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The Deniers’ “multi-million-dollar funding machine”

August 27, 2008

According to Exxonsecrets.org, run by Greenpeace, Exxon is engaged in a ‘multi-million dollar campaign’ to create public confusion about global warming. This site appears in countless blogs as ‘proof’ that every scientist who expresses any doubt about the man-made-global-warming climate change-consensus is in the pay of the ‘fossil fuel industry’.

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/assets/binaries/exxon-secrets-analysis-of-fun. All told, between 1998 and 2006, Exxon is alleged to have spent nearly 23 million dollars funding various groups that publish studies and pay scientists to publish studies that claim something other than the ‘consensus’ of man-made CO2 emissions causing global warming.

My first thought when I actually read this was THAT’S IT ??

Greenpeace/Exxonsecrets pored over XOM’s annual tax returns for the numbers, and then summed them up in the article linked above. They were kind enough to summarise all the data from Exxon for the reader, warning the public of a veritable Denial Machine hell-bent on suppressing the Truth about Global Warming.

The TOTAL DOLLAR AMOUNT from Exxon to these alleged ‘denial groups’ between the years of 1998-2006 is $22,854,423. Keep in mind, however that this total is spread over 80 groups over a period of eight years. Curiously, the same article claims “several organizations and journalists have confirmed that ExxonMobil is the only known oil company to fund a network of organizations that deny the science and urgency of global warming”. So no other oil company engages in that sort of funding then? Environmentalists are a lot of things, but they aren’t lazy. If ConocoPhillips or Imperial Oil or Royal Dutch Shell or some other petroleum company was funding these ‘deniers’ en masse, it would be equally widely-publicized.

I haven’t yet dug into what the coal industry is alleged to have spent, but coal companies have never been responsible for pathetic (though certainly publicity-generating) pictures of sad-looking, dying oily birds and therefore don’t make for a particularly great target.

So the sum total from the ‘oil industry’ to ‘denialists’ is that same $23 million spread among 80 organizations. This is an average of $287,000 each, spread over eight years, or just the equivalent of just under $36,000 per year for each organization. This is the average per organization per year that has gone into funding this veritable Machine that is alone responsible for any confusion the public might have regarding Man’s role in causing the earth to warm at an ‘unprecedented rate’ that will cause future catastrophe.

Not that I would ever turn down such an amount, but that’s probably roughly the amount of salary that I earned in that same eight years as I made my way up through a variety of entry-level to middling positions. So basically, the sum total of this ‘multimillion dollar campaign’ would in reality only be enough to fund a single and not terribly well-paid junior research assistant for eighty different groups.

Now, it is true that this oh-so generous $23 million over eight years isn’t distributed evenly to each of the groups. The Property and Environment Research Center got a piddling $55,000 in that time period. The American Enterprise Institute fared better under their largess, but no single organisation seems to have been able to get Exxon to cough up more than the Competitive Enterprise Institute managed – barely over $2 million in that time frame – and under pressure from Environmental groups, they’ve since been cut off.

I’m actually familiar enough with CEI to know that they have a life outside of global warming – they fund studies on other things Exxon might be interested in such as capital gains taxes or securities regulations and so on, but let’s just pretend that every last cent did indeed go to funding these “denialists”.

Don’t take it on my word alone when I say that a couple of million here, or 23 million in eight years isn’t a lot of money even from a company that pulled in $40 Billion in 2007. If anything, Exxon’s a cheapskate. Really, if they were funding these organisations because what Environmentalists claim about global warming is such a threat to their future earnings don’t you think they’d be spending a little more than such a tiny fraction of their profits? They probably spend more on post-it notes and staplers. But numbers in isolation are still meaningless – unless there’s something else to compare them to.

Environmental Defense’s Annual report for 2007 brings up this gem:

“Total program and supporting services expenditures for fiscal 2007 reached $73.8 million”.

So in a single year, one single environmentalist lobby group had expenditures that were well over three times the sum total of what ExxonMobil spent on 80 lobby groups spread over 8 years. Natural Resources Defence Council fares about the same – around $75 million in 2007.

