Thursday, February 23, 2017

Guest Post: Ways to Support a Truly Unbiased and Free Press

The below submission was provided in response to the practice of Tom Harris to place deceptive and incorrect editorials and letters in various media. If you want to know more about Tom Harris visit the website Tom Harris and ICSC.

Christopher Keating

To the Editors of the Duluth News Tribune,
Ways to support a truly responsible and free press;

First of all, I must state that this letter is not for publication in the Tribune. It’s meant as a response to AGW denier Tom Harris’s latest deception in today’s Readers’ Views, which Chuck, you and others at the Tribune might want to take the time to read.

Basically there are three types of deniers; those who deny that global warming exists, those who acknowledge that it exists, but is not caused primarily by human being’s massive usage of fossil fuels. And also those who admit it exists, and is contributed to by human beings, but not nearly so much that immediate actions taken by human beings are required to limit Co2 emissions.  

Several decades ago, there was a much larger number of those who claimed that global warming didn’t exist. However, with the passage of time and as the evidence began to increase, some found it necessary (in order to remain credible) to concede to its existence, but not to the fact that man is its primary cause. That led to the ever increasing number of deniers who now admit that it really does exist but is only “in part,” caused by man, therefore making it a primarily natural occurrence, and thus, an issue that does not call for prompt political decisions and actions in order to mitigate its effects. Tom Harris is in this category.

Harris is listed on De Smog Blog, as having these educational credentials:

“B. Eng., M. Eng. (Mech., thermo-fluids and energy sciences)”

So Mr. Harris is educated with a BS and a Master’s degree in English, and the fact that he knows about Mechanics and thermo-fluids is placed in parenthesis.  Thus like most of the more sophisticated deniers he does have a background in some scientific knowledge that might make him more aware of certain aspects and issues involving AGW. But most deniers have less knowledge than he does, and nowhere near the educational foundation shared by PhDs in Climate science—some of whom are Nobel Prize winners, and who have studied global warming for decades. Here is some information about Harris taken from the same link to the De Smog Blog that I included above;

“Tom Harris is the Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), a group of climate change skeptics that has received funding from the Heartland Institute. Before starting work with ICSC, Harris was the Executive Director of the now-defunct Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NRSP). [2][3]
Prior to working with the NRSP, Harris was a Former Director of Operations at the Canadian PR and lobbying firm called the High Park Group (HPG). Previously, Harris was an Associate with APCOworldwide, a group known for creating The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) which worked to advance tobacco industry interests. [4][48]
The Heartland Institute describes Harris as “perhaps the most frequently cited and interviewed critic of exaggeration and alarmism in the global warming debate, appearing thousands of times on online news forums and being regularly published in newspapers in Canada and the U.S. and occasionally in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and other countries.” [5].

Here is a list which is used to describe his stance on climate change:

1.    “Global climate is always changing in accordance with natural causes and recent changes are not unusual.
2.    Science is rapidly evolving away from the view that humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide and other 'greenhouse gases' are a cause of dangerous climate change.
3.    Climate models used by the IPCC* fail to reproduce known past climates without manipulation and therefore lack the scientific integrity needed for use in climate prediction and related policy decision-making.
4.    The UN IPCC Summary for Policymakers and the assertions of IPCC executives too often seriously mis-represent the conclusions of their own scientific reports.
5.    Claims that ‘consensus’ exists among climate experts regarding the causes of the modest warming of the past century are contradicted by thousands of independent scientists.
6.    Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant - it is a necessary reactant in plant photosynthesis and so is essential for life on Earth.
7.    Research that identifies the Sun as a major driver of global climate change must be taken more seriously.
8.    Global cooling has presented serious problems for human society and the environment throughout history while global warming has generally been highly beneficial.
9.    It is not possible to reliably predict how climate will change in the future, beyond the certainty that multi-decadal warming and cooling trends, and abrupt changes, will all continue, underscoring a need for effective adaptation.
10.Since science and observation have failed to substantiate the human-caused climate change hypothesis, it is premature to damage national economies with `carbon' taxes, emissions trading or other schemes to control 'greenhouse gas' emissions.”
* United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

