The annual conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the top meeting of the world’s climate science community, enjoys the “generous support” of the world’s largest greenhouse polluters, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP. The AGU’s annual meeting in San Francisco each December is the world’s largest gathering of earth scientists, at more than 20,000 attendees, ranging from physical climatologists to petroleum geologists. This December 9-13, AGU’s sponsors were prominently displayed on its website and on posters in the conference halls with the headline, “Thank You To Our Sponsors”:
AGU would like to take the time to recognize the generous support from all of the sponsors of the 2013 Fall Meeting and the events at the meeting.
The top sponsor credited was ExxonMobil; second-tier sponsors included BP, Chevron, and drilling services giant Schlumberger.
The prominent “thank you” given to the companies that profit from the disruption of our climate system received condemnation from some public commenters.
“Nausea-inducing greenwashing: Pukewashing,” tweeted climate and energy blogger Lou Grinzo.
“The cognitive dissonance is mind-boggling,” wrote geology student Ryan Brown.
The union recognizes that the sponsorship is designed to influence its attendees; in promotional materials AGU says sponsorship will “build your brand and create [a] positive link in the attendees’ minds” and “recruit new scientists, enhance your corporate image, show support, and raise your visibility among the scientific community.”
In August 2013, AGU declared that “human-induced climate change requires urgent action.” The AGU Climate Change Position Statement clearly implicates “fossil fuel burning” as the dominant factor in “threats to public health, water availability, agricultural productivity (particularly in low‐latitude developing countries), and coastal infrastructure,” and “no uncertainties are known that could make the impacts of climate change inconsequential.”
The statement was developed by a 14-person panel chaired by Texas A&M climatologist Gerald North. Thirteen of the 14 members voted to approve the strong statement; famous climate skeptic Roger Pielke Sr. dissented. (Pielke’s son, Roger Pielke Jr., is a political scientist who argues as a pundit that climate change does not require societal action.)
Hill Heat sent email messages to the members of the AGU panel asking if they had concerns about AGU accepting funding from the fossil-fuel industry, including companies that have an extensive history of funding attacks on climate science and political opposition to the regulation of carbon emissions.
“Frankly, I have never thought about this,” Dr. North, the panel chair, replied. He noted that many AGU scientists are employed by the extractive industries, and said he would be concerned only if he had seen the AGU’s work being corrupted by fossil-fuel money:
Many AGU members work in the oil and gas industries as well as the coal industry. I suppose the AGU could be corrupted by these elements, although I have no evidence (that I know of) of this having happened in the past. AGU Committees I have served on have shown no evidence of nefarious inputs or pressures. Usually, the first meeting of an AGU Committee there is a conflict of interest session in which all tell of any matters that might be construed as a conflict of interest. This was the case with the Committee I chaired.
“So far I have no reason to object to these contributions so long as AGU Committees can operate without interference,” Dr. North continued. “It’s a little like universities taking such donations. For example, my university Texas A&M accepts many contributions from them and I have never felt any pressure from any university official or Texas government official. There has to be a ‘wall’ of separation between donors and what is done with their money. For example, at the University donors of endowed chairs have no say in who the chair goes to.”
Fellow panelist Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., related a similar sentiment to Hill Heat.
“Fossil fuels exist and will continue to do so,” Trenberth wrote. “Many of the companies have diversified into other areas of energy. So that alone is not a reason for inappropriateness. In addition a big part of AGU is geophysics and geology. Several companies have also declared that they have good intentions and no longer fund mis-information. I am not sure how well that bears up to scrutiny. But in general, yes, AGU should accept funding from the fossil fuel industry, as long as it has no strings attached. And they can use the funds to push back if warranted.”
Sylvia Tognetti, an environmental science and policy consultant who is not an AGU member, told Hill Heat she does not believe it is appropriate to AGU to accept fossil-fuel industry sponsorship. “I expect that a campaign on this issue would be a difficult one, given the schizophrenic relationship that exists between science and policy,” she wrote in an e-mail. “But bringing attention to these contradictions might just provoke an important dialogue on the role of science for the public good.”
