Forgiving Climate Deniers: God Will But I Won’t

August 7, 2018

Above, “The Road Not Taken” movie trailer reminds us that President Carter installed solar panels, symbolically, on the White House.  Reagan removed them, setting up decades of planetary rape and war in service of a fossil agenda.

Blindered blunders in new NYTimes piece on what happened to climate action that kept us from solving the problem.
Nathaniel Rich taking heat for Pollyanna view of the fossil fueled, bad faith greed of the Republican Party and denialist bad actors.

Nathaniel Rich in the NYTimes:

Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979. By that year, data collected since 1957 confirmed what had been known since before the turn of the 20th century: Human beings have altered Earth’s atmosphere through the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels. The main scientific questions were settled beyond debate, and as the 1980s began, attention turned from diagnosis of the problem to refinement of the predicted consequences. Compared with string theory and genetic engineering, the “greenhouse effect” — a metaphor dating to the early 1900s — was ancient history, described in any Introduction to Biology textbook. Nor was the basic science especially complicated. It could be reduced to a simple axiom: The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet. And every year, by burning coal, oil and gas, humankind belched increasingly obscene quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


Expenditures on renewable energy – Big drop in transition Carter to Reagan

Why didn’t we act? A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. An entire subfield of climate literature has chronicled the machinations of industry lobbyists, the corruption of scientists and the propaganda campaigns that even now continue to debase the political debate, long after the largest oil-and-gas companies have abandoned the dumb show of denialism. But the coordinated efforts to bewilder the public did not begin in earnest until the end of 1989. During the preceding decade, some of the largest oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.

Nor can the Republican Party be blamed. Today, only 42 percent of Republicans know that “most scientists believe global warming is occurring,” and that percentage is falling. But during the 1980s, many prominent Republicans joined Democrats in judging the climate problem to be a rare political winner: nonpartisan and of the highest possible stakes. Among those who called for urgent, immediate and far-reaching climate policy were Senators John Chafee, Robert Stafford and David Durenberger; the E.P.A. administrator, William K. Reilly; and, during his campaign for president, George H.W. Bush. As Malcolm Forbes Baldwin, the acting chairman of the president’s Council for Environmental Quality, told industry executives in 1981, “There can be no more important or conservative concern than the protection of the globe itself.” The issue was unimpeachable, like support for veterans or small business. Except the climate had an even broader constituency, composed of every human being on Earth.

Rob Meyer in the Atlantic:

In the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions—far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Ah, yes, ourselves. Now settle in, parishioners, for you know what’s coming next. This is a story about humanity, about the frailty and hubris of those tool-wielding primates who realized they could burn old rocks for energy and, in doing so, accidentally cooked the Earth.

Is that… remotely true? Rich’s own reporting suggests that it is not. Again and again, he describes the Reagan administration going out of its way to thwart climate science and policy.

In President Reagan’s first year, the White House defunded solar-energy research, considered closing the Energy Department, and expanded coal-mining on federal lands. When an executive agency warned that burning fossil fuels could “permanently and disastrously” warm the atmosphere, the White House tried unsuccessfully to shutter that agency, too. In 1982, after its bid to close the Energy Department failed, the White House specifically tried to defund the department’s carbon-dioxide research program. Every single one of these facts appears in Rich’s piece.

Nor was President Reagan’s successor blameless. Today, George H.W. Bush is remembered as an unusually eco-friendly Republican: He expanded the scope of the Clean Air Act and signed an important early UN treaty on climate change. He also talked about climate change on the campaign trail. “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect,” he told supporters in 1988.

But this interest was shallow. In 1989, Bush’s White House tried to censor the scientific conclusions of nasa and noaa climate scientists. And Rich reports that Bush, for all his can-do rhetoric, never took “a vigorous interest in global warming and was mainly briefed about it by nonscientists.”

This negligence allowed John Sununu, the White House chief of staff, to control the administration’s climate policy. Sununu is the closest thing that Rich’s story has to a villain: It’s implied that he prevented William K. Reilly, Bush’s EPA administrator, from negotiating a UN treaty that meaningfully limited greenhouse-gas emissions. Today, Sununu is a notorious doubter of mainstream climate science.

The thrust of this history suggests that powerful figures in the Republican Party were already skeptical of human-caused climate change by 1980. These leaders had not yet converted most Republican rank-and-file voters to their view, and indeed there may have been a few supporters of climate action in the party. But by and large, the most influential administration officials muddied climate science and weakened climate policy.

If Rich seems a little too charitable to the G.O.P, he lets fossil-fuel interests off the hook entirely. It’s likely that oil executives knew humans were triggering climate change before Rich’s story even picks up. As early as 1977, Exxon executives had been briefed that “mankind is influencing the global climate,” according to a Pulitzer-nominated investigation from Inside Climate News. In 1982, Exxon scientists confirmed mainstream climate theory with their in-house models. Then, in 1983, Exxon cut its budget for climate research from $900,000 to $150,000. By the end of the decade, Exxon had essentially eliminated the research program.

