— The Erimtan Angle —

The Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS) published The Climate Deception Dossiers in July 2015. The Dossiers’ lead authors are Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman and they categorically state that “the fossil fuel industry and policy makers learned that the climate is changing and that emissions from burning fossil fuels are the cause” “more than two decades” ago.[1]

The Dossiers‘ authors start off be saying that “there has been a climate hoax that continues today. It is the decades’ long campaign by a handful of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies—such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Peabody Energy—to deceive the American [as well as the global] public by distorting the realities and risks of climate change, sometimes acting directly and sometimes acting indirectly through trade associations and front groups”, adding that “for nearly three decades, major fossil fuel companies have knowingly worked to distort climate science findings, deceive the public, and block policies designed to hasten our needed transition to a clean energy economy”.[2]  Mulvey and Shulman explain that “[t]his report presents seven ‘deception dossiers’—collections containing some 85 internal company and trade association documents that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. While many of these documents have been analyzed by others (Oreskes 2011; Oreskes and Conway 2010; Gelbspan 1998), these dossiers offer the most complete and up-to-date collection yet available”.[3]

Succinctly, Mulvey and Shulman explain that the “fossil fuel industry—like the tobacco industry before it—is noteworthy for its use of active, intentional disinformation and deception to support its political aims and maintain its lucrative profits”.[4] The Dossiers‘ authors charge that the “[f]ossil fuel company leaders knew that their products were harmful to people and the planet but still chose to actively deceive the public and deny this harm. The letters, memos, and reports in the dossiers show that company executives have known for at least two decades that their products—coal, oil, and natural gas—cause harm to people and the climate”.[5]  And, in a most unsettling way, they furthermore assert that the “campaign of deception continues today. With documents made public as recently as 2014 and 2015, the evidence is clear that a campaign of deception about global warming continues to the present. Today, most major fossil fuel companies acknowledge the main findings of climate science. Many even say they support policies to cut emissions. And yet, some of these same companies continue to support groups that spread misinformation designed to deceive the public about climate science and climate policy”.[6]  Mulvey and Shulman then stress that “global warming is already having harmful effects on our communities, our health, and our economy . . . Communities, people, and businesses are now facing impacts including: Rising sea level. Global warming is accelerating the rate of sea level rise and dramatically increasing coastal flooding risks. Longer and more damaging wildfire seasons . . . Costly and growing health impacts . . . Heavier precipitation and more extreme flooding. As temperatures increase, more rain falls during the heaviest downpours, increasing the risk of floods . . . More frequent and intense heat waves. Dangerously hot weather occurs more frequently than it did 60 years ago, and heat waves have gotten hotter”.[7]

The science behind climate change is not really rocket science, as elaborated by the Dossiers‘ authors; the “fundamentals of global warming have been well established for generations. The idea that heat-trapping emissions could alter our climate dates back to the late 1800s . . . By the 1950s, scientists knew that climate change could present significant risks to people and places . . . In 1965, the highly respected oceanographer Roger Revelle explained in a report prepared for the President’s Science Advisory Committee that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide could be trapped in the atmosphere and function much like the glass in a greenhouse, to raise the temperature of the lower air’ . . . The major fossil fuel companies were likely aware of all of these developments. Evidence shows that from as early as 1977 representatives of fossil fuel companies including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Shell attended dozens of congressional hearings in which the contribution of carbon emissions to the greenhouse effect and other aspects of climate science were discussed”.[8]  Continuing their argument, Dossiers‘ authors state that “[t]here is ample evidence demonstrating what companies did know. Exxon, for example, had a staff scientist serve as an expert reviewer for the first IPCC scientific assessment on climate change, published in 1990 . . . The industry’s own scientists were internally warning of climate dangers by the mid-1990s, as evidenced by a leaked draft document by a team headed by a scientist at Mobil that was distributed to other major fossil fuel companies in 1995 . . . As that internal document from 1995 unequivocally states: ‘The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied’ . . . Nonetheless, despite what fossil fuel companies knew about the harm their products were causing, some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies continued to engage in an active campaign to deny the science, deceive the public, and delay action, rather than acknowledge the science publicly or change their business models and lobbying goals to be consistent with the urgent need to work toward a lower-carbon economy”.[9]

