There was a climate denial event today, hosted by the Heritage Foundation, which has been described as Trump’s ‘shadow transition’ Team, and Texas Public Policy Foundation. The following is a first-person account of a day-long descent into madness.
There was a great diversity of speakers across the six sessions. There were speeches by men from Congress, men from think tanks, men from fossil fuel companies and lobby groups, men from science and a man of law addressing the gathering. Women were also allowed at the event, to give the introductory and dinner keynote addresses and allowed an occasional emceeing role.
I tuned in 10 minutes late thinking I’d catch the tail end of the introductory remarks. Instead, I was immediately greeted by Rep. Lamar Smith making an apology for Senator Mike Lee not being there — he was voting on something, apparently. Before long, Smith was bragging about the 25 subpoenas he’s issued as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. In the 21 years prior, the committee had issued… one.
But then, he predicted that “there won’t be near as many subpoenas in the coming Congress.” Because when his fellow fossil fuel friends are running the show, what could he possibly want to investigate?
What he does intend to do, however, is force the EPA to violate privacy laws. He describes it as making sure the EPA makes the data on which it bases regulations public. All the data. Which would mean making private medical records public, violating HIPPA and other patient protection laws.
Smith did say something we can all agree with: “Regulations should be based on sound science, not science fiction.” But it was science fiction that would emerge as something of theme.
Smith concluded by thanking his staffer Emily Domenech, daughter of former Department of Interior employee, Trump Interior transition advisor and TPPF Director Doug Domenech, saying, “If you liked my remarks today, you know who to thank.” The revolving door appears to be intergenerational! At least one woman’s voice was heard during one of the panels, channeled through Smith as it were…
Reps. Gary Palmer and Mike Lee beat the same anti-regulation, pro-business drum. Palmer’s focus was on restoring the Constitution and clawing back federal power. Lee’s focused on returning federal power to the states.
They all showered praise on Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice for EPA administrator, with Mike Lee mentioning that Pruitt has been “pushed around” by Washington, as though the man who has repeatedly sued the EPA has somehow been bullied by the agency, turning the idea of a “defendant” on its head.
Rep. Pete Olson of Texas repeatedly put on a hackneyed Texas accent for comedic effect, though it was not particularly well received. The fact that he got no laughs did not deter him from returning to it. This awkwardness was a highlight of the session.
Next were the keynote addresses by Sen. James “Snowball” Inhofe and Corbin J. Robinson, Jr of the Quintana Capital Group, an investment group focused on fossil fuels. Not recognizing Quintana, I googled and found a 2011 board of directors presentation from Wikileaks. Before I could dig in, the session resumed with Inhofe, described as “the best pilot in the Senate” — who, among other violations, once landed on a closed runway, and “damn near hit” a truck whose driver “actually wet his britches.”
Inhofe praised the attendees, warning them against saying climate change instead of global warming, because the climate always changes. Apparently he is unaware it was the George W. Bush administration that favored climate change over warming, on Frank Luntz’s advice.
Senator Snowball then mentioned he believed the risk of climate change until he heard about the costs of doing something about it, validating the idea that some deniers are more concerned with protecting polluter profits than people.
He also bizarrely claimed Climategate “didn’t get the attention in the United States that it got around the world.” He cited the Financial Times and Independent. He did not cite the eight investigations that proved climategate a lie. Then Inhofe said the 97 percent consensus has been disproven, citing nothing.
Inhofe continued citing nonsense by referencing his Greatest Hoax book, specifically the last chapter about climate change being a UN conspiracy. He repeatedly describes the grueling two week COPs as “the biggest party of the year.” I’m told that anyone who’s been to one to actually work — not just disrupt and distract like Inhofe — would disagree. Vehemently.
The next reference material Inhofe cites is, unlike his book, honest about being science fiction: Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which imagines a global conspiracy of environmentalists to take over the world. Apparently Inhofe didn’t hear Smith’s insistence that we base policies on science, not science fiction.