While some of the points above are true—Such as that Co2 is a necessary part of plant photo-synthesis, several others are not—such as the contention that the Sun is a major driver of global climate change. Well, of course the sun affects weather and climate, but not currently, or nearly enough to be the primary cause of climate change. In fact, if the sun were a major cause of the current global warming, the climate would be cooling, since solar radiance has diminished over recent decades. And while Harris dismisses AGW as an issue that has NOT been completely “settled” by science, one must remember that all science and scientific theories (including those about Gravity and the laws of motion) always involve issues which are not currently nor completely understood—and the many thousands of knowledgeable and esteemed climate scientists who report a 97% consensus about AGW, have said nothing to contradict that fact. What is known with virtual certainty is that Global warming does exist, and that its primary cause is the human use of fossil fuels. There have even been studies indicating that, the greater the educational backgrounds attained by scientists, such as those with extensive knowledge about climate science (such as those having PhDs specifically in climate science), involves an even higher percentage of consensus—being at, or above, 99%. Here are some links to examine If you want to know the true significance of the consensus which is affirmed by more than 97% of knowledgeable Earth scientists.

Here is a quote from the above website:

“So a consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer. Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other's work. All science depends on that which precedes it, and when one scientist builds on the work of another, he acknowledges the work of others through citations. The work that forms the foundation of climate change science is cited with great frequency by many other scientists, demonstrating that the theory is widely accepted - and relied upon.

In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them.
Authors of seven climate consensus studies — including Naomi OreskesPeter DoranWilliam AndereggBart VerheggenEd MaibachJ. Stuart Carlton, and John Cook — co-authored a paper that should settle this question once and for all. The two key conclusions from the paper are:
1) Depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, it’s somewhere between 90% and 100% that agree humans are responsible for climate change, with most of our studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists.
2) The greater the climate expertise among those surveyed, the higher the consensus on human-caused global warming.”

Here is another relevant link:



And here is one that, as a journalist you may have heard of, dealing with a popular myth promoted by deniers which is just not true:

I selected these few articles from the Skeptical science website, because for someone like me, who does not have an extensive knowledge of climate science, they list various forms of information more clearly, and more understandably. So like me, I assume that most journalists also do not have an advanced knowledge of climate science, or perhaps even of science in general. And these few articles are among almost 200 rebuttals made by scientists about the many and reoccurring false contentions of deniers.

What we all need to realize is that deniers like Tom Harris love sowing doubts in order to paralyze any meaningful political actions undertaken by governing bodies around the world.  And Scott Pruitt, who has now been accepted as the head the EPA is no better.

He calls on continued “open debates,” even though such debates (as inaccurate as they may be) have been taking place in public forums like the Tribune for decades. And even though Pruitt has used the myth that no consensus exists, based primarily on the mistaken assumption that because climate scientists and many other kinds of scientists must continue to investigate aspects of, or answer various questions about, areas of potential scientific knowledge which still include many unknowns, he leaves plenty of wiggle room to pacify members of Congress by claiming that it’s just not known how large man’s contribution to AGW is? When in fact, it’s known for sure that we have clearly contributed, by far, the lion’s share of our present global warming!

All kinds of scientists continue to refine their arguments about such unknowns, but unlike the implications of people like Harris and Pruitt, those unknowns are merely ordinary aspects of scientific research. And all along, scientists have referred to the 97% consensus concerning the facts that, (A) global warming does exist, and (B) that it is primarily caused by human activities.  So to clarify, about these two specific questions, no significant doubts remain in the climate science community. And unlike the contentions of Harris, the projected warming of our planet does represent a serious, and essentially very serious problem, that mankind will most certainly have to face.

