The “Red Team” on Climate Change. We’ve Been here Before.

October 19, 2017

When you don’t like the facts, ignore them, or introduce your own “alternative facts”.

This is not new to the Trump administration – we’ve seen it before, and we know how it plays out.
Prior to and during the Reagan administration, hawkish conservative intellectuals were dissatisfied with what they viewed as the U.S.’s insufficiently bellicose posture toward the Soviet Union (and, dammit, everyone else).

Problem: Pesky CIA analysts kept pointing out the fundamental weaknesses in the Soviet economy and military, inconvenient for arguing the Soviets were an immediate threat that demanded sharply ramping up defense expenditures, murdering Nuns in Central America, and cutting taxes.
Solution: Get a bunch of paranoid, blood thirsty chicken hawks in a room and come up with an alternative view of the Soviets, one featuring more 900 foot tall robotic super soldiers with laser eye beams.

You may recognize some of the players.


United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began to make speeches arguing that the Soviets were ignoring Secretary of State Henry Kissinger‘s treaties and secretly building up their weapons, with the intention of attacking the United States. Rumsfeld used his position to persuade President Ford to set up an independent inquiry. Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz wanted to create a much more severe view of the Soviet Union, Soviet intentions, Soviet views about fighting and winning a nuclear war.

Short version: “Team B” analysis was highly influential on the Reagan administration’s view of reality.
History’s verdictWiki again:

According to Anne Hessing Cahn (Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1977–1980), Team B’s analysis of weapons systems was later proven to be false. “I would say that all of it was fantasy. … if you go through most of Team B’s specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong.”[9] The CIA director at the time, George H. W. Bush, concluded that the Team B approach set “in motion a process that lends itself to manipulation for purposes other than estimative accuracy.”[8][14] Brookings Institution Scholar Raymond Garthoff concurred, writing that in “retrospect, and with the Team B report and records now largely declassified, it is possible to see that virtually all of Team B’s criticisms… proved to be wrong. On several important specific points it wrongly criticized and ‘corrected’ the official estimates, always in the direction of enlarging the impression of danger and threat.”[10] A top CIA analyst called Team B “a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view.”[20]

Spoiler: Soviet Union collapsed of it’s own weight in 1989.

Key point: Analysis by Intel professionals turned out to be broadly correct, “Team B” not so much.

And if you missed the hint, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and a few dozen others were the prime drivers behind to distortion and “stove piping” of raw intelligence on Iraq, that lead us in to the greatest military blunder by a global power in history, which we’ll be suffering from for generations to come.

Now, building on that success, a new, improved version of the “Team B” approach is being ginned up (this time called “Red Team”) – to apply to energy and climate change.

E&E News:

Climate skeptics have been holding closed-door meetings to identify candidates for U.S. EPA’s “red team” exercise aimed at poking holes in mainstream science and to discuss ways to prevent agency Administrator Scott Pruitt from reneging on his promise to do it.

The conservative think tank Heartland Institute has hosted climate scientists, economists and lawyers in recent months to formulate their vision of the red team, according to an email obtained by E&E News. It contains a meeting description that offers a broad look at skeptics’ policy playbook under the Trump administration while exposing stark suspicions about Pruitt.

“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposal for a Red Team-Blue Team exercise is vague, probably would not be effective, and is unlikely to come about,” Heartland CEO Joseph Bast wrote in an email last week that summarized a Sept. 28 meeting at the group’s headquarters just outside of Chicago.

“More likely to occur,” he wrote, “is a similar exercise directed by the head of another department” — like NASA, NOAA or the White House science office — “with more interest than Pruitt has shown in the scientific debate and more likely to stick around to see the results.”

Pruitt is widely rumored to be seeking elected office in his home state of Oklahoma, and many speculate he won’t serve out Trump’s full term.

Bast declined to comment on the meeting or the contents of the email.

The conservative strategy sessions come as EPA has shown little progress toward setting up the controversial idea after Pruitt floated it earlier this year. Last month, Pruitt suggested the debate could take several months and involve numerous federal agencies (E&E News PM, Sept. 19).

Pruitt is planning to brief conservatives on a “forthcoming policy announcement from the EPA” at the White House tomorrow, and one invitee speculated that it might involve rolling back EPA’s endangerment finding, a scientific determination that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare. Repealing that finding has been another central topic at the briefings organized by Heartland, and some climate skeptics are hoping the red team’s findings will support a reversal of that key determination.

The September gathering was the second briefing hosted by Heartland on the red team. The first took place on June 14 in Washington, D.C., and a third is planned for Houston on Nov. 8, the day before a Heartland energy conference. The invitation list consists of around 150 climate experts. Bast said in the email obtained by E&E News that he sent those names to EPA officials for feedback.

Conservatives appear anxious to get Pruitt to take action on EPA’s endangerment finding, which triggers climate rules under the Clean Air Act. Many climate skeptics would like to see that finding revoked.

One idea expressed at the meeting, Bast wrote, is to “push Pruitt to start a proceeding for reconsideration of the Endangerment Finding … he won’t do it without pressure.”

