Article on Democracy and Climate Change

I read an interesting article on CNBC about the role of our democratic government in addressing the issue of climate change. I thought I would share it. You can read the article here.

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Obama’s New Coal Regulations

I’ve been holding off commenting on the new coal regulations announced by the EPA this past Monday. The reason is because the regulation has nothing to do with the reality of global warming. The science remains the same with, or without the proposed regulations.

However, I also like to discuss actions we can take to address the problems we are facing and the emission of greenhouse gases is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed. So, the question is, does the new proposed regulations address the problem? I have been reviewing what is being said and, to no surprise, both sides of the argument are making extreme predictions, neither of which seems to be holding up to the light of day.

First, I really see no evidence this will make a significant change in our greenhouse emissions. Headlines are saying it will reduce our emissions by 30%, but that isn’t true. What it will do is cut emissions from new construction power plants by 30% compared to the 2005 levels. Power plants have already reduced emissions by about 13% compared to 2005 levels, so we are talking about an additional 17% reduction. These regulations apply only to new power plants and not to any existing power plants or other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as cars. In the total picture, that comes out to about a 6% cut. And, that is over a 15-year period. Notice that the 17% reduction occurred without any new EPA regulations. They occurred because of market forces, so it is reasonable to assume that further reductions would occur without these new regulations.

Also, it isn’t even necessary to actually make the cuts. States can make their own plans and combine the power plants with something else. So, if some industry is making reductions anyway it is possible to combine them with the power plants and the power plants can then go their merry way. To make it even worse, states are allowed to join together in one big plan. So, the reduction could be taking place in one state and the coal-fired plant could be in another.

Based on that, I have to say this is getting a lot more attention than it deserves.

But, what about the draconian predictions of the groups opposed to the proposed regulations?

Again, I just don’t see it. They are saying this will make electricity more expensive and cause a loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. The US Chamber of Commerce is predicting a loss of 224,000 jobs PER YEAR for the next 15 years. That comes out to 3,360,000 total jobs and that number is just not credible on the surface. I would want to see some serious estimates before I accept a figure like that.

Why am I so critical of that estimate? Simple. The demand for electricity is sky-rocketing in this country. If we are not building coal-fired plants, we will build something else. The electrical utilities will find a way to supply the electricity demanded because that is what they are in business to do. Supplying electricity means profit. They are not going to sit back and allow potential profits to go away without doing something about it.

And, as it turns out, we are developing better ways to generate electricity than burning coal. Natural gas is not great, but it is much better than coal and we have a very serious boom in natural gas production going on in this country. We have the ability to replace all of the coal-fired plants with natural gas alone.

But, that isn’t all. It now turns out that photo cells are becoming competitive with other forms of power production. A report by Barclays investment bank shows that photocells are already cost-competitive in Hawaii, and will be competitive in California by 2017 and New York and Arizona by 2018. By 2024, they say photocells will be cheaper than grid power in all but a handful of states.

Specifically, the report is looking at the issue of cells and storage on private homes – people going off the grid. But, if photocells are becoming that competitive, how long will it be before the utilities realize they can make efficient, competitive power plants using photocells?

In other words, we will be making electricity and I don’t see the cost sky rocketing. As for the jobs, there will likely be some job displacement, but losses will probably be minor if in fact, we don’t see an increase in jobs due to new technologies. Coal miners might see their jobs suffer, but I’m betting it won’t be as much as is claimed. Coal is something of a miracle power source, other than the fact that it is a terrible polluter. You just dig it out of the ground and use it. You don’t have to process it and it even comes in an easy to transport form. If we are not burning coal here in this country, there are world markets where it will still be cost effective to ship our coal. China alone is planning on opening a new power plant every week between now and 2050.

So, the way I view the regulation is that its pretty close to being much ado about nothing. The cost to the economy is not going to be anything like the dire forecasts being made. At the same time, the benefits to the environment are not going to be anything like the optimistic forecasts being made.

