We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy – Ottmar Edenhofer, then co-chairman of Working Group III of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Naomi Oreskes recently completed a study, Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications. The study concludes with the following statement:
Available documents show a discrepancy between what ExxonMobil’s scientists and executives discussed about climate change privately and in academic circles and what it presented to the general public.
I recognized Oreskes name so with some prodding, I decided to take a closer look.
Naomi Oreskes is a Professor of the History of Science at Harvard. She is an environmental activist and author of numerous articles on climate change. She wrote a famous 2008 article titled, From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge. She wrote the best-selling book Merchants of Doubt which was made into a movie.
Oreskes is also a board member of the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI). The CAI is funded by The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF). Keep that fact – and the RBF name – in mind as you read further.
The CAI counts Michael Mann as one of its 9 other board members. Mann is one of several scientists at the center of the famous ClimateGate email scandal.
A damning independent, lengthy and detailed report titled, The Climategate Inquiries was issued by the Global Warming Policy Foundation – authored by Andrew Montford with a foreword by Lord Turnbull. It makes for interesting and enlightening reading.
Oreskes has been engaged in a long campaign against ExxonMobil, utilizing her relationship with the Climate Accountability Institute as a platform. The origins of the campaign go back to 2012, possibly earlier.
In 2012, CAI sponsored a workshop in La Jolla called, Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control. Oreskes was one of the workshop’s primary organizers.
The meeting produced a report by the same name which may be found here. Some highly interesting quotes are contained within the document. I encourage you to read them, as a strategic theme plays out through the meeting:
One of the most important lessons to emerge from the history of tobacco litigation is the value of bringing internal industry documents to light.
A key breakthrough in the public and legal case for tobacco control came when internal documents came to light showing the tobacco industry had knowingly misled the public. Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups, and there are many possible approaches to unearthing them.
Drawing upon the forthcoming “carbon majors” analysis by Richard Heede, it may be feasible and highly valuable to publicly attribute important changes in climate, such as sea level rise, to specific carbon producers. Public health advocates were effective in attributing the health impacts of smoking to major tobacco companies.
While we currently lack a compelling public narrative about climate change in the United States, we may be close to coalescing around one. Furthermore, climate change may loom larger today in the public mind than tobacco did when public health advocates began winning policy victories. Progress toward a stronger public narrative might be aided by use of a “dialogic approach”.
In some cases, several lawyers at the workshop noted, emitters are better targets for litigation because it is easy to establish their responsibility for adding substantial amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. In other cases, however, plaintiffs might succeed in cases against the producers who unearthed the carbon in the first place.
In lawsuits targeting carbon producers, lawyers at the workshop agreed, plaintiffs need to make evidence of a conspiracy a prominent part of their case. Richard Ayres, an experienced environmental attorney, suggested that the RICO Act, which had been used effectively against the tobacco industry, could similarly be used to bring a lawsuit against carbon producers.
Oreskes noted that she has some of the public relations memos from the group and asked whether a false advertising claim could be brought in such a case.
As we think about litigation, we need to consider: what does our carbon system look like with climate stabilization? It has to be something positive.
Even if your ultimate goal might be to shut down a company, you still might be wise to start out by asking for compensation for injured parties.
Lawyers at the workshop said that public relations documents could probably be used as evidence in such a case.
Mike MacCracken suggested that issues related to the science itself are distinct from how findings should be communicated to the public. “The challenge,” he said, “is finding an effective lexicon that scientists are comfortable with.”
If you want to have statistically significant results about what has already happened [on the health impacts of climate change] we are far from being able to say anything definitive because the signal is so often overwhelmed by noise.
Naomi Oreskes noted the important differences among standards of evidence in science, in law, and in public perception. As she explained, “When we take these things to the public, I think we often make a category error. We take a standard of evidence applied internally to science and use it externally. That’s part of why it is so hard to communicate to the public. That standard of proof, she said, “is not the Eleventh Commandment“.