Participants also suggested that “we need to be able to say ‘EPA is reconsidering whether CO2 is a pollutant,'” according to the summary. Also floated was using the White House petition process — by submitting 100,000 signatures, “the administration will issue a statement on why it isn’t reconsidering the Endangerment Finding.”

Another central theme among speakers at the meeting was that climate skeptics should play up the benefits of carbon dioxide.

Ideas floated, according to Bast’s email, included, “Stop chasing the other side’s latest argument and focus instead on the benefits of CO2” and “sue a company for not increasing CO2 emissions, force a court to consider the evidence on CO2 benefits.”

Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University, called those talking points a “‘kinder, gentler’ form of climate change denialism” in an email.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for climate contrarians to deny that something is happening, because the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” he said. “So the critics are instead retreating to a softer form of climate change denialism, i.e. that something is happening, and that humans ‘might have some role,’ but the impacts are going to be good for us!”

Bast’s email summary included other key talking points, such as emphasizing that those skeptical of climate science are pro-science and pro-environment and speakers should simplify the issues by focusing on a few key arguments. Ideas included reaching out to Fox News reporters and tweeting about the “red team” in order to get President Trump’s attention.

The document went so far as to outline specific phrases that experts could use.

“Never use the phrases ‘windmill farms,’ ‘all of the above,’ ‘carbon pollution,’ ‘social cost of carbon,’ or ‘air pollution,'” according to Bast’s meeting notes. “Use ‘industrial windmills,’ ‘reliable and affordable,’ ‘carbon dioxide emissions,’ ‘benefits and costs of fossil fuels’ and ‘air quality.'”

Participants also warned against being “led astray” by reporters. “Deliver your headlines first,” the email said.

In Bast’s opinion, he wrote, conservative groups should be more transparent about their strategies.

“We tend to hide, or at least not advertise, our playbooks for fear the other side will use them to launch counter-offenses, which we are sure would be far better funded and more warmly received by the media than our own efforts,” he wrote. “But we ought to find a way to communicate our plans to our friends.”

One final thought.

Another commonality between the Reagan era and our own is shadow of Russia, which has loomed especially large since the election of 2016.
Once again, we find the “conservative” faction at odds with the professional intelligence community, but this time – mirror imaged. All 17 primary intelligence agencies warned before the election that Russians were interfering with the electoral process, and using social media to create confusion, chaos and conflict, not just in the USA, but across Europe and beyond.
In response, the Trump administration insists that any such assertions are “fake news”, while preferring their own “alternative facts” narrative.

Now, we have discovered a continuing pattern of lies, omissions and distortions from senior Trump administration officials who have admitted to meeting agents of a foreign power with the intention of collaborating to swing American elections, now and in the future.
And once again, we have a “conservative” establishment at odds with embarrassing and inconvenient professional Intel analysis, but this time, incredibly, astoundingly – in alliance and sympathy with a hostile foreign power.

A major factor in that collaborative sentiment stems from the mutual interests of the fossil fuel industries that have become dominant in Republican Party funding and planning, and the Putin Oligarchy, which bases it’s wealth and power almost entirely on the continued exploitation of fossil fuels, and denial of climate reality.


Many of the same cadre of leaders who, in Iraq, saw an opportunity for a golden age of US control over a lion’s share of the world’s oil resources, now make up the cold dead hand still seeking to prolong the power of global fossil fuel cartels, even as it inevitably slips away in an era of energy revolution.

I’ll be revisiting this with more analysis of just how much power the Trump administration has in forging a climate death pact.  Hint: not the slam dunk they would like you to think.



5 Responses to “The “Red Team” on Climate Change. We’ve Been here Before.”

  1. ubrew12 Says:

    What’s interesting about that ‘Red Dawn’ Trailer is that the Russian invasion actually happened. But since it was performed in service to the fossil-fueled Russian oligarchs, and not the ‘commies’, it appears to have the substantial approval of the American power structure (by which I mean the Koch Brothers). Maybe the Koch’s will fund a corrective sequel to ‘Red Dawn’, called ‘Green Dawn’, in which eco-terrorists, and their evil climate scientist cohorts, take over America and force everybody to eat kale and worship Gaia.

  2. metzomagic Says:


    “… and force everybody to eat kale and worship Gaia.”

    I have to admit, that’s a pretty scary prospect.

  3. Frank Price Says:

    In a couple of discussions I’ve mentioned Pruitt’s Red-Blue team ‘brain’storm & that it would be a waste of time & $$; science is a continuous contest of red & blue teams. Got at least one person’s attention. Hadn’t realized the best way for a scientist to make their mark is to disprove a widely held hypothesis.

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    “which we are sure [the other side, ie “the left”] would be far better funded”

    Paranoid delusions. I’ve had conversations with people who claim, and seem to be utterly convinced that Georg Soros is funding the left to the tune of many times all the funding of the right.

    In fact: D & C Koch combined wealth of about $100 billion, and just those 2 have spent more on politics than all the wealth Soros has, about $8 billion.

    • mbrysonb Says:

      Too right. But it’s a hard go to correct them– it’s so much more heroic and exciting to be fighting for a desperate, under-funded cause against some great, overwhelming threat. Big green is so much wealthier than big oil; the right so poor and oppressed, only great heroism could possible prevent a catastrophic loss!

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