DEALING IN DOUBT: FULL REPORT
During the final drafting of the IPCC’s First Scientific Assessment Report in 1990, Brian Flannery, Exxon’s Chief Scientific Advisor and climate lobbyist, took issue with the recommendation for 60 to 80 percent cuts in CO2 emissions, in light of what he suggested were “uncertainties” about the behavior of carbon in the climate system. (In keeping with UN rules, the IPCC grants industry association members like ExxonMobil “observer status” at its meetings, along with NGO’s).
Although the consensus of opinion remained against him, Flannery continued to demand that the IPCC report’s Executive Summary state that the range of model results were “quite scientifically uncertain.” He was unsuccessful: the summary concluded that greenhouse gas emissions at present rates would certainly lead to warming.
This statement made the IPCC report a direct threat to business as usual in the fossil fuel sector. Having failed to derail the IPCC from within, industry set out to discredit it. The attack focused on the IPCC’s statement that it was “certain.”
In February 1992, at a press conference in New York during the negotiations that led to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GCC used Fred Singer to attack the IPCC science, issuing a briefing entitled “Stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions would have little environmental benefit,” in which it cited denier Professor Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Singer is a serial denier and has published little, if any, peer reviewed climate science in the last 20 years. He has spoken out as a scientific expert on subjects including secondhand smoke, acid rain, ozone depletion, nuclear energy, pesticides, and the environmental impacts of nuclear war (see Appendix 1: Climate Denial's "Continental Army").
Throughout 1992 the GCC used well-known climate deniers like Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling and Fred Singer (all of whom have been partly funded by either Exxon or other energy companies at one time or another) as ’experts’ at press conferences in its attempts to undermine the credibility of accepted climate science and the findings of the IPCC.
The same year, Exxon’s Flannery was quoted by the World Coal Institute in a briefing for climate negotiators: “because model-based projections are controversial, uncertain, and without confirmation, scientists are divided in their opinion about the likelihood and consequences of climate change."
In 1994 The GCC continued the attack on the IPCC when it hired a public relations firm to take climate denier Dr. Sallie Baliunas on a media tour.
Baliunas is an expert in astrophysics, not climate. She built her denial career downplaying the significance of the destruction of the ozone layer, publishing a report entitled "The Ozone Crisis" in 1994 for the George C Marshall Institute. Baliunas was, at the time, the chair of its Marshall Institute's Science Advisory Board while its Board was chaired by pro-tobacco campaigner, now deceased Fred Seitz (see Appendix 1: Climate Denial's "Continental Army").
By the late-90’s the GCC started to draw heavy criticism, and leading members like Ford Motor Company quit the coalition and distanced themselves from its agenda. It was at this point that companies like Exxon and Mobil (who eventually merge in 1999) turned to front groups and conservative think tanks that could continue the campaign on their behalf following the same evolution of tobacco companies in moving from obvious industry collectives to “independent” front groups.
When the IPCC released its Second Assessment Report (SAR) in 1995, it met a similarly aggressive response. Among the key findings of the IPCC was the acknowledgement of a “discernable” human impact on climate and a prediction that sea levels could rise 15 to 95 cm by 2100, in line with temperature increases ranging from 1 °C to 3.5 °C (1.8 °F to 6.5 °F).
The SAR’s Summary for Policymakers contained the conclusion that, “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” That one sentence set the deniers on fire. One called it the "most disturbing corruption of the peer-review process in 60 years."
Charles DiBona, president of the American Petroleum Institute, called the report “inflammatory," while oil-producing countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia tried to delay the report’s release because of this “strong language”, and argued against the use of the words “appreciable,” “notable,” “measurable,” and “detectable” in place of “discernable.”
The attacks weren’t restricted to the science or the report. In a sign of desperation, the deniers turned to ad hominem attacks on key scientists were added as part of an escalating strategy of increasingly underhanded and dirty tricks, a strategy that continues to this day (see Part 2 of this report).
The GCC co-ordinated vicious personal attacks on Dr. Ben Santer, one of the key authors of the report. The aim was to discredit the process by which the IPCC worked. This began a campaign of attacks on scientists that continues to this day, some examples of which are outlined in part 2 of this report.
Fred Singer meanwhile used the 1997 climate negotiations to launch an attack on the chair of the IPCC, Bert Bolin. Following a debate at the talks, Singer fabricated quotes from Bolin, attempting to suggest that he had changed his mind about climate change, saying: “Bolin remained adamant that there has been some human influence on climate, but conceded that "man-made increases in temperature are so small as to be barely detectable.”
