Science Vindicated as Senate Edges Toward Climate and Energy Debate

Michael Mann and climate science exonerated and vindicated

The 20-year global campaign to cool the planet, one of the most influential civic movements in human history, was built on two points of reference.

The first is visible evidence on every continent of escalating temperatures, melting ice, more ferocious storms, fiercer droughts, and deadlier floods. The second is the wealth of scientific data that proves Mother Nature’s erratic behavior is no accident. It’s the result of the combustion of fossil fuels that is steadily increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Last November, over 1,000 email messages from top climate scientists were stolen from the Climate Research Unit of East Anglia University in England, and posted online. The carefully planned theft and the acts of deceit that followed were clearly intended to dissolve the essential narrative foundation of the climate movement, break the global consensus about the causes and consequences of the warming planet, and halt momentum for government action.

Attack Not Successful
Nearly eight months later, as East Coast cities swelter in record heat that climate science predicted, it’s clear that the attack did not achieve its goals. As leaders of the U.S. Senate edge closer to introducing and debating a comprehensive proposal to secure America’s energy independence and limit carbon emissions, there’s been no talk of flawed climate science. Why? Because the science of climate change is accurate, according to a host of independent reviews and investigations in recent months by scientific panels in Europe and the United States.

On Wednesday, an independent investigative panel commissioned by East Anglia University was the latest to clear the scientists who wrote the email messages of any dishonesty, ethical lapses, or unsound scientific practices. “We find that their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt,” said Sir Muir Russell, the panel’s leader.

The Muir investigation is the third independent evaluation in Great Britain to confirm the credibility of the scientists and accuracy of the science discussed in the stolen emails and posted online on November 20.

The conclusions of the Muir panel, moreover, come less than a week after an investigative panel at Pennsylvania State University confirmed the quality of the climate science prepared by Michael E. Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University, and the author of a number of the email messages hacked from East Anglia University’s data bank.  In February, a separate Penn State panel concluded there was “no substance” to allegations of impropriety made by opponents of climate action, and that Dr. Mann’s scientific practices, ethics, research, and conduct were not in dispute.

“We can now put this bogus, manufactured scandal behind us, and move on to a more constructive conversation about climate change,” said Dr. Mann (in pix above) in a statement.  “We’re currently witnessing the warmest temperatures ever globally, and are in the midst of a record-setting heat wave in the U.S. associated with the warmest early summer temperatures ever for large parts of the U.S. Meanwhile, record-breaking ocean surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are predicted to give us a hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season this summer. Human-caused climate change is a reality, and it’s about time we get on to a meaningful discussion about what to do about it.”

“Bogus, Manufactured Scandal”
The five separate investigations of leading climatologists and the validity of climate science marked a dismal period of inaction in the United States and globally on climate change. But the consistent conclusions in support of scientists and the science, along with a monstrous oil spill in the Gulf and political missteps by prominent climate action opponents, appears to be fortifying the fresh legislative vigor to consider and pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill.

Since May, President Obama has pressed the Senate to introduce and debate a new legislative proposal, prompted in large part by the nation’s revulsion to the BP Gulf catastrophe, now in its 80th day. In mid-June, in a nationally telecast speech from the Oval Office, the president called for a new “national mission” to build a low-carbon economy that solves climate change and achieves energy independence.  Last week in a meeting with leaders of both parties, the president called for action this summer, a summons that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats were eager to meet.

In the meantime elected opponents of climate science and action overreached, revealing the ideological foundations of their work. In February Senator James Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma and the most prominent Capitol Hill climate change skeptic, released a report on the hacked emails that identified several respected climate scientists as potential criminals.

Scientists Viewed As Criminals
The effort to criminalize climate scientists was embraced by Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who filed an unusual “civil investigative demand” under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act requiring the University of Virginia to turn over six years of documents related to Dr. Mann’s research while he was a UVA faculty member.

Cuccinelli’s prosecution, which appears to be weakened considerably by the results of the British and Penn State investigative panels, prompted a fierce counter-attack by the university, its faculty, many of the nation’s leading scientists and science organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The basic charge: Virginia’s archconservative attorney general was abusing the power and prestige of his office to conduct a scientific witch hunt.

