Global warming disinformation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Jun 10 07:28:43 MDT 2000



A new study concludes that this has been the warmest century in 600 years,
and that the hottest years during this century have been 1990, 1995, and
1997.[1,2] This is further evidence that global warming is upon us, and
that humans are contributing to it by burning coal and oil. (See REHW #430,
#466.) "Our conclusion was that the warming of the past few decades appears
to be closely tied to emission of greenhouse gases by humans and not [by]
any of the natural factors," say Michael E. Mann, principal author of the
new study.[1]

The global temperature varies as time passes because of natural changes in
sunlight reaching the Earth, dust from volcanoes (which reflects sunlight
back into space), and changing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

So-called greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide [CO2], but also methane
and a few others that are less important) allow sunlight to strike the
Earth but don't allow heat to escape back into space as readily, thus
trapping heat near the surface, just as the glass roof on a greenhouse
does. Scientists have recognized the existence of this "greenhouse effect"
for about 100 years and they know that, sooner or later, increasing the
amount of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere must warm the planet. Thus
scientists don't debate whether greenhouse gases will cause global warming.
They debate when it will be noticeable, how big the warming will be, and
what its consequences might be.

During the past 100 years, humans burning coal and oil have increased the
atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide [CO2] --the main greenhouse
gas --by 25%, and the concentration is still rising.

Actual temperature measurements only go back about 150 years, so
temperatures earlier than that must be inferred from tree rings, corals and
fossils in the oceans, deposits left by glaciers, the chemical composition
of ancient ice at the poles, and fossilized pollen found in lake sediments.
The new study, published in the British journal NATURE, uses many of these
techniques to reconstruct the Earth's temperature back to the year 1400

The new study bolsters the consensus reached in 1996 by an overwhelming
majority of the world's climatologists, that (a) global warming is probably
noticeable now; and (b) human activities are probably contributing to the
rise in the planet's average temperature. That consensus conclusion was
published in the second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC),[3] which is an office of the United Nations
Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization.

For their part, the coal and oil corporations are not taking this
scientific consensus lying down. They are fighting back with a
multi-million dollar public relations plan that was recently leaked to the
NEW YORK TIMES.[4] These corporations stand to lose by the global
climate-change agreement reached last December 11 in Kyoto, Japan. The
Kyoto agreement binds the U.S. to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to 7%
below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. For a country like the U.S.,
which has steadily rising emissions, the Kyoto agreement will require cuts
as great as 30% to 35% below where emissions would otherwise be by the year
2012. (See REHW #577.)

In an attempt to undermine the Kyoto agreement, the energy corporations
plan "to recruit a cadre of scientists who share the industry's views of
climate science and to train them in public relations so they can help
convince journalists, politicians, and the public that the risk of global
warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases like
carbon dioxide that trap the sun's heat near Earth."[4] The plan is being
spearheaded by Joe Walker, a public relations representative of the
American Petroleum Institute.

The scientific talent for the public relations campaign is being recruited
by Frederick Seitz, who is a physicist, not a climatologist, but who has an
impressive scientific resume as former president of the American Physical
Society, former president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and
president emeritus of Rockefeller University. Dr. Seitz is also
distinguished by being one of the last remaining scientists who insist that
humans have not altered the stratospheric ozone layer, despite an
overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary. He is currently associated
with two libertarian think tanks, the George C. Marshall Institute and the
Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (see,, and

Dr. Seitz injected himself into the climate debate forcefully by attacking
the IPCC just days after publication of the IPCC's consensus conclusion
that humans were probably contributing to global warming. Writing in the
WALL STREET JOURNAL June 12, 1996, Dr. Seitz called the IPCC report a
"major deception on global warming." He accused IPCC scientists of the most
"disturbing corruption of the peer-review process" that he had ever
witnessed. And he accused one particular scientist, Benjamin Santer, of
having made "unauthorized changes" to the IPCC report for political
purposes. It turned out that Seitz had not attended any of the IPCC
meetings, and he had not contacted Santer to find out whether the changes
to the IPCC document were "authorized" or not. It also turned out that all
of Seitz's charges were wrong --the IPCC report had been peer-reviewed by
roughly one thousand qualified scientists and all of the writing in the
final report was fully authorized.[5]

Dr. Seitz and his associates at the George C. Marshall Institute are now
preparing to release a petition that they reportedly sent to "virtually
every scientist in every field" in the U.S.[6] There are 10 million people
with undergraduate degrees in science in the U.S., and half a million with
science Ph.D.s. Of these, 15,000 science graduates and 6000 with Ph.D.
degrees have reportedly signed the petition, which rejects the Kyoto
agreement and argues that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere will benefit the planet. The mass mailing to scientists included
a copy of an article formatted to look as if it had been published in the
prestigious, peer-reviewed journal PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF
SCIENCES. It was not. The article, which had been neither peer-reviewed nor
published, argued that the release of more carbon dioxide "will help to
maintain and improve the health, longevity, prosperity, and productivity of
all people." The Union of Concerned Scientists ( has branded
the exercise "a deliberate attempt to deceive the scientific community with
misinformation on the subject of climate change."