I would now like to highlight one specific case dealt with in The Climate Deception Dossiers, namely the strange instance of Willie Soon at the Smithsonian or ‘Deception Dossier #1’. Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman declare that the “documents, obtained through a FOIA request by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, show that Wei-Hock (“Willie”) Soon received more than $1.2 million in research funding between 2001 and 2012 from fossil fuel interests including ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Charles Koch Foundation, and Southern Company, a large electric utility in Atlanta that generates most of its power from coal. Soon, whose background is not in climate science but rather in aerospace engineering, has long used his affiliation with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to add credence to his climate-related research. Soon has written about many aspects of climate change but is best known for his work on the role of solar variability, research that has broadly overstated the role the sun plays in climate change and has been largely discredited by his scientific peers . . . Outcry from the climate science community over a 2003 paper published by Soon in Climate Research even resulted in the resignation of several of the journal editors and an admission by the journal’s publisher that the paper should not have been accepted”.

Elaborating on the strange case of Willie Soon, the Dossiers‘ authors clarify that “the Smithsonian Institution has launched an investigation into its disclosure and funding policies. As the contracts, proposals, reports, letters, and other documents reveal, Soon relied exclusively on grants from the fossil fuel industry for his entire salary and research budget . . . Particularly troubling, the Smithsonian Institution entered into funding agreements that gave Soon’s funders the right to review his scientific studies before they were published. The documents also show that the Smithsonian agreed not to disclose the funding arrangement without the funder’s permission . . . Soon reported his research articles and even his congressional testimony to his corporate underwriters as “deliverables” . . . While requirements for disclosing funding sources vary among disciplines and institutions, scientists generally expect one another to be transparent about their funding sources and to uphold scientific integrity by ensuring that funders do not interfere with or pre-determine research results”.[10]

Another interesting case to consider is the ‘Deception Dossier #7’ or The Global Climate Coalition’s 1995 Primer on Climate Change Science (21 December 1995).[11]  The document in question was composed by a team led by Leonard S. Bernstein, a chemical engineer and climate expert at Mobil Corporation, on behalf of an industry group called the Global Climate Coalition (or GCC). Bernstein starts off the GCC Primer like this: “[s]ince the beginning of the industrial revolution, human activities have increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by more than 25%. Atmospheric concentrations of other greenhouse gases have also risen. Over the past 120 years, global average temperature has risen by 0.3 – 0.6°C. Since the Greenhouse Effect can be used to relate atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases to global average temperature, claims have been made that at least part of the temperature rise experienced to date is due to human activities, and that the projected future increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (as the result of human activities) will lead to even larger increases in future temperature. Additionally, it is claimed that these increases in temperature will lead to an array of climate changes (rainfall patterns, storm frequency and intensity, etc.) that could have severe environmental and economic impacts”.[12]  In the next instance, Bernstein takes off his kid gloves and goes in for the kill, casually stating that the “scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied”.[13]

[1] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers (July 2015). http://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/fight-misinformation/climate-deception-dossiers-fossil-fuel-industry-memos#.VaEObpUVjpA.

[2] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, p. 1.

[3] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, p. 1.

[4] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, p. 1.

[5] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, p. 2.

[6] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, p. 2.

[7] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, pp. 2-3.

[8] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, pp. 3-4.

[9] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, p. 5.

[10] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, p. 6.

[11] Kathy Mulvey and Seth Shulman, The Climate Deception Dossiers, pp. 25-7.

[12] Leonard Bernstein, Predicting Future Climate Change: A Primer (21 Dec 1995). http://s3.amazonaws.com/nytdocs/docs/122/122.pdf.

[13] Leonard Bernstein, Predicting Future Climate Change: A Primer.

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