Monday, April 27, 2009

Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate

Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate


New York Times

April 23, 2009


For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a

group representing industries with profits tied to

fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public

relations campaign against the idea that emissions of

heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.


"The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not

well understood," the coalition said in a scientific

"backgrounder" provided to lawmakers and journalists

through the early 1990s, adding that "scientists differ"

on the issue.


But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates

that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its

own scientific and technical experts were advising that

the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in

global warming could not be refuted.


"The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the

potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases

such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be

denied," the experts wrote in an internal report

compiled for the coalition in 1995.


The coalition was financed by fees from large

corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal

and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an

international climate agreement that came to be known as

the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled

$1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by

environmental groups.


Throughout the 1990s, when the coalition conducted a

multimillion-dollar advertising campaign challenging the

merits of an international agreement, policy makers and

pundits were fiercely debating whether humans could

dangerously warm the planet. Today, with general

agreement on the basics of warming, the debate has

largely moved on to the question of how extensively to

respond to rising temperatures.


Environmentalists have long maintained that industry

knew early on that the scientific evidence supported a

human influence on rising temperatures, but that the

evidence was ignored for the sake of companies' fight

against curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. Some

environmentalists have compared the tactic to that once

used by tobacco companies, which for decades insisted

that the science linking cigarette smoking to lung

cancer was uncertain. By questioning the science on

global warming, these environmentalists say, groups like

the Global Climate Coalition were able to sow enough

doubt to blunt public concern about a consequential

issue and delay government action.


George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and

writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken

advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage

of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.


"They didn't have to win the argument to succeed," Mr.

Monbiot said, "only to cause as much confusion as possible."


William O'Keefe, at the time a leader of the Global

Climate Coalition, said in a telephone interview that

the group's leadership had not been aware of a gap

between the public campaign and the advisers' views. Mr.

O'Keefe said the coalition's leaders had felt that the

scientific uncertainty justified a cautious approach to

addressing cuts in greenhouse gases.


The coalition disbanded in 2002, but some members,

including the National Association of Manufacturers and

the American Petroleum Institute, continue to lobby

against any law or treaty that would sharply curb

emissions. Others, like Exxon Mobil, now recognize a

human contribution to global warming and have largely

dropped financial support to groups challenging the science.


Documents drawn up by the coalition's advisers were

provided to lawyers by the Association of International

Automobile Manufacturers, a coalition member, during the

discovery process in a lawsuit that the auto industry

filed in 2007 against the State of California's efforts

to limit vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions. The

documents included drafts of a primer written for the

coalition by its technical advisory committee, as well

as minutes of the advisers' meetings.


The documents were recently sent to The New York Times

by a lawyer for environmental groups that sided with the

state. The lawyer, eager to maintain a cordial

relationship with the court, insisted on anonymity

because the litigation is continuing.


The advisory committee was led by Leonard S. Bernstein,

a chemical engineer and climate expert then at the Mobil

Corporation. At the time the committee's primer was

drawn up, policy makers in the United States and abroad

were arguing over the scope of the international

climate-change agreement that in 1997 became the Kyoto Protocol.


The primer rejected the idea that mounting evidence

already suggested that human activities were warming the

climate, as a 1995 report by the United Nations

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had concluded.

(In a report in 2007, the panel concluded with near

certainty that most recent warming had been caused by humans.)


Yet the primer also found unpersuasive the arguments

being used by skeptics, including the possibility that

temperatures were only appearing to rise because of

flawed climate records.


"The contrarian theories raise interesting questions

about our total understanding of climate processes, but

they do not offer convincing arguments against the

conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced

climate change," the advisory committee said in the 17-page primer.


According to the minutes of an advisory committee

meeting that are among the disclosed documents, the

primer was approved by the coalition's operating

committee early in 1996. But the approval came only

after the operating committee had asked the advisers to

omit the section that rebutted the contrarian arguments.


"This idea was accepted," the minutes said, "and that

portion of the paper will be dropped."


The primer itself was never publicly distributed.


Mr. O'Keefe, who was then chairman of the Global Climate

Coalition and a senior official of the American

Petroleum Institute, the lobby for oil companies, said

in the phone interview that he recalled seeing parts of the primer.


But he said he was not aware of the dropped sections

when a copy of the approved final draft was sent to him.

He said a change of that kind would have been made by

the staff before the document was brought to the board

for final consideration.


"I have no idea why the section on the contrarians would

have been deleted," said Mr. O'Keefe, now chief

executive of the Marshall Institute, a nonprofit

research group that opposes a mandatory cap on

greenhouse gas emissions.


"One thing I'm absolutely certain of," he said, "is that

no member of the board of the Global Climate Coalition

said, `We have to suppress this.' "


Benjamin D. Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence

Livermore National Laboratory whose work for the

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was challenged

by the Global Climate Coalition and allied groups, said

the coalition was "engaging in a full-court press at the

time, trying to cast doubt on the bottom-line conclusion

of the I.P.C.C." That panel concluded in 1995 that "the

balance of evidence suggests a discernible human

influence on global climate."


"I'm amazed and astonished," Dr. Santer said, "that the

Global Climate Coalition had in their possession

scientific information that substantiated our cautious

findings and then chose to suppress that information."




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