He then rambled on with various complaints, stories of the Senate and other self-congratulatory quips, going over his time to talk about his granddaughter’s question of why he doesn’t accept climate change, referring him to information from the EPA. The publication of that information on the EPA website, apparently, will be a target of his and Pruitt’s. Because God forbid our children are educated about science, not science fiction. (Someone should make sure the archive has the EPA’s climate pages backed up. This is why we need the Internet Archive, which is backing everything up in Canada to make sure efforts like the one Inhofe just warned of aren’t successful in scrubbing facts from the internet.)
Finally it was time for Corbin Robinson, introduced as a third generation oilman and one of the nation’s largest coal owners.
He started with what struck me as a “moral case for fossil fuels” inspired confession: “I’m guilty. I’m guilty of providing goods, services and clean, affordable energy to the world’s growing population. Now the environmentalists and media would convict me for my services to humanity, because fossil fuel adds CO2 to the atmosphere.”
This man considers himself as an environmental educator then called the IPCC “climate change propaganda.”
Governments, he says, have always been hungry for power and money. Whereas he, a third generation oilman, is apparently hungry for something else. As noon approaches, this nauseating presentation has prevented me from being hungry for lunch.
Robinson issued a call to action, telling the audience that it’s time to go on offense and, for example, develop newspaper pull-outs that explain the benefits of CO2. He asked the crowd about the ppm of exhaled breath. There was confusion and conflicting answers —they said it’s either 5,000 or 40,000. Remember, he’s an environmental educator. (The correct answer is 35,000 to 50,000.)
Despite being unsure about the empirical data he attempted to cite, he nevertheless was sure that it supports his position.
He then actually mentioned by name Alex Epstein’s Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, confirming my initial suspicion. (Being right about that influence was a small consolation.)
After some cheerleading over what the next four years will bring, time for lunch. And more importantly, a bathroom break.
12:45pm, time to return. Feed is back on, mic is live, no one at the podium. Fingers crossed I get a “hot mic” confession.
Hopes dashed again, Horace Cooper of the Exxon et al-funded National Center for Public Policy Research introduces the next session on what to do and how to respond to global warming: “What should America’s approach be to this?”
David Kreutzer, a Heritage Foundation economist and Trump EPA landing team member, is up to talk about the economic impact of climate policies. According to “most economists” — actually just those at the last Heritage event — restricting fossil fuel use won’t help the economy. Elon Musk would probably beg to differ.
He discussed how Heritage runs a “clone” of the Energy Department’s modeling of economics and regulations, which of course finds billions of dollars of costs and lots of job losses when regulations or carbon taxes are imposed. Now that Heritage will more or less run the Energy Department, no doubt similar numbers will start coming from the government, making independent researchers like Stanford’s Mark Jacobson all the more important.
The Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), the calculation of how much carbon pollution hurts us “can be considered a fiction, the way it’s produced in the EPA right now.” He mentions that the modeling goes so far into the future that at its last projection date, “Captain Kirk would be 70.” Again returning to the apparent yet unintentional theme of the event, science fiction.
Kreutzer ended by scoffing at the idea of regulations aimed at reducing energy use of microwaves, when they’re not on.
Then came Pat Michaels of the Cato Institute, whose introduction praised his involvement in the IPCC, despite so many other speaker’s disparagement of that supposed hoax-perpetrator.
He started off by telling the audience that “we need solutions” and gave some suggestions about what needs to be done. He bemoaned the “general malaise” in science, which is apparently “sick” due to the single source of funding. This is assumed to be government, but he’s admitted elsewhere to getting something like 40 percent of his funding from the fossil fuel industry, so perhaps that’s to whom he refers.
Michaels then trots out the non-peer-reviewed, debunked chart from Christy’s congressional testimony, which exaggerates the difference between model projections and observations.
That said, he had a slide titled: “Global warming is real,” which he admitted, but then talked about the data adjustment conspiracy theory. He then pulled up a graph from Roy Spencer to focus on anomalies and claim that models are overestimating the warming we’ll see, leading to the conclusion that we should just do nothing.
The “so-called pause” was illustrated with a graph from 1997 to October 2016, from El Niño to El Niño.
He then says he doesn’t know why the stratosphere cooled as the troposphere warmed. This is actually a well-known effect of greenhouse gasses, holding on to warmth in the lower atmosphere and preventing it from radiating upwards through the upper atmosphere.