According the AGU Fall Meeting Sponsorship Prospectus, “Sponsorship at the AGU Fall Meeting is a cost-effective way of branding your company, your products, and your services to more than 20,000 geophysical and space scientists.” The prospectus notes that “Sponsorship can increase your corporate/product awareness, build your brand, and create positive link in the attendees’ minds between you and an activity in support of their science.” The top “gold” sponsorship level costs a minimum of $15,000.
In the 2012 Fall Meeting Sponsorship Prospectus, AGU says that Chevron and Exxon Mobil are companies which “realize the benefit of sponsorship with the AGU,” as a “cost effective, high profile tool your company can use to recruit new scientists, enhance your corporate image, show support, and raise your visibility among the scientific community.”
The AGU conference also advised climate scientists on effective communication, with presentations such as “400ppm CO2 : Communicating Climate Science Effectively with Naomi Oreskes and multiple presentations by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky, Susan Hassol, and Dana Nuccitelli.
New White House Adviser John Podesta: 'Unconventional Sources of Fossil Fuels Cannot Be Our Energy Future'
John Podesta, an advocate for strong climate action and opponent of the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels, is joining the White House as a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, the New York Times reports.
In a 2010 keynote address at Canada 2020’s “‘Greening’ The Oil Sands: Debunking the Myths and Confronting the Realities,” a Canadian conference promoting tar sands extraction, Podesta apologized for being the “skunk” at the “garden party” as he laid out his profound skepticism about “green” tar sands, comparing it to “clean coal” and “error-free deepwater drilling.”
Below are some key excerpts:
Today, there is almost unanimous agreement that we can add another cost to dependence on high-carbon fuels. And this one is beyond our ability to calculate.In January 2013, Podesta announced his opposition to Arctic drilling, saying in a Bloomberg op-ed that “there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean”:
Failing to curb our dependence on fossil fuels will create a world dramatically different than the one we’re currently accustomed to; one in which sea level rise, extreme weather, and reduced resource supplies will not only cause irreparable harm to ecosystems around the globe, but also tremendous human suffering and conflict.
Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy intensive. These things are facts. I think suggesting this process can come close to approximating being “greened” is largely misleading, or far too optimistic, or perhaps both. It stands alongside clean coal and error-free deepwater drilling as more PR than reality.
Oil sands can’t simply be as good as conventional oil. We need to reduce fossil fuel use and accelerate the transition to cleaner technologies, in the transportation sector and elsewhere.
We either rapidly green the world’s engine of economic growth, or we suffer consequences that are very difficult to even fully comprehend, in addition to those we already tolerate. Unconventional sources of fossil fuels cannot be our energy future.
Now, following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean. . . The Obama administration shouldn’t issue any new permits to Shell this year and should suspend all action on other companies’ applications to drill in this remote and unpredictable region.
“Moving beyond fossil fuel pollution will involve exciting work, new opportunities, new products and innovation, and stronger communities,” Podesta said in 2009 Congressional testimony.
State Sen. Mark Green (R-Tenn.-22), speaking today at the American Legislative Exchange Council States & Nation Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., rejects the science of global warming. In a September 15, 2013 tweet, Sen. Green said, “I think we need to be concerned about global cooling.”
Green’s tweet cites a Climate Depot link to a blogpost with the headline “Earth Gains A Record Amount Of Sea Ice In 2013.”
This factoid is an indicator of global warming, not global cooling. As the climate has become destabilized, the annual variation in global sea ice has increased, with greater swings in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Arctic sea ice is in a “death spiral”, as is global land ice. As Antarctica warms, its land ice mass is in decline, while its sea ice extent is on the increase as oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns change in the Southern hemisphere.
Climate Depot is the website of former Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) spokesman Marc Morano.
Green’s tweet continues with a link to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by climate-change denier Matt Ridley, which argues “the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet.”
A 2011 ALEC conference presented a panel entitled “Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2.”
Green is also a military veteran, former field surgeon, and radical gun-rights advocate.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) Claims Global Warming 'Assumptions' Are 'Totally Undermined By The Latest Science'
Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) rejects the science of man-made climate change. In a 2012 interview with Dallas News, Cruz claimed that global warming ceased in 1997, misquoted climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, and claimed that the threat of greenhouse gas pollution is “scientific assumptions that have been totally undermined by the latest science.” Cruz also claimed that any form of market-based or regulatory limits on carbon pollution would “devastate” the United States.
