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#596 - A New Disinformation Campaign, 29-Apr-1998

A new study concludes that this has been the warmest century in 600
years, and that the hottest years during this century have been 1990,
1995, and 1997.[1,2] This is further evidence that global warming is
upon us, and that humans are contributing to it by burning coal and
oil. (See REHW #430, #466.) "Our conclusion was that the warming of the
past few decades appears to be closely tied to emission of greenhouse
gases by humans and not [by] any of the natural factors," say Michael
E. Mann, principal author of the new study.[1]

The global temperature varies as time passes because of natural changes
in sunlight reaching the Earth, dust from volcanoes (which reflects
sunlight back into space), and changing amounts of greenhouse gases in
the atmosphere.

So-called greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide [CO2], but also
methane and a few others that are less important) allow sunlight to
strike the Earth but don't allow heat to escape back into space as
readily, thus trapping heat near the surface, just as the glass roof on
a greenhouse does. Scientists have recognized the existence of this
"greenhouse effect" for about 100 years and they know that, sooner or
later, increasing the amount of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere
must warm the planet. Thus scientists don't debate whether greenhouse
gases will cause global warming. They debate when it will be
noticeable, how big the warming will be, and what its consequences
might be.

During the past 100 years, humans burning coal and oil have increased
the atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide [CO2] --the main
greenhouse gas --by 25%, and the concentration is still rising.

Actual temperature measurements only go back about 150 years, so
temperatures earlier than that must be inferred from tree rings, corals
and fossils in the oceans, deposits left by glaciers, the chemical
composition of ancient ice at the poles, and fossilized pollen found in
lake sediments. The new study, published in the British journal NATURE,
uses many of these techniques to reconstruct the Earth's temperature
back to the year 1400 A.D.[2]

The new study bolsters the consensus reached in 1996 by an overwhelming
majority of the world's climatologists, that (a) global warming is
probably noticeable now; and (b) human activities are probably
contributing to the rise in the planet's average temperature. That
consensus conclusion was published in the second Assessment Report of
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),[3] which is an
office of the United Nations Environment Programme and the World
Meteorological Organization.

For their part, the coal and oil corporations are not taking this
scientific consensus lying down. They are fighting back with a multi-
million dollar public relations plan that was recently leaked to the
NEW YORK TIMES.[4] These corporations stand to lose by the global
climate-change agreement reached last December 11 in Kyoto, Japan. The
Kyoto agreement binds the U.S. to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions
to 7% below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. For a country like the
U.S., which has steadily rising emissions, the Kyoto agreement will
require cuts as great as 30% to 35% below where emissions would
otherwise be by the year 2012. (See REHW #577.)

In an attempt to undermine the Kyoto agreement, the energy corporations
plan "to recruit a cadre of scientists who share the industry's views
of climate science and to train them in public relations so they can
help convince journalists, politicians, and the public that the risk of
global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases
like carbon dioxide that trap the sun's heat near Earth."[4] The plan
is being spearheaded by Joe Walker, a public relations representative
of the American Petroleum Institute.

The scientific talent for the public relations campaign is being
recruited by Frederick Seitz, who is a physicist, not a climatologist,
but who has an impressive scientific resume as former president of the
American Physical Society, former president of the National Academy of
Sciences (NAS), and president emeritus of Rockefeller University. Dr.
Seitz is also distinguished by being one of the last remaining
scientists who insist that humans have not altered the stratospheric
ozone layer, despite an overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary.
He is currently associated with two libertarian think tanks, the George
C. Marshall Institute and the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition
(see www.marshall.org, www.tassc.org, and www.junkscience.com).

Dr. Seitz injected himself into the climate debate forcefully by
attacking the IPCC just days after publication of the IPCC's consensus
conclusion that humans were probably contributing to global warming.
Writing in the WALL STREET JOURNAL June 12, 1996, Dr. Seitz called the
IPCC report a "major deception on global warming." He accused IPCC
scientists of the most "disturbing corruption of the peer-review
process" that he had ever witnessed. And he accused one particular
scientist, Benjamin Santer, of having made "unauthorized changes" to
the IPCC report for political purposes. It turned out that Seitz had
not attended any of the IPCC meetings, and he had not contacted Santer
to find out whether the changes to the IPCC document were "authorized"
or not. It also turned out that all of Seitz's charges were wrong --the
IPCC report had been peer-reviewed by roughly one thousand qualified
scientists and all of the writing in the final report was fully

Dr. Seitz and his associates at the George C. Marshall Institute are
now preparing to release a petition that they reportedly sent to
"virtually every scientist in every field" in the U.S.[6] There are 10
million people with undergraduate degrees in science in the U.S., and
half a million with science Ph.D.s. Of these, 15,000 science graduates
and 6000 with Ph.D. degrees have reportedly signed the petition, which
rejects the Kyoto agreement and argues that increasing levels of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit the planet. The mass mailing to
scientists included a copy of an article formatted to look as if it had
been published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal PROCEEDINGS OF
THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES. It was not. The article, which had
been neither peer-reviewed nor published, argued that the release of
more carbon dioxide "will help to maintain and improve the health,
longevity, prosperity, and productivity of all people." The Union of
Concerned Scientists (www.ucsusa.org) has branded the exercise "a
deliberate attempt to deceive the scientific community with
misinformation on the subject of climate change."