Michaels then hopped on the anti-Social Cost of Carbon bandwagon, claiming that if you account for a variety of factors in a fossil-fuel-friendly manner, then it won’t be a problem. So look for the SCC to get changed in a big way in the coming years.
Jokes aside, at this point I begin literally feeling nauseous. I’m not sure if it’s all the candy and coffee I’ve been consuming or the nonsense I’ve been watching. Likely a combination of both.
Perhaps the next speaker, consultant Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute and Northwestern University, could provide some relief.
His focus on energy markets — as opposed to science — gave me hope his session would be slightly more fact-based, and less of the science fiction that’s been the discussed by those who preceded him.
Regarding the billions spent on finding hydrocarbon alternatives, Mills says he isn’t jealous, though perhaps feeling a touch of schadenfreude, joking that maybe we can “Make schadenfreude great again.”
Fracking, it seems, is something of a disruptive miracle for unlocking so much new energy and threatening the energy dominance of Russia and OPEC. Mills’ point seems to be that we should celebrate shale because it’s profitable, and we shouldn’t regulate methane from fossil fuels because wetlands emit methane too, and we’d like to expand those.
Mills suggests the president create an “Office of Energy Exports” to supersede the DoE’s authority sell oil overseas, and get rid of the Department of State’s jurisdiction over pipelines. This new department would be explicitly designed to facilitate oil exports and enter into “long-term trade agreements” with other countries. Though this easier exporting of natural gas and oil sounds like a bad idea for the climate, it also sounds like the opposite of Trump’s anti-free-trade agenda, so I’m thinking it won’t happen. Unless Trump is less concerned with keeping campaign promises than he is keeping his oil-soaked advisors happy.
In the Q&A portion, burying the Clean Power Plan was called out as a priority for Pruitt. Pat Michaels cautioned that “as long as the endangerment finding stands, it will be litigated.” He suggested the Paris Agreement be submitted for Senate ratification, or that the government should send a letter to “the WMO or whoever it is at the United Nations saying we’re not going to do this — we’re going to make climate great again.”
I throw up a little in my mouth, but choke it back down as the crowd laughs. Apparently the “Make blank great again” construct isn’t yet worn out.
On what to do about the endangerment finding, a question asked by EPA landing team member David Stevenson, Pat Michaels responds fairly pessimistically, saying, “you have to take down those models. Otherwise they’re going to be in court for every action the Trump administration takes.”
Or, said Mills, “Congress has the authority to pass laws that violate the laws of nature and common sense, or that don’t… They can clarify the Clean Air Act” to prevent it from applying to carbon dioxide. He admits this would be a hard fight, but one worth having.
The panel ends after a couple more softball questions. Organizers have apparently figured out how to turn off the mic, so I take off my headphones and use these 15 minutes to cry softly under my desk in preparation for the next session.
This one is “industry and the economy,” and we hear directly from representatives of Peabody Energy, Tax Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO), and the Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, which focuses on coal.
After hearing from the totally independent and unbiased politicians and think tankers, it’s about time the fossil fuel industry perspective was offered here today.
Patrick Forkin of Peabody was here to talk about coal’s abundant, clean, affordable, reliable magnificence, echoing the talking point the RNC lifted from a clean coal advocacy group for its platform. The rest of his talk is just as predictable — coal good, renewables expensive. Free market good, subsidies bad.
I am nearly lulled to sleep by Forkin’s simple slides and even more simplistic coal boosting. But an errant phone ringing on the stream snaps me back to attention, just in time to hear Forkin claim that coal can still compete with gas, nuclear and renewables.
Peabody’s bankruptcy suggests otherwise.
Forkin finishes by saying he’s going to go off-script, then reads verbatim from the Trump transition website’s energy page. I wish that were a joke.
Allen Gilmer is up next, representing TIPRO, the largest and first group to stand up for independent oil producers, “the families. The people who have nine employees.” Upon hearing Gilmer compare the Keep It In The Ground movement to “killing my children,” the nausea returns.
Reading about Obama’s press secretary saying that reality will check Trump’s rhetoric provides momentary relief.
Dan Byers of the Chamber of Commerce is next, providing an overview of things and opening with a reference to Family Guy, specifically Peter Griffin’s “Grinds my Gears” bit. His talk, apparently, will be of things that grind his gears, specifically myths of the media.
