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.
In a letter to BP America CEO Lamar McKay, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) are demanding that BP disclose its “spending on corporate advertising and marketing relating to the the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and relief, recovery, and restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.” Their request follows the efforts of Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) to get answers about BP’s massive greenwashing campaign, which includes months of full-page advertisements in national and regional newspapers, radio spots, television commercials, and Internet ads. Outside estimates of the scope of the greenwashing campaign managed by BP’s public relations firm Mediashare are in the tens of millions of dollars, the Washington Post’s Krissah Thompson reports:
After the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April, BP went on the air with television ads and bought a series of full-page ads in The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other papers to position itself as an imperfect but responsible corporation committed to the cleanup of the gulf. The company has spent $55.8 million on television and print advertising so far this year, according to the Nielsen Co., which tracks ad spending.
According to Media Monitors, BP’s radio spots surged to 10,684 last week, with a particular focus on Florida stations. Since mid-July, BP’s internet ads have been running on political blogs, including Talking Points Memo, the Common Sense Media network of liberal sites from FireDogLake to AmericaBlog, and a host of conservative sites, including Eagle Interactive’s network with RedState and the Salem Web Network’s Townhall.com and Hot Air.
BP seems to be working harder to protect its brand than to help the people of the Gulf Coast, argued Alabama Attorney General Troy King. He has filed suit against BP because “while BP is spending millions on print ads and airtime, it’s not spending what it should on claims.” Fortunately, BP’s control of the claims process will finally end Monday, with the launch of Kenneth Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
From the Wonk Room.
The undersea cloud of “highly toxic” oil emanating from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster “is undoubtedly poisonous,” according to President Obama’s federal oceans chief. Marine scientist Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) director, described the threat posed by the “hidden” plumes of oil and dispersants diffusing into the Gulf of Mexico to its valuable ecosystem at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday. She told interviewer Andrea Mitchell that NOAA and independent scientists have identified “not a lake of black ooze” but a “cloud of very fine droplets spread over an area in the general vicinity of the well,” a prime spawning ground for bluefin tuna. This oil cloud “is undoubtedly poisonous” to the marine life in the Gulf:
As that oil, which is highly toxic, comes into contact with small larvae, with eggs, fish for example, or other creatures, it is undoubtedly poisonous to them.
“This truly is an environmental disaster but more a human tragedy,” Lubchenco said in her opening remarks. “Its impact is likely to be considerable,” she said of the oil hidden undersea, “but we don’t yet know what it will be.”
From the Wonk Room.
Johnnie Burton, former MMS director
As for allegations of lax enforcement at the Minerals Management Service, grossly inadequate spill response plans and other regulatory shortfalls, Burton said that as MMS director she was unaware of those problems. “I can’t answer all these questions at this point because when I was there it seemed to work well,” Burton said.
The agency worked so “well” that investigators found evidence of “cronyism and cover-ups of management blunders; capitulation to oil companies in disputes about payments; plunging morale among auditors; and unreliable data-gathering that often makes it impossible to determine how much money companies actually owe.”Burton was in charge during the development of the offshore drilling plan that expanded drilling to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Her Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2007-2012 included 2008’s Lease Sale 206, in which BP purchased Mississippi Canyon Block 252 (MC252) for $34 million. MC252, also known as the Macondo Prospect, has been flooding the Gulf of Mexico with oil for months now. Burton’s plan dismissed the environmental threat of that sale, primarily because no huge disasters had taken place since the Ixtoc I blowout in 1979, as these excerpts show:
The analysis above shows that with regard to potential oil spill impacts, areas that contain wetlands and marshes such as the Central GOM are particularly sensitive. However, lessees have been producing oil and gas from the Central Gulf and other areas for over 50 years with a remarkable record of environmental safety. For more than 30 years, there have been no significant oil spills from platforms anywhere on the OCS. [p. 92]
No Environmental Justice impacts from accidental oil spills are expected because of the movement of oil and gas activities further away from coastal areas and, also, the demographic pattern of more affluent groups living in coastal areas. [p. 60]
The Central Gulf coastal area ranks second in marine primary productivity only to the Mid-Atlantic. The marine primary productivity of the Central Gulf does not appear to have been appreciably diminished by offshore exploration and production activities. The same is true of other areas of the OCS with existing operations and production. Thus, the size, location, and timing of lease sales in the PFP are consistent with the marine primary productivity of the areas in which lease sales will be held. [p. 95]
Overall, impacts on national parks, national wildlife refuges, national estuarine research reserves, and national estuary program sites due to routine operations are expected to be limited under the proposed action because these areas are restricted from development. Impacts from oil spills are unlikely because it is anticipated that 75 percent of the hydrocarbons developed, as a result of the 2007-2012 leasing program in the GOM area are expected to occur in deep water (>330 m) usually located far from the shoreline. [p. 57]
Any single large spill would likely affect only a small proportion of a given fish population within the GOM, and it is unlikely that fish resources would be permanently affected. [p. 57]
In areas with a large proportion of impact-sensitive industry, such as tourism, the potential incremental impacts of oil spills would likely result in a one-time seasonal decline in business activity. [p. 59]
Impacts of accidental releases to water quality would depend on the size of the spill, type of material or product spilled, and environmental factors at the time of the spill. However, there would be no long-term, widespread impairment of marine water quality. [p. 60]
I remember enough to tell you, for the five years I was there, we never relaxed any rules – never changed any rules to make them any less safe.