So while deniers continue to make the contentions of scientists, seem like foregone conclusions used to promote the existence of dangerous AGW, the debate goes on. So let me ask those at the Tribune, how much longer this debate should continue? Remember, Tom Harris has worked to promote the Tobacco industry and many of his tactics are taken directly from the playbook that was used to sustain continuing doubts about the role of cigarette smoke and its carcinogens in various forms of cancer. At one point the CEOs from (I believe six different large Tobacco Companies) testified before Congress and blatantly lied about their products, insisting that they were not directly linked to serious health concerns. For years they supposedly “reduced harmful” nicotine content, by introducing flavored cigarette to lure young people, and by using catch phrases and slogans in their advertising—while knowingly addicting millions of young people to their dangerous products—including myself!

I’m proud to say that (thanks to the nicotine patch) I have not smoked for almost 25 years, but I’m sad to report that big coal and oil are now using the same kinds of deceptions that were used to hook me with the claim that cigarettes had no seriously unhealthy side effects—just as big coal and oil are currently promoting the idea that Co2 has little, or merely minor detrimental effects on the health of the climate. This last claim is just as devious as the portrayals of the “minimal” dangers of smoking that big Tobacco used to misinform us all in the past, when the industry used menthol and other various flavors in its filters) to assuage the concerns of the public.

So go ahead and publish the false claims of deniers, but somewhere along the way it would behoove you, as well as your readers, to publish a segment in which the contentions of deniers, are debated with qualified climate scientists, but specifically in response to the contentions raised by deniers, which may then be specifically rebutted by bona fide climate scientists. The 300 words you currently allow in Readers’ views though enabling more people to opportunity to comment, are hardly adequate for most of us to raise a sufficiently backed up and researched response to deniers. But if you were to employ the input of many qualified climate scientists who would directly debunk specific points made by deniers, you might begin to understand why the claims of most deniers are partially, or even fully, lacking in substance. The Tribune would not have to run such forums often, but it would help a great deal if real and qualified scientists were able to make specific responses in print to the contentions of deniers.

In the days of big Tobacco’s outrageous lies we were eventually able to accumulate evidence against them through the use of the FOIA, but in today’s post Citizens United world, so called non-profit charities provide slick opportunities for wealthy plutocrats and executives in the big oil and coal industries, to anonymously make extremely large contributions without needing to be held accountable for them. However, some of that information is still out there, and is available on well-established climate change sites (not the many deceptive denier’s sites) which continue to try and catch climate scientists in “gotcha moments.” However, invariably their questions have already been specifically answered by legitimate authorities on climate science, and their deceptive, misquoted, cherry picked, and/or completely bogus graphs and charts, are invariably disproved and discredited by those same, many, legitimate climate scientists.

Please take the time to read the relatively short links I included for articles on the skeptical climate science website, which do excellent jobs of rebutting deniers. The sooner the Press becomes aware of the true myth being perpetrated and perpetuated by clever deniers, the sooner it, and we, will realize the importance of combating climate change. Otherwise, like the victims of big tobacco, we may be caught unaware of the dangers involved and most likely will find ourselves inhabiting a world full of far more extreme and frequent weather events than those we are seeing now. And, (although deniers would claim I am being an alarmist) there is a real possibility that more than a million current species will become extinct by 2100. So one begins to wonder when specific kinds of real information will finally break through the wall of willful ignorance erected by extremely well-funded conservative think tanks and bogus internet sites, which largely exist to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, and are maintained by virtually unlimited funds. Must we be swept up by hurricane winds, or float away from the rooftops of our homes, once they are submerged by one epic flood event after another, before we take prudent actions to prevent such disasters?

Please take the time to listen to all of the facts presented by renowned authorities, and then perhaps create a real and necessary debate in the Tribune and other newspapers around the country between deniers and well qualified scientists—the latter of which has been continually lied about and misrepresented by AGW deniers everywhere.

Peter W. Johnson

Monday, February 20, 2017

Heartland Fossil Fuel Funding

The anti-science organization, Heartland Institute, keeps trying to hide the fact is is funded by tobacco and fossil fuel to the point that it's supporters keep flagging comments about it for removal. Well, here is a summary of that funding and it will not be removed. Thanks to Terry for the data.

Heartland Institute has received at least $676,500 from ExxonMobil since 1998.