Another Dow 30 company, General Electric has been busy lobbying for subsidies for ‘alternative energy’ to the tune of $20 million in the past three years. Whoops, that’s annually, meaning around $60 million. Sorry, my mistake. That doesn’t include their own ‘Green Week’ programming either.

In March of this year, Al Gore announced a $300 million advertising blitz on climate change. That’s more than 10X more than Exxon spent, according to Greenpeace, over eight years.

According to this site, Greenpeace, in the same time span that Exxon doled out it’s 23 million, pulled in around 2 Billion dollars. We’re not even getting into research grants funded by the Government. But even with these examples it’s pretty clear where the money really is. The World Wildlife Fund does quite well too and clears roughly the same amount.

This is only a handful of examples (including, admittedly, some of the better-funded ones), but keep in mind that I haven’t factored in any government largess.

Sorry, but who’s the one who’s ‘well-funded’ again?

Left vs Right

August 27, 2008

It’s a shame that it appears to be mostly ‘right-wing’ publications where so-called ‘skeptical’ scientists seem to be granted any sort of forum.  This is particularly the case in North America, but also in Britain.  There might be the odd article in the Guardian but for the most part the best skeptical coverage appears mostly in more conservative sites.

I don’t see this as a left-wing vs right wing issue though. And interestingly, the origins of AGW in Britain were actually very Conservative, starting with Margaret Thatcher’s campaign to break the Coalminers’ Union and get Scargill.  A magazine over there The Ecologist is owned by rich Conservative politicians. The roots of the Green Party are rather darker than the cheery, tree-hugging facade would suggest.

It’s also a myth, if not an outright fabrication, that right-wing groups and corporations are funding a bunch of ‘deniers’ to create public confusion on global warming, which proponents claim is ‘settled science’.  There’s only been a pittance, mostly from Exxon, spread amongst 80 organisations, that might possibly have lead to a handful of studies from those organisations (also funded by other parties and individuals) that question this so-called consensus.  The spending by “green” lobby groups is greater by thousands to one. Most corporations are actually jumping right on the green bandwagon lest they miss out on potentially lucrative subsidies, carbon-trading scams, and the opportunity to piggy-back other projects onto green ones (such as T. Boone Pickens windfarm proposal that would conveniently complement his pipeline plans).

I think Conservatives are actually wrong when they claim that the main point of the ‘Green movement’ is to bring forth global socialism and income redistribution.  That might be what motivates some activists, but certainly not all of them. Indeed, much like the companies hunting subsidies, many of these socialists are just using Environmentalism since it is perceived to be popular. Conservatives will point out the tax credits for the poor if carbon taxes are implemented as an example of this plot. However, I think that governments wanting to implement those taxes have no choice. If there was no way to alleviate the burden that these taxes would put onto society’s weakest the tax likely wouldn’t go through at all.  Or put another way, the first argument put forth against any carbon tax is that it would hurt the poor, so it’s just an easy way to try to settle that argument.

So what motivates the most ardent proponents?  Some are probably just plain power-hungry, one in particular can’t seem to get over not winning an election against an idiot like Dubya.  It is true that many of them to seem to fall on the left-side of the ideological spectrum, but it seems that rather than it being a Left-Right issue at all it’s really an Authoritarian/Libertarian split – between those who favour further state control and those who oppose it. Many more alarmists – particularly the most hysterical ones and their followers – are barely different than members of a fundamentalist, apocalyptic cult. The comparisons to a secular religion are perfectly apt – a religion for those ‘too cool for church’.

Some excellent articles on this point are: John Brignell and Michael Crichton.

*facepalm* comment of the day or why a theoretical accmulation of atmospheric CO2 ‘tipping point’ is not like boiling water

August 26, 2008

There was a comment buried below a dubious (as usual) article in Gristmill – regarding the even more dubious claim by the NOAA that July 2008 was warm.  I’d be curious to know exactly where in the world it was warmer than usual considering the number of places around the world that have been experiencing record cold this summer. NOAA data is suspect anyway because of the use of surface stations – not just their placement, but even the decline in stations that are even active.