He claims that the many stories pointing out that Trump won’t be able to save the coal industry are misguided. Byers thinks that because the Clean Power Plan would cut coal use, repealing it can help coal country. But even he admitted it won’t bring coal back to the ’90s or ’00s glory, under-mining his point.
From there he seems to forget the “Grinds my Gears” bit and switches into pitch mode. Slide after slide tells us that — no, really — fossil fuels are good and we should keep using them, and regulations are bad and we should repeal them.
Like Gilmer, Byers too attacked the Keep It In The Ground movement. The dual attacks suggest the industry is pretty worried about the campaign. Byers said it’s “intellectually indefensible” but doesn’t explain how or why. He does warn about more protests to come, and questions why pipelines have become controversial in the past few years. Apparently that’s not because of science shows that new infrastructure will quickly blow the carbon budget, but because fracking is bad.
To them, Keep It In The Ground is BANANAs: “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.” He laughs at his own joke, the crowd begrudgingly chuckles. He then calls protesters hypocrites for using fossil fuels, a favorite rhetorical tool of those without a better argument. It overlooks, of course, the fact that protesters are asking for systemic change so they no longer need to rely on fossil fuels. If everyone could simply choose not to use fossil fuels and still live a normal life, they obviously would. But we can’t.
Now, questions from the crowd, which is sparse and just as predominantly old, white and male as the manelists.
The questions are unimportant. The last asks about carbon capture and sequestration, which Forkin says is technically feasible but not commercially viable. He shifts the burden of that to utilities, saying Peabody are just miners.
It’s 2:59, and there’s no break between sessions. Now one that is almost sure to revive the nausea: A Conversation on Climate Intimidation with Richard Lindzen and fossil-fuel funded Willie Soon, moderated by lawyer Andrew Grossman.
Grossman begins by citing Roger Pielke’s recent WSJ op-ed, and transitions to talking about #ExxonKnew. That, then, brings him to Willie Soon. He pours praise on Soon, including for “winning” the “Courage and Defense of Science” award given to him by fellow fossil-fuel-funded recipient George Marshall Institute.
Soon starts out in good spirits, cracking jokes before becoming emphatic and increasingly unhinged about the investigations and requests for emails revealing his fossil fuel funds are terrible. Not mentioned are the investigations into climate scientists’ emails conducted by Peabody-funded EELI.
He then complains that if you don’t cite important works, your paper would be rejected. He then gives his version of the “pal review” scandal, where a group of editors resigned in shame and protest from a journal after deniers used it as a vehicle to publish one of Soon’s papers.
He then claimed, for the first time, that the paper was a hoax, because he was forced to remove 40 pages of criticism of the seminal Mann, Bradley Hughes ’99 hockey stick graph before it could be published. Soon then went into some conspiracy theories about the rebuttal of his work. Despite coming over a decade after the fact, Soon’s defense seems slapdash, and motivated by a wounded ego that has yet to heal. The expected nausea melts into pity as Soon rants, yelling only semi-coherently about the bullies at AGU and PNAS. Apparently insisting on the disclosure of funding from fossil fuel companies is bullying, and, literally, “a yellow star on my jacket.” My stomach turns again.
I’d try and work out what Soon was saying about science, but what’s the point? Like most everything else today, it’s just more science fiction.
At half an hour, Soon’s ranting apparently went long, as they ended the session without questions, or hearing from Richard Lindzen.
The mic was left on as the session ends at 3:30, and I almost overheard Soon saying something that sounded potentially interesting when someone closer to the mic asked for more chairs on the stage. Not long after, two men stood near the mic, but the crowd chatter drowned them out. Then, some discussion of the slides for the next session, as apparently things had not been fully prepared. Just before standing up to stretch, I heard more chatter from the upcoming panelists. Nothing fun, just figuring out the logistics of who sits where and speaks when.
Apparently to advance the slideshow, you point the clicker at the screen. For once, I believe something I hear.
At last, right before the 4pm session, something juicy: Will Happer says that someone is “referred to as the Conference Nazi.”