The Dallas News voter guide asked the question: “What is your view on the science of man-made climate change? Do you support legislation that would reduce the output of greenhouse gases, and, if so, what approach would you take?”Sen. Ted Cruz on global warming:
My view of climate science is the same as that of many climate scientists: We need a much better understanding of the climate before making policy choices that would impose substantial economic costs on our Nation. There remains considerable uncertainty about the effect of the many factors that influence climate: the sun, the oceans, clouds, the behavior of water vapor (the main greenhouse gas), volcanic activity, and human activity. Nonetheless, climate-change proponents based their models on assumptions about those factors, and now we know that many of those assumptions were wrong. For example, the models predicted accelerated warming over the last 15 years, but there has been no warming during that time.
Even Dr. Kenneth Trenberth, the lead author of the U.N. IPCC 4th Assessment Report, recently said, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” So, we need to be good stewards of the environment, but we also have to be rational. We came very close to adopting a cap & tax scheme that would have devastated our economy without a single demonstrable benefit. Now EPA has adopted greenhouse gas regulations on the basis of scientific assumptions that have been totally undermined by the latest science—and those regulations are going to have a devastating impact on many American families and businesses if we don’t roll them back.
In March 2013, Cruz blocked mention of “changes in climate” in an International Women’s Day proclamation. “A provision expressing the Senate’s views on such a controversial topic as ‘climate change’ has no place in a supposedly noncontroversial resolution requiring consent of all 100 U.S. senators,” a spokesman said.
In June, Cruz blasted President Obama’s global warming agenda as “killing jobs” with a “national energy tax.”
Center for Media and Democracy’s Nick Surgey has written a comprehensive overview of Google’s recent lobbying efforts, which include:
- $10,000 from Google’s NetPAC to Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for Senate in 2012
- $2,500 to Ted Cruz’s 2018 re-election campaign
- Funding of Heritage Action, which held a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour” in August 2013 with Sen. Cruz
- “Gold Sponsor” funding for the Federalist Society 2013 annual dinner, featuring Justice Clarence Thomas
- $50,000 sponsorship of the Competitive Enterprise Institute 2013 annual dinner, featuring Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
- Support for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, the American Conservative Union, and the Koch brothers’ Cato Institute, all new in 2013
These politicians and organizations describe the scientific threat of global warming from fossil-fuel combustion as a liberal conspiracy to promote policies to seize power, cripple the economy and limit American freedom. They all have close ties to the fossil-fuel industry.
“Political spending for corporations is purely transactional. It is all about getting policies that maximize profitability,” Bob McChesney, founder of Free Press, told CMD. “So even ostensibly hip companies like Google invariably spend lavishly to support groups and politicians that pursue decidedly anti-democratic policy outcomes. It is why sane democracies strictly regulate or even prohibit such spending, regarding it accurately as a cancer for democratic governance.”
Google did not respond to CMD’s request for comment.
At the American Legislative Exchange Council’s upcoming States & Nation Policy Summit, the corporate lobbying group will be considering a resolution aimed to stall rooftop solar deployment.
Green Tech Media’s Stephen Lacey reports:
In early December, ALEC will be holding a task force meeting on energy and environmental issues in Washington, D.C. It has now included net metering on its list of priorities for “model legislation” in 2014.
ALEC recently put together a draft resolution on net metering that will set up discussions at next month’s task force meeting on writing laws changing net metering policies.
As currently written, the resolution lacks detail. But the broad framework mirrors the current debate within utilities about how to restructure crediting mechanisms for solar owners:
- Update net metering policies to require that everyone who uses the grid helps pay to maintain it and to keep it operating reliably at all times;
- Create a fixed grid charge or other rate mechanisms that recover grid costs from DG systems to ensure that costs are transparent to the customer; and
- Ensure electric rates are fair and affordable for all customers and that all customers have safe and reliable electricity.
“The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), a trade group for investor-owned utilities, helped write the resolution with ALEC,” writes Lacey. “And Arizona Public Service, a utility at the center of the battle around net metering policy, is also a member of the organization’s energy and environment task force.”
