Remarkable chart shows how “carbon dioxide is good” if you take cash from Exxon or the Kochs

What difference does influential corporate cash make to the arguments that climate science denial groups make in public?

This was a question that Yale University’s Dr Justin Farrell tried to answer in an exhaustive piece of research published late last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Farrell’s paper – Corporate funding and ideological polarization about climate change – contained this remarkable chart, which I missed at the time but reckon it deserves a bit more daylight.

CO2 is good So what’s it all about?

From previous academic papers and his own research, Farrell had compiled a list of 164 organisations that were part of the “climate counter-movement”.

The list includes US groups like the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, together with a few non-US groups including the UK’s Global Warming Policy Foundation and Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs.

Then Farrell looked at which of these organisations had received money from either oil giant Exxon Mobil or from groups linked to the Koch brothers – the billionaire owners of the oil, gas and petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries.

“Donations from these corporate benefactors signals entry into a powerful network of influence,” wrote Farrell.

Farrell found that 84 of those 164 organisations were part of that “powerful network” having taken funding from Exxon, the Kochs, or from both.

Then Farrell compiled a huge dataset of “every text about climate change produced by every organization between 1993 and 2013” – that’s 40,785 texts with more than 39 million words.

Thankfully Farrell didn’t have to read all that bilge. Instead, he used some clever and sophisticated algorithms and computer content analysis to do it for him.

With this dataset and method, Farrell looked at how often these 164 organisations covered particular issues.

Did the organisations that took cash from the Kochs or Exxon behave differently to those that were not funded as part of that “powerful network of influence”?

Two arguments in particular seemed to stand out. Organisations that took that influential funding were far more likely to use that disingenuous climate science denialist talking point that CO2 is good for the planet. That’s the chart above.

Another favourite contrarian talking point – that climate change was just part of a natural long term cycle rather than being driven by humans – was also more popular among the Exxon/Koch group. Here’s what that looked like.

Climate chnage is just long term cycle Now of course, it’s possible that the corporate funding was not influencing the specific talking points that the organisations were using. Perhaps the fact that they liked to say “CO2 is good” simply made them attractive to funders like Exxon? That could be so, although Farrell tested other favourite subjects too.

For example, funding appeared to make no difference to the timing and frequency of attacks on former US vice president and climate change campaigner Al Gore. Nor did it make much of a difference to arguments about cap and trade laws.

In a separate study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Farrell looked at how the 164 different groups were networked together.

In that study – Network structure and influence of the climate change counter-movement – Farrell found that organisations were more powerful in the network if they had financial ties to Exxon and/or the Koch brothers.

In this chart below, the green dots are organisations with funding from at least one of those two corporate players. The red dots don’t get Koch or Exxon money.

ncc farrell

Koch or Exxon cash seems to help place an organisation closer to the epicenter of the climate science denial movement.

But if you do take their money, then it seems you also have to be willing to deny the science linking carbon dioxide to dangerous climate change.

 

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What Exxon Knew About Climate Science

We’ve know for a long time that oil giant Exxon was a key funder of the climate science denial movement in the United States.

Not as widely known was how, in the 1970s and early 80s, Exxon’s own scientists were warning of the dangers of burning fossil fuels.  They even carried out their own modeling and experiments.

Inside Climate News and the LA Times have both had major investigative stories on this.

Here’s an excellent YouTube primer on this story from Peter Sinclair.

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The faulty science of the Climate Hustle documentary

One of the United States’ most visible climate science denialists, Marc Morano, has a new movie coming out that he claims will “rock the climate debate”.  It won’t.

What it will do, though, is apparently rehash some old climate science denial talking points.

Hiding away on the website of the documentary’s producers was a segment destined for the film.  The segment put some slick graphics to the old myth that because carbon dioxide is only a small part of the atmosphere, that it couldn’t have an effect on the climate.

So I asked some leading climate scientists to look at it, and then produced a bit of a critique of my own.

I’ve written a few pieces now about the documentary for DeSmog – how it’ll reheat old denialist tricks, how there’s a particular religious zeal behind the director and how the premiere was skilfully stage managed when even the red carpet was fake.

Anyway, here’s the vid. UPDATE: Marc Morano has contacted DeSmog to say the clip was not in the final version of the film.  I’ve clarified this in the YouTube clip and the clarification also appears on the DeSmog story that went with it.  I also apologise. The clip was on the public website of Climate Hustle’s production company, CDR Communications (screenshot here) , and was marked “Climate Hustle”. As of right now, 7 Jan 2016, the clip remains there. I should say also, that Mr Morano and CFACT executive director Craig Rucker both told me outside their Paris screening that they would have welcomed me to see the film, but that it was full.  People in the screening later told myself and DeSmog editor Brendan DeMelle that the theatre was in fact only about 70 per cent full.

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Key Coal Mining Lobbyist Explains Why We Can Now Ignore Everything He Says

QRC boss Michael Roche, who according to him, you can ignore

Michael Roche is the executive director of the Queensland Resources Council – the powerful peak lobby group for the state’s coal industry.