However, we must do something about the emissions. If this will help, then we should do it. And, it gives us the moral high ground to put pressure on other countries to take action on their emissions.

But, there is one dark side to this that needs to be addressed. As much as I, as a scientist, want to see politics stay out of a scientific issue, we all know that is not realistic. Politics is the driving force behind much of the debate. I really don’t believe the Republicans would deny global warming evidence so strongly if it was being proposed by a Republican. And, what Obama has done with his actions is to stir the pot and alienate Republicans even more. By his failure as President to work with the representatives of the People, including members of his own party, he is making future progress even harder to attain. By acting as an Imperial President, Obama is making it increasingly difficult to convince skeptics that this is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

In summary, I think the regulation is good one, even though it is over-hyped. But, I denounce the way it is being done.

The effect of water vapor on global warming

One of the false arguments global warming deniers make is that CO2 measurements are unimportant because water vapor is much more effective greenhouse gas. This is one of those statements that has just enough truth behind it to obscure the lie.Yes, water vapor is a very potent greenhouse gas, much more so than CO2, but what the deniers don’t want to admit is that the reason there is water vapor in the atmosphere is because something else warmed it up in the first place.

This process makes water vapor a positive feedback agent with the potential to approximately double the amount of warming due to other sources. As the atmosphere gets warmer the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere also increases. The increased level of water vapor will then trap more heat, resulting in warmer temperatures and even more water vapor. But, the water vapor cannot do it alone. There must be some agent to start the process and that agent in our current situation is CO2. By dumping billions of tons of CO2 in our atmosphere every year, we trap heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise radiate into space and this leads to warmer atmosphere. This warmer atmosphere then leads to more water vapor.

Since water vapor is so important in the process we need to know just how much effect it has on the climate. A team of scientists used measurements from instruments onboard the Aqua spacecraft to make direct measurements of this effect. According to their work, water vapor amplifies global warming by 2.2 watts per square meter per degree Celsius (plus or minus .4 watts per square meter per degree Celsius). In comparison, the solar index (the amount of energy reaching Earth from the Sun) is about 1360 watts per square meter. For every one degree Celsius change in temperature, water vapor increases the amount of energy stored in the atmosphere by about .16%. It may not sound like much, but you keep doing that every day for a long period of time and it will add up to a very large amount of energy stored in the atmosphere that we would not otherwise have.

The scientists point out that this is only a short-term measurement because the amount of data is small. This figure is subject to short-term changes in the weather and climate fluctuations. They used these figures in models to try and determine a long-term value and the models suggested it is between 1.9 and 2.8 watts per square meter per degree Celsius. As more data is collected this figure will be refined to a more accurate value.

Denier Funding

Climate change deniers like to say that the science behind climate change is not ‘settled science’ and that there is no consensus among scientists. These, of course, are false statements. The fact is, 97% of all climate scientists agree that climate change is real and is due to manmade emissions.  Here is an excellent report on the very subject. The science is very real and scientist who work in this field of study are in overwhelming agreement.

Deniers also reject the claim that they are funded by the fossil fuel industry to undermine the valid science and to inject doubt into the minds of the public. Below is a list of some of the denier sources and individuals receiving those funds. The challenge to me was to produce documents that could used in the event I received a subpoena in a slander/libel lawsuit. I have indicated my sources of information and they satisfy that requirement. The information provided here has been gleaned from tax documents, SEC filings, statements by the individuals themselves, court papers and articles vetted by major news media (also one of the standards demanded by the denier).

So, I’ll say it to be perfectly clear:  

Some organizations in the fossil fuel industry are funding climate change deniers for the purpose of undermining climate change science. 

If someone would like to sue me for slander/libel, then the documents below would be enough to get the case thrown out of court. Of course, the deniers will claim otherwise, but they live in a fantasy world that does not accept reality.