Naomi Oreskes suggested that some portion of sea level rise could be attributed to the emissions caused by a single carbon-producing company. In essence, she suggested, “You might be able to say, ‘Here’s Exxon’s contribution to what’s happening to Key West or Venice.’”
Here is one possibility for a public narrative: “Coal, oil, and gas companies are engaging in a fraudulent attempt to stop the development of clean energy.”
Every hazard is unique, with its own personality, so to speak. Does it pose a risk to future generations? Does it evoke feelings of dread? Those differences can make an impact on strategy.
She noted that local climate adaptation stories offer a way to sidestep the controversy, but acknowledged that it is still an open question whether this strategy helps people work through the issue and ultimately accept climate science as fact. “This is our theory,” she said, “But we don’t have the research yet to prove this.”
Participants also made commitments to try to coordinate future efforts, continue discussing strategies for gaining access to internal documents from the fossil fuel industry.
Outrage is hugely important to generate. Language that holds carbon producers accountable should be an important part of the narrative we create.
It is possible to see glimmers of an emerging consensus on a strategy that incorporates legal action with a narrative that creates public outrage.
In 2013, Richard Heede, the head of CAI and one of the primary organizers of the 2012 CAI workshop, published a paper titled, Tracing Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide and Methane Emissions to Fossil Fuel and Cement Producers, 1854-2010. In the article, Heede claims that nearly two-thirds of all industrial carbon dioxide and methane released to the atmosphere can be traced to fossil fuel and cement production by just 90 entities. As he notes:
This paper provides an original quantitative analysis of historic emissions by tracing sources of industrial CO2 and methane to the 90 largest corporate investor-owned and state-owned producers of fossil fuels and cement from as early as 1854 to 2010. The purpose of this analysis is to understand those historic emissions as a factual matter, to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy, and to lay the possible groundwork for apportioning responsibility for climate change to the entities that provided the hydrocarbon products to the global economy.
The theme was further publicized by The Union of Concerned Scientists through an article written by Peter Frumhoff, the organization’s director. The Union of Concerned Scientists was a co-sponsor of the CAI’s 2012 workshop. Frumhoff, like Heede, is listed as a “primary organizer” of the same workshop.
In a May 29, 2015 op-ed in the Washington Post, Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse drew parallels in conduct between tobacco companies and energy companies – and invoked racketeering behavior. He specifically cited RICO statutes as a means for attack.
Recall that Richard Ayres had specifically advocated exactly this strategy at the 2012 CAI meeting.
On September 16, 2015, InsideClimate News published the first of a six-part series alleging that Exxon’s internal research confirmed knowledge of fossil fuels role in global warming.
Although InsideClimate News takes pains to avoid disclosing details, they are apparently owned by the PR Consulting firm Science First. Jillian Kay Melchior at National Review details how money is first funneled to another nonprofit, NEO Philanthropy, which served as the “fiscal sponsor” for both of the entities.
Around this same time, two articles came out in the Los Angeles Times. The first, What Exxon Knew About the Earth’s Melting Arctic came out on October 9, 2015. The second, How Exxon Went From Leader Skeptic to Climate Change Research, came out on October 23, 2015.
The casual reader would likely not notice but the these articles were not written by LA Times reporters, but rather by a group of researchers affiliated with the Energy and Environment Reporting Fellowship at the Columbia School of Journalism. As noted by a footnote at end of article:
Over the last year, the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, with the Los Angeles Times, has been researching the gap between Exxon Mobil’s public position and its internal planning on the issue of climate change. As part of that effort, reporters reviewed hundreds of documents housed in archives in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and at the University of Texas. They also reviewed scientific journals and interviewed dozens of experts, including former Exxon Mobil employees. This is the second in a series of occasional articles.
The Energy and Environmental Reporting Project is supported by the Energy Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Lorana Sullivan Foundation and the Tellus Mater Foundation. The funders have no involvement in or influence over the articles produced by project fellows in collaboration with The Times.