Last night he went on the telly to explain a few things about why he thinks the federal government should remove the rights of environment groups in Australia to use the Federal court system to review decisions made under Federal environment laws.

The debate comes out of a case in which the federal court ordered that a decision by the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to approve Indian mining company Adani’s giant Carmichael coal mine should be set aside.

The ruling was on the back of a technicality, as the minister himself conceded. The upshot is that the decision to approve the mine will be delayed a few weeks, rather than be overturned.

Roche appeared on Lateline alongside Jeff Smith, the boss of the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office – the legal group that takes on cases on behalf of conservation groups.

During the debate, ABC host Tony Jones pointed out that “even coal baron Clive Palmer” didn’t agree that the laws should be changed. I just wanted to highlight Roche’s answer, which I thought instructive.

MICHAEL ROCHE: Can I just touch on Mr Palmer? Mr Palmer has a vested interest here. Mr Palmer would see himself as a competitor to Adani in terms of being the first mover in the Galilee Basin. So I set aside Mr Palmer’s comments as self-interest.

So Michael Roche says he can “set aside” Palmer’s view because he has a vested interest.

The last time I checked, the Queensland Resources Council gets something in the order of $13 million in membership fees and income (financial statement for year ending June 2013). QRC’s members include the state’s coal mining powerhouses, including Adani.

So if we take our direction from Roche on who we should and should not listen to, then surely we should all “set aside” the views of the QRC?

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The Australian misreports study on influence of sun on global warming

lloyd ice age
The p5 story in The Australian. Chances of story about climate science being wrong are on the rise if they appear in The Australian.

If you read The Australian newspaper the other day, you might be forgiven for thinking a new study into the amount of energy coming from the sun had found that the chances of the world experiencing another “little ice age” had gone up.

You might think that because that’s what the newspaper’s environment editor wrote.

Here are the first two paragraphs, under the headline “Chances of little ice age on the rise“.

The sun’s power is weakening at its fastest rate in 9300 years, doubling the odds of a return to little ice age conditions by mid-century, according to research by the British Met Office.

The chance of a repeat of conditions that last occurred between 1645 and 1715 when London’s Thames River regularly froze over and became the scene of winter fairs, was now rated at between 15 and 20 per cent, up from 10 per cent in 2010.

The big problem with these two sentences, is that the study did not look at the chances of the world, or even parts of the world, “returning to little ice age conditions”.

Rather, the study referred to the chances of the sun having a prolonged period of low solar activity similar to a period known as the Maunder Minimum, which coincided with the Little Ice Age but might not necessarily have actually caused it.

The study was published in Nature Communications and amazingly (or not surprisingly if you have followed much of Lloyd’s work over the years) it doesn’t even mention the Little Ice Age.  So what does it say?

Continue reading “The Australian misreports study on influence of sun on global warming”

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Is this what a Liberal party examination of #climate science might look like?

A climate science denialist rump within Australia’s Liberal Party is pushing for a parliamentary inquiry of some description on whether climate change might be caused by humans or not.

The party’s Federal Rural and Regional Committee, chaired by West Australian farmer Brian Mayfield, is pushing for the move ahead of Australia signing a new global deal in Paris in December to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Next week, the committee will push for similar inquiries into… oh shit I don’t know, let me think… the evidence linking the rise in drought conditions to the recent noted absence of fairies at the bottom of many farming paddocks.

What might an inquiry led by Liberals into the causes of climate change be like?

Maybe something like the Republican-led US House Science Committee’s hearing last year, when elected Republican representatives collected all the killer arguments from climate science deniers in an attempt to ping the White House Science Advisor Dr John Holdren. Here’s John Stewart’s review.

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Does climate science denialist Nick Cater know the difference between an ice sheet and sea ice?

Nick Cater has written another of those climate science denialist columns that The Australian likes to print whenever anyone sends one in.

In his introduction, Cater writes: “Given our deference to experts in these technocratic times it’s troubling how often they get it wrong”.

With a hubris-soaked introduction like that, you’d better be sure you’re facts are spot on.  You wouldn’t want to look foolish now, would you?  Continue reading “Does climate science denialist Nick Cater know the difference between an ice sheet and sea ice?”

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University of Western Australia Cancels $4 Million Federal Government Contract For Bjorn Lomborg’s Consensus Center

lomborg clean coal
Bjorn Lomborg – cancelled

As you might know, I’ve written plenty about climate science contrarian Bjorn Lomborg.

I’ve investigated the funding of his US think-tank on DeSmog and also analysed – twicehis methods on The Guardian.

A $4 million federal government grant to bring his dubious methodology to the University of Western Australia kicked off a storm with protests among academics, students and the broader academic community.

News just in though that UWA has cancelled Lomborg’s contract.  In a statement from the university,  Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson defended Lomborg, but said:

Whilst I respect the right of staff to express their views on this matter, as all universities should be places for open and honest sharing and discussion of ideas, in this case, it has placed the University in a difficult position.

Therefore, it is with great regret and disappointment that I have formed the view that the events of the past few weeks places the Centre in an untenable position as it lacks the support needed across the University and the broader academic community to meet its contractual obligations and deliver value for money for Australian taxpayers.

