Coal Giant Southern Company Claims It Will No Longer 'Engage In Influencing the Science' of Climate Change
The massive coal-powered utility Southern Company, recently revealed as a top funder of Harvard-Smithsonian climate denier Willie Soon, claims it is getting out of the business of climate denial. Southern Company’s contract with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics included conditions giving it oversight over Soon’s research and a pledge to keep its funding secret.The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy reports:
We have been given assurance that Southern Company takes responsibility for the funding but stated that upper management did not have direct knowledge of this activity. We also appreciate the perspective that the funding contract with Dr. Soon was of a recurring nature and that Southern has stated that they will not renew funding contracts in this line of research. Southern further acknowledges that going forward, it is does not want to “engage in influencing the science.”
Although Southern Company may cease directly financing the very few legitimate scientists who promote disinformation about man-made cliamte change, it’s doubtful the company will stop supporting the massive climate-denial infrastructure that is nearly indistinguishable from the American right. In the 2014 cycle, Southern Company made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to climate-science-denying Rpeublicans. The utility giant has spent over $130 millionM.a< since 2004 lobbying Congress, with a focus on blocking the regulation of coal pollution.
AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter
The investigation was launched by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) following the revelations that the research of Dr. Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory was secretly financed by the fossil-fuel industry, including Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and Southern Company. Soon testified before Congress in 2003 questioning the scientific consensus on fossil-fueled global warming.
Grijalva sent letters to the universities of seven other academics who have been Republican witnesses challenging the climate-science consensus, asking for testimony-related financial disclosure. Seitter responded by condemning the investigation.
"Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers," Seitter wrote in the AMS response. "Further, requesting copies of the researcher’s communications related to external funding opportunities or the preparation of testimony impinges on the free pursuit of ideas that is central to the concept of academic freedom."
Not mentioned by Seitter is that six of the seven targets of the Grijalva investigation are AMS members.
Judith Curry was elected a Fellow of AMS in 1995 and a councillor of AMS in 1997. John Christy received a Special Award from AMS in 1996, and was elected a Fellow in 2002. David Legates has been the faculty advisor to the Student Chapter of AMS and is an AMS certified consulting meteorologist. Richard Lindzen has received AMS's Meisinger and Charney Awards and was a member of the AMS Council. Robert Balling is a member and frequent presenter at AMS conferences. Roger Pielke Jr is an AMS member.
Pepperdine and American Enterprise Institute historian Steven Hayward is the only investigative target not in the American Meteorological Society.
These AMS members are notable for their public denunciation of the scientific community and specific scientists, including other members of AMS.
Below are some examples.
"The problem is that Obama is listening to scientists that are either playing politics with their expertise, or responding to a political mandate from the administration (probably a combination of both). Not just administrators in govt labs (e.g. [Gavin] Schmidt, [Tom] Karl), but think of the scientist networks of John Holdren and John Podesta: to me the scariest one one is [Michael] Mann to [Joseph] Romm to Podesta." - Judith Curry, 1/21/15
"When you're an alarmist, being wrong, lying, cheating, misleading the public and killing jobs simply do not count against you — even when the allegedly human-caused global warming stopped in 1996." - David Legates, 10/16/13
"[The hacked University of East Anglia email correspondence] is clear proof of what we have suspected: That these thugs have strong-armed and subverted the peer review process by demanding they be reviewers of papers critical of their work, removing editors who are not predisposed to their views, and even threatening to boycott journals that publish papers with which they disagree.” - David Legates, 1/18/10
"Because this issue has policy implications that may potentially raise the price of energy significantly (and thus essentially the price of everything else), the U.S. Congress should not rely exclusively on the U.N. assessments because the process by which they were written includes biased, false, and/or misleading information about one of the most murky of sciences – climate." - John Christy, 3/31/11
"[The Draft National Assessment on Climate Change] is much closer to pseudoscience than it is to science. . . . History tells us that when scientists willingly endorse sweeping governmental agendas fueled by dodgy science, bad things soon happen." - Robert Balling, 4/15/13
"It is quite amazing to see the contortions the IPCC has to go through in order to keep the international climate agenda going." - Richard Lindzen, 9/28/13
"Current global warming alarm hardly represents a plausible proposition. Twenty years of repetition and escalation of claims does not make it more plausible. Quite the contrary, the failure to improve the case over 20 years makes the case even less plausible as does the evidence from climategate and other instances of overt cheating." - Richard Lindzen, Congressional testimony, 11/17/10
Hill Heat has previously compiled a list of dozens of attacks made by Roger Pielke Jr, a political scientist, against climate scientists.