Open Society was founded by George Soros – enough said.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) actively backs campaigns to ban oil and natural gas development, including major financing for the activist group 350.org, which environmental activist Bill McKibben co-founded. RBF fought against the Keystone Pipeline as well as Oil Sands development.
It turns out The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has also been financing InsideClimate News.
Energy In Depth published a piece, New Disclosures Help Pull Back Curtain on Who’s Funding Manufactured Climate Investigation. Once again, it’s a complicated but worthwhile read. The article also describes a pattern of coordinated methods similar to those I have been detailing here:
Wealthy foundations fighting oil and gas extraction around the country have incorporated ostensibly dispassionate news outlets into their grant-making portfolios, creating what some describe as a self-sustaining environmentalist echo chamber.
Observers see a pattern at work: A handful of wealthy foundations fund environmental activist groups, news organizations to report on the activists’ activities, and groups that then push out those news reports.
The perception of a critical mass of public voices on key environmental issues is frequently picked up by more established news organizations.
On October 15, 2015, the LA Times reported that Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier wrote a letter Wednesday to Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch asking the Department of Justice if Exxon violated the law by “failing to disclose truthful information” regarding climate change. The letter specifically cites the the Los Angeles Times/Columbia University’s Energy and Environmental Reporting Project, and InsideClimate News articles as the rationale for an investigation.
Shortly thereafter, then-Democratic Presidential candidates Sanders and Clinton publicly called for a DOJ investigation of Exxon.
On November 5, 2015, Democratic NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena to Exxon and announced he had opened an investigation to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business.
On March 29, 2016, it was announced that a total of twenty States Attorney Generals – known as the Green 20 – were part of the investigation into Exxon. While this garnered much publicity, it also proved to be untrue. A coalition was formed but only three AGs actually engaged in an investigation; Schneiderman of NY, Maura Healey of Mass and Claude Walker of the U.S. Virgin Isles. Walker has since withdrawn. The coalition no longer exists.
There has been some significant pushback. On May 18, 2016, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent a letter to Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, asking for details regarding RBF’s involvement – and coordination – with the multiple AG investigations into Exxon:
The Committee is concerned that these efforts to silence speech are not based on sound legal or scientific arguments, but rather on a long-term strategy developed by political activist organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists. To assist in the Committee’s oversight of this matter, we are writing to request information related to your organization’s role in developing and coordinating the recent actions taken by a number of state attorneys general.
The letter was signed by 11 members of Congress. The Committee’s Chairman, Lamar Smith, immediately came under withering attack from the LA Times, the Washington Post, InsideClimate News and Media Matters (David Brock) – among others.
The RBF responded with a release that they would not comply with the House Committee request and included a statement which read in part:
The RBF has supported efforts to encourage private companies to assess how climate change risks may impact their future business. There is no ‘collusion’ as asserted in the letter from the 13 members of Congress—only open and routine cooperation between funders and their grantees.
This position was quickly contradicted with the release of a batch of emails that directly show collusion between RBF and the climate activists they are funding. More details were forthcoming. Rockefeller Brothers Fund directly lobbied New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other state officials to launch a climate investigation into ExxonMobil.
On February 13, 2017, the New York Post reported that NY AG Schneiderman had been in contact with Rockefeller officials as far back as February 2015 on the Exxon matter:
Documents show Schneiderman’s top staffers were in correspondence with Lee Wasserman of the Rockefeller Family Fund going back to February 2015. Schneiderman launched his probe that November.
Most of the 11 e-mails exchanged between Wasserman and Schneiderman’s office discussed “specific companies regarding climate change,” records show.
AG Schneiderman has repeatedly refused to turn over emails under open records laws. Recently, it was disclosed why that might be. He was also using a secondary, undisclosed email address.
The investigation into Exxon is ongoing but has slowed significantly in the face of the collusion disclosures. NY AG Schneiderman has repeatedly shifted tactics and is likely wishing he had never started what appears to be an organized political witch hunt.
Which finally brings us back to Naomi Oreskes and her new study.