“We supported them. [...] We worked with them on that resolution,” said Rick Tempchin, executive director of retail energy services at EEI, in a video recorded surreptitiously by the Checks and Balances Project. Lacey continues:
Over the summer, EEI released a report warning that distributed generation technologies like solar “directly threaten the centralized utility model” and called for increased attention on how to manage disruption in the power sector.
Months later, EEI began spending money on a campaign to support changes to net metering policy in Arizona — adding to the $9 million already spent by Arizona Public Service.
The electric utility on ALEC’s corporate board, Energy Future Holdings, tells the public it is committed to supporting renewable energy.
Also on the agenda for the energy task force at the 2013 summit is “Discussion of strategies legislative and private sector members can employ to address EPA’s rulemaking to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.” The task force plans to keep ALEC “on record opposing any EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.”
ALEC’s anti-climate agenda is raising questions about why publicly green companies have recently joined the organization. For example, in 2011, Google invested over $350 million in rooftop-solar deployment. In 2013, Google joined ALEC.
Susan Molinari at a Google/Elle/Center for American Progress event January 19, 2013
Since 2012, Google’s policy division has been run by former Republican representative Susan Molinari, a long-time corporate lobbyist. Molinari, whose personal contributions are exclusively to Republicans, has led the Google Washington DC office to host fundraisers exclusively for Republican senators, including Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time database. Under Molinari’s direction, Google also supports climate-denial shops such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, and the American Conservative Union.
Google’s political support for opponents of its green agenda appears to be part of a retreat from its serious climate-policy agenda of a few years ago.
ALEC DC Summit Speakers Lineup: Top Republican 2016 Presidential Contenders, Climate Conspiracy Theorists
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Gov. Matt Mead (R-Wyo.), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)
- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
- Gov. Matt Mead (R-Wyo.)
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
- Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)
All five reject the science of climate change, arguing that scientists are part of a conspiracy to attack the use of fossil fuels.
- Johnson: “I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. It’s not proven by any stretch of the imagination. It’s far more likely that it’s sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time.”
- Ryan: Scientists are guilty of a “perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion” to “use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.”
- Mead: “I am unconvinced that climate change is man-made, but I do recognize we may face challenges presented by those who propose and believe they can change our climate by law with ill-thought-out policy like cap and trade (the latest version of which is the Senate Climate Bill, S. 1733, unveiled May 12th).”
- Cruz: “There remains considerable uncertainty about the effect of the many factors that influence climate: the sun, the oceans, clouds, the behavior of water vapor (the main greenhouse gas), volcanic activity, and human activity. Nonetheless, climate-change proponents based their models on assumptions about those factors, and now we know that many of those assumptions were wrong.”
- Pence: “I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming. . . In the mainstream media, Chris, there is a denial of the growing skepticism in the scientific community about global warming.”
Also scheduled to speak is Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lobbyist appointed by President Obama in 2012 as a Republican FCC Commissioner, and rising Republican star State Sen. Mark Green (R-Tenn.-22), a military veteran, former field surgeon, and radical gun-rights advocate.
The climate accountability organization Forecast the Facts is protesting Google’s support for ALEC on account of the council’s opposition to Google’s stated support for climate policy action.
We’re not an advocacy or a single-issue organization. We’re a company. We are members of many different organizations, that one included. We don’t necessarily agree with everything that these organizations says and certainly individual employees may not, but we do an enormous amount of good and we’re really proud of the work we’ve done through other organizations. We work with Greenpeace, BSR, WRI, WWF, and etcetera.Watch:
“It’s certainly not because we’re trying to oppose renewable energy legislation,” Weihl concluded, when asked why Facebook is a member of ALEC.
Weihl had earlier noted that Facebook has the explicit goal of being 25% powered by renewable energy by 2015, after which it will set another benchmark. ALEC is working to roll back renewable power standards that support Facebook’s targets.
“The DNA of Google isn’t just about being an environmental steward,” Google’s Gary Demasi said during the panel about climate change. “It’s a basic fundamental issue for the company.”
Like Weihl, Demasi couldn’t explain why Google was a member of ALEC, though he expressed discomfort with the company’s action.