Roger Pielke Sr, Pielke Jr's father and another climate scientist who has testified before Congress rejecting the climate science consensus, was elected a Fellow of AMS in 1982. Pielke Sr was a member of the AMS Committee for Statements on Weather Modification, which issued AMS's official statement on climate change in August 2012, after significant delay. Pielke Sr was a likely source of such delay, as he strongly advocated for changes to weaken the statement. Pielke Sr has accused fellow AMS members including Tom Karl, Ben Santer, Tom Peterson, Tom Wigley, and Peter Thorne of "inappropriate" behavior, "collusion," and "conflicts of interest" to suppress dissenting views [his].
This is not the first time the executive director of the AMS has criticized efforts to hold climate deniers publicly accountable.
Seitter previously criticized the science-activist organization Forecast the Facts for "apply[ing] public pressure" on "broadcast meteorologists who are identified as 'deniers' based on views they have expressed with respect to climate change."
Dozens of television weather reporters who have attacked climate science and scientists are AMS members. At least twenty television weathermen who publicly reject basic climate science are AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologists, the society's seal of approval granting them scientific legitimacy in their role as weather and climate communicators.
"The AMS maintains that peer-review is the appropriate mechanism to assess the validity and quality of scientific research," Seitter wrote, "regardless of the funding sources supporting that research as long as those funding sources and any potential conflicts of interest are fully disclosed."
The pursuit of that disclosure is, of course, the stated purpose of Grijalva's investigation, as the scientific community failed to ensure such disclosure in the case of Willie Soon.
According to the AMS bylaws:
Members should conduct themselves in an ethical manner and reflect dignity and honor on their profession. Members should base their practice on sound scientific principles applied in a scientific manner. Members should not direct their professional activities into practices generally recognized as being detrimental to, or incompatible with, the general public welfare. Members should refrain from making exaggerated or unwarranted claims and statements.
Either the claims made by AMS and the rest of the global scientific community are exaggerated, unwarranted, and detrimental to the general public welfare, or the claims of the academics under investigation are. Either the burning of hundreds of billions of tons of fossil fuels is disrupting the climate and threatening the public welfare, or the global scientific community has been corrupted into deceiving the general public into policies that would unnecessarily transform global energy production through massive government intervention. Either the climate conspiracy theorists are ethical AMS members, or all of the other members are.
For decades now the AMS has looked the other way and pretended this fundamental conflict within its ranks does not need to be resolved.
The American Meteorological Society seems uninterested in maintaining the ethical standards of its members and defending scientific integrity. Its executive director is compounding the error by criticizing Rep. Grijalva for taking action to do just that.
UPDATE: The AMS letter has been endorsed by industry-funded science denier Steven "Junkman" Milloy. In a tweet linking to Seitter's letter, Milloy wrote, "The new climate CONSENSUS is that skeptic persecutor @RepRaulGrijalva is an idiot."
Climate-disinformation academics (clockwise from top left): Willie Soon, David Legates, Judith Curry, Robert Balling, Steven Hayward, Roger Pielke Jr, Richard Lindzen, John Christy
Over the weekend, multiple news organizations reported on the undisclosed funding of Harvard-Smithsonian's Dr. Willie Soon by Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, and other greenhouse polluters. "There are just so many things that we do not know about how the climate really works and what are the factors that cause it to change," Soon testified before the U.S. Senate in 2003, "to really jump to the conclusion that it will all be CO2."
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, is asking the universities of seven academics, some of whom are climate scientists, others social scientists, who are part of a small stable of repeat Republican witnesses on climate science and policy.
Soon and the targets of this investigation have appeared at least three dozen times before Congress over the past twenty-five years to question the scientific need to limit greenhouse pollution.
"I am hopeful that disclosure of a few key pieces of information will establish the impartiality of climate research and policy recommendations published in your institution's name and assist me and my colleagues in making better law," Grijalva wrote. "Companies with a direct financial interest in climate and air quality standards are funding environmental research that influences state and federal regulations and shapes public understanding of climate science. These conflicts should be clear to stakeholders, including policymakers who use scientific information to make decisions. My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships."
The letters request the institutions' disclosure policies, drafts and communications relating to Congressional testimony, and sources of external funding for the academics in question.
The disclosure requests are needed because Congressional "truth in testimony" rules require witnesses to disclose government funding sources, but not private or corporate funding. Under Republican control, the rules are unevenly implemented, with not-for-profit witnesses required to submit pages of additional disclosures, while corporate-sector witnesses are not.
