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New report takes aim at corporate funding for climate denial


NASA’s Aqua satellite, dedicated to advancing our understanding of Earth’s water cycle. Creative Commons license

The Union of Concerned Scientists has just published a report outing corporations that publicly back action on global warming, while quietly bankrolling climate change denier groups.

While the report acknowledged that not all corporations are engaged in this sort of Jekyll & Hyde behavior, it says many have adopted a strategy that “allows companies to maintain a public image of climate consciousness while, behind the scenes, undermining climate science and policy in powerful ways.” The report goes on the say:

While all companies in our sample stated they were taking voluntary internal action to reduce carbon emissions, half of them also misrepresented some element of established climate science in their public communications.

It’s worth pointing out that several of the two-faced companies profiled in today’s report are key partners and benefactors of the country’s biggest environmental groups. Companies like ExxonMobil Corp., General Electric Co., and Alcoa Inc. have bankrolled nature centers, conservation projects and public education campaigns, among other things. (For more details, check out my book.) Companies often spend more money publicizing their environmental projects than they spent on the good works in the first place. In contrast, you seldom hear much about the money channeled to groups such as the Heartland Institute that continue to claim climate change is a hoax.

You can find the report here.

Some of today’s coverage is here, here and here.


Is climate change causing more weather extremes?

Earlier this year I had an assignment investigating the links between climate change and weather. In the course of the reporting I talked to a Yale pollster who says last year’s extraordinary weather — dry and drought-like or rainy and flooded  in most places — has done more to convince people that the climate is indeed changing than any number of increasingly urgent reports like this one from the OECD.

For the story, I spoke with climate scientists too, and learned about efforts to better pinpoint when rising global temperatures play a role in a particular extreme of weather. It’s a still evolving area of science. Controversy rages.  Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has perhaps most riled his colleagues — not to mention climate change contrarians and non-believers — by suggesting that today global warming should be considered a factor in all weather.  Not all climate scientists agree — one even called it a “crap idea” in a major UK newspaper! But Trenberth hasn’t backed off. He elaborates on the idea in a new article due out this spring.

You can read all about this (and much more!) in my just published cover story in E Magazine. There’s also a sidebar on the impact to harvests and water supplies if the world remains on its current trajectory toward 10+ degrees Fahrenheit of warming.

If you still have time, check out my piece on Italy’s growing woes with the “ecomafia.”

Global Warming – One Freeze Frame at a Time

CCTV cameras on Tate Britain wharf via Flickr.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have come up with a new use for all those security cameras that have proliferated across the globe in recent years: They’re using public, Internet-connected webcams to monitor the effects of global warming across the globe.

It turns out that the local street views, so to speak, provide a better picture than satellite imagery that’s also used for this purpose. I learned about it this morning, via Mother Jones, which linked from the Conservation Maven site. And, here’s the paper, if you’d rather read the long version. Unfortunately the site is password protected, so be prepared to shell out some cash.

According to the abstract:

“Public cameras had an equivalent or higher ability to detect spring compared with satellite-based data for corresponding locations, with fewer numbers of poor quality days, shorter continuous bad data days, and significantly lower errors of spring estimates. Manual image segmentation into deciduous, evergreen, and understory vegetation allowed detection of spring and fall onset for multiple vegetation types.”

What insights the researchers are gleaning from the cams isn’t mentioned in the abstract. Perhaps it’s too early for them to provide a clear picture of the webcam images they are analyzing. Once they do start comparing images of local cams around the globe, the new approach could make the impacts of global warming much more real to people locally by showing them the changes in their own communities.

But one has to wonder if we really need more evidence that global warming is real, as much as a game plan for addressing it. The climate change deniers have had quite a run lately, but if you believe Yale’s Six Americas study, a sizable number of people are convinced that climate change is real. According to the Yale researchers, 18 percent would chacterize themselves as “alarmed,” while another 33 percent are “concerned” about climate change. That’s more than half the country but the political solutions we’ve been offered so far are all about political action as opposed to actual action.