Bolin, the chair of both the World Meteorological Organization and the IPCC for nine years, was forced to release a press statement politely rejecting the allegations as “inaccurate and misleading.” He said:
“Regarding Singer's self-congratulatory statement that the ‘discussion appeared to go decidedly against Dr. Bolin's IPCC position,’ I had rather the impression that Dr. Singer’s views did not convince those present.”
“I find it most annoying that the account of the meeting in Stockholm has been presented in such a biased manner.”
In early 1998, a small group sat down together at the American Petroleum Institute in the US to draw up a communications plan to challenge climate science. The group included representatives from Exxon, Chevron, Southern Company (a large US coal-burning utility), the American Petroleum Institute and people from a number of the front groups and conservative think tanks that are still campaigning against climate science today, including the George C Marshall Institute, Frontiers of Freedom, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. All have received long-term funding from ExxonMobil and other big polluters.
The plan they drew up proposed:
“a national media relations programme to inform the media about uncertainties in climate science; to generate national, regional and local media on the scientific uncertainties and thereby educate and inform the public, stimulating them to raise questions with policymakers.”
The plan would roll out up to and beyond the UNFCCC meeting (COP4) later that year in Buenos Aires. The plan’s milestones were:
“Victory will be achieved when
- Average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom’
- Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science
- Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.”
Part of the strategy was to co-ordinate ”a complete scientific critique of the IPCC research and its conclusions’ and to enable decision makers to raise ‘such serious questions about the Kyoto treaty’s scientific underpinnings that American policy makers not only will refuse to endorse it, they will seek to prevent progress towards implementation at the Buenos Aires meeting in November, or through other ways.”
This would be achieved by recruiting andtraining five ‘independent’ scientists – ‘new faces… without a long history of visibility in the climate debate’ to participate in media outreach. The API aimed to ‘maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours, with Congress, the media and other key audiences’ and admitted shamelessly that it would target teachers and students, inorder to ‘begin to erect a barrier against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future.’
Though this plan ended up being revealed on the front page of the New York Times, it is assumed that ExxonMobil and others went ahead with essentially the same game plan starting in 1998. The education section of it was taken up by various groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - see part 2 of this report.
2001 – THE THIRD ASSESSMENT REPORT (TAR)
In its Third Assessment Report released in 2001, the IPCC reported the consensus view on climate change, including these key findings:
“Globally, it is very likely that the 1990s was the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the instrumental record, (1861-2000),"
“[M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations,"
“Emissions of CO2 due to fossil fuel burning are virtually certain to be the dominant influence on the trends in atmospheric CO2 concentration during the 21st century."
As with the first Assessment Report, the IPCC had to contend with the fossil fuel lobby even as it was being written. In September 2001, the IPCC met in London to reach agreement on the final chapter and summary of the TAR. The IPCC’s draft final report contained the following line: “The Earth’s climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era, with some of these changes attributable to human activities.
At this meeting, ExxonMobil’s Brian Flannery suggested an amendment deleting the clause: “with some of these changes attributable to human activities.” The IPCC ignored Exxon and kept the clause.
In the summer of 2001, prior to the release of the IPCC TAR working group reports, the American Petroleum Institute distributed an internal memo, authored by oil industry employee Lenny Bernstein that laid out the industry’s primary talking points for attacking the conclusions of the international science body.
Bernstein was well positioned to critique the Third Assessment Report, given that he was one of its lead authors. His analysis coached the API membership on how to attack the IPCC report, laying out many of the arguments that have been repeated since by deniers, industry and the Bush administration.
“The IPCC itself is made up of government representatives… The Summary for Policymakers… have a much more political flavour,” he wrote. Never mind that the SPM is agreed by a consensus process that produces a very conservative outcome.
Above all, Bernstein stressed the “uncertainty” argument, asserting that climate deniers can maintain the appearance of an unsettled ‘debate’ on climate science by repeatedly referencing the ‘considerable uncertainties’ involved in this ‘complex’ area of study.
Bernstein instructed the oil industry to point out the “beneficial effects” of increasing CO2 concentrations and rising temperatures, which have led to “longer growing seasons in Europe" and could “help feed a growing world population.”
American Enterprise Institute attacks the TAR
In a now common tactic, early copies of the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) were leaked long before they were finalized and published, creating an opportunity for an early counterattack by the denial industry. Kenneth Green at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research’s ($3.615 million from ExxonMobil since 1998) was central to this strategy. Green wrote several articles over the year before the TAR was released, attacking the models and labeling the process political.
He wrote in 2001 that “IPCC, a political organization, produces the policy guidance documents that dominate international policy discussions. The reports of the IPCC are portrayed as scientific documents. Yet IPCC reports are outlined by governmental representatives … The process departs dramatically from standard scientific methodology and publishing procedures. Document architects only selectively include relevant studies. The peer review process is, at best, a fig leaf.”