The seven academics who dispute the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming who have been asked to disclose their funding are (dates of Congressional testimony in parentheses):
- David Legates, Department of Agricultural Economics & Statistics, University of Delaware climatologist (6/3/14, 7/29/03, 3/13/02)
- John Christy, University of Alabama atmospheric scientist (12/11/13, 9/20/12, 8/1/12, 3/31/11, 3/8/11, 2/25/09, 7/27/06 (video), 7/20/06, 5/13/03, 5/2/01, 5/17/00, 7/10/97)
- Judith Curry, Georgia Institute of Technology climatologist (1/16/14, 4/25/13, 11/17/10, 4/26/07, 7/20/06)
- Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric physicist (11/17/10, 5/2/01, 7/10/97, 1991 (Senate), 10/8/91)
- Robert C Balling Jr, Arizona State University geographer (3/6/96; North Carolina Legislature 3/20/06)
- Roger Pielke Jr, University of Colorado political scientist (12/11/13, 7/18/13, 3/8/11, 7/20/06, 5/16/07, 1/30/07 (video), 7/20/06, 3/13/02)
- Steven Hayward, School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University historian (5/25/11, 10/7/09, 4/22/09, 3/12/09, 3/17/99)
Update: Further appearances by Curry, Pielke Jr, and Christy in 2006 and 2007 have been added (h/t Dr. Curry).
Turning the process of enrolling a bill into stagecraft, Congressional Republicans ceremoniously signed their bill expediting the foreign-owned Keystone XL tar sands pipeline today. President Barack Obama has promised a veto of the legislation. The Hoeven-Manchin bill, S. 1, passed the Senate 62-36 and the House 270-152, neither achieving the two-thirds majority necessary for a veto override.
Emulating the ceremony of a presidential bill signing, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) signed the enrolled legislation with large metal pens on a table decked with navy blue as other Congressional Republicans stood watching. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who received the ceremonial pen, argued that vetoing the bill would help OPEC. According to the Hill’s Laura Baron-Lopez, “Hoeven asked if the administration really wants to rely on OPEC with the current terror situation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
The conservative Canadian newspaper National Post and several of its reporters have been found guilty of defaming a climate scientist in numerous articles that attacked his character. The defendants - the Post, its publisher Gordon Fisher, and its journalists Terence Corcoran, Peter Foster, and Kevin Libin - have to retract all their articles about climate scientist Andrew Weaver and pay $50,000 in general damages jointly.
The judge in the case, Justice Emily Burke, did not find the defendants guilty of malice, merely that they "deliberately created a negative impression of Dr. Weaver" because of their climate-change denial and "have been careless or indifferent to the accuracy of the facts."
Dr. Andrew Weaver is one of the world's pre-eminent paleoclimatologists, a professor at the University of Victoria since 1992. He has spent considerable time working to educate the public on climate change, writing Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World in 2008 and acting as a lead author for every IPCC report since 1995. During the
In a series of articles and editorials, the Post claimed Weaver, as "Canada's warmist spinner-in-chief," was part of a global scientific conspiracy to concoct fear about fossil-fueled global warming. This "Climategate" smear against varied climate scientists was promoted by conservative media worldwide during the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks. While other scientists were being smeared following the hacking of a set of email correspondence, Weaver was the victim of an office break-in. The Post then falsely claimed Weaver blamed the oil industry for the burglary. The Post also falsely claimed Weaver was trying to dissociate himself from the IPCC and was generally corrupt and deceitful. In 2010, Weaver filed suit against the Post, after years of asking for corrections and retractions.
Justice Burke found the defendants' claims that their articles did not defame Weaver's character completely unconvincing. She found, instead, they lied and defamed Dr. Weaver. According to Burke, they "altered the complexion of the facts and omitted facts sufficiently fundamental that they undermine the accuracy of the facts expressed in the commentary to the extent the facts cannot be properly regarded as a true statement of the facts."
As she wrote in her decision:
Essentially, the allegations of the defamatory character of the words in the four articles can be summarized as the following innuendos or inferences that Dr. Weaver:
(a) attempted to divert public attention from the IPCC and Climategate scandal by fabricating stories about the involvement of the fossil fuel industry with respect to the break-ins at his office, theft of emails from a UK University, and hack attacks at the Centre;
(b) engaged in deceptive misconduct in the news media to do so;
(c) engaged in willful manipulation and distortion of scientific data for the purposes of deceiving the public in order to promote a public agenda;
(d) in doing so, is motivated by a corrupt interest in receiving government funding and financial rewards;
(e) is wilfully concealing scientific climate data;
(f) knows or believes the IPCC reports concerning global warming are unscientific and fraudulent and seeks to avoid personal accountability for the manipulation/distortion of those reports by disassociating himself from that organization;
(g) has deceitfully or incompetently linked current weather and temperature events with global warming;
(h) authored a deceitful and manipulative work of agitation propaganda known as The Copenhagen Diagnosis; and
(i) is untrustworthy, unscientific and incompetent.