In fact, Burton’s MMS followed the Bush agenda of “increasing domestic oil and gas production, offering more incentives to drillers in the Gulf of Mexico and pushing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other wilderness areas to drilling.” The “department trimmed spending on enforcement and cut back on auditors, and sped up approvals for drilling applications.” Auditing revenues plummeted by 86 percent from its 2000 peak even though oil prices soared, as Burton slashed auditing, fired effective auditors who challenged oil companies for bilking the American public and she resisted efforts to recoup money.
These are amazing times in the Gulf of Mexico. We are entering the second decade of sustained expansion of domestic oil and gas development in the deep water area of the Gulf.
The praise heaped on BP and the safety of offshore drilling from Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Burton’s boss, at the Thunder Horse celebration are painful in retrospect:
It is little noticed, and even less appreciated, but offshore production platforms have a remarkable safety record. Only about 1 percent of the oil in U.S. domestic waters comes from accidental spills, according to the most recent Oil in the Sea report from the National Academy of Sciences. . . .
My second message today is about the importance of energy to the American economy, and the need for America to have its own domestic sources of energy. I recognize that this message is somewhat ironic, since today we are recognizing the accomplishment of a company well known as British Petroleum. Clearly part of what we celebrate today is the strong alliance that extends across the Atlantic Ocean. We recognize once again that two nations have grown from a common root, split apart, and matured. We feel assured that a business venture involving both nations is as secure as one done within our national borders.
Five months later, in July 2005, Hurricane Dennis nearly sank the Thunder Horse platform at Mississippi Canyon Block 778. After the dangerously listing platform was repaired, it was returned to production, where it continues to pump oil for BP and Exxon to this day, only a few dozen miles from the Deepwater Horizon wreck.
The Sierra Club holds a conference call, beginning at 3:30 p.m., to discuss experiences touring the oil damage in the Gulf Coast with national religious leaders.Speakers
- Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder of Interfaith Power and Light
- Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church
- Fr. Dan Krutz, Episcopal priest and director of Louisiana Interchurch Conference
- Rev. Jim Wallis, editor in chief of Sojourners Magazine
- Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
- Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell of the Progressive National Baptist Convention
- Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America
- Lynn Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago
- Rev. Kris Peterson, pastor of Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church
- Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Rabbinicial Assembly
- Pastor Chris Seay, senior pastor of Ecclesia Church
- Susan Stephenson, executive director of Interfaith Power and Light
CONTACT: Orli Cotel, 415-977-5627, email@example.com
Call in, 888-228-9795; conference ID# code: 86171908. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
From the Wonk Room.President Barack Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer he would have fired BP CEO Tony Hayward for his dismissive comments about the foreign oil giant’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. After relating Hayward’s “very big ocean,” “very very modest” and “I’d like my life back” comments, Lauer asked, “He doesn’t work for you, but if he did, would you want him out?” Obama replied that Hayward would be out of a job:
He wouldn’t be working for me after any of those statements.
Hayward’s dismissive comments are not unusual for BP management—Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, COO Doug Suttles, BP America President Lamar McKay, and Managing Director Bob Dudley have likewise minimized off the scale of the disaster and the devastation to the United States of America while overselling their failed attempts to stop the oil gusher, which may now be flowing at four million gallons a day.
According to National Incident Commander Thad Allen, Tony Hayward is still actively involved in the oil disaster response, discussing issues regularly with Allen. In addition to the failed efforts to stop the leaks, BP still controls claims processing, environmental contractors on land and sea, volunteer assistance, access to the disaster site, hotlines, and data collection.