"There are many true things that are not useful for the vulgar crowd to know; and certain things, which although they are false it is expedient for the people to believe otherwise."
Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 426 AD
As the highly-anticipated Copenhagen climate summit limps towards indecision, the largest money-making corporations on the planet privately celebrate their ability to undermine science and hijack the international political process.
The US - the greatest historic source of greenhouse gases - set the tone of duplicity in Copenhagen by offering 'provisional targets' (translation: fantasy targets) and 'politically binding' agreements (translation: non-binding), and by replacing the 1990 greenhouse gas baseline with a 2005 baseline (to make the non-binding, fantasy 'targets' sound more impressive.) China played along with this deception by offering to 'cut emissions … relative to economic growth', known as 'carbon intensity reductions'. (Translation: no reduction at all). China's actual emissions, and the world's emissions, will continue to increase through the next decade.
A year ago - as research data showed rates of melting ice and rising methane accelerating faster than the most extreme International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections - it appeared that Copenhagen represented humanity's last chance to reverse global warming. Now, decisive action appears to be melting with the ice sheets. Apologists for business-as-usual have forged scientific rigour into 'uncertainty', spun lies into doctrine, offered frivolous quibbling for serious debate, masqueraded corruption as compromise, and finally delivered double-talk for real commitment.
Like Augustine - who, 16 centuries ago, rationalised war and torture for his bosses in the Roman state religion - our own modern sophists spin truth, rationalise crime, and scorn genuine science. Like ancient patricians, modern corporate royalty devise evermore extravagant comforts for themselves while banishing dispossessed multitudes to the evaporating elements. And how did the wealthiest captains of industry sabotage the climate action that might have saved our progeny from a century of chaos? As history has taught us: follow the money.
Crime of the Epoch
"Ecology… if taken seriously as an instrument for the long-run welfare of mankind, would... endanger the assumptions and practices accepted by modern societies. "
Paul Sears (1964)
Four years ago, in December 2005, the IPCC published an upbeat 'Report on demonstrable progress under the Kyoto Protocol', showing European nations on course, as promised, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent from the 1990 baseline levels.
Meanwhile, in the United States, polls conducted by the University of Maryland and Chicago Council on Foreign Relations showed that over 70 per cent of US citizens supported the Kyoto Treaty and carbon emission reductions. The developed nations, responsible for the scale of global warming, appeared ready to act.
However, behind the scenes, in private board rooms and industry front groups, a powerful cadre of fossil fuel executives had a different and darker plan: Sabotage Kyoto and undermine the best scientific minds of our era. Like any other corporate project, these executives began by striking a budget.
In 2008, the US oil and gas industry added $46 million to its existing $82 million lobby budget, specifically to undermine climate action leading up to Copenhagen. This massive crusade - $128 million, 770 companies, and 2,340 lobbyists - set out to control the US Congress and confuse the unsuspecting public. Meanwhile, American coal companies invested $40 million to sell the illusion of 'clean coal', while failing to install sequestration technology in even one single power plant.
The campaign to deny human-based global warming and spread misinformation about climate science has been documented by hundreds of journalists, including David Adam and George Monbiot at the UK Guardian, Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker magazine, and Andrew Revkin at The New York Times. Internet sites such as The Royal Society, OpenSecrets, PR Watch, DeSmogBlog, and Greenpeace's ExxonSecrets have exposed the denialist tricks and tracked money back to the corporations that funded them. A new book by DeSmogBlog writers James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore, Climate Cover Up, documents the historic facts of this dark crusade.
The campaign to sow confusion about global warming has been funded by ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, BP, Texaco, the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Fuels Association, coal companies, and automobile companies such as General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, and Ford. According to records kept by Bob Ward at the London School of Economics, Exxon has continued to subsidise lies about global warming for three years since promising to stop.
The attack on modern science resembles 17th Century attempts to deny the cosmological observations of Copernicus and Galileo, and 19th Century attempts to deny the biological observations of Lamarck and Darwin. Whereas the status quo once burned annoying scientists at the stake, they now bury them under a tsunami of public relations hype.
Science by slogan
"… one of the most disgusting stories ever hidden about corporate disinformation …proof of an intergenerational crime."
Dr. David Suzuki, geneticist, ecologist on Climate Cover-Up
Rather than use their resources to support data collection, the denial campaign invested in advertising slogans and public relations pitch artists. They created phony 'citizens' groups, fake 'green' astroturf organisations such as the Greening Earth Society (Western Fuels); the Global Climate Coalition (Exxon, Shell, GM); and the Natural Resources Stewardship Project (Canadian Gas Association) with the stated goal to 'counter the Kyoto Protocol and other greenhouse gas reduction schemes'. They hired anyone who could pass as a 'scientist' or 'environmentalist', as long as they repeated the industry talking points.
Frank Luntz - a US public relations mercenary who once concocted slogans for embattled pharmaceutical companies, fast food chains and the US Republican Party - became one of the chief script writers in the crusade against global warming science. In 2007, after being accused of being 'Orwellian', Luntz told Terry Gross on National Public Radio that 'to be Orwellian is to speak with absolute clarity', a lie typical of Orwell's 'doublespeak'. Luntz advised the fossil fuel industry that the term 'global warming … connotes catastrophic consequences', and he taught spokespersons to say 'climate change', which presented 'less of an emotional challenge'. He tutored them to call oil drilling 'energy exploration' and to exploit common scientific dialogue as 'uncertainty', and to 'portray the scientific community as divided'.
