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Disinformation? You want it, IREA’s got it

Filed under: — group @ 28 July 2006

RealClimate received a copy of a letter from the General Manager of the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA, an energy cooperative in Colorado), Stanley R. Lewandowski (Jr), to other utilities (G&T’s in the jargon) in the US discussing fundraising and tactics for a new disinformation campaign on climate change (see Seth Borenstein’s piece yesterday).

This is enlightening on a number of levels. Firstly, though we knew that this stuff goes on, it’s rare that we get such a close look at how it happens. Secondly, who is to be the lead on this new campaign? None other than our old friend Patrick Michaels. Additionally, it is useful to see the reasons why some utilties are fighting against the idea of climate change set out more clearly than in their more carefully manicured press briefings. It might actually help people engage on the substance of their concerns rather than simply arguing about the science – which, as we are by now well aware, – is simply a path to gridlock.

We’ll highlight some of the best bits, and discuss what this all might imply below.

Funding

After introducing the looming problem of global warming and potential emission caps, the letter states:

We here at IREA believe that it is necessary to support the scientific community that is willing to stand up against the alarmists and bring a balance to the discussion. Many scientists have an opinion, but only a few have any involvment in climatology.

Indeed. It goes on:

We decided to support Dr. Patrick Michaels. … In February of this year, IREA alone contributed $100,000 to Dr. Michaels. In addition, we have contacted all the G&T’s in the United States … and obtained additional contributions and pledges for Dr. Michaels’ group. We will be following up the remaining G&T’s over the next several weeks.

Nice work if you can get it! Interestingly, the letter drops some hints on the funding for the CEI ads last month:

[CEI] has been running two ads in ten states that were financed by General Motors and the Ford Motor Company. …. We have met with Koch [Industries], CEI and Dr. Michaels and they meet among themselves periodically to discuss their activities.

Hmm…. Later on the letter concedes that the ‘issue is not going to go away’, but apparently without a hint of irony, blames that on the ‘special interests’ (you know, that powerful lobby of climate scientists that control the administration).

Science

The ‘science’, such as it is, appears to be sourced from a Mike Rosen column in Rocky Mountain News (or from an extremely similarly phrased common source) and an egregious Canada Free Press article by Tom Harris. There is an odd preponderance of quotes from Russian academicians which gives it away. Most of it has been dealt with here before, for instance Shaidurov’s opinion about water vapour. We will do a more detailed rebuttal in a couple of days.

Lessons?

While interesting, the letter is also a little disappointing. Many utilities, companies, and even politicians, have actually started to think about how to deal with the climate change challenge in a serious manner. This kind of retrograde ostrich-like behaviour seems so… 90′s. However, in among the distortions there are statements that reflect the real (and valid) concerns of the utilities – that their reliance on coal-powered generation renders them vulnerable to any carbon emission tax or cap and trade system. Bringing these groups around will require support for diversification of energy sources, forward thinking on future possibilities for carbon sequestration, and assurances that they won’t be uniquely burdened. They will probably never like this, but it may be possible make them accept it.

It is also worth stating that the existence of this kind of campaign does not in and of itself imply that the arguments used by Michaels and co. are bunk (they mostly are, but that can be shown with reference to the literature). But it does imply that one needs to be sure of ones sources. To paraphrase John Betjeman, any quote from Michaels should probably be followed with ‘So spake the industry’s P.R.O, A man who really ought to know, For he is paid for saying so’.

Update: Ford has denied directly funding the CEI ads (see comments below). Maybe IREA got this information from the same place they got their science?…


128 Responses to “Disinformation? You want it, IREA’s got it”

  1. 101
    Hank Roberts says:

    >99

    Try reading this one, then the newspapers:

    http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/cr/v22/n2/p175-184/
    CR 22:175-184(2002) – Abstract
    Decadal changes in heat-related human mortality in the eastern United States
    Robert E. Davis, Paul C. Knappenberger, Wendy M. Novicoff, Patrick J. Michaels

    “… the populace in cities that were weather-sensitive in the 1960s and 1970s have become less impacted by extreme conditions over time because of improved medical care, increased access to air conditioning, and biophysical and infrastructural adaptations. This analysis counters the paradigm of increased heat-related mortality rates in the eastern US predicted to result from future climate warming.”

  2. 102
    Roger Smith says:

    “What are the literature sources “that the arguments used by Michaels and co. are mostly bunk”? ”

    You can start by searching for the Michaels/Hansen debate a few years back, and read Michaels’ opinion pieces where he routinely misquotes Hansen.

    It’s up to you to decide whether it’s bunk.