$unknown Mobil Corporation
Source: Heartland material, present at 3/16/97 conference

$30,000 ExxonMobil Corporate Giving
Source: Exxon Education Foundation Dimensions 1998 report

$115,000 ExxonMobil Foundation
Climate Change
Source: ExxonMobil Foundation 2000 IRS 990

$90,000 ExxonMobil Foundation
Source: ExxonMobil 2001 Worldwide Giving Report

$15,000 ExxonMobil Foundation
Source: ExxonMobil 2002 Worldwide Giving Report

$7,500 ExxonMobil Corporate Giving
19th Aniversary Benefit Dinner
Source: ExxonMobil 2003 Worldwide Giving Report

$85,000 ExxonMobil Foundation
General Operating Support
Source: ExxonMobil 2003 Worldwide Giving Report

$10,000 Exxon Corporation
Climate Change Activities
Source: ExxonMobil 2004 Worldwide Giving Report

$15,000 ExxonMobil Foundation
Climate Change Efforts
Source: ExxonMobil 2004 Worldwide Giving Report

$75,000 ExxonMobil Foundation
General Operating Support
Source: ExxonMobil 2004 Worldwide Giving Report

$29,000 ExxonMobil Foundation
Source: ExxonMobil 2005 Worldwide Giving Report

$90,000 ExxonMobil Corporate Giving
Source: ExxonMobil 2005 Worldwide Giving Report

$90,000 ExxonMobil Corporate Giving
General Operating Support
Source: ExxonMobil 2006 Worldwide Giving Report

$10,000 ExxonMobil Corporate Giving
Anniversary benefit dinner
Source: ExxonMobil 2006 Worldwide Giving Report

$15,000 ExxonMobil Corporate Giving
general operating support
Source: ExxonMobil 2006 Worldwide Giving Report

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Despite Trump, coal is on the way out

President Trump signed an order on Thursday, Feb 16 to overturn the Stream Protection Rule. This rule was designed to prevent coal companies from dumping their mining waste into rivers by restricting mining within 100 feet of a waterway. Trump stated his action would "eliminate another terrible job-killing rule, saving many thousands of American jobs, especially in the mines." Of course, anyone paying attention has learned that Trump has great difficulty in getting his facts straight and this action is another example of it.

A study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found the rule would have eliminated approximately 260 jobs a year, not 'many thousands.' But, at the same time, it would have created about 250 jobs a year. Overall, the rule would have been about breakeven on jobs. Which just goes to show, you can justify anything by stating you want to save jobs, even if it isn't true. So, Trump's action will hurt the watershed, the environment and the people living downstream. The things that will benefit? Nothing. Not even coal. Trump did this to appease his coal mining friends. Interestingly, that CRS study also stated overall employment in the coal industry would continue to drop and would lose around 15,000 jobs of the current 90,000 in the sector between 2020 and 2040. I think it will be much higher. Read on to see why.

The truth is, Trump can't do anything to stop the decline of coal. In fact, Trump himself will be working hard to do just that. He has promised to overturn rules on the oil and gas industry to make it easier for them to drill. Coal's biggest enemy isn't the EPA - it's cheap gas. And, Trump is going to make sure gas stays cheap.

And, ironically, OPEC is helping out as well. OPEC recently caved and reached an output agreement to prop up the price of oil. This is already resulting in a second boom of fracking. The drill rig count for last April was 132 but has risen to 301 today. But, the story is the rigs are more advanced and efficient and they can each do more than the old ones. So, the disparity in the numbers doesn't reflect the true situation. Estimates are the US oil production will increase from 8.9 million barrels of oil per day currently to between 9.5 and 9.7 million barrels per day by the end of 2018. And, along with the increase in oil production will come an increase in natural gas production. 

Even some conservative Republicans are getting into the act. Last Wednesday (the day before Trump signed his coal mining order), the Climate Leadership Council unveiled their plan for a gradually increasing, revenue-neutral tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Proceeds from the tax would be redistributed to the people. This plan is specifically designed to reduce CO2 emissions and address climate change. So, even conservative Republicans are saying there's a problem and we need to act. The plan has been well-received, but I have to be skeptical it will get passed by Congress. Too many members of Congress received funds from the coal industry to vote for something like this. But, the very announcement makes it more difficult for coal. Things are shifting when even Republicans admit manmade climate change is real and needs to be addressed. That doesn't bode well for coal.