As of this writing, the National Post has not yet removed the offending articles from its website.
The full judgment can be found here.
Coral Davenport, one of The New York Times’ few environmental reporters, is repeating her past mistakes on Keystone XL reporting. The Keystone XL pipeline would connect Canada’s tar sands to Texan oil refineries, allowing the high-carbon product to reach the global oil market. Over its forty-year intended lifetime, the pipeline’s tar sands crude would have a greenhouse-pollution footprint of about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of forty new coal-fired power plants. By any reasonable measure, the Keystone XL pipeline is a major piece of infrastructure for the Canadian tar-sands industry and a significant threat to a safe climate.In a recent story entitled “Experts Say That Battle on Keystone Pipeline Is Over Politics, Not Facts,” Davenport claimed that the tar-sands pipeline has little real policy significance.
But most energy and policy experts say the battle over Keystone overshadows the importance of the project as an environmental threat or an engine of the economy. The pipeline will have little effect, they say, on climate change, production of the Canadian oil sands, gasoline prices and the overall job market in the United States.
On Earth Day last year, Davenport penned a nearly identical story, writing, “when it comes to the pipeline’s true impact on global warming, energy and climate change experts — including former Obama administration officials — say Keystone’s political symbolism vastly outweighs its policy substance.”
The original version of last year’s story understated the scale of the tar-sands pipeline’s greenhouse pollution by a factor of ten.Davenport’s new story relies on experts who have done work on behalf of the oil and gas industry, leading with Robert Stavins, the influential Harvard Kennedy School economist who has studied climate policy for the last thirty years. Stavins claims:
“The political fight about Keystone is vastly greater than the economic, environmental or energy impact of the pipeline itself. It doesn’t make a big difference in energy prices, employment, or climate change either way.”
An active supporter of the boom in natural gas extraction, Stavins also opposes the climate movement’s campaign to divest universities and other institutions from the fossil fuel industry.
It does not appear that Stavins has conducted any published work on Keystone XL or the economics of Canadian tar sands. However, a Kennedy School doctoral candidate named Gabe Chan has analyzed the climate economics of Canada’s tar sands. Chan and his co-authors found that under global policy that maintains a safe climate, Canada’s tar-sands development would collapse. The study raises serious questions about whether approval of Keystone XL is consistent with the international climate commitments the State Department has made at the direction of President Barack Obama.
With climate policies implemented worldwide, the Canadian bitumen production is significantly reduced. Left (e) shows global climate policy scenario, right (f) global climate policy with carbon-capture-and-sequestration technology. (Chan et al. 2012)
The other people denoted as “experts” by Davenport are Robert McNally, a former George W. Bush official who now works as an professional advocate for the oil and natural gas industry, and Christine Tezak, a pipeline-finance analyst, who bet that Keystone XL would be approved in 2011 (as did her current boss, Kevin Book).
Stavins has done consulting work for Chevron, Exelon, Duke Energy, and the Western States Petroleum Association. Neither McNally nor Tezak publicly disclose their clients who are part of or invest in the fossil-fuel industry. None have a scientific background, and none have published work analyzing the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline.
In the words of climate scientist John Abraham, “People who think Keystone is a minor issue don’t understand science and they sure don’t understand economics.”
In short, coal has been a bedrock component of our economy and energy policy for decades. The Proposed Rule, which manifestly proceeds on the opposite premise, thus represents a dramatic change in directions from previous Democratic and Republican administrations.
"It is a remarkable example of executive overreach and an administrative agency’s assertion of power beyond its statutory authority," Tribe and Peabody Energy wrote, in strident language reminiscent of Fox News rhetoric. "Indeed, the Proposed Rule raises serious constitutional questions."
Tribe and Peabody put great weight in the past history of coal's importance to the U.S. economy, as opposed to its future. Hillary Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter get special mention.