The climate bill gaining steam in the Senate right now would reduce carbon emissions by just 17 percent over 2005 levels by 2020. That’s way below what climate scientists say in necessary if we are going reign in runaway climate changes before its too late. It’s going to be too late, very soon – within the next couple of years. Yet, people keep talking about what’s politically feasible, rather than what’s necessary. Sens. John Kerry, (D-Mass.,) Joseph I. Lieberman, (I-Conn.,) and Lindsey Graham, (R, S.C.,) who have teamed with the country’s leading Big Green environmentalists to push this woefully inadequate climate legislation this year,  may be able to negotiate a deal that both sides can claim as a victory. But nature doesn’t cut backroom deals.

What will it take to shift our thinking so that “political reality” includes keeping the climate from slipping beyond what’s “liveable” – not just for some cuddly endangered species, but for us humans? Some say the country needs a new civil rights movement to demand environmental sustainability. What do you think?

Stepping Back to Move Forward on Global Warming?

The big news yesterday was that Obama kept his campaign promise and moved forward with plans to drill for oil in off the country’s coasts. This news was largely met with celebratory tones and running commentary on the great compromiser skills of the U.S. president. What received less play were two stories about the climate change debate.  The Associated Press reports here that the scientists embroiled in the “climategate” email scandal have been cleared of any wrongdoing by a British parliamentary panel. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post covered a new Greenpeace report that followed the money – nearly $50 million since 1997 – paid by Koch Industries to finance a campaign of climate change denial.

Having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees?

What do these developments mean for the climate change debate?

OK, so, we learn investigators found no evidence that UK climate scientists have “cooked the books” to make global warming look worse than it is; news that underscores that climate change is not just real, it’s going to get very bad unless we do something and the time for action is quickly slipping by. On the same day this report comes out, we get a peak inside the “climate denial machine” and its a view into a well-oiled, well-financed campaign paid by corporate interests that stand to lose a lot if our politician were ever to act to reign in runaway global warming. But Koch, Exxon and other denial financiers apparently aren’t in any immediate danger. (See story news item one.)

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

"Tree of Life No. 3" by Alberto Roblest

Climate scientists say we need to keep the world’s remaining forests vertical to help reign in global warming before things get out of hand. But exactly how trees drink in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is a complex question. Trees don’t sequester the same amount of warming-inducing gases at all times throughout their lifespan. Here’s a report that gives a detailed explanation of how it actually works.

Bird Populations Driven toward Extinction by Global Warming

Climate change is threatening the habitat and feeding grounds of dozens of North American bird species such as albatrosses, frigate birds and puffins, pushing them toward extinction, according to a new report by the Interior Department. While this confirms what scientists have independently been saying for years now, it’s still a sobering reminder that despite the recent resurgence of denial, global warming is real. It’s here now and only going to get worse unless we act.

Here’s the full report. And a Scientific American story on it.

Democracy Now Show Today on Big Greens Standing in the Way of Climate Progress

The buzz created by Johann Hari’s hard-hitting article, The Wrong Kind of Green,  in The Nation magazine is finally generating some much needed attention for the outrageous behavior of some of our leading environmental groups. This morning, Amy Goodman of Democracy now interviewed Johann and me about Big Green groups such as Conservation International, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and The Nature Conservancy – that are endorsing the climate policies sponsored by their corporate donors and allies in Washington. There is just no getting around the fact that the proposals backed by these groups will do little to head off runaway climate change. As Hari pointed out this morning, some of these policies will actually encourage more logging in tropical rainforests, despite ample evidence that we need those trees standing to sop up climate changing greenhouse gases.

Hari was very effective exposing these false solutions but left things on an optimistic note by mentioning the creative nonviolence campaigns climate activists have unfurled in the UK. I wish there had been more time so that I could have mentioned that the real grassroots of US enviornmentalism – not the big national groups that have been coopted by Washington’s deal making mentality and corporate donations – are also experiencing an encouraging growth spirt.