The point of this article, however, isn’t to dispute that issue, but I’ve seen this sort of comment more than once:

Having this dissent is good for science, but it is not good for politics. They help to inflame the passions of uneducated people who know nothing about climate change or about evolution.

Coming back to the topic of CO2 levels, in physics phenomena happen when a threshold is reached. For example, water boils at 100 degree Centigrade. If you have a beaker of water which is at 100 centigrade, you can be sure that very soon all the water disappears as steam. Below 100 degrees, there is always some formation of steam but the content of water in your beaker remains stable.

Similarly, we know that there is a terrible chain reaction that might happen if CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach above 450 ppm. The temperature goes up and up in a spiral. Earth will then be uninhabitable for most life forms. There’s enough evidence for this chain reaction. It has been validated in lab experiments and in computer simulation. The only question is about what exactly is the required the threshold of CO2 levels : 450 ppm or 400 ppm or something else..

By the sounds of this comment one would think that 400 or 450ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere must initiate a phase change that turns carbon dioxide into plasma. He must mean that, since liquid water’s boiling is  an example of a phase change due to higher temperatures – from a liquid to a gas, and well, atmospheric CO2 is already a gas.  (Not that you ever see much liquid CO2 – ‘dry ice’ pretty much sublimates straight into that cool-looking smoke you see at nightclubs and parties)

See, water doesn’t actually boil at a fixed temperature in the way this person seems to imagine.  I recall learning that as far back as science class in primary school.  Someone up in the Colorado mountains could boil water at a lower temperature than 100 degrees Celsius. Why? Lower atmospheric pressure:
boiling point = 49.161 * Ln (Pressure in inches Hg) + 44.932.  So even with boiling water there isn’t a fixed temperature that could be seen as a ‘tipping point’ between phase changes.

One thing I appreciate, however is the reference to a ‘chain reaction’ rather than the usual ‘tipping point’. Much more suitably alarmist as it implies an out-of-control nuclear meltdown.

I’d be curious to see what lab experiments, however, have validated this claim, since Greenhouses routinely pump in CO2 in far higher concentrations with no consequence apart from higher yielding plants.

The formation of an AGW Doubter

August 12, 2008

‘AGW’ of course, is short-hand for ‘anthropogenic global warming’, which itself is short-hand for the theory that proponents claim to be reality, that carbon-dioxide emissions from human sources such as cars, coal-powered generators and so on into the atmosphere is (via the ‘greenhouse effect) causing the planet to warm, which will result in higher sea levels flooding coastal areas, wipe out species destroy crops and basically bring on some sort of secular Armageddon.

Okay, I’ve given myself away. I really doubt that these alarmist scenarios are likely to happen, that polar bears or penguins are going to die off, that NYC will be flooded, and if these things were to happen it would be natural causes, not the result of something ‘we’ had done.

I have another blog, but I noticed that I was posting more and more on ‘green’ issues, while the intent of my original blog was to encompass my thoughts on everything. So this littleblackduck will focus on other ‘dithpicable’ things and this one will be for my thoughts on everything ‘green’. For a start I’ll cross-post the things I wrote originally on lbd.

But first, some background:

I finished high school in 1989 and took a year off before going into university. I suppose I need the year or so of crappy, low-paying minimum wage jobs to convince me of the value of higher education. Needless to say, it didn’t take very long.

I was over at a friend’s place one evening, sitting around with her and her dad when the subject of Global Warming came up. This was in 1990, the year of the first IPCC Assessment Report on Climate Change, just under two years after James Hansen’s testimony on man-made CO2 emissions being behind global warming. And we both thought that this global warming was a bad thing.

Both my friend and I had been convinced – this was a top scientist at NASA after all – but my friend’s dad thought the whole thing was absurd. He mentioned how they were previously warned about global cooling. He said that a large volcanic explosion could dump far more into the atmosphere then Man ever could and the earth had recovered just fine before. We all soon dropped the subject. We couldn’t convince him that we were right, that the earth would be dying if people didn’t change their ways, and we couldn’t convince him of what we thought; that he was so very wrong. Just don’t call an old Jewish man, who had relatives die in the camps, a Denier.