Science Fights Back
Cuccinelli is expected to respond to that charge and others in a court filing on July 13, said a spokesman. Scientists, though, aren’t sitting still. Stanford University published a paper this month in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found 97 percent to 98 percent of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenet that combustion of fossil fuels is the source of global climate change, the basic finding of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that was awarded the Nobel Prize. Just 2 percent of the scientists who are skeptical of that conclusion are actively publishing in the field, said the Stanford study.

In May, members of the National Academy of Sciences published a letter in the journal Science that was signed by 255 of the nation’s leading scientists. It called for “an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecutions against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.”

The vigorous defense of climate scientists, and the consistent conclusions of the British and American investigative panels also has put the accuracy of mainstream media coverage under new scrutiny. For instance, The Sunday Times of London, which reported that the hacked emails threw into question the accuracy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, retracted one of its central claims about climate affects in the Amazon and acknowledged that it had misquoted a key climate scientist.

Today Media Matters, a non-profit online news site that “monitors and corrects conservative misinformation,” joined 12 environmental and climate action groups in calling for “news outlets that reported on the original “Climategate” controversy over stolen emails and the reliability of climate science to set the record straight. These outlets are urged to highlight recent developments that completely disprove much of the evidence that supported the alleged “Climategate” scandal.”

“Every newspaper, magazine, and television show that reported on these bogus scandals owes it to its audience to set the record straight with the same forcefulness and frequency that it reported the original, disproven charges,” said a letter signed by the groups and sent to newspaper editorial boards.”Failure to publicly correct the record undermines the very heart of journalism — to report the truth.”

— Keith Schneider

Oil Devotion Could Mean Climate No Motion

The one-foot waves today in the Gulf of Mexico were described as “tranquil” as BP started to lower a 70-ton case through 5,000 feet of water to contain the source of an oil leak that threatens the shorelines of four states. Guiding the steel cover over the well shaft in pitch-black waters at crushing depths, said engineers, is like floating a toy parachute off the Empire State Building and landing on a paperclip in the street.oil-booms

The political equivalent, of course, is what’s happening in the Senate with the climate and energy bill, which also is navigating in murky political waters and under enormous partisan pressure.

Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, in a joint statement today, said they would introduce a comprehensive climate and energy bill next Wednesday. They said they would do so without the participation of Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has been working for months on climate and energy policy with his two Senate colleagues. Sen. Graham abandoned the effort last week over differences with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over timing of the floor debate on the Senate energy bill, and immigration.

Kerry and Lieberman Promote Climate Bill
Senators Kerry and Lieberman said they were enthusiastic about the bill’s chances. “The last weeks have given everyone with a stake in this issue a heightened understanding that as a nation, we can no longer wait to solve this problem which threatens our economy, our security and our environment,” said the statement. “Our optimism is bolstered because there is a growing and unprecedented bi-partisan coalition from the business, national security, faith and environmental communities that supports our legislation and is energized to work hard and get it passed.”

Carol Browner, the assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told Bloomberg Television, that the Gulf spill could help spur public support for the bill. “This accident, this tragedy, is actually heightening people’s interest in energy in this country and in wanting a different energy plan,” Browner said.

The Gulf spill did indeed provide fresh evidence of the dramatic consequences of the nation’s devotion to oil, and prompted grassroots demonstrations to encourage clean energy investment and to reduce oil demand in several Gulf coast communities and around the country. In addition climate science, which forms the research foundation for new policy that encourages the clean energy transition to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, also generated fresh attention this week.

Science Supported
On Friday, Science Magazine published a letter from 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences that stated “there is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.” The letter, written in response to the December hacking of email messages from East Anglia University and other attacks on climate science, also called to an end to the “McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.”

Politics and Oil
The letter also came as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli targets Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist and former faculty member of University of Virginia. The attorney general is demanding that the university turn over e-mails and other documents that involve Mann’s research and contacts under a statute that is designed to detect fraud in government contracts, an action the Washington Post called “chilling.”