The denier disinformation campaign is very well funded and very well organized. A study done at Drexel University found 140 foundations provided $558 million to nearly 100 climate change organizations between 2003 and 2010. That comes out to an average of almost $70 million per year. That is some serious money and you don’t provide that kind of funding just to have a tax-write off. This funding is done for a purpose. What I find very telling is the fact that traceable donations have disappeared and been replaced with untraceable donations to third-party proxies. In fact, one climate change denial proxy, Donors Trust (along with the associated Donors Capital) accounts for fully 25% of all climate change denier funding. Why are they hiding their donations? Are they afraid that people would question their motives?

Many of the organizations providing funding for climate change denial are among the world’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases. The original paper on sources of greenhouse gases can be found here. This list represents who stands to lose the most if we do something about the problem. In other words, people making a bunch of money hurting the rest of us are convincing millions of people that we shouldn’t do anything about the problem. And, millions of people simply take out their checkbook and agree with them.

Here are some of the funding organizations and funding receivers. This list is not even close to being exhaustive, it is here merely to illustrate the debt of the problem.

Funding Organizations

ChevronTexaco – Provides funding to the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Source: Think Progress

ExxonMobil – Exxon reports show donations to the Heartland Institute between 1998 and 2007 of $676,500. Exxon donated more than $28 million to the American Enterprise Institute (see below). Along with the Marshall Institute and Fred Singer’s group, they proposed a $5 million campaign, according to a leaked eight-page memo, to convince the public that the science of global warming is riddled with controversy and uncertainty. Exxon was called out by a number of senators for giving over $19 million to fund groups “producing very questionable data” on climate change. Studies have found Exxon to have been “heavily involved” in denier funding between 2003 and 2008 and donated more than $16 million during that time. Exxon has since changed and says it no longer gives to climate denier organizations and there has been no publicly traceable denier funding from Exxon since 2008.  There are reports it continued to provide denier funding through at least 2011. However, there are still proxies that Exxon donates to, so it is not possible to verify it has stopped all funding.
Source: Greenpeace USA, Newsweek, Scientific American, The Guardian , Huffington Post

BP – Provides funding to the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Source: Think Progress

Shell – Provides funding to the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Source: Think Progress

Koch Brothers – The Koch brothers and their interrelated corporations and foundations have been responsible for millions of dollars in donations to denial organizations, including the Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation. They have also had to pay tens of millions of dollars in fines and hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs as a result of violating environmental safety guards. They have been very critical of environmental safety laws, both on the books and proposed. Between 2005 and 2011 the Kochs would provide over $43 million to denier organizations, more than three times what Exxon provided during the same time period. The Kochs have become the largest single source of funds for denier organizations. They provide funding to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Source: Huffington Post, Think Progress

Peabody Energy -Peabody is the world’s largest private-sector supplier of coal and sold more than 246 million tons of coal in 2010. Peabody supports American Legislative Exchange Council and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, both very active climate change denial organizations.
Source: Polluter Watch, SourceWatch

Chrysler – Chrysler donated $105,000 to the Heartland Institute between 2004 and 2006.
Source: Huffington Post

General Motors – GM donated $165,000 to the Heartland Institute between 2004 and 2010. They donated $95,000 to the Cato Institute between 2003 and 2009. 
Source: Huffington Post

Western Fuels Association – Supports the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a major climate change denier organization.
Source: The Nation

And, take a look at who is getting the funding. The people and institutes here are among the most notorious of the climate change deniers or proxies.

Funding Receivers

Donors Trust –  According to IRS tax returns, between 2002 and 2010, Donors Trust provided over $90 million in funding ($90,989,710 to be exact) to 84 groups that deny the scientific realities of climate change. Between 2004 and 2010, the partner group Donors Capital Fund, provided more than $28 million in funding ($28,490,862) to 75 groups that deny the scientific realities of climate change. They receive their funds from conservative sources, including the Koch Brothers, Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. Charles Koch donated $2 million in 2010 alone.
Source: DeSmogBlog, Mother Jones, Huffington Post,