  3. 103
    Ike Solem says:

    Under business-as-usual scenarios, CO2 is supposed to reach 550 ppm by 2050 – that’s ignoring the possibility that CO2 emmissions will dramatically increase for reasons like permafrost melting or damage to the biological carbon sink. The predicted effect, again assuming that the models haven’t missed any big climate surprises, is from about 2C to 6C – but that’s a global average. A more useful number would be the temp change for every 10 degrees of lattitude, and an estimate of the total extra energy stored in the climate system as a result of AGW. These estimates are produced using very advanced modelling systems; see http://www.hpcwire.com/hpcwire/hpcwireWWW/03/0711/105503.html for a description of the Earth Simulator, for example.

    Michaels, at 0.17/decade, predicts that the change by 2050 will be less then 1C – nothing to worry about. This means that we can keep on burning dirty coal like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the desired result – it is reassuring, non-alarmist, and entirely untrue. A lovely result, desperately in need of some supporting data, which sadly just isn’t there. Meanwhile, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are looking more and more wobbly – contrary to just about all scientific opinions of some time ago, before the data from the field came in.

    Sooner or later, we have to stop burning fossil hydrocarbons and switch to closed-loop material systems for energy storage and conversion. Doing this sooner is much wiser then doing it later. The worst effect of this massive public relations effort by the fossil fuel industry is that it is preventing the US government and public from preparing for the inevitable increased rate of ‘natural disasters’ – but if we start planning for these disasters, then everyone will believe that AGW is real. Catch-22.

  4. 104
    Dan says:

    re: 99. Generally it is the other way around. Michaels et al. usually post their comments and arguments about peer-reviewed articles on web sites, in grey literature, and in other non-peer-reviewed places such as the WSJ.

  5. 105

    7: “Do you apply the same level of skepticism when environmental groups provide funding for studies?”

    Allow me to correct that; it should be:

    “Do you apply the same level of skepticism when governments provide funding for studies?”

    After all, it is indeed funny to see how the environmentalists balk at the idea of eeevil corporations funding scientists (because these Corps have an interest in not being taxed or regulated), but the criticism is absent when politicians fund scientists, even though most of the politicians (the reds and the greens) have an inherent interest in taxing the same businesses/Corps, or even private individuals more than they do now?

    Just look at Al Gore’s proposed carbon tax, which would amount to 50 cents per gallon of gas sold, all over the USA: Assuming that one gallon of crude oil gives one gallon of gas (wrong, I know, but I don’t have the numbers of the quantities of cracking products crude oil gives, handy), and knowing that the US imports around 22 million barrels of crude oil per day, and one barrel is equal to 42 gallons we get:

    22*10^6 * 42 * .50 $ = 462 million use Dollars pr day. That is approx. 168 billion dollars into the state coffers per year.

    People, this is serious money we’re talking about, even considering the already gargantuan multi-trillion US state budget, and I’m pretty sure that Gore would consider those funds handy for his other political objectives.

    But in short, please do everybody a favor and drop the notion that because scientist X is funded by Corp Y, he is baaad, and when Scientist Z is funded by the government, he is gooood. That’s simply a primitive way of breaking it down, and it annoys me to see such thinking on this otherwise excellent website.

    - PBP

  6. 106
    Hank Roberts says:

    The problem is with businesses funding advocacy/PR firms to convince people the scientists — whoever they may work for — can’t be doing honest work.

    There is good science coming out of industry. We may wonder what isn’t coming out, and selective publication has its problems. But the problem isn’t primarily businesses funding scientists — although the history of the tobacco industry points out significant problems with that.

    Science published in peer reviewed journals with disclosure of financial and other conflicts is how this works. The degree to which it can be replicated and leads to interesting results is the value — it’s incremental information.

    People here often point out industry funding — but of work that’s not peer reviewed and published in “advocacy” venues.

    Do you have any quarrel with that distinction?

  7. 107
    Hank Roberts says:

    > $168 Billion

    Trivial — scarcely worth the cost of collecting amounts like that, apparently.

    “the New York Times discovered last week that the government plans to eliminate almost half of the Internal Revenue Serviceâ��s 345 [estate tax] lawyers …. The IRS reports that the gross tax gap — the difference between what taxpayers are obligated to pay, and what they actually pay — surpasses $300 billion every year…. estate-tax lawyers are the most productive tax-law enforcement staff at the IRS, finding an average of $2,200 of taxes owed but not paid to the government each hour that they work.”
    http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/3482/printmode/true

  8. 108
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    That is approx. 168 billion dollars into the state coffers per year.