Green called the Summary for Policymakers a “derivative document” which condenses and expresses IPCC findings “in a language suitable for moderately educated readers."
Writing in his role as Director of Environmental Programs for another front group, the Reason Public Policy Institute, Green summarized the key deniers’ strategy to attack the IPCC in an October 2000 briefing report: - attack the models, attack the objectivity, claim that the IPCC is “political” rather than “scientific, attack the data and attack the scientists.
Green, a visiting scholar at AEI, was a contributing author on Tech Central Station ($95,000 from Exxon since 1998), but set up by Exxon’s PR firm, DCI, the Executive Director of the Environmental Literacy Council, a group heavily funded by oil and other extractive industries to infuse industry propaganda into classrooms), Chief Scientist at the Fraser Institute ($120,000 from Exxon since 2003) and Director of the Environmental Program at Reason Public Policy Institute. See ExxonSecrets map.
Green, is a widely-quoted ‘independent’ source on climate and energy in Washington.
More long time deniers attack the TAR
Kenneth Green’s attack blueprint was echoed by deniers in – and outside - the media.
“The Summary for Policymakers… represents a consensus of government representatives (many of whom are also their nations' Kyoto representatives), rather than of scientists. The resulting document has a strong tendency to disguise uncertainty, and conjures up some scary scenarios for which there is no evidence.”
- Richard Lindzen, op-ed, The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2001.
The release of the Summary for Policy Makers "has everything to do with political spin and very little to do with climate science," said Myron Ebell, who runs the global warming program at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The 18-page summary, said Ebell, "is not a fair or accurate summary of the IPCC’s full Third Assessment Report, which is over 1,000 pages long and which has not yet been released in final form."
At the end of 2007, the IPCC released the final document in its fourth assessment (AR4): the Synthesis report. It confirmed and built on the previous reports, saying that the warming of the earth’s climate systems was now “unequivocal."
“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)."
“There is high agreement and much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHG emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades."
It also outlined and updated its “reasons for concern" on the vulnerability of ecosystems to survive climate change, risks of extreme weather events, costs of impacts and sea level rise.
Willie Soon’s pre-emptive attack on the AR4 report
In 2003, as the IPCC was beginning its process, setting up its meetings to outline the chapters of the AR4, then Marshall Institute “senior scientist” Willie Soon (employed at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics ), was already on their case. He wrote to several other career climate deniers, including Sallie Baliunas and Delaware climatologist David Legates, and two ExxonMobil employees and collaborators, to work out what they could do to undermine the report.
“I hope we can start discussing among ourselves to see what we can do to weaken the fourth assessment report or to re-direct attention back to science,” he wrote.
It’s worth noting here that while deniers try to argue that the science is wrong, that they are just questioning the science and NOT being political, in this case the AR4 report had yet to be written when the deniers were already conspiring to take it down.
The American Enterprise Institute offers cash to trash IPCC
In July 2006, six months ahead of the AR4 release, American Enterprise Institute climate deniers were gathering forces to undermine it. In a letter leaked to the media the AEI was looking for accredited scientists who might be willing to “review” the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But their “review” had a pre-determined outcome.The AEI hoped to find a scientist - at a rate as high as $10,000 for 10,000 words - whose review "thoughtfully explores the limitations of climate model outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy."
The idea behind the recruitment drive seems to have been an effort to find academic scientists with a low-profile or non-existent record of talking to the press about global warming. That way, the AEI would be able to use an “unblemished” critic’s credentials to support their arguments.
The story hit the media at the time of the AR4’s first report release, in February 2007. Professor Steve Schroeder of Texas A&M University turned down the offer. He told the Washington Post that he “worried his contribution might have been published alongside ‘off-the-wall ideas’ questioning the existence of global warming.”
The letter’s authors were the AEI’s chief climate lobbyists Kenneth Green and Steven F Hayward. Both have a long history of connections with a number of the front groups funded by industry. Hayward is a Director of Donors Capital Fund.
Launch of the denier’s ‘independent’ assessment
Three days after the first of the AR4’s four reports was released in Paris in 2006, the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, held a press conference in London, headed by its senior fellow, economist Ross McKitrick.
The Fraser Institute released its “Independent scientific assessment”, a document whose layout bears a remarkable similarity to the IPCC documents. The Institute questions the models, and questions the conclusions of the IPCC.
Unlike the IPCC, which receives funding only from the UN system and relies almost totally on voluntary input from the majority of those who work on it. The Fraser Institute’s team of “experts” included several paid scientists with direct connections with industry front groups and conservative think tanks, none of whom appear to have published any peer-reviewed articles on global warming.