The Heartland Institute – Possibly the organization most guilty of false-science and efforts to undermine valid climate science. The Heartland Institute once compared climate scientists to terrorists, including the Unabomber, Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden and Fidel Castro. They stated, “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast, has called Heartland “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made global warming.” Several internal documents were obtained by Peter Gleick and posted online. These documents revealed they were receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry and were engaged in campaigns to undermine climate science with school-based programs. Heartland demanded Gleick be charged and threatened lawsuits against anyone reposting the documents or even discussing them (I guess I’m in trouble). They are one of the organizations involved in the intimidation campaign against climate researcher Michael Mann. Heartland was involved in the ClimateGate campaign where the computer servers at East Anglia were illegally hacked and selected emails were stolen. These emails were then cherry-picked to take quotes out of context in an effort to make it look as if the scientists were faking their research. The scientists were all cleared of any wrong-doing by several independent panels, but Heartland continues to cite the emails in a continuing effort to discredit the scientists. They have engaged in other campaigns to attack, intimidate and discredit climate scientists (when you can’t refute the science, destroy the scientists). they host an annual conference of climate change contrarians. Heartland has also been involved with efforts to convince people there is no danger in second-hand smoke. In addition to their internal documents showing they receive funding from the fossil fuel industry, Exxon documents show they donated $676,500 to Heartland since 1998. See the above entry about Donors Trust, which has donated money to Heartland.
According to various data bases and their tax documents, some of their funding includes: American Petroleum Institute ($25,000, 2008), Chrysler Foundation ($105,000, 2004-06), Donors Capital Fund ($25.6 million, 2005-11), Donors Trust ($554,000, 2008-10), ExxonMobil ($531,500, 2001-06), General Motors Foundation ($165,000, 2004-10) and Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($25,000, 2011).
Source: Washington Post, The Heartland Institute, Forbes, The Guardian, Forbes again, Watching the Deniers, More Forbes , ExxonSecrets, Huffington Post, More Huffington Post, Union of Concerned Scientists

The American Petroleum Institute (API) – The API has long held the position that any effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions is a ‘tax on our industry’ and has fought behind the scenes to undermine any effort to enact legislation that might hurt the fossil fuel industry. Internal memos have shown that it funds and provides staffing for campaigns against legislation, then denies any involvement. API says that it does not consider climate change legislation to be an energy tax, but then runs numerous ads calling any such legislation an ‘energy tax.’ Along with other groups, API funded reports for Congress “whose entire purpose was to confuse people on the science of global warming.” Among other contributors, AEI received more than $1.9 million from Exxon.
Source: DeSmogBlog, Newsweek

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) – Among other things, it offered $10,000 cash plus travel expenses for any scientist that would write papers undermining climate change research. It has been reported that AEI received over $28 million from ExxonMobil over a 10 year period, although that funding level has dropped significantly in recent years. Besides Exxon, AEI has received $60,000 from the American Petroleum Institute $1.1 million from the three main Koch family foundations between 2001 and 2011. AEI denies it rejects climate change science, even though they have been active in the business. Among other things they have been involved with, they helped underwrite a $53,000 project for a denier’s presentation to Congress claiming there was no warming over the last 1000 years. Therefore, it was claimed, there was no scientific consensus. According to various data bases and their tax documents, some of their funding includes: American Petroleum Institute ($145,000, 2008-11), Donors Capital Fund ($15.16 million, 2002 -11), Donors Trust ($187,000, 2002-11), ExxonMobil ($3.04 million, 2001-11), Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($350,000, 2004-11) and Charles Koch’s Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation ($750,000, 2005-07).

Source: Newsweek, Wikipedia, SourceWatch, The Guardian, Union of Concerned Scientists

Americans For ProsperityAccording to various data bases and their tax documents, some of their funding includes: American Petroleum Institute ($124,000, 2008-11), Donors Capital Fund ($1.32million, 2005-11), Donors Trust ($6.33million, 2005-11), Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, $67,500, 2009), David H. Koch Charitable Foundation ($1 million, 2008) and Charles Koch’s Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation ($4.69 million, 2005-10).