“I would say the same as Bill [Weihl],” Demasi told this reporter when asked why Google supports ALEC. Although he may not be happy with every decision the company makes and doesn’t control the policy arm of Google, Demasi said, “we’re part of policy discussions.”
ALEC’s corporate board is dominated by tobacco and fossil-fuel interests, including Altria, Exxon Mobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries. In its model legislation and policy briefs, ALEC questions the science of climate change and opposes renewable energy standards, regulation of greenhouse pollution, and other climate initiatives.
Google’s policy division is run by former Republican representative Susan Molinari, whose arrival in 2012 marked a rightward shift in Google’s approach to climate policy.
The forum, “Greening the Internet,” was hosted by the environmental organization Greenpeace at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Greenpeace is simultaneously challenging the ALEC agenda, calling out companies like Google for supporting the politics of climate denial, and encouraging internet companies to “clean the cloud.” Greenpeace’s “Cool IT” rankings take political advocacy as a major concern; in 2012 Google had the top score among all tech companies in part because companies such as Microsoft and AT&T were members of ALEC.
The panelists, from Google, Facebook, Rackspace, Box, and NREL, explained why their companies have set the goal of having their data centers be powered entirely by renewable energy.
Box’s Andy Broer made the moral case for acting to reduce climate pollution.
“I’ve got kids,” he said. “We’re stewards here. We need to make certain what we’re doing today doesn’t ruin the future.”
Below is an editorial comment from Hill Heat editor Brad Johnson, a new feature. In addition to occasional commentary from leading climate voices, Hill Heat will continue its aggressive and accurate reporting on climate politics and policy.
I just read Ryan Cooper’s excellent post on Bill McKibben, 350, and the climate movement. His rejoinder to Jonathan Chait’s misguided screed was spot on and well needed. As someone who has engaged in the professions of blogging and organizing, I have to say Ryan hit the nail on the head on how much harder it is — or at least how much a different set of skills is required — to help build a movement than it is to be a pundit:
Organizing a mass movement is hard. I’ve done a bit of organizing myself—I started a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in college, and I was extraordinarily terrible at it. Like many pundits (not necessarily Chait), I’m cynical, easily discouraged, lazy, and most importantly, an absolutely atrocious leader. By contrast, sitting in my chair writing blog posts, while not exactly easy, is compelling and interesting and satisfying in a way that makes it no problem to sit and work for hours.There’s one dissonant note in Ryan’s piece. At one point, he fell into a classic pundit trap: he qualified his defense of the Keystone XL opposition with this “expert” criticism:
Second, Chait is indeed correct that new EPA regulations which phase out coal-fired power plants would have a much larger impact on carbon dioxide emissions than stopping Keystone XL.
Despite the conventional wisdom, a little investigation finds that this claim doesn’t hold water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s own regulatory filing for the proposed new-plant CO2 standards, “the EPA projects that this proposed rule will result in negligible CO2 emission changes, quantified benefits, and costs by 2022.”
The EPA’s new regulations aren’t expected to have any significant impact on CO2 pollution because new coal plants aren’t economically competitive with other forms of electricity generation (or efficiency efforts) in the United States. By contrast, the Obama administration’s long-delayed limits on traditional pollutants will have a much greater impact on the nation’s coal fleet. The importance of the new-plant CO2 regulations is largely symbolic — an initial stake in the ground that greenhouse gases are pollution that needs to be regulated.
Whereas the EPA CO2 regulations are expected to have a negligible impact, the Keystone XL pipeline, if constructed, will have an annual carbon footprint of 120-200 million tons of CO2 from operating plus its tar-sands crude output. Thus, the pipeline’s impact would be equivalent to the ten biggest existing coal-fired power plants in the US (179 million tons of CO2 per year), or the equivalent of about 40 average US coal plants.
So Ryan is right that mobilizing to stop Keystone XL makes sense politically. It also makes sense policywise.
Update: Ryan Cooper responds on Twitter: “I agree that KXL is worth stopping, but in there I meant to refer to potential regulations that would apply to existing plants.”
The Obama administration has just held a series of “public listening sessions” about possible regulation of existing power plants, but has made no proposals.