In University I took an Arts degree and had my fill of ‘critical theory’ and cultural studies and the rest. It was true that the department – like a lot of Arts faculties in University – I was in was left-wing dominated, but we didn’t think so at the time. We thought that what we were learning was true, as opposed to the right-wing dogma in the mainstream media and every single institution known to civilization. Again, the science at the time, in the early 90s, seemed to support the theory of CO2 causing global warming, that industrial pollutants were slowly heating and choking the earth. This was before the hysteria claiming the earth would be flooded up to the Appalachians; most of the projects were fairly long-range and less dire. However, notions even then of carbon-credits were looked on with suspicion and rightly so. If only that were the case now.

I admit I didn’t spend much of my twenties thinking much about global warming, but I assumed what we’d all been told was probably true. I didn’t have a car (or even a drivers license) and with such low-paying jobs as could be found in the midst of a recession I couldn’t afford a life of conspicuous consumption even if I’d wanted to. Having a mother who grew up during the Depression and World War II, I’d already been raised to be pretty thrifty. I figured my own impact was pretty low.

At most I’d tut-tut about the SUV drivers and their gas-guzzling ways (rather than their bad driving habits – why are they the first in the ditch when it snows?), read up on what sort of appliances or ways of doing regular chores might be more energy saving.

But slowly, over the beginning of this current decade, the climate alarm bells started to sound more loudly, the demands for action became more urgent, the warnings more dire. Naturally the media would jump on the most dramatic and cataclysmic scenarios, as they always do, whether it be Y2K or bird flu or mad cow disease…

I won’t go into detail here about any of the jobs I did between when I graduated University in 1995 until now, except that they were all media related. In addition, my mother was once a journalist, as was her mother. So I’ve long and repeatedly been inoculated with a healthy dose of skepticism, particularly when it comes to media hysteria. I remember well when ‘dot coms’ flourished and there were claims that this was a new way of doing business and that the DOW would soon hit over 30,000. In the midst of all the hype of this new tech utopia, I remember thinking: “this is all bullshit”. If I’d only understood short-selling at that point I probably could have retired then. The ensuing Nasdaq meltdown didn’t surprise me in the least.

Then Michael Crichton ‘came out’ against man-made global warming. I’d enjoyed the book Jurassic Park (which I’d read before it was made into a movie), but thought at the time that he’s only an author, not a scientist… Because he’d been a famous author, his stance generated a lot of media attention. I remember wondering at the time how anyone could doubt global warming, that he must, deep-down, be one of those right-wing nuts or worse, someone who liked George Bush Jr… Of course, I hadn’t read what he’d actually written or said, the very thing which had generated so much controversy. I assumed that most of the UN statements and so on were correct, that only a few nutjobs seriously challenged it, but at the same time, I wasn’t interested enough in the subject to either question it, or seriously examine it. There’d just been other things that occupied more of my time.

And then that movie came out. We all know which one I mean, Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. That movie was a turning point for me, though obviously not in the way the makers surely intended. The more alarmist the projections, the more I figured I should read up on the subject. I still believed the basic premises at this point, I just though the doomsday scenarios were likely pretty exaggerated. I recalled the famous “Hockey Stick” graphs, and thought at the time that it didn’t look quite right to me. I found it a bit incredible that the global temperatures showed so little variability over the millennium until just the past decade. I was already familiar with the warming period of the middle ages, followed by the little ice age. Besides, this famous graph still only went back to the year 1,000 and the earth is nearly 5 billion years old. The timescale of humans is tiny compared to that of the entire earth.

So I read up in various internet forums, read the related news, read posts of people commenting on their take these news items, read up on the links they provided to support their claims. I came across sites like realclimate and others, which I bookmarked for later reading.