For starters, she uses the same methodology employed by John Cook – the man who brought us the utterly false 97% Scientist Consensus figure on global warming. I have written about this before.
Cook started with 12,000 papers, excluded the vast majority of them as the authors refused to take a position, and ended up with 1,381 papers which he used to reach his 97% Consensus Figure. That equates to 11.5% of papers from the original starting number.
Cook also double-counted authors who had generated multiple papers. Finally, to be counted as affirming the global warming consensus question, scientists only needed to agree that “carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that human activities have warmed the planet to some unspecified extent”. That’s it.
From Oreskes’ study:
We adapt and combine the methodologies used to quantify the consensus on AGW by Oreskes and Cook et al with the content analysis methodologies used to characterize media communications of AGW by Feldman et al and Elsasser and Dunlap
There’s a deeper, more fundamental problem. The purpose of the study is to compare internal emails regarding climate change to public campaign efforts by Exxon – or advertorials. Oreskes’ study is actually comparing the climate research of one company (Exxon) with the advertorials of another (Mobil) before the companies merged in 1999. Most of the advertorials were published by Mobil while the internal climate research was largely conducted by Exxon.
Our analysis covers the publication period of the documents made available by ExxonMobil: 1977-2014.
If you’ve read this far, you can see a preponderance of evidence that Naomi Oreskes is not objective. She was a primary part of the 2012 group that formulated the entire Exxon attack strategy to begin with.
In her study, Oreskes breaks the papers into subgroups; No Position, Acknowledge, Acknowledge and Doubt, Reasonable Doubt, Doubt.
For peer-reviewed documents 47/72 take a position. 35/47 of non-peer-reviewed documents take a position. 20/32 internal documents take a position. 26/36 advertorials take a position.
187 papers total. 128 positions taken.
Oreskes attributes an Acknowledge position as follows. For peer-reviewed documents 39/72 (54%) are classified as Acknowledge. 6/47 (13%) of non-peer-reviewed documents are classified as Acknowledge. 16/32 (50%) internal documents are classified as Acknowledge. 3/36 (8%) advertorials are classified as Acknowledge.
Note that my numbers use 187 (total papers) as the dominator. Oreskes uses 128.
In reality only 40% of company documents take an Acknowledge position as opposed to more than 80% figure touted by the study.
Furthermore, Oreskes is the one who determines if a position was taken – and if so, what the position was. The problem lies in part with Oreskes’ term “Acknowledge”. She includes what she terms implicit agreement. Unless the paper explicitly states that “humans are not a cause of climate change” or expresses outright skepticism over consensus, the paper will be included in the Acknowledge category.
In an article titled, Five Things to Know About the Latest #ExxonKnew Stunt, the author notes the rollout of Oreskes’ study:
At precisely 10PM ET Tuesday night, no fewer than five articles about the study went live simultaneously on left-leaning news outlets, even though the study itself would not publish until Wednesday morning. Among the five articles were an op-ed by the study’s authors published in the New York Times, a column published in the Los Angeles Times, articles on InsideClimate News and the San Diego Union-Tribune (the latter featuring a slick video interview with Oreskes and Supran), and a write up in Mother Jones.
Not exactly your normal academic publishing.
It was designed to garner as much media attention as possible.
It was specifically timed to breathe new life into the faltering Exxon investigation.
It was paid for by none other than The Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
I started out thinking I would take a quick look into Oreskes’ study. I knew there would be distortions. I just didn’t realize how great they would be – or how far back those distortions actually went.
I expected to find some collusion. I was stunned by its magnitude and planning.
I probably shouldn’t have been.
The ramifications from the battle over Climate Change are huge. Trillions of dollars – literally – are at stake. Money spent in the name of Climate Change is money that cannot be spent elsewhere.
Our climate has been changing for billions of years. It will continue to do so.
But it’s a staggeringly complex system with an enormous number of inputs – some of which we may not even know of. Exactly how it is changing – and how it will change – is something that is currently beyond our current level of scientific understanding.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or is misinformed.
They might even have a hidden agenda…