In doing some research for a magazine article and possibly a new book, I’ve been talking to activists all over the country in the last few weeks.  Julia “Judy” Bonds, who has been fighting mountaintop removal coal mining in her Appalachian community for a dozen years, says “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” In the last five years, she says a movement has begun to take shape and it’s just a matter of time before it sparks change. She likened the tense standoff between coal miners and mountaintop removal foes like herself to the bloody civil rights struggle started in Selma, Alabama in 1963 that  was widely credited with helping pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Author Bill McKibbon is calling for people to take to the streets and join the civil disobedience campaign he launched. Tim DeChristopher, the guy who threw a wrench in the Dec. 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction of oil and gas leases on public lands, says we have to throw ourselves into the machine that’s threatening our existence.  McKibbon, DeChristopher, Julia “Butterfly” Hill, Mike Rosselle and many other activists have set up small radical groups that are all advocating that people – the average citizens like you and me – take to the streets to demand that President Obama and other lawmakers address global warming.

Considering how little we protest today, it’s hard to image the country will rise up and demand environmental sustainability. But they are doing it in the United Kingdom, so why not here? And if we don’t, who will? Bonds says her activism has shown her that politicians don’t lead, they merely follow the will of the people. It’s time for the people to take their fate into their own hands, she says.

Wondering Why the World is Dithering on Global Warming? Check Out This Video with Bill Rees

“We have the science to deal with the global warming problem and we’ve had it for some time. So the question is: what is it about the nature of our species that we are intelligent enough to know we have a problem but we are not capable of organizing socially in order to solve this problem?” – William Rees, the father of the Ecological Footprint.

Rees,  an ecologist and professor at the University of British Columbia,  has been anointed with “rock star status” by Adbusters for coming up with the concept of the Ecological Footprint. His presentation to journalists from around the world at the GreenAccord conference created a buzz. Rees explains the Ecological Footprint and why the idea that there are no limits to growth is a fallacy. It’s thought-provoking stuff and certainly timely, given news of political gridlock at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this week.

My friend Alex Savulescu videotaped, edited and uploaded the video to the web. Thanks Alex!

Today’s Greenlines – Toxic toys, Tainted Food, Bad Water, Rising Temperatures + New Literature on How Climate Change Can Literally Drive You Mad!

from The Guardian's Copenhagen Essay

The DCist: reports of the death of the H Street shuttle might have been greatly exaggerated.

It looks like the Advoc8te at Congress Heights on the Rise put in a late night to upload the results of her Freedom of Information Act Request regarding the investigation of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8C‘s spending. Check it out.

DC MUD says a community boycott is brewing in Ward 7 against the Polin Memorial Community Development, a residential project set to break ground tomorrow. The fracas  is over community benefits that the developers, apparently, haven’t been too forthcoming about. Read more. Oddly, the WaPo piece makes no mention of the controversy, though it did merit some ink in today”s Washington City Paper Loose Lips column.

The Washington Post has a story on how, as the holiday gift-giving season arrives, toys are still not safe from harmful toxins. On a somehow related theme, the paper also has a piece on how our far flung global food supply system puts us at greater risk of eating tainted food.

While some would claim world temperatures have been cooling recently, the World Meteorological Organization announced today in Copenhagen that it’s just not true. “The period from 2000 through 2009 has been ‘warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s and so on,’ said Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the international weather agency,” according to the New York Times story.

The Times also has this cheat sheet identifying the different players and what they want out of Copenhagen.

Mother Jones has a story on how climate change can drive you crazy – literally! “King’s College London psychiatrists recently published a metastudy of how the many charming side effects of rising temperatures—natural disasters, infectious diseases, mass migration—can really harsh your mental mellow, to say the least.” Read more.

WaPo reports that the Swine Flu outbreak could be the mildest pandemic since the advent of modern medicine.

WaPo also has a long story rehashing yesterday’s announcement by the US Environmental Protection Agency that it plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

I just discovered this new site: DC Food for All. It has posts about farmers’ markets, rants on the country’s food system and a passionate defense of keeping chickens in the city, among other things.

Missed this important story yesterday: More than 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years, according to a NY Times analysis of federal data. After you read that story, if you want to know more, check out the NY Times’ entire series on water pollution.

I leave you this morning with The Guardian‘s photo essay from Copenhagen.

EPA Makes it Official: Greenhouse Gases a Threat to Public Health + Environment

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency followed through on its promise today and announced that it will be cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made the announcement this afternoon that greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of the American people.

The agency just posted the video of the conference. And, here’s a soundbite from Jackson’s speech.