    People, this is serious money we’re talking about

    Compared to what? We’ve got around a 12trillion GDP. That’s ~1.4%. Compare that to the bottomless pit of a certain un-necessary war.

    And, as a the sayings go, “A stitch in time saves nine” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    So, roughly, folklorically speaking, that’s a savings of between (8 * 168) billion and (15 * 168) billion.

  9. 109
    Brian Gordon says:

    Not to pile on, and I’m certainly no lover of big government, but I have noticed that an awful lot of the government-funded scientists keep producing work that is the opposite of what the (U.S.) government would like. This rather contradicts the point that scientists are pumping up GW to get more grants.

  10. 110

    108:

    “Compared to what? We’ve got around a 12trillion GDP. That’s ~1.4%. Compare that to the bottomless pit of a certain un-necessary war.”

    I’m comparing to the total US tax revenue, which is around 30% of the total US GDP.

    And regarding the Iraq war, it has just reached 300 bln $. (http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=182) Running for 3 years, that means around 100 bln $/yr. A carbon tax ala the one I mentioned would easily finance the war effort, but thats beside the point of the debate…

  11. 111

    109: “Not to pile on, and I’m certainly no lover of big government, but I have noticed that an awful lot of the government-funded scientists keep producing work that is the opposite of what the (U.S.) government would like.”

    Interesting! Could you cite any examples?

  12. 112
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 111
    If your school has a librarian, you can ask for help finding news articles to get you started on the very basic history questions like this. Look up the name “James Hansen” in a newspaper or magazine index going back a decade or more, for example.

  13. 113
    Hank Roberts says:

    >111
    This too: http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/nasa-budget-cutback/
    “Removing “understand and protect our home planet” from the NASA mission statement this year …. The President’s 2007 budget request for NASA’s Climate Change Science Program activities is 22% below the Fiscal Year 2004 spending level”-more like 30% adjusting for inflation”

  14. 114
    Brian Gordon says:

    Re: 111: Yes – every scientist who works for a publicly-funded university, or organization such as NASA.

  15. 115
    John E Pearson says:

    re 96:

    A linear function of time with a slope that increases with time, eh? Sounds almost non-linear!

  16. 116

    112:

    Thanks, but I’ll try my luck with Google. My school does have a library, but it’s not oriented toward natural sciences, instead it’s for computer science… :/

    114:

    “Re: 111: Yes – every scientist who works for a publicly-funded university, or organization such as NASA.”

    That’s not very helpful. I am looking for specific examples of reserach results the goes against the policy that selected politicans advocate.

  17. 117
    Dan Hughes says:

    Given that ‘the science is settled’ a decrease in funding seems to be appropriate. Research, development, and implementation of solutions should begin to receive funding.

    See also:

  18. 118
    Hank Roberts says:

    “See also” is Pielke’s reposting of the Sustainability study I’ve linked here and at Stoat the past few days, but he’s lost the context. He’s got a tangential point — but he’s using the study to argue against arguments for change because people don’t entirely understand the timing of results.

    I’d argue we need better explanations, not less of an attempt to explain consequences over time.

    You’re arguing the opposite of the point — “do nothing soon” — which is just backwards.

    People may not immediately understand why there’s a lag in what we do, but there are immediate paybacks to immediate actions.

    It’s the grandchildren who’ll get the benefit of climate change if we moderate our behavior now.

    More immediately, there are immediate benefits to everything we can do now:
    http://web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/118/2/493?ct=ct
    http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org/fellows/Report%20W3%20C2.htm
    http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org/

  19. 119
    Mark Bahner says:

    “Under business-as-usual scenarios, CO2 is supposed to reach 550 ppm by 2050…”

    Who in the world thinks that the CO2 concentration will be that high? Would they like to bet?

  20. 120
    Hank Roberts says:

    Kids, don’t be satisfied with rhetorical questions.
    Google is your friend.
    Let’s use Mark’s question in 119 as an example.
    First, he’s quoting the extreme worst case, “business as usual” — it’s a scenario, a “what if this goes on” worst case. It’s not a “prediction” unless you believe people don’t learn anything from history. (Google that idea, for extra information).

    So. Note when the scenario was published, look at reality since then to begin assessing whether it’s still (can I say likely? probable? Google “James’ Empty Blog” for help finding the right words to use here).

    Would anyone have bet that nobody would be smart enough to do anything to change the way business was usually being done, done, starting when that scenario was written?