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – ALEC is an extremist organization that, among other things, promotes climate change denial and is funded by the oil and gas industry. It is extremely weird – and dangerous. Read the first-hand account from Chris Taylor, a state representative from Wisconsin. ALEC denies that global warming is causing glaciers to retreat or sea level to rise. Not only does ALEC deny the threat of climate change, they even argue that “substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States”.
Source: The Progressive, Climate Progress

Richard Lindzen – He always claimed to not take any funding from the fossil fuel industry, but finally admitted to taking over $10,000 per year from the fossil fuel industry plus consulting fees and travel expenses. He receives $2,500 per day in consulting fees. He was a court expert witness for the Western Fuels Association.
Source: DeSmogBlog, SourceWatch, Weather Underground

Patrick Michaels – Michaels served as an expert court witness on behalf of the Western Fuels Association. This, and other actions, led the Minnesota Star to write about him in an editorial stating he was a fossil-fuel industry funded scientist. He won a court case against them, but then he admitted in 1995 that he had received over $165,000 from the fossil fuel industry. He now refuses to reveal any of his source of funds. ABC reported he had received $100,000 from the Intermountain Rural Electric Association. He also acknowledged on CNN that 40 percent of his funding comes from the oil industry. He was a witness in a lawsuit but withdrew when it became apparent he would have to reveal his funding sources. He was paid by the coal industry to write the World Climate Report, in which he regularly attempted to discredit climate science.
Source: ThinkProgress, Wikipedia, Mother Jones, DeSmogBlog, Newsweek, Huffington Post

The Cato Institute: A long-time climate denial organization, Patrick Michaels (see above) heads their Center for the Study of Science. He admitted that he receives 40% of his funding from the fossil fuel industry. The Cato Institute received $110,000 from ExxonMobil between 2001and 2006, $95,000 from General Motors from 2003 to 2009, and $2.79 million from the three main Koch family funds from 2001 to 2010.

According to various data bases and their tax documents, some of their funding includes: Donors Capital Fund ($1.08 million, 2002-11), DonorsTrust ($348,670, 2002-11), ExxonMobil ($110,000, 2001-06), Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($18,400, 2006-08), David H. Koch Charitable Foundation ($500,000, 2001) and Charles Koch’s Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation ($2.27 million, 2001-10).

Source: Huffington Post, Union of Concerned Scientists

Competitive Enterprise Institute – According to various data bases and their tax documents, some of their funding includes: American Petroleum Institute ($25,000, 2009), Donors Capital Fund ($607,280, 2007-11), Donors Trust ($581,000, 2002-11), ExxonMobil ($1.69 million, 2001-05), General Motors Foundation ($245,000, 2003-08), Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($24,100, 2009) and Charles Koch’s Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation ($222,620, 2002-11).
Source:  Union of Concerned Scientists

James Inhofe – The senior senator from Oklahoma, Senator Inhofe is a die-hard critic of climate change science. He has called global warming the ‘greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” At the same time, the senator is one of the largest receivers of fossil fuel industry campaign funds. Over his career, he has received over $3,250,000 from the energy sector, including $1,600,000 from the oil and gas industry. That total included over $95,000 from the Koch Brothers. He famously used outdated data, even though it had been proven false, to make the claim that there was no scientific evidence of global warming.
Source: OpenSecrets, The Guardian, Newsweek

Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) – The NIPCC is a project funded by the Heartland Institute with the objective of presenting alternative science. The NIPCC differs from the UN’s IPCC in several important ways, including (thanks to Skeptical Science):

  • Its purpose is not to give clarity on climate science, as the IPCC does, but to critique the IPCC, according to the Heartland leaked documents
  • The scientists working for the NIPCC get paid; the IPCC scientists don’t
  • The NIPCC report only critiques papers published by deniers, whereas the IPCC critiques all papers, including those published by deniers. 