…And the usual suspects join in
The AR4 flushed out the denial “A list” who have been campaigning to undermine the science of climate change since the early 1990’s. Ardent attacks materialized from Fred Singer, Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels and William O’Keefe and organisations like the George C Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute (a think tank founded by the Koch Brothers and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
S Fred Singer attacked the models, and the politics in an article in the New York Sun.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute returned to another familiar theme:
"The Summary for Policymakers is designed to be a propaganda document that will promote global warming alarmism. It is not written by the scientists who wrote the report, but by the governments that belong to the IPCC," stated Marlo Lewis, a CEI lobbyist.
The CEI had clearly been planning for the AR4 for some time. One of its key deniers, “senior fellow” and attorney Christopher Horner (not a climate scientist), releasing his new book, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism” – an all out attack on climate science - at a special event at the Heritage Foundation on 15 February 2007, halfway throughout the year of AR4 chapter releases.
“The very fact that Climategate was newsworthy is evidence that reporters hold scientists to a much higher standard than they hold denialists, even if they won’t admit it in their quest to report a controversy.”
- Mark Boslough – Physicist at Sandia National Laboratories
In late 2009, just ahead of the crucial Copenhagen climate talks, hacked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) surfaced on the internet. These sparked a succession of climate stories that found willing homes in the media, with the UK media providing the staging ground. The denial machine repeated and publicized a succession of non-stories dug up in the stolen emails, convinced that they had found evidence of either global conspiracy or scientific failure.
As this video explains, nothing in the emails stolen from the CRU did anything to call into question any climate science. That didn’t stop deniers alleging that the whole edifice of climate science was crashing down, they also claimed the leaks had brought to light a conspiracy of truly epic proportions - claims that some of the media were all too willing to repeat.
A total of nine investigations have now exonerated the scientists named in the so-called Climategate “scandal.” Skeptical Science has the list.
Even the deniers themselves admitted that the hacked emails didn’t bring the large body of climate science into doubt. When questioned by the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on 1 March 2010, climate deniers Lord Nigel Lawson and Benny Peiser, of the newly-formed UK front group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation both admitted that, at worst, the emails revealed a problem with the CRU’s process, but didn’t actually unravel any of the climate science.
Neither Peiser nor Lawson are climate scientists, something Peiser admitted to the Committee, yet they continued to use the emails to undermine the climate scientific consensus. Bob Ward of the London School of Economics pointed out an error on the foundation’s website in a graph of 21st century temperature, but was never corrected.
“While it is a relatively small error, it is the kind of discrepancy that many sceptics would be seizing upon if it had been found on the website of the Climatic Research Unit” wrote Ward in a blog on the Guardian website.
On another occasion, former IPCC working group chair, Sir John Houghton, was misquoted by Benny Peiser in The Observer, who claimed Houghton had said: "Unless we announce disasters no one will listen." “[He] thereby attributed to me and the IPCC an attitude of hype and exaggeration. That quote from me is without foundation. I have never said it or written it,” Houghton told the Observer.
One of the scientists at the centre of the emails, Michael Mann, was repeatedly cleared of the deniers’ accusation ‘falsifying data”. For example, one international investigation by Penn State University where he is the Director of the Earth System Science Center in the Meteorology Department, found:
“The internal inquiry has found that Mann did not "participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data."
He was also cleared by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
But that hasn’t stopped the deniers from constantly referring to Mann and the accusations in the emails. The accusations continue to this day, and Mann is still fending off attacks through Freedom of Information requests for his communications and in court (see part II of this report).
For example this screenshot of the front page of Steve Milloy’s website, August 2013.
IPCC references challenged
From the leaked emails, the deniers then moved on to link the CRU’s problems to their favourite target, the IPCC. The UK media led the charge, fed by the now lively UK denial community.
The accusations centred around three different references in the IPCC. These points have been thoroughly rebutted by climate scientists on the “RealClimate” blog. In summary, two errors were found in the IPCC report, the third allegation having been thoroughly discounted.
The 2800-page AR4 report contains around 18,000 references. The two incorrect references identified have rightfully pointed to a need for the IPCC to review the way its processes work, a review that the IPCC has announced it is undertaking.
The IPCC’s decision to undertake an independent review into its processes, was a welcome move, but, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said when he announced the review:
"Let me be clear: the threat posed by climate change is real. Nothing that has been alleged or revealed in the media recently alters the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change. Nor does it diminish the unique importance of the IPCC's work."