Key early denialist sloganeers - S Fred Singer, Frederick Seitz, and industry front groups Heartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute - had previously worked in tobacco industry campaigns to help conceal the health effects of cigarettes. There, they pioneered the tactics of creating phony 'citizen' groups, avoiding real science journals, and sowing public confusion by parading hired 'scientists' before sympathetic journalists.
Certain media began to restate oil industry slogans to cast doubt on global warming. On 15 February, 2009, Washington Post columnist George Will repeated in print the falsehood that global sea ice was expanding. In Canada, Lawrence Solomon - in the National Post on 12 January, 2007 - misrepresented the views of Cambridge University scientist Dr. Nigel Weiss, a past president of the UK Royal Society. Even Burger King fast-food restaurants got into the act. In the state of Tennessee in the US, a dozen Burger King restaurants displayed signs proclaiming 'Global warming is baloney'. In this crusade, science appeared unnecessary wherever slogans could confuse the gullible public.
For almost two centuries, human scientists have known that carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere warm the Earth. Joseph Fourier hypothesised the effect in 1824, John Tyndall proved it true 30 years later, and Svante Arrhenius predicted global warming from industrial carbon emissions in 1894, during the coal era.
In the 1950s, Roger Revelle and James Lovelock possessed the data about human carbon heating the atmosphere. Greenpeace had the data in the 1970s, when we first raised the issue. Science demonstrates that the current impact, or 'forcing', caused by human greenhouse gases is equal to about two and a half watts of energy per square metre of the Earth's surface. James Hansen at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies compares this heat force to stringing six 0.4-watt coloured light bulbs over every square metre of the Earth's surface, 3 million-billion bulbs burning year round, giving off heat 24 hours a day. This represents the heat generated by human carbon in the atmosphere, melting the ice sheets, releasing methane, and generating forest loss, drought and increased fire.
The November Scientific American provides a special issue on climate science, including ' Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense', as evidence for human interference with Earth's climate continues to accumulate.
A report this year from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows:
1. Global greenhouse gas emissions rising faster than previously expected
2. Ocean and forest absorption of carbon dioxide is weaker than hoped
3. Self-reinforcing warming from methane, deteriorating forests, and other feedback effects is now occurring.
The World Meteorological Organisation reports that in 2008, human CO2 levels in the atmosphere grew at a record pace, 2 parts per million (ppm) over 2007 reaching 385.2 ppm.
The Standing Committee on Antarctic Research - comprised of over 100 scientists from 13 countries - has issued its 2009 report, showing CO2 and methane levels higher and increasing faster than at any time in the last 800,000 years. The loss of Antarctic sea ice is directly affecting krill and penguin populations.
Meanwhile, 26 of the world's most eminent scientists from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, the US and Australia - including Dr. Robert Bindschadler at NASA; Dr. Hans J. Schellnhuber from Germany's Potsdam Institute; Dr. Richard Somerville, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Dr. Konrad Steffen, director of the Swiss Institute of Technology; and 22 other impeccable, senior world scientists - released the Copenhagen Diagnosis: An update of the latest climate science. The report shows that ice is melting faster than previously predicted and that claims of recent global cooling are wrong. These scientists warn humanity:
1. Surging greenhouse gas emissions: CO2 emissions in 2008 are nearly 40 per cent higher than 1990.
2. Recent warming trends demonstrate human-based warming: The temperature increase rate over the last 25 years is 0.19°C / decade, matching predictions. Despite a recent decrease in solar forcing, the warming trend continues and short-term fluctuations do not change this underlying trend.
3. Accelerated melting of ice sheets, polar caps, and glaciers: Satellite measurements show 'beyond doubt' that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate.
4. Rapid sea-ice decline: Summer melt of arctic ice has accelerated to 40 per cent beyond the average of predictions from IPCC climate models.
5. Sea level rise greater than expected: The global average sea rise of 3.4 mm/yr over 15 years is 80 per cent above previous IPCC predictions. The scientists now expect at least 1-2 metres of sea rise this century. (A complete runaway ice melt would raise sea level by over 75 metres.)
6. Action delay risks additional deterioration of ice sheets, forest, and rain patterns. A business-as-usual scenario increases the risk of runaway global heating.
7. Turning point needed soon: To avoid catastrophic heating, average annual per capita emissions must shrink 80-95% below developed nations emissions in 2000.
Human industrial fossil fuel burning has already triggered hotter global temperatures, forest die-off, drought, fires and methane releases. These and future disasters remain the legacy of the denial crusaders. Future generations living with the consequences will judge these anti-science miscreants as we now judge those who once denied that the Earth orbited the sun or those who argued that slavery was necessary for the economy. The climate deniers will go down in history as traitors to the planet.
In the 1970s, during the early years of Greenpeace, we used to light-heartedly describe the emerging environmental movement as 'a 2000-year post-industrial mop up operation'. That now sounds like optimism.
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