The Heartland Institute pays its scientists to disregard most climate science research and focus exclusively on the few “skeptic” studies which support their very narrow focus on poking holes in the IPCC report. One document in the Heartland leaks outlined the list of deniers being paid for their work on the NIPCC, including Craig Idso and Fred Singer.
Source: Greenpeace, Skeptical Science

S. Fred Singer – A long time climate change denier, Singer has been very active as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. He makes frequent appearances before government panels at the state and federal level with testimony contrary to the prevailing science. Singer is famous for claiming global warming was not real, then, when he was caught in the lie, changed his claim to saying that climate science community was a cabal that was silencing any scientist that disagreed with the ‘alarmist’ reports.  Singer receives $5000 per month plus expenses from the Heartland Institute.
Source: Newsweek, The Heartland Institute

Craig Idso -Idso heads the denial organization known as the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. He is also associated with the Heartland Institute, which pays him $11,600 per month.
Source: The Heartland Institute, More Heartland Institute

The Heritage Foundation – Heritage has received $535,000 from ExxonMobil (2001-11), $100,000 from General Motors (2003-07), and $3.69 million from Charles Koch’s Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation (2001-10). They have also received funds from Donors Capital Fund ($41,000, 2002-10) and Donors Trust ($307,765, 2002-11).

Source: Huffington Post, Union of Concerned Scientists

Unpleasantly Honest Statements From Exxon

Exxon released its report on how climate change will affect its business on Monday, March 31, 2014. You can read it here. I found it to be brutally honest. Since we are talking about one of the largest companies in the world, the bottom line is what it is all about and the bottom line of this report is that climate change will not affect its business much. This is something I have been saying for a long time. Very simply, a higher standard of living depends on energy and Exxon is in the business of providing energy.

There are those people that want to talk about going to an agrarian society where things are much simpler and energy consumption is much lower. That sounds fine, unless you live in a third-world country and you would like to move up from a life of poverty to something more comfortable. That will require energy to accomplish, and lots of it.

To put it in perspective, the U.S. has a population of about 300 million people. The world population is about 7 billion. That means there are 23 people living outside of the U.S. for every person in it. China alone has about 7 times has many people as we do. China and India together have one-half of the world’s people, about ten times as many people as in the U.S. How badly do these people want to improve their standard of living? Do an Internet search for images of ‘China, air pollution’ and see what you get. It is so bad in China that they even sell bottled air for people to breath. You might ask, ‘Why in the world would someone put up with that?’ and the answer is very simple – jobs.

China is a stunning example of what people will do for employment. They will live in an environment that will kill them and their families tomorrow in exchange for a higher standard of living today. In case you were wondering, it will only get worse. China and India have plans to open a new coal-fired power plant every week for the next 35 years.

So, are Exxon’s assets at risk?

Not a chance.

CO2 Levels at Mauna Loa Are Approaching 400 ppm

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are measured at a number of different places around the world. One of the primary locations is atop the extinct volcano Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii. This very remote location allows for a pristine atmosphere to sample, resulting in very good measurements. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has been climbing on a continuous basis since the measurements were first taken in the the 1950s by Charles David Keeling. A plot of these results is now known as a Keeling curve and presents a characteristic saw-tooth pattern that results from seasonal changes in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

Mauna Loa CO2

The saw-tooth pattern is a result of the fact that CO2 levels drop in the summer when plants are awake to take the gas out of the atmosphere, but then rise in the winter when the plants go dormant. Last year the Mauna Loa CO2 measurements hit a milestone when they reached 400 parts per million (ppm), the highest ever recorded, at least so far. They have dropped over the summer, but they are now growing again. This is a plot of the last few years. Both the saw-tooth pattern and the rising trend can be easily seen here.

CO2 Trend for Mauna Loa

NOAA reports that the CO2 level in February 2013 was 396.80 ppm. The level for February 2014 was 398.03 ppm. I think the data shows it is inevitable that we will top 400 ppm this year.

Not that 400 ppm is so much more dangerous than 398 ppm. But, it illustrates the trend and how little we are doing to stop it. Since they started taking the measurements in 1958 at Mauna Loa, CO2 levels have risen approximately 25%. And, that is just the increase since 1958. There was an additional amount of increase before Keeling began taking measurements.