In the meantime, and during my searches, other stories creeped into my consciousness. Warming on other planets, for instance. Not just Mars, but also Jupiter, Pluto, moons on Saturn… I didn’t see this as a refutation of AGW, but I did think it needed further explanation. So I’d go over to sites like realclimate to see what they had to say about it, and they made some good points about Pluto’s orbit, or that the trend on Mars was really only a few years…

However, when I started to read other items on this site and others, I noticed a few things. One was a arrogance the people posting on the various sites (those commenting, as well as the writers). There’s not a single one that stands out in my mind now, it was more an overall tone; patronizing and condescending and sarcastic – rude almost – but hardly academic. Not the sort of discourse one would expect from people insisting they are real scientists.

I noticed too that one of the contributors of Realclimate was Michael Mann, progenitor of the famous Hockey Stick Graph. I learned that another more active member worked with James Hansen at NASA as a climate modeler. It’s natural that those who work in a field where it’s their graphs and their climate models were used would be likely to try to defend them. Most of the other sites appeared to be maintained by various activists, a lot of journalists, and all seemed to be pretty one-sided. Then the excellent Arts and Letters Daily started a new site, Climate Debate Daily.  Though I agree with some of the criticisms (such as the simplistic ‘for’ and ‘against’ format), it is a pretty decent resource.

Out of habit I don’t tend to take any blog or article or resource or study as the final word on anything. What I do is seek out the opposing views on a given issue (such as whether the sun is a factor or not, whether warming on Mars matters or not), try to find what they’re basing them on, and where possible, see the original source (such as the ‘consensus study’ in Science or NOAA data).

The change in my views was therefore quite gradual. I avoided certain websites and links to them altogether if there were the source someone had cited for their claims – such as Newsbusters, but also such sites as Gristmill, presuming that each would be biased. But I also saw sites that I initially thought more reliable were actually some of the worst of all.

I learned that actual earth temperatures are currently not increasing. That the Oregon Petition is not a hoax as some claim. That there is actually very little ‘industry’ funding the ‘denialist side’, and even most of that is indirect. That a lot of the earliest critics are not cranks, but very reputable scientists, despite what various smear sites have to say about them.

Some items I only came across because of the various sites I found attacking them. One example was Britain’s Channel 4 documentary, the notorious Great Global Warming Swindle which, despite the sensationalist title, was actually more restrained. Despite all the attacks I naturally watched it to make up my own mind and if I were to weigh it against Al Gore’s movie there’s no contest. No wonder the attacks have been so vicious, culminating in the OFCOM ruling in which both ‘sides’ claimed a rather dubious victory. The OFCOM involvement came about largely due to complaints by activists. This was merely one of many, many examples of attempts by those who claim ‘the debate is over’ to stifle said debate.  I’m not sure what alarmists hope to achieve with these tactics, but for me they completely backfired. I’m sure I’m not the only one either.

Whenever someone actively tries to shut someone else up, one always has to wonder why they feel the need to do so.  It is important to always question the motives of anyone who attempts circumscribe free speech, particularly on any contentious subject.

I’ve asked over and over again: if the arguments for one side are so strong, they why do they find it necessary to lie and smear and exaggerate and censor?

Why do people use graphs to support their arguments tend to use graphs that have either been discredited or are a decade out of date? Why do so many of the most ardent proponents have no science background whatsoever (but a very long history of activism or promoting other left-wing views), and what would happen to the careers of those that do if their models and theories if the overwhelming weight of evidence failed to support them?

If wind and solar are so great then why is there a need for massive subsidies?

And if there really is so much ‘industry’ funding, then why is Exxon the only oil company that gets singled out, or why is it the only one funding anybody?

I don’t think that AGW is a hoax, or a fraud. I do wonder at the motives of some of the more active proponents, particularly those who stand to make a fortune through carbon credits or alternative energy subsidies.  Though some of the data used to support it might very well fudged or manipulated it is probably more out of wishful thinking, or ineptitude than deliberate malfeasance. However, I find Anthropogenic Global Warming to be a specious theory, not strongly supported by either hard science or evidence or data, that there is no consensus (nor does such a thing matter) and I find some of the most vocal adherents stick to their positions either because it supports their pre-existing ideological world view or because they cannot afford to be wrong.

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August 11, 2008

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