    You can get a better answer than this quick sketch, I’m just noting how to approach rhetorical questions if you’re interested in science. If not, ask a debate coach for different answers.

    http://www.covis.northwestern.edu/geosciences/activities/GLOBAL_WARMING/co2.html
    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/graphics/sio-mlgr.gif
    http://www.jamstec.go.jp/frcgc/research/d5/jdannan/betting.html
    http://www.reason.com/rb/rb040306.shtml
    (cut and paste the next one, the web forum tool here chokes on commas)
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1552092,00.html
    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000462betting_on_climate.html

  21. 121
    Hank Roberts says:

    Oh, this is good. Very good:

    http://scienceblogs.com/drcharles/2006/08/a_timeline_tracing_the_origins.php

    “Some idiot releases a video on YouTube in which Al Gore appears as a sinister figure, brainwashing penguins and boring movie audiences by blaming the Mideast crisis and Lindsay Lohan’s skinny waist on global warming.

    “The film is released by someone calling themselves “Toutsmith.”

    “The Post Gazette reports that an email sent by “Toutsmith” can be traced back to a computer registered to DCI Group. DCI group is a public relations and lobbying firm. Its clients include oil company Exxon Mobil Corp.

    “DCI runs Tech Central Station, an opinion Web site that aims to raise doubts about the science of global warming and about Al Gore’s film. It promotes the rare skeptical scientist on talk-radio shows and compensates them for editorials they write to major newspapers.

    “The video gets a lot of hits after sponsored links on Google start appearing when users type in “Al Gore” or “Global Warming.” The ads, which don’t disclose their sponsor, are taken down shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacts DCI Group.

    “You get mad. You decide to join in the greening of America, even if it’s too late, because that’s the right thing to do.

    ——- end quote—–

  22. 122
    Hank Roberts says:

    >119, 120
    This also may help. Mark, you might want to make that bet; the IPCC scenario comes in a bit low, at least in the charts used at the bottom of this page:
    http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/features/senate/page6.html

    But don’t bet on into later years without serious research; the increase goes on for a long time, hundreds of years, before Earth finds a new equilibrium:
    http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/14922/

  23. 123
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE: # 121

    Mark Bahner, you said:

    “Under business-as-usual scenarios, CO2 is supposed to reach 550 ppm by 2050…”

    Who in the world thinks that the CO2 concentration will be that high? Would they like to bet?

    I sure wouldn’t take that bet.

    Using the NOAA CO2 Trends, at

    http://www.cmdl.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends/

    Recent Monthly Global Mean CO2, I extrapolated the 2005 global CO2 measurement of 378.8 ppm and added the 2.56 ppm increase 2005 over 2004 to each subsequent year out to 2050.

    To my great relief the possible CO2 total in 2050, (assuming China, India, US AND EU decide to cap CO2 emission rate at 2005 levels)is only 494 ppm CO2. Why does the IPCC want to scare us with that high estimate?

    Thanks for clearing this up for us. I know I’ll sleep better knowing the BAU estimate was grossly exaggerated. We all owe you, big time.

  24. 124
    Hank Roberts says:

    John McCormick — please check the IPCC scenarios and see if you’re right in assuming the IPCC scenario said 550ppm by 2050, before you sleep better.

    Ike, same request — would you please double check the source you got that value, which you posted in #103, against the IPCC source?

    Why? I think it’s a typo. Or maybe it’s starting from a decade ago when fossil fuel was being burned faster than now? Anyhow, cite please?

    See the two links I posted in #122.

    The second link discusses: “the stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 750 ppm (by 2250) and 550 ppm (by 2150), in relation to a scenario of unmitigated emissions.” (Business As Usual is unmitigated.)

    The basis for the paper? Here are some of those numbers:

    “The climate change scenarios were derived from simulation experiments conducted with the HadCM2 global climate model and forced with the IPCC IS92a, S750 and S550 emissions scenarios.”

    (“S” means stable CO2 at 750ppm and 550ppm — still perhaps possible.)

    This is like a ballistic trajectory, not steerable, just moving according to the laws of physics once on its way — the fossil fuel already burned “launched” a huge increase in CO2.

    That’s going to keep heating the planet for centuries _already_committed_.

    Think of sitting in a bathtub, you’ve filled it with water too hot for comfort, hotter than your body temperature.
    http://web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/StermanSweeney.pdf
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/content/articles/2455/images/bathtub.gif
    You’ve opened the drain now but you’re still adding water from the tap. Will you overheat? It depends on what you do with the spigot — that’s the only control you can change. The drain’s fixed (as long as we don’t lose the biosphere, it’ll keep soaking up CO2 as fast as it did — and that’s not as fast as we are adding it now.)

    I defer to the experts on whether the Arnell article is productive, it was published in 2002 using the old IPCC info. I’m using it here as an illustration.

