BackgroundThis is a follow-up of sorts on my previous post, Exxon and AGU Funding, to which Shollenberger took exception in comments on my article throwing Cook et al. (2013) under the bus:
I actually think the latest post here on the oil companies is incredibly wrong, and I think blaming "industry liars" for anything is a foolish move that shows a very poor understanding of why the public doesn't call for any strong action to combat global warming.I agree that the public's attitude toward CO2 mitigation is not simply explained by saying nothing more than "the oil companies diddit". But arguing that they have not been influential is dubious. Arguing that fossil fuel interests haven't been actively attempting to influence public opinion would be flat out bonkers.
I clearly don't have a ton of nice things to say about Shollenberger, but batshit crazy hasn't been on the list of taunts. So I asked:
I would be pleased if you'd trot over to the post itself and describe in comments there which part of it is wrong. Whether it's "incredibly" wrong or right will have to be left to the individual to decide.He wrote an article on his own blog. Let's have a peek ...
Beginning at the EndShollenberger concludes his post by writing:
The only way to portray these documents as proving Exxon lied is to ignore the vast majority of what the documents say and rely on a handful of short quotations taken out context. You won't find a single quotation in these documents that, in context, shows Exxon endorsed any "consensus" on global warming. You won't even find that they acknowledged humans had already caused the planet to warm.Whhaat? Move my own goalposts much? And ... remind me to ask what's so special about 1996 ... it's covered in the interval in point 2 below from my original article:
But according to Gates and other people who are certain groups like Exxon are filled with nefarious intent, these documents prove Exxon lied. In light of that and the sort-of challenge Gates included to me in his post, I offer a simple and direct challenge to Brandon Gates:
Show a single quotation from any Exxon document prior to 1996 in which Exxon accepted humans had already caused warming or that there would (not just might) be dangerous warming in the future. If you cannot, admit you were wrong.
Summary and ConclusionsDoes not the word "risk" typically entail some degree of uncertainty about future events? He writes a bit further up in his article:
Based on the above documentation, I think it is fair to conclude that:
1. Exxon was made aware by way of research that was self-funded and internally executed and distributed that global warming is a real phenomenon, human CO2 emissions are the main driver of it, and that it presented not only a risk to all of humanity but their own operations if not curtailed.
2. Between Dr. Hansen's 1988 congressional testimony and the runup to Kyoto in 1998, they internally decided that CO2 mitigation was the greater risk to their own profitability than continued warming.
3. On the basis of (2), they embarked on their own media campaign to undermine the scientific consensus they already acknowledged exists, and which their own prior research supported, and knowingly funded the GCC and GCS to do the same on their own behalf and other industry partners/competitors.
As for the quote saying "there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered," it is part of a discussion of how Exxon viewed the probability of various outcomes and what sort of damages of such events might have. In other words, Exxon knew there were potential issues to consider.I think it's fair to conclude he understand what "risk" means. Thus far it seems he and I have been reading the same 1982 Exxon primer on AGW from whence these quotes were taken. We're clearly not reading them the same way. Witness what he wrote just above that last text block:
Notice how statements of uncertainty ("is not likely to cause", "could occur") have been parlayed into a statement of certainty ("would occur").The "greenhouse effect" is not likely to cause substantial climatic changes until the average global temperature rises at least 1C above today's levels. This could occur in the second to third quarter of the next century.According to Exxon's stated position in this document, no substantial climatic changes would occur until at least 2050.
But Mom, It's OK to Cuss if I'm Just Quoting Someone!Let me now deal with, "This is not a statement of position by Exxon or the people writing the document. It's a statement of what some people believed at that time. [...] In other words, Exxon knew there were potential issues to consider." Ok sure. Here's a Sept. 2, 1982 memo from Roger W. Cohen, then director of Exxon's Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Laboratory to A. M. Natkin, then of Exxon's Office of Science and Technology:
Although the increase of atmospheric CO2 is well documented it has not yet resulted in a measurable change in the earth's climate. The concerns surrounding the possible effects of increased CO2, have been based on the predictions of models which simulate the earth's climate. These models vary widely in the level of detail in which climate processes are treated and in the approximations used to describe the complexities of these processes. Consequently the quantitative predictions derived from the various models show considerable variation. However, over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged regarding the expected climatic effects of increased atmospheric CO2. The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of (3.0 +/- 1.5)°C. The uncertainty in this figure is a result of the inability of even the most elaborate models to simulate climate in a totally realistic manner. The temperature rise is predicted to be distributed non-uniformly over the earth, with above-average temperature elevations in the polar regions and relatively small increases near the equator. There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth's climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.Not only was Exxon not just distributing copypasta internally from the consensus literature of the time, they were actually contributing to it. It's really difficult to argue that the above memo doesn't represent a "statement of position" by Exxon. And Cohen's reasoning for wanting to publish their own results in primary literature for public consumption?