The hacked emails helped the denial machine launch an all-out campaign in the UK and revitalized the old guard in United States: Marc Morano of CFACT, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Senate climate denier, Republican James Inhofe.
Inhofe has attempted to use the hacked emails and IPCC references to run ‘McCarthy-style’ ‘criminal investigations’ on a list of seventeen of the world’s top climate scientists and lead authors in the IPCC. He used the (non) scandals to question not only the IPCC’s conclusions, but also to challenge the scientific basis of proposed new US EPA rules regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
On February 16, 2010, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, along with Fred Singer, filed a lawsuit to the US EPA, demanding that, on the basis of the hacked emails and so called “flawed datasets”, the EPA drop all its proposed regulation on C02 and other greenhouse gases. It didn’t, but continues, more than three years later to finalized these rules against heavy industry obstruction and objection.
November 2011, “Climategate 2.0”
Despite this comprehensive trouncing of their claims, the deniers tried a second round, calling it “Climategate 2.0,” released just ahead of the Durban climate talks.
More than 39,000 emails to and from the University of East Anglia were released, again with phrases taken out of context in an attempt to challenge the way some of the world’s best climate scientists undertook their work. This time, the scientists were ready and rallied to defend their work. The “scandal” quickly died away.
March 2013, “Climategate 3.0”
The final attempt to revive Climategate took place in March 2013, when a character called “Mr. FOIA” released the final tranche of the hacked emails. He also, for the first time, posted his thoughts online. CFACT’s Ron Arnold has them here. If Climategate 2.0 had received little coverage, this third effort barely registered.
What happened to the investigation?
The identity of the team that controlled, coordinated and timed the email releases has yet to come to light - and is now unlikely to.
In 2009, when the first Climategate release was launched the UK’s Norfolk Constabulary, the police force nearest to the Climatic Research Unit at the East Anglia University, took up the investigation. They failed to find any evidence of who stole the emails, who hacked the CRU server to get them - or who coordinated their release via a Russian web server.
In 2012 the Norfolk Constabulary announced that they had closed the case, unsolved. Senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory, said:
“Despite detailed and comprehensive enquiries, supported by experts in this field, the complex nature of this investigation means that we do not have a realistic prospect of identifying the offender or offenders and launching criminal proceedings within the time constraints imposed by law. The international dimension of investigating the World Wide Web especially has proved extremely challenging.
“However, as a result of our enquiries, we can say that the data breach was the result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU’s data files, carried out remotely via the internet. The offenders used methods common in unlawful internet activity to obstruct enquiries.”
However, the investigation appeared to have slowed down well before this announcement. A freedom of Information request in 2011 showed that the police had spent a total of £5,649.09 on the case in the previous year, with the last record of spending being in February 2011.
In short, the deniers leaked half a paragraph and portrayed it as a new conclusion, completely ignoring the subsequent sentence that specifically ruled out their claim.
“The single sentence that this guy pulls out is simply paraphrasing an argument that has been put forward by a few controversial papers … purporting significant cosmic-ray influences on climate. Its existence in the draft is proof that we considered all peer-reviewed literature, including potentially important papers that deviate from the herd. The rest of the paragraph from which he has lifted this sentence, however, goes on to show that subsequent peer-reviewed literature has discredited the assumptions and/or methodology of those papers, and failed to find any effect.”
“Anyone can register as an expert reviewer on the open online registration systems set up by the working groups. All registrants that provide the information requested and confirm their scientific expertise via a self-declaration of expertise are accepted for participation in the review. They are invited to list publications, but that is not a requirement and the section can be left blank when registering. There is no appointment.”
 Jeremy Leggett, The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era (Routledge879, 2000), pp. 2-3.
 Jeremy Leggett, The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era (Routledge879, 2000), page 3.
 See Global Climate Coalition press release: ‘World’s Energy Policy Should Not be Based on Feelings,’ 27 February 1992. Held on file by Greenpeace US Research Unit.
 “Ecoal,” World Coal Institute briefing no. 7, INC 5, New York, April 1992.
 “Petroleum Group Disputes that Burning Fossil Fuels Warms Planet,” Thomson Energy Report, 18 March 1996.
 IPCC press release, GENEVA, 26 JUNE 1997, Climate Change: IPCC Chair Denies Attack on VP Gore, Environmentalists – available at http://www.heatisonline.org/contentserver/objecthandlers/index.cfm?id=3641&method=full
 List of organizations available on ExxonSecrets - click on each to find separate list of ExxonMobil funding, and links to Exxon documents showing that finding. http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/listorganizations.php
 “Latest IPCC Summary Politics, not Science, Says Analyst,” THE ELECTRICITY DAILY, January 25, 2001.