Death to the CBC!

Lorne Gunter recently vented his spleen about the CBC, and the National Post blowhard is clearly feeling a little threatened by the beleaguered national broadcaster.

"The CBC will never be able to exorcize its left-wing missionary zeal -- for global warming, for Islam, for big government, Barack Obama, multiculturalism, public health care, human rights commissions and so on. And it could never survive on private donations or ad revenues. So the only thing to do with Mother Corp is to pull down its office buildings and stations and pour salt in their foundations."

Besides the other perceived sins of zeal for Islam, Obama and public health care, Gunter has the gall to call for the abolition of our seventy-three year old national network due to their comparatively impeccable coverage of climate science.

I am flummoxed by my inability to describe just how dishonest and absurd Gunter’s argument is. Bear with me as I struggle to scale this seemingly insurmountable peak.

Desmog Blog readers know well how we feel about the monotonously inaccurate coverage by the National Post about the scientific understanding of climate change. I struggled to itemize all the factual errors in one single article by Gunter and could not do the subject justice in under 800 words.

On the suggestion of a Desmog Blog reader, I happily nominateChristopher Booker Prize d Mr. Gunter for the Christopher Booker Prize for Bullshit Reportage of Climate Science, sponsored by George Monbiot and the Guardian. Godspeed Mr. Gunter – I am rooting for you.

His employer, the National Post felt it important to send reporters to the climate deniers conference in New York, sponsored by the hilariously unethical Heartland Institute. In contrast, they neglected to send correspondents to either the UN Climate conference in Poznan Poland, or the recent gathering of 2.500 of world’s leading climate scientists in Denmark.

I could go on but you get the point. I make no claim of being a brilliant researcher, but I must say unearthing the abundant errors in the work of Mr. Gunter and other staffers at the Post has been like shooting fish in a barrel with a RPG.

Now why would that be? Professional journalists are typically superb at research, fact checking and correctly citing sources – assuming they want to. In deference to their obvious skills as media veterans, one can only ask the pregnant question: are they instead willfully misleading their readers?

Which brings us to the end game of Mr. Gunter’s latest offering to his readers. There is more at play than the obvious irony of Gunter calling for the biblical destruction of the CBC due to their accurate reportage of climate science.

Canwest graphHis employer Canwest Global Communications has raked up a crushing debt of $3.7 billion. Their share price languishes around $0.30 – after plummeting more than 97% in value in the last two years.

After two humiliating meetings with impatient creditors, their latest deadline to pony up interest payments of $30 million is April 7. What to do?

Rather than cutting costs, selling assets, or running a responsible and profitable business, CanWest has instead hired a close confident of Prime Minster Stephen Harper to negotiate some manner of structural bailout for the beleaguered media empire.

A deal straight out of the PMO would likely take the form of sweeping tax breaks or gutting regulations that would be music to the ears of Lorne Gunter and his ilk.

Meanwhile, the CBC, that has irritated and enraged the Harper government by responsibly representing climate science to the Canadian Public, has been allowed to hit the ground with a splat. Just today they announced the elimination of 800 staff positions and the sale of $125 million in assets just to keep the doors open.

No wonder.

Last year they revealed the Harper government was not being truthful when they shoveled $2.5 billion of taxpayers dollars towards the baseless band-aid of carbon capture to alleviate massive emissions from the Alberta tar sands.

Harper himself is a receptive audience for the type of climate tripe trotted out almost daily by the National Post. He referred to Kyoto a “socialist scheme designed to suck money out of wealthy nations”. This remarkable story was also broken by the CBC.

The CBC also did fine work revealing the inner workings of the Denial Machine – perhaps the most sinister public relations campaign in history, and very reason this blog was started.

And where does the rubber hit the road in such a PR campaign? Nothing as clumsy or obvious as a full page ad paid for by oil companies.

Instead it manifests in columns such as those obediently penned by the likes of Lorne Gunter, referencing the work of “a cadre of scientists who share the industry's views of climate science… trained 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.

Back to Lorne Gunter’s rant against the CBC. He is not merely angling on behalf of his employer in the high-stakes backroom lobbying now going on in Ottawa.

He is also campaigning in his column that one the finest foils to the dangerous drivel produced by himself and others around climate science should be dispensed with by our oil-friendly Prime Minister.

I doubt Mr. Gunter cares that much about the CBC’s coverage of Obama, healthcare or Islam. Like a teenage boy hoping to nonchalantly buy condoms at the neighborhood drug store, he has arrived at the cashier with some pop, magazines and toothpaste.

What he and the rest of the denial machine are threatened by is responsible accurate reporting on climate science – something the CBC has proven dangerously accomplished at.

Keep an eye on April 7. With such an oily regime in Ottawa, Mr. Gunter may soon get his wish.


Saying Sorry is Hard to Do (Maybe I Can Help)

Lorne Gunter was wrong.

How can it be? For someone that has spread such a load of manure about climate science, it was interesting he owned up to two token errors in an otherwise typical anti-climate rant last week.

It was such a minor mea culpa however, we thought we should help him with bigger stuff. After all, the National Post has become such a sad excuse for a newspaper they don’t belong to any press council in Canada. This means that the reading public doesn’t even have a professional body to complain to.

So here we go Lorne – a quick jaunt through some of the whoppers in a single column earlier this month. If you or your editors want to take a crack at fact checking or properly citing your sources, there is something called “internet” that might help. Maybe you can try this on your own next time, assuming that’s something you want to bother with.

On March 9, Gunter proclaimed that William Happer was not a climate denier but an expert on “the interactions of visible and infrared radiation with gases”. Sounds like he has some valuable expertise on climate change.