According to the NEW YORK TIMES, the energy corporations plan to spend $5
million over the next two years to "maximize the impact of scientific views
consistent with ours on Congress, the media, and other key audiences."
Their plan calls for spending $600,000 (not including costs of advertising)
on a media campaign to influence science writers, editors, columnists, and
TV network correspondents using as many as 20 "respected climate
scientists" recruited specifically "to inject credible science and
scientific accountability into the climate science debate, thereby raising
questions about and undercutting the 'prevailing scientific wisdom.'" The
energy corporations say they intend to provide "a one-stop resource for
members of Congress, the media industry, and all others concerned."

This latest plan to "educate" Americans about global warming will be paid
for by Exxon, Chevron, and other supporters of the American Petroleum
Institute. Previous similar attempts in recent years have been funded by
Exxon, Shell Oil, Unocal, ARCO, the British Coal Corporation, the German
Coal Mining Association, and Cyprus Minerals, a western mining company that
is the single biggest funder of the so-called Wise Use anti-environmental
movement in the U.S.[7]

Who knows? With enough money, it may be possible to convince Congress and
the media that global warming is not happening, despite the evidence, which
is considerable (see REHW #430, #466):

** Average global air temperatures have risen this century.

** The oceans have warmed this century;

** The level of the oceans has been rising this century because water
expands as it warms;

** Many glaciers have shrunk this century in response to warming;

** Plants are moving upward on mountainsides as temperatures rise;

** Rainfall --particularly torrential rainfall --has been increasing this
century as global warming has put more water vapor into the air;

** Floods are increasing because of more rainfall;

** In England, where climatic records reach back several hundred years,
spring has been arriving earlier in recent decades;

** The IPCC and the World Health Organization say that global warming is
expanding the range of mosquitoes that carry malaria, yellow fever, and
dengue fever, a trend that will put millions of additional humans at risk
from these diseases. (See REHW #466.)

** Computer models predict that global warming will be accompanied by more
storms and more intense storms, and, in fact, this has been happening. To
protect itself the U.S. insurance industry in 1996 stopped insuring certain
storm-prone areas on the eastern seaboard and along the Gulf coast.[8]

Already severe storms are hurting people in California, Alabama, the upper
midwest, and New England, to mention only U.S. locations where extreme
weather events have struck in recent months. Real people are suffering.
Affected individuals, and all taxpayers, are paying large costs. If the
world scientific consensus is correct, this will continue until our use of
coal and oil is cut by 60% or 70% and the atmosphere can stabilize again.
At present there is no possibility --none--of achieving such drastic cuts
because the oil and coal companies are too powerful.

Global warming is the most important problem we face because it has the
potential to disrupt every part of the global ecosystem. It is also the
most important because it promises to reveal the fundamental flaws in the
permissive way we treat corporations: (1) we give them the free-speech
protections of the Bill of Rights, allowing them to spend millions on
disinformation campaigns aimed at maintaining a harmful status quo. And (2)
we allow them to manipulate our most basic democratic institutions by
pumping millions of dollars into election campaigns. It seems clear that if
we are to solve the global warming problem, these two practices will have
to change.  --Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


[1] William K. Stevens, "New Evidence Finds This is the Warmest Century in
600 years," NEW YORK TIMES April 28, 1998, pg. C3.

[2] Michael E. Mann and others, "Global-scale temperature patterns and
climate forcing over the past six centuries," NATURE Vol. 392 (April 23,
1998), pgs. 779-787. See also, Gabriele Hegerl, "The past as a guide to the
future," NATURE Vol. 392 (April 23, 1998), pgs. 758-759.

 [3] J.J. Houghton and others, editors, CLIMATE CHANGE 1995: THE SCIENCE OF
CLIMATE CHANGE (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[4] John H. Cushman, Jr., "Industrial Group Plans to Battle Climate
Treaty," NEW YORK TIMES April 26, 1998, pgs. A1, A24.

[5] Paul N. Edwards and Stephen H. Schneider, "The 1995 IPCC Report: Broad
Consensus or 'Scientific Cleansing,' ECOFABLES/ECOSCIENCE No. 1 (Fall
1997), pgs. 3-9. ECOFABLES/ECOSCIENCE is published by the Center for
Conservation Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford
University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020. E-mail: ecofable at;
telephone (415) 723-5924; fax: (415) 723-5920.

[6] Colin Macilwain, "Petition strengthens hand of global warming
skeptics," NATURE Vol. 392 (April 16, 1998), pg. 639.

[7] Ross Gelbspan, "Hot Air on Global Warming; Science and Academia in the
Service of the Fossil Fuel Industry," MULTINATIONAL MONITOR Vol. 18, No. 11
(November 1997), pgs. 14-17.

[8] Joseph B. Treaster, "Insurer Curbing Sales of Policies in Storm Areas,"
NEW YORK TIMES October 10, 1996, pgs. A1, D6.

Descriptor terms: global warming; greenhouse effect; corporations; kyoto;
insurance industry; libertarians; think tanks; ipcc;

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Louis Proyect
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