And, to make it even worse, renewable energy is surging. 

The number of solar cell installations in 2016 were up 95% over the number in 2015. The numbers nearly doubled in only one year.  By the way, if Trump really is interested in creating jobs, the solar industry employs 260,000 people and the coal industry employs only 90,000. 

And, last Sunday, February 12 saw wind power briefly account for over 50% of the electricity generated in the US.  

So, the coal industry is surely celebrating Trump's action on the Stream Protection Rule. But, during that same week, reports came out showing renewable energy sources are continuing to increase their share of the market, reports came out showing natural gas production is surging again and even conservative Republicans said we need to reduce CO2 emissions. Overall, it wasn't a great week for the coal industry.

Friday, February 17, 2017

News about sea ice continues to be bleak

I made a posting about the sea ice extent recently, but there has been so much bad news since then that I felt I needed to do an update already. A recent article in Climate Central discussed how the sea ice extent has hit record lows on both poles, although the situation in the south is much more complicated than in the north and the ice loss there may not be due entirely to climate change.

The extent of the sea ice is dependent on many things, but so many things have turned negative that we find ourselves in the situation of hoping for a low-probability series of events to help it recover. There may be a surge this summer because one of the factors in the extent is the summer weather. If the weather is cold and cloudy this summer, expect to see some recovery. Personally, the best I am expecting is that it will be bad, but not as bad as expected. And, that is the low probability scenario I was speaking of. Hopefully, I'll be wrong.

Here are some graphics to show how bad the ice is. These come from the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS). You can find a discussion on these figures on the Arctic Sea Ice Blog.

This first shows the ice volume anomaly plotted against time since 1980, revealing a strongly negative trend line.

Ice Volume vs. Time 1980 - Jan 2017

The next plot shows the ice volume as a function of year and allows for year-to-year comparisons. The red line shows the data for 2017 and shows it is lower than any other year.

Ice Volume vs Time of Year

This is an interesting plot. It shows a plot of monthly ice volume versus years and has been dubbed the Arctic Death Spiral. Each colored line represents a given month and is plotted to show how the volume each month has changed as a function of time. The year 1979 is located at the 12 o'clock position and the years advance clockwise until 2017, which is located at about the 11:00 position. This plot is very useful to compare the ice volume between different months. For instance, the red line represents the ice volume for January while the black line is for September, the month with the minimum ice extent. Comparing the two lines shows there was only one year in the 1980s, 1981, where the minimum extent was less than the current January extent, a month when we should be approaching maximum extent. So, we can see how the maximum extent today is approximately the minimum extent of the 1980s.


This plot is from the Polar Portal, a collaborative effort of Danish research institutions, and shows the ice thickness. The cooler temperature (blues and purples) are areas with thinner the ice which formed this year (up to about 2 meters thick). The red and white areas and the thickest areas and represents the oldest ice (over 4 meters thick). The entire center of this map should be red and white. Instead, the old ice is limited to an area north of Greenland where it is concentrated by winds and currents. The blue and purple areas will certainly melt this summer. The green and yellow are vulnerable. If left to themselves, they could melt. However, storms and waves are likely to pile up the ice so there is only a small chance we would see all of that ice melt. The red and white areas may get thinner, but are not likely to melt completely.

Source: Polar Portal

This is the current plot of the ice extent from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The darker (complete curve) line is for 2015 while the red line is for 2016. The light blue (incomplete curve) line is for 2017 to date. At the time, 2015 reached the lowest maximum extent ever recorded. That record last one year until the new lowest maximum extent ever recorded occurred in the spring of 2016. So far, 2017 is tracking significantly lower than either of those years. If the trend continues for the next few weeks, we will see a new lowest maximum extent. I've already gone on record as predicting it will come in at around 14.2 million square kilometers and I think I will stick with the prediction.

Source: NSIDC