According to the NEW YORK TIMES, the energy corporations plan to spend
$5 million over the next two years to "maximize the impact of
scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media, and other
key audiences." Their plan calls for spending $600,000 (not including
costs of advertising) on a media campaign to influence science writers,
editors, columnists, and TV network correspondents using as many as 20
"respected climate scientists" recruited specifically "to inject
credible science and scientific accountability into the climate science
debate, thereby raising questions about and undercutting the
'prevailing scientific wisdom.'" The energy corporations say they
intend to provide "a one-stop resource for members of Congress, the
media industry, and all others concerned."

This latest plan to "educate" Americans about global warming will be
paid for by Exxon, Chevron, and other supporters of the American
Petroleum Institute. Previous similar attempts in recent years have
been funded by Exxon, Shell Oil, Unocal, ARCO, the British Coal
Corporation, the German Coal Mining Association, and Cyprus Minerals, a
western mining company that is the single biggest funder of the so-
called Wise Use anti-environmental movement in the U.S.[7]

Who knows? With enough money, it may be possible to convince Congress
and the media that global warming is not happening, despite the
evidence, which is considerable (see REHW #430, #466):

** Average global air temperatures have risen this century.

** The oceans have warmed this century;

** The level of the oceans has been rising this century because water
expands as it warms;

** Many glaciers have shrunk this century in response to warming;

** Plants are moving upward on mountainsides as temperatures rise;

** Rainfall --particularly torrential rainfall --has been increasing
this century as global warming has put more water vapor into the air;

** Floods are increasing because of more rainfall;

** In England, where climatic records reach back several hundred years,
spring has been arriving earlier in recent decades;

** The IPCC and the World Health Organization say that global warming
is expanding the range of mosquitoes that carry malaria, yellow fever,
and dengue fever, a trend that will put millions of additional humans
at risk from these diseases. (See REHW #466.)

** Computer models predict that global warming will be accompanied by
more storms and more intense storms, and, in fact, this has been
happening. To protect itself the U.S. insurance industry in 1996
stopped insuring certain storm-prone areas on the eastern seaboard and
along the Gulf coast.[8]

Already severe storms are hurting people in California, Alabama, the
upper midwest, and New England, to mention only U.S. locations where
extreme weather events have struck in recent months. Real people are
suffering. Affected individuals, and all taxpayers, are paying large
costs. If the world scientific consensus is correct, this will continue
until our use of coal and oil is cut by 60% or 70% and the atmosphere
can stabilize again. At present there is no possibility --none--of
achieving such drastic cuts because the oil and coal companies are too

Global warming is the most important problem we face because it has the
potential to disrupt every part of the global ecosystem. It is also the
most important because it promises to reveal the fundamental flaws in
the permissive way we treat corporations: (1) we give them the free-
speech protections of the Bill of Rights, allowing them to spend
millions on disinformation campaigns aimed at maintaining a harmful
status quo. And (2) we allow them to manipulate our most basic
democratic institutions by pumping millions of dollars into election
campaigns. It seems clear that if we are to solve the global warming
problem, these two practices will have to change.

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


[1] William K. Stevens, "New Evidence Finds This is the Warmest Century
in 600 years," NEW YORK TIMES April 28, 1998, pg. C3.

[2] Michael E. Mann and others, "Global-scale temperature patterns and
climate forcing over the past six centuries," NATURE Vol. 392 (April
23, 1998), pgs. 779-787. See also, Gabriele Hegerl, "The past as a
guide to the future," NATURE Vol. 392 (April 23, 1998), pgs. 758-759.

[3] J.J. Houghton and others, editors, CLIMATE CHANGE 1995: THE SCIENCE
OF CLIMATE CHANGE (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[4] John H. Cushman, Jr., "Industrial Group Plans to Battle Climate
Treaty," NEW YORK TIMES April 26, 1998, pgs. A1, A24.

[5] Paul N. Edwards and Stephen H. Schneider, "The 1995 IPCC Report:
Broad Consensus or 'Scientific Cleansing,' ECOFABLES/ECOSCIENCE No. 1
(Fall 1997), pgs. 3-9. ECOFABLES/ECOSCIENCE is published by the Center
for Conservation Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford
University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020. E-mail:
ecofable@bing.stanford.edu; telephone (415) 723-5924; fax: (415) 723-

[6] Colin Macilwain, "Petition strengthens hand of global warming
skeptics," NATURE Vol. 392 (April 16, 1998), pg. 639.

[7] Ross Gelbspan, "Hot Air on Global Warming; Science and Academia in
the Service of the Fossil Fuel Industry," MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol.
18, No. 11 (November 1997), pgs. 14-17.

[8] Joseph B. Treaster, "Insurer Curbing Sales of Policies in Storm
Areas," NEW YORK TIMES October 10, 1996, pgs. A1, D6.

Descriptor terms: global warming; greenhouse effect; corporations;
kyoto; insurance industry; libertarians; think tanks; ipcc;