Video here begins the same as the one above, but features active scientists from the ’80s predicting those things we now observe unfolding.

Dana Nuccitelli in the Guardian:

However, his story is peppered with examples that contradict this narrative. The world’s foremost climate scientists had published the groundbreaking National Academy of Sciences ‘Charney Report’ in 1979, concluding that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide would most likely cause 3°C of global warming (still the consensus today), and as Rich summarizes:

But Ronald Reagan was elected president the next year and came in with a stark anti-environment agenda, including an effort to eliminate the Energy Department’s carbon dioxide program. In 1983, the National Academy of Sciences published yet another major climate report. It mostly reiterated the Charney report findings, but this time the press briefing was run by Reagan appointee William Nierenberg. In a glaring omission, Rich’s story failed to note that in 1984, Nierenberg founded the fossil fuel-funded, climate-denying George C. Marshall Institute and proceeded to publish a variety of reports denying mainstream scientific findings

In the key 1983 press briefing, Nierenberg basically lied about the climate report’s findings, claiming it found no urgent need for action. Nierenberg’s false summary made headlines around the world and stymied climate policy efforts for years to come. Only after 1985 when the discovery of ozone depletion captured worldwide attention was climate change able to ride its coattails back into serious policy discussions.

Rich’s story culminates with the first major global climate conference in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, in 1989. More than 60 countries were deciding whether to endorse a framework for a global climate treaty. George H.W. Bush had been elected president after promising on the campaign trail, “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect.” But once he was in the White House, Bush expressed little interest in global warming and appointed John Sununu as his chief of staff. Sununu had earned a PhD in engineering from MIT, but developed a conspiratorial view towards mainstream science:

When the Swedish minister briefly emerged from a long and ongoing closed-door negotiation at Noordwijk and was asked by an American environmental activist what was going on, he answered, “Your government is fucking this thing up!” Sununu had pressured the Bush administration representative to force the conference to abandon a commitment to freeze carbon emissions, and the Noordwijk conference became the first in a long line of international climate negotiations failures, thanks largely to the Republican administration.


8 Responses to “Forgiving Climate Deniers: God Will But I Won’t”

  1. Abel Adamski Says:

    President Lyndon B Johnson was OFFICIALLY warned by the National Academy in 1965.
    Dr Edward Teller’s keynote speech to the American Oil Industry at their Centenary Symposium “Energy and Man” in 1959, he called it Global Heating.
    Following which most of the Fossil Fuel companies started their own research programs and even began the denial process, in fact it can be argued the Tobacco misinformation campaign was shaped by and included the same players as the infant fossil fuel misinformation campaign
    Even in 1912 it was written up in Popular Mechanics with the article being reprinted around the world

  2. Abel Adamski Says:

    Gods forgiveness

    Revelation 11:18
    “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be
    judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and
    those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the
    destroyers of the earth.”

    I highlight “destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

    No excuses of I didn’t know, we are long past that, it is also a clear statement that we can and are destroying Earth for which a price is set and will be paid. FULL STOP

  3. I look at that damned solar panel in a museum and just cry.

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    Be great to have an article about the International Criminal Court and its revision of its Crimes against Humanity statutes to include environmental destruction. Seems like maybe they are begging the world to prosecute someone.

    I think we should make a list.

  5. Sir Charles Says:

    Climate science deniers and fossil fuel evangelists have every reason to celebrate the influence they have in the Trump administration, but instead they see reasons for dread. With carbon tax proposals being discussed, climate lawsuits advancing and corporations embracing the need for action, many of those at the Heartland Institute’s “America First” conference grappled with the reality that a fossil-reliant future is not secure.

    => Climate Change Denialists Never Had It So Good. So Why the Angst?

  6. mbrysonb Says:

    Their angst might just be a sense of the bill(s) coming due. How long before the penny drops and people begin to realise they’ve been hoodwinked? The Scandinaivian countries have had a summer 6-10 degrees (Celsius, that is) warmer than average. At the personal level I’ve just been swimming on the north coast of Prince Edward Island– the warmest I’ve ever experienced in those waters. And the same goes for our last two summers at home in Southern Alberta. Then, of course, there’s California. Torches and pitchforks, anyone?

  7. […] oil companies, at Presidential administrations (Republican and Democratic alike), at economists, at propagandists for their denialist nonsense which has helped lead our planet to this terrible mome…. No; in this article I’m going to tell you why I now have a personal vendetta against climate […]

  8. eolandeeliva Says:

    And of course “God’s” forgiveness doesn’t count..being a figment of man’s imagination!

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