    Note how long this goes into the future. It’s those descendants of y’all’s we’re making decisions for now by what we do in the next few decades:

    “… the IS92a emissions scenario. An emissions pathway which stabilises CO2 concentrations at 750 ppm by the 2230s delays the 2050 temperature increase under unmitigated emissions by around 50 years. The loss of tropical forest and grassland which occurs by the 2050s under unmitigated emissions is delayed to the 22nd century ….”

    This is basic physics over long time spans, and almost nobody actually understands it.

    See if you do:

    If we reduce what we burn, the atmosphere reaches 750ppm CO2, but not til the 2230s. Under “business as usual” we get a temperature increase by 2050 that can be delayed if we reduce what we’re burning now, so it’ll be that hot by 2100.

    This is like adding water to a tub faster than it drains — or like bowling — or ballistic missile launching.

    Once released, it moves according to the laws of physics and we can’t call it back.

    We’ve already thrown a given amount of CO2. Nature can’t recycle it for centuries; while it’s in the atmosphere Earth heats up. Basic physics.

    Our only choice is how fast we keep filling the tub/throwing more bowling balls/launching more ballistic missiles. What’s on its way is going to do damage for a long time to come.

  25. 125
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE #124,

    Hank, without investing more time in finding the actual language in the IPCC 2001, I am satisfied the IPCC assessment, published in 2001, concludes that if no precautionary action is taken, carbon dioxide concentrations will rise by 2050 to between 450 and 550 ppm.

    My comment to Mark was intended as a poke at his challenge which I read as dismissing the likelihood of BAU increasing CO2 concentration to 550 by 2050.

    If I included CO2 equivalent gases (about 16 percent of CO2), we would be talking about a much higher estimate of climate forcing gas concentrations by 2050.

  26. 126
    Jake Meffley says:

    Very interesting thread here, especially since I am an IREA member (customer) and have been close to this story from the beginning. Compared to the many posts here from very well informed people of science, I am a rank amateur.

    What I DID say, however, should not be forgotten. It is NOT up to a non-profit coop to spend its ratepayers funds on debunking global warming science. The general manager of IREA has no business entering this discussion and using our money to do it. There is another story here that tends to get missed in all the discussion of global warming.

    How can a Rural Electric Association get so far removed from the democratic control of its members that its General Manager and Board of Directors think they can authorize this level of funding for something so questionable? It may not be illegal but it surely is unethical.

    Some of us have begun to organize members of IREA into a group we call “IREA Voices” – renewing IREA one voice at a time. Our group has started a blog at http://mountainpower.blogspot.com . Take a look and make a comment or two. We welcome your comments and discussion on global warming but our main focus is to generate interest among IREA members to take the time to speak up, join together and help us move IREAs management to become the most progressive REA in the country!

    If your life and the lives of all those you love might be endangered by the impact of global warming and if you thought you had the slightest chance of preventing or diminishing that possibility, what would you do?

    Do something… do something now.

  27. 127
    Bryan Pratt says:

    The forth purpose IREA was formed (as many CO-OPs have been), stated in (our) IREA’s Articles of Incorporation, Article II (d) was to assist its members to wire their premises and install therein electrical and plumbing appliances, fixtures, machinery, supplies, apparatus and equipment of any and all kinds and character… etc. IREA states this ‘purpose’ was to sell electricity. If these “electrical appliances” are to conserve electricity and/or enable members to generate a portion of thier own power they, IREA management, want nothing to do with it. Rather lame “co-op” mentality if you ask me. Time for IREA management and members to come of age and pull their heads out of the coal bin.

    I would love to be able to buy my neighbors excess solar or wind power. There will come a time!

  28. 128
    Hank Roberts says:

    “Deceiving us has become an industrial process” — Teresa Nielsen Hayden, as cited here:

    http://pages.prodigy.net/thomasn528/blog/2006_08_20_newsarcv.html#115573804040419389

    “… we’re looking at a kind of industrial scale metaspam here, cookie cutter organizations that create the illusion of huge support with relatively little real human activity at the heart of it. And the prospect of a paid, IT-weaponized army of shills skewing the public discourse on political issues of the day is at least a wee bit more disturbing yet.

    “It’s not unthinkable and it’s not implausible. As Teresa Nielsen Hayden once wrote:

    Deceiving us has become an industrial process.

    “But at least uncovering that can be a community process. So: is anyone else getting political comments tracing from the 151.200.70.* IP address group? Maybe it’s not happening — but I’ve got a way to make sure on my site, and that’s to ban future comments tracing to that address group and to the astroturfing P.R. company that owns it.”


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