Fab 2 plant is completed that same month — on time and on budget — employing around 3,000 construction workers during the build-out, just as the DOE projected.

February 2011: Due to a liquidity crisis, investors provide $75 million to help restructure the loan guarantee. The DOE rightly assumed it was better to give Solyndra a fighting chance rather than liquidate the company – which was a going concern – for market value, which would have guaranteed significant losses.

March 2011: Republican Representatives complain that DOE funds are not being spent quickly enough.House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI): “despite the Administration’s urgency and haste to pass the bill [the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] … billions of dollars have yet to be spent.”And House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL): “The whole point of the Democrat’s stimulus bill was to spend billions of dollars … most of the money still hasn’t been spent.”

June 2011: Average selling prices for solar modules drop to $1.50 a watt and continue on a pathway to $1 a watt. Solyndra says it has cut costs by 50%, but analysts worry how the company will compete with the dramatic changes in conventional PV.August 2011: DOE refuses to restructure the loan a second time.

September 2011: Solyndra closes its manufacturing facility, lays off 1,100 workers and files for bankruptcy. The news is touted as a failure of the Obama Administration and the loan guarantee office. However, as of September 12, the DOE loan programs office closed or issued conditional commitments of $37.8 billion to projects around the country. The $535 million loan is only 1.3% of DOE’s loan portfolio. To date, Solyndra is the only loan that’s known to be troubled.

Meanwhile, after complaining about stimulus funds moving too quickly, Congressmen Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns are now claiming that the Administration was pushing funds out the door too quickly: “In the rush to get stimulus cash out the door, despite repeated claims by the Administration to the contrary, some bets were bad from the beginning.”

Reframing the Dialogue?

​Lacey's piece is now the definitive narrative of the Solyndra saga. Whether it sticks in popular discourse, though, is anyone's best guess. Kudos to him and ThinkProgress though, for putting this on the map. 

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