There’s a raffle! But two of the five winners (of books) apparently lack my sturdy constitution, and have already left. Sad!
The next session starts, which questions whether or not CO2 is a pollutant. It’s an “update from the CO2 Coalition,” and given their coal and oil funding, the answer is a foregone conclusion.
William Happer is first up, the former professor of physics at Princeton, now more well known as a guy who was willing to take money from unknown Middle Eastern oilmen, funnel it through the CO2 Coalition, and produce a pro-CO2 paper.
Happer praises a power plant in Texas, goes over some graphs we’ve already seen to criticize climate models, and says we’re actually “in a CO2 famine” compared to geological history, which supposedly regularly saw CO2 concentrations of 2,000ppm.
Next is Craig Idso, who is introduced with praise as the lead author of the Heartland-sponsored Non-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is basically the bizarro-world version of the IPCC.
Idso, like so many others, criticizes climate models, based on his reading of lots of papers and has written lots of “commentary” on it. He makes it clear his opinion is based on “years of study” and “dutiful application of the scientific method.”
Staying true to his decades-old dedication to the subject, Idso delivers slide after slide promoting the CO2 fertilization effect. Most of the slides feel dated, and although electronic, somehow look like they’ve faded. After I think this, Idso mentions a picture on screen is actually decades old. Apparently the past seven hours of rolling my eyes at these presentations hasn’t dulled my vision.
He ends by calling carbon dioxide, rather emphatically and completely seriously, “The elixir of life.”
At that moment, I wish for an elixir of death.
Next is Delaware’s David Legates. Legates starts by standing away from the mic, to joke that he’s not a member of the CO2 Coalition at all. He was supposed to be on another panel, debating someone about the case for and against catastrophic climate change. Apparently, they decided not to normalize the event and didn’t show up.
Setting up a straw man, Legates pretends he’s an iconoclast by saying water vapor plays a bigger role in the climate than CO2. Duh. We pay attention to CO2 because that’s what we’re emitting, not water vapor. And water vapor is the primary feedback that CO2 triggers.
He continues on the precipitation front and takes issue with various rainfall studies and NOAA temperature products. More standard issue science fiction.
Back to Lindzen. He has lots of heated rhetoric about the “narrative” of climate hysteria, which “can turn absurd conjectures into presumptive truth.”
Lindzen suggests “the public has long seen the climate issue as almost entirely a political rather than an environment or even a scientific issue.” And yet, even Trump supporters are in favor of more clean energy. So yes, conjecture.
Lindzen also bizarrely repeats the myth that the term was changed from climate change to global warming. Having worked on the issue for decades, he no doubt knows it was always both. After all, it’s the IPCC, and was never the IPGW.
He accepts that CO2 causes warming, but not that it will be catastrophic. He claims there’s “good scientific evidence” that warming will bring benefits. Even Richard Tol, whose gremlin-plagued work can’t even be called “good” has been forced to correct his work, which now finds warming won’t bring net benefits.
Lindzen makes a final ploy to make me puke by comparing climate science to eugenics. Unfortunately, today has given me the sense that we’re about to experience four years of state-sponsored climate “science.”
I can’t wait to remind the Trump-controlled state science apparatus of Lamar Smith’s words this morning: We need to base policy on science, not science fiction.
As 5 pm nears, Roy Spencer is introduced.
He brings up his debunked slide for the third time today and talks about it for quite a while. He seems proud that it’s been used so often, as though that’s because it’s good science, not the denier’s favorite science fiction.
It’s been hours since I touched coffee or candy, yet my stomach still turns.
Finally, Spencer moves on to another chart. This one is basically the same thing, but focused on the corn belt. A third slide is a bar graph, using the same deceptive averaging of climate models. Combining model runs like that are like measuring the altitude of the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon, and pretending that’s the elevation of the entire US. It’s wrong by design.
Spencer wraps up, gently suggesting other data sets are adjusting to fit the models, a favorite conspiracy theory of fake news enthusiasts.
The bile rises up again.
Later tonight, there will be a dinner and keynote address.
I am so very, very sad to say that instead of watching those, I’ll be making a fool of myself at a holiday party.
Because nothing fixes nausea like a good whisky sour… or ten.
Phil Newell writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.