I have today spoken to the Federal Government and Bjorn Lomborg advising them of the barriers that currently exist to the creation of the Centre and the University’s decision to cancel the contract and return the money to the government.

Mr Johnson sent the same statement out in an email to staff this afternoon.

 

 

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Vale Dr Michael Raupach

Mike RaupachJust heard the very sad news of the death from cancer of climate change scientist Dr Michael Raupach.

Mike was the director of the Climate Change Institute at Australian National University and something of a giant among climate change researchers.

Over the years, I’ve called and emailed Mike many times to check this, that and the other. He was one of my first “contacts” on climate science.

From my perspective, I always appreciated his candour, lack of pretension and his unwillingness to speak outside his realm of expertise. I also appreciated his patience in explaining what the science did and did not say in the face of my barrage of often confused questioning.

Last year I asked a bunch of climate scientists about the state of the public discussion. What were the things that bugged them most?  Mike’s response was typically thoughtful.

The greatest cause for sorrow is the widespread inability of the public discussion to recognise the whole picture.

Much of the political discourse reduces the complexities of climate change to political football (“axe the tax”); much media reporting sees only the hook to today’s passing story; many interest groups want to use climate change to proselytise for their particular get-out-of-jail free card (nuclear power, carbon farming).

All of this misses or trivialises the real, systemic significance of climate change: that humankind is encountering the finitude of our planet, confronting the need to share and protect our endowment from nature, and realising that much will have to change to make this possible.

The Australian Science Media Centre is posting tributes to Mike. Thoughts with Mike’s family, colleagues and friends.

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Coal is super awesome, says coal industry spokesman

Coal - one of the greatest products of all time.  Better even than leaf blowers.
Coal – one of the greatest products of all time. Better even than leaf blowers.

THE Australian newspaper has run a free advertisement today for the coal industry in the form of an op-ed column by a leading industry figure that says that coal is one of the best things ever.

And no I’m not exaggerating.

New South Wales Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee, a former advisor to several high-ranking Liberal Party politicians including the now Prime Minister Tony Abbott, writes in The Australian that coal is “one of the greatest overall products in ­history” and is just totally awesome (he didn’t use the word awesome, that was me).

Galilee’s column is the latest repetition of the industry’s favourite PR line that coal can end global poverty.

Tony Abbott,  the environment minister Greg Hunt and the Treasurer Joe Hockey have all used this coal industry line in recent weeks.

I’ve written about the industry’s attempt to lobby the G20 for The Guardian and looked at Hockey’s recent contribution for DeSmogBlog. You should go and read those pieces because they are among the greatest overall products blogs in history.

In The Australian, Galilee uses the issue of indoor air pollution in developing countries to try and push his case that coal is super-awesome and is an entirely ethical investment for people to make. He writes:

Affordable and reliable, coal-driven energy is the best answer to global poverty. Almost three billion people have no access to electricity. For these people, “clean energy” means not having to cook their food or heat their homes using gathered wood or animal dung. Cooking in this way emits black soot, damaging air quality inside homes, with associated health problems and millions of premature deaths each year.

Cooking indoors over an open fire or with a crappy stove is a major health problem.  The World Health Organization says about three billion people in the world are cooking and heating their homes like this, and it’s responsible for about four million deaths annually.

Here’s the “key fact” as it is presented on the WHO’s information page about health and indoor air pollution, which refers to the burning of wood and animal dung. But see if you can spot the key detail that Galilee studiously left out.

Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.

That’s right.  The burning of coal indoors in the developing world is actually a part of this environmental health problem. Perhaps Galilee thought that this fact might muddy his argument somewhat?  Best to leave it out.

But actually, the immediate solution for people dying and suffering from indoor air-pollution is not to hook them up to a coal-fired power generator, but to provide those people with an efficient cooking and heating stove that reduces exposure to harmful pollutants – regardless of the fuel they use.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves says:

Clean, efficient, durable, safe, and affordable stoves are – along with clean fuels and other products like chimneys and heat retention cookers – central to most solutions to the health, environmental, and other risks inherent in cooking with fire.

Galilee’s argument is disingenuous. The problem of indoor air pollution is not really the fuel at all – whether that be dung or wood or coal – but the way that it is being burned.

Later, Galilee has a brief moment of pragmatism when he writes that a “full range of energy sources” will be needed to meet the rising demand for energy in developing countries. He writes:

All have their impacts and risks, including coal. Hydro requires the building of dams to harness rivers. Solar and wind need large scale manufacturing pro­cesses, steel, chemicals and other inputs, as well as back-up power systems, and large land areas for panels and turbines. Oil and gas have impacts, as does nuclear.

They do all have their impacts, but those impacts don’t all become equal just by putting them in the same paragraph. Anyone thinking climate change yet?  The World Bank is:

Climate change is a fundamental threat to development in our lifetime. If we do not confront climate change, we will not end poverty

Galilee has to somehow work out how his totally awesome product can end poverty at the same time as being the chief contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that are a “fundamental threat to development in our lifetime”.

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