That data also shows the rate of increase is itself increasing. The average rate of increase over the 56 years of data is .45% per year. But, the rate of increase over the last 4 years is at .51% per year. So, not only is the problem bad, its getting worse.

ExxonMobil and Climate Change

ExxonMobil has agreed to release by the end of March a report detailing how climate change could affect its business. Many people are hailing this as an important achievement. But, without knowing what is in the report I have to be skeptical. Based on ExxonMobil’s history, I expect a report that says little to nothing.

ExxonMobil has provided funding to climate change deniers in the past. They claim they no longer do so, but evidence suggests otherwise. One prime example of how the fossil fuel industry in general funds misinformation is Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Institution that is taking large amounts of funding from various fossil fuel entities. He recently stated that he has received funding from ExxonMobile in the past, but that ExxonMobile will no longer fund him. He does not give a date on when that funding stopped. However, he goes on to say he is still receiving funding from the American Petroleum Institute. API, as it is known, is the largest U.S. trade association for the oil and natural gas industry. One of the companies funding it is ExxonMobil. So, if ExxonMobil is funding API, and API is funding climate change deniers, isn’t ExxonMobil still funding climate change deniers? It seems to me that the company is just finding a way to launder the money, so to speak.

Then, take a look at the ExxonMobil webpage where they state,

Rising greenhouse-gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems. Since most of these emissions are energy-related, any integrated approach to meeting the world’s growing energy needs over the coming decades must incorporate strategies to address the risk of climate change.

That sounds very promising. But, further reading shows it to be meaningless because they also state,

Effective strategies must include putting policies in place that start the world on a path to reduce emissions while recognizing that addressing GHG emissions is one among other important world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.

I particularly find interesting how they state,

… near-term objectives should include the following:

     ………

  • supporting climate research to help inform the ongoing policy response. 

But, then they say this,

Strategies should promote fundamental shifts toward energy-efficient technologies and practices across the economy, and the more prominent use of fuels with lower carbon intensity — such as natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable fuels — within the overall energy mix. These actions already are making headway in many countries, including the United States. U.S. emissions of energy-related CO2 are reaching a plateau and are expected to begin declining soon. By 2030, U.S. CO2 emissions are expected to be about 15 percent lower than in 2005.

Industry and governments should pursue an integrated set of solutions that include developing new energy supplies, increasing efficiency and advancing energy technologies. For example, new technologies will allow more energy-efficient homes, vehicles and businesses. In 2030, improved efficiency will not only have curbed energy demand significantly, but also reduced related CO2 emissions by approximately 17 billion metric tons.

Throughout the world, policymakers are considering a variety of legislative and regulatory options to influence technology development and consumer choice to affect GHG emissions. If policymakers do move to impose a cost on carbon, we believe that a carbon tax would be a more effective policy option to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions than alternatives such as cap-and-trade. And to ensure revenues raised from such a tax are indeed directed to investment, and to assist those on lower incomes who spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, a carbon tax should be offset by tax reductions in other areas to become revenue neutral for government. It is rare that a business lends its support to new taxes. But in this case, given the risk-management challenges we face and the policy alternatives under consideration, it is our judgment that a carbon tax is a preferred course of public policy action versus cap and trade approaches.

This is more than meaningless political talk. There is some substance to it, particularly when they advocate a carbon tax. Is this a step in the right direction? Or, are they just protecting themselves from blame? Based on their past and current behavior, I tend to believe this is merely a smoke screen put up to protect themselves. But, I will be willing to revise that opinion if they show they are serious.

However, the current situation, reading their statements and looking at their actions makes me think that they have learned their lessons from the tobacco industry. They are not going to come right out and deny climate change because they don’t want to be held liable for misleading anyone. But, they will make meaningless, political statements and use proxies to fund alternative science in an effort to “inform the ongoing policy response.”