In summary, the results of our research are in accord with the scientific consensus on the effect of increased atmospheric CO2, on climate. Our research appears to reconcile Newell's observations and proposed mechanism with the consensus opinion. We are now ready to present our research to the scientific community through the usual mechanisms of conference presentations and publications in appropriate journals. I have enclosed a detailed plan for presenting our results.
As we discussed in the August 24 meeting, there is the potential for our research to attract the attention of the popular news media because of the connection between Exxon's major business and the role of fossil fuel combustion in contributing to the increase of atmospheric CO2. Despite the fact that our results are in accord with those of most researchers in the field and are subject to the same uncertainties, it was recognized that it is possible for these results to be distorted or blown out of proportion. Nevertheless the consensus position was that Exxon should continue to conduct scientific research in this area because of its potential importance in affecting future energy scenarios and to provide Exxon with the credentials required to speak with authority in this area. Furthermore our ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature; indeed to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon's public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.It's too bad there weren't more oilmen like Cohen in the ranks. By essentially reversing course around 1989 in the face of detectible global temperature change, they set themselves up to lose an awful lot of public trust.
Back to the MiddleAfter writing "... Exxon knew there were potential issues to consider," Shollenberger writes:
But so what? Back in 1982, Exxon knew global warming might become a problem. It had a good grasp of what the scientific community thought about the subject, and it reported it accurately. So what's the beef? Above we saw it given as:Well, so what? At least they were consistent! Yeah, about one thing: uncertainty. For the record, 3.0 +/- 1.5 °C is STILL the IPCC's best guesstimate of climate sensitivity to a CO2 doubling. Hooray for consistency!
Exxon helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of some of the world's largest companies seeking to halt government efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions. Exxon used the American Petroleum Institute, right-wing think tanks, campaign contributions and its own lobbying to push a narrative that climate science was too uncertain to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions.But so what? That position is exactly what Exxon had said in the 1982 document. In addition to what I've quoted above, consider:
Making significant changes in energy consumption patterns now to deal with this potential problem amid all the scientific uncertainties would be premature in view of the severe impact such moves could have on the world's economies and societies.So in 1982, Exxon said there was too much uncertainty over global warming to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions. They then helped create a group which said the same thing and used lobbying to push the narrative there was too much uncertaintty over global warming to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions. Whether or not one agrees they were right about the amount of uncertainty at any given time, their position was consistent. Gates tries to portray it as otherwise:
I can't write this often enough, apparently -- Hey idiots:
If you're uncertain about what the system will do, why are you actively lobbying against efforts to mitigate those changes?!Shollenberger gives some hints as to how he might answer that question:
Here is a great quotation from the 1982 document Brandon Gates uses as his basis for this claim:
There is currently no unambiguous scientific evidence that the earth is warming.Yes, Exxon "very bluntly stated that the debate was already settled" when it said there isn't even unambiguous evidence that the earth is warming. I know when I tell people the global warming debate is already settled, I make sure to inform them we don't even know if the planet is warming. Because things are so settled about global warming we don't even know if it's happening!
Update 4/5/2016So I goofed up and read the highlighted statement literally when it was intended to be "sarcastic mockery" (March 30, 2016 at 7:38 pm):
[Brandon S.] I'd say you have to be "batshit crazy" to think my sarcastic mockery was a statement of my personal belief.Note that it's been over 4 days since I acknowledged my error on Shollenberger's and corrected this post. The strikethrough below is of course moot because it is specific to him. Everything after that stands as a commentary on the general case against others who DO make the argument that the planet is not warming.
[Me] Or simple fatigue combined with prejudice. I get the crack now, thanks for putting me straight.
|Figure 1 - No detectible warming here, no sirree. Credit NOAA/NODC.|
Not good enough? Never is, is it. But I'm a determined mo-fo:
What else is there? Oh, ah:
I mean, who knows really. It's difficult for me to take the "we STILL can't tell if it's really warming" crowd seriously. If I'm feeling particularly masochistic tomorrow, I may attempt to wade through more of Shollenberger's re-parsings of my arguments and see if there's any room for me to tighten up some stuff. More what I think will happen is that I'll just find even more of Exxon's post-1988 internal and external doublespeak.