Both Democrats and Republicans should stand in strong support of the rule of law. And both Democratic and Republican Administrations have promoted the prudent use of domestic coal in order to reduce dependence on imported oil. In contrast, the Proposed Rule will require a dramatic decline in coal-fired generation of electricity, in order to implement EPA’s system of state-by-state mandates. In fact, under EPA’s plan, the agency envisions that coal generation would be eliminated altogether in 12 states. The Proposed Rule thus reverses policies that reach back to John F. Kennedy. As Hillary Clinton observed in 2007, “I think you have got to admit that coal — of which we have a great and abundant supply in America — is not going away.”
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, now under consideration for approval by the U.S. Senate, would have a significant and dangerous impact on the climate, incompatible with the White House goal of a sustainable climate.
In line with scientific warnings, President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have committed to limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the International Energy Agency’s 2°C scenario, global oil consumption would fall by 50 percent from current levels by 2050, within the intended operating lifetime of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Keystone XL environmental impact statement instead assumes that global oil demand will increase over that time period. The baseline used is the Energy Information Administration’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook, which projects that global oil consumption will increase by 30 to 40 percent by 2040. In that scenario, the world would be on a pathway for rapid and catastrophic global warming of 4 to 6°C (or greater) by 2100.
To have an 80 percent chance of staying below 2C warming, no more than 900 GtCO2 can be burned before 2050.
In the Keystone XL scenario, over 1700 GtCO2 are burned by 2040—nearly double the safe amount, with a decade to go.
The International Energy Agency scenario reflects an estimated 2/3 chance of staying below 2C warming with the burning of 1260GtCO2 through 2050. Burning 1700 GtCO2 by 2040 would put the world on a catastrophic pathway of 3C warming or more.
The pipeline is intended to ship upwards of 830,000 barrels of tar-sands crude a day for a 40-year lifespan. The pipeline will add 120-200 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to the atmosphere annually, with a lifetime footprint of 6 to 8 billion tons CO2e. That’s as much greenhouse pollution as 40 to 50 average U.S. coal-fired power plants. Furthermore the Keystone XL pipeline is recognized by the tar-sands industry as a key spigot for the future development of the Alberta tar sands, which would emit 840 billion tons CO2e if fully exploited. The carbon dioxide emissions produced by oil that would be moved in this single pipeline would amount to 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and half a percent of the global carbon footprint. Only thirty-two countries have larger annual footprints than this single tar-sands project.
The climate commitments announced by Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in China are momentous given the political status quo, but they still leave human civilization on a catastrophic trajectory, a Hill Heat analysis shows.
The non-binding targets agreed to in Beijing — that China would peak in emissions by 2030 and the U.S. would accelerate emissions cuts to reach 80 percent of current pollution levels (74 percent of 2005 levels) by 2025 — are a positive step forward. Without such targets catastrophic warming is guaranteed.
President Obama reaffirmed that limiting global warming to less than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels is his goal, claiming the announced targets “means the United States is doing its part to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius.”
What do the announcements actually mean in the context of what is needed?
Below, we explore the targets in the context of a “Russian roulette” 2C pathway, with pollution levels that scientists estimate lead to a one-in-five chance of exceeding 2C. (Ed.: Russian roulette odds are actually a bit better.)
By 2030, US and China alone will have emitted about 80% of the carbon budget, leaving the other 75% of the global population with little to spare. By 2050, US and China will have emitted about 160% of the carbon budget, making the “Russian roulette” scenario impossible. To be clear, even 2C warming is highly risky, to say the least (Hansen et al, 2013).
Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping concluded a U.S.-China trade summit with the announcement of new climate targets for the two nations. Obama set a U.S. target of a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels. The China commitment is for CO2 emissions to peak by 2030, with a non-fossil-fuel share (renewable and nuclear) of energy production of 20 percent by 2030.
The “fact sheet” released by the White House reads:
U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation
President Obama Announces Ambitious 2025 Target to Cut U.S. Climate Pollution by 26-28 Percent from 2005 Levels
Building on strong progress during the first six years of the Administration, today President Obama announced a new target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. At the same time, President Xi Jinping of China announced targets to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030.
Together, the U.S. and China account for over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change. The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.
The new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025. This ambitious target is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on the right trajectory to achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80 percent by 2050.
The Administration’s steady efforts to reduce emissions will deliver ever-larger carbon pollution reductions, public health improvements and consumer savings over time and provide a firm foundation to meet the new U.S. target.
The United States will submit its 2025 target to the Framework Convention on Climate Change as an “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” no later than the first quarter of 2015.
The joint announcement marks the first time China has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions. The United States expects that China will succeed in peaking its emissions before 2030 based on its broad economic reform program, plans to address air pollution, and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution.China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030 is notable. It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.