The targeting of climate scientists by political opponents is hampering action on the climate and energy bill. So is the Gulf spill and its long streams of oil the color of dried blood. Early in the week Democratic Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Bill Nelson of Florida held a news conference to alert their colleagues that any provisions that expand offshore oil exploration have no place in a comprehensive climate and energy bill. By the way, those one-foot waves? Winds and waves are expected to pick up considerably over the weekend.

— Keith Schneider

Koch Industries Finances Climate Denier Factions

koch-report-cover-250pxThe work to achieve a climate and energy bill in the United States is moving with considerably slower momentum this spring than it did at the same time last year. A number of factors contribute, not the least of which is the time and focus that the White House and Democrats in Congress devoted to enacting a national health care bill, which passed earlier this month.  Another factor is the flagging U.S. economy and the meager appetite that many voters and lawmakers have for big new domestic initiatives, like the proposed climate and clean energy bill.

Still, the wearying health debate and the Great Recession do not fully explain the uphill struggle of climate activism. Another factor is at work. After years of swinging away at the climate action community’s formidable message of urgency and useful solutions, the fossil fuel industry’s rhetorical axes nearly four months ago found a soft spot in the scientific details of climate change.

The climate action community’s response has been double-barrelled. In December when the email conversations of climate scientists were stolen from East Anglia University, climate activists made a good case that nothing said between researchers damaged the foundations of the global consensus on the causes of climate change, its urgent consequences, and the opportunity for solutions that generated new industries and new jobs.

The second response has been to penetrate and uncover the full range, influence, structure, and interlocking relationships of the fossil fuel political infrastructure, which is actively involved in fostering the campaign of scientific deceit. The results of that work have emerged in the last couple of weeks.

Last week Greenpeace International published “Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science,” which documented the 20-year campaign led by ExxonMobil to exploit the space the mainstream media opened with its “let’s hear from the other side” principle of reporting.  Meanwhile in Europe, Danish newspapers picked up the story initially flagged by Pete Altman, a climate specialist and blogger at NRDC, who reported that  a Danish study critical of Danish wind energy was financed by an American activist think tank with financial ties to oil-rich Koch Industries.

This week Greenpeace advanced the story enormously with its new report, “Koch Industries: Secretly Funding The Climate Denial Machine.” The report makes clear that Koch Industries is, and has been for over a decade, a stalwart institution, financier, and strategic adviser for the fossil fuel industry’s political infrastructure aimed at one outcome: Blocking the advent of the low-carbon 21st century economy and wrapping its arms as snugly as it can around the 20th century drive-through, energy wasting, coal-gas-oil-fueled American way of life.

The Greenpeace report also describes how Koch Industries, with revenues of $100 billion annually, 70,000 employees, and operations in 60 countries can execute this goal with a shockingly low investment. The report identifies over 40 climate denial organizations that Koch funded from 1997 to 2008 for $50 million, roughly half of that from 2005 to 2008.

In addition, Koch Industries spent less than $6 million since 2004 on the campaigns of federal lawmakers, almost all Republicans, and $37.9 million from 2006 to 2009 for direct lobbying.

In other words for an investment of less than $10 million annually in the lawmakers, lobbyists, activist think tanks, communications shops, and other facets of the political infrastructure, Koch Industries has assured the rising revenues and profitability of its core climate changing businesses.

Koch and its sister companies in the fossil fuel industry are so wealthy they can devote a tiny portion of their total revenue – a fraction of a fraction of 1 percent – to finance an influential inter-connected political infrastructure at the state level and in Washington.

The extent and expanse of that investment reveals the tight coordination that the fossil fuel industry deploys in executing its progress-denying work. Along with some of the usual suspects expected to receive Koch money — American Enterprise Institute, Cato, Heritage, Reason — the company also finances some of the active and influential state-based groups committed to “sound” science that is anything but.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, for instance, whose staff includes a former libertarian anti-science state director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality now dedicated to clouding the science of climate in Lansing, the state capital. And the Heartland Institute in Chicago, a free market “think” tank that isn’t doing much thinking about climate action that right thinking people would generally consider valuable.

More on this and other investigations as we move forward.
– Keith Schneider