Wrong. Happer is not a climate scientist at all. He even said so himself. His main research focus is using MRIs to image lungs.

Is he a climate denier? You be the judge. In spite of having no apparent peer-reviewed publications on climate science, he felt qualified to give testimony to the US senate on the subject.

Real climate scientists were not amused. Dr. Bill Chameides, the Dean of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University wrote an excellent rebuttal to the load of dung dished out by Happer in his testimony to US lawmakers.

Another significant citiation point conveniently omitted by Gunter is that Happer is also Chair of the George C. Marshall Institute, which has received more than $700,000 from ExxonMobil. Of course, a ten second Google search by Gunter might be too much to ask of a professional journalist like himself.

Which brings us to another whopper by Gunter “The significance of Prof. Happer's statement is not that it proves global warming is false, but rather that it shows there is no consensus among respected scientists.”

So Gunter’s thesis hinges on the erroneous testimony of a single non-climate scientist, who works for an organization that has received $715,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998?

Let’s move along. There is a lot of ground to cover in this forest of errors and misinformation.

Gunter says: The feedback from atmospheric water vapor is “close to zero and may even be negative”.

Not true. Have a look at this peer-reviewed paper published last year on that very subject.

Gunter says: "additional increments of CO2 will cause relatively less direct warming because we already have so much CO2 ... that it has blocked most of the infrared radiation that it can."

This old red herring is regularly trotted out by deniers and has no scientific basis.

Gunter says: “Over the past decade, while carbon dioxide concentrations have continued to grow, there has been "a slight cooling," according to Happer. Any warming in recent decades, then, "seems to be due mostly to natural causes, not to increasing levels of carbon dioxide."NASA Temperature Graph

That is garbage. This peer-reviewed paper from last year is the latest to debunk the old chestnut of "global cooling".

Also, have a look at this global temperature graph just released by NASA and decide for yourself if the world is getting warmer or not.

Gunter says: “Kanya Kusano, program director at the Earth Simulator at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, called the IPCC's warming theories "an unprovable hypothesis."

He seems to be arguing that Japan’s leading scientists question climate science.

That’s strange. The National Academies of Science of eleven countries co-signed this declaration on climate change, including Japan.

Gunter references a “University of Wisconsin study that shows global temperatures have at least flat-lined during the past decade and that that trend could continue for another 30 years.” So climate change is nothing to worry about?

Not quite. Here is text of the actual paper Gunter is talking about.

Far from casting doubt on climate change, the authors conclude by stating:

“If the role of internal variability in the climate system is as large as this analysis would seem to suggest, warming over the 21st century may well be larger than that predicted by the current generation of models, given the propensity of those models to underestimate climate internal variability. “

Wow. My fingers are getting tired and that is just one of his articles. If he had to print corrections every week, there would be no room for new (or very old) deceptions, omissions or outright lies about climate science.


Harper Handout for Friends at National Post?

Frequent readers know very well what I think of the outrageously inaccurate editorial position of the National Post on climate science.

I have often wondered, “Why would a paper on the verge of bankruptcy consistently print articles so clearly wrong about such a high profile issue? What’s in it for them?”

Well the murky waters are becoming slightly more clear. CanWest Global Communications, the parent company of the National Post has been bleeding red ink for years. Their crushing debt now tops a whopping $3.7 billion and the latest deadline to make a massive loan repayment is early next month.

What to do? Now comes word that CanWest has hired Ken Boessenkool to lobby the government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for concessions to keep the doors open.

Boessenkool is not just any old lobbyist. He a close confident of Harper and the reclusive Harper doesn’t have many of those. Boessenkool worked with Harper since 2000 and was his chief policy advisor in the 2004 election. He recently was with enormous PR firm Hill and Knowlton in Calgary.

Boessenkool is also registered lobbyist on behalf a number of fossil fuel and tar sands giants including Suncor, Enbridge and TransAlta. TransAlta also has an interest in Harper’s favourite climate panacea – carbon capture and storage.

Hill and Knowlton have a long and dubious record of involvement with so called science skeptics. Way back in 1954, they designed the original campaign for the tobacco industry to deny the link between cigarettes and cancer, including drafting the infamous Frank Statement.

In 1975, they worked on behalf of the CFC industry to obscure the link between chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone hole with the help of notable skeptics such as S. Fred Singer.

Back to the National Post. Their very survival depends now depends on some kind of tax break, regulatory change or hand out from the Harper government. Being represented by close friend of the Prime Minister certainly will help. Consistently printing erroneous articles about climate change might aid their cause as well.

Harper himself has battled the entire scientific community around climate change. He has been a active opponent of international efforts to curb carbon emissions, and one of his biggest worries now is whether the Obama Administration will limit imports of tar sands oil due to concerns about climate change.

This is the largest capital project in the world, in Harper’s home province, with only one customer – the United States. To say that Harper’s friends in the tar sands business would be screwed if their one and only market dried up is an understatement.

The fate of the tar sands, as well as our changing climate, is no longer about science or public policy – it is about public opinion. The National Post been so one-sided and extreme on this front, they are almost not a newspaper at all.

In fact, I considered filing a complaint with some of the provincial press councils about the naked propaganda they regulalry publish on climate science. But guess what? The National Post is not a member of any press council in the country.

Such tiny publications as the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder, or the North Bay Nugget find the time to be involved in these professional associations, but not the National Post – only one of two national papers in the country.

That means the Post has the luxury of printing whatever dangerously wrong tripe they want and the reading public does not even have a professional body to complain to. Must be nice to never have to say you’re sorry.

All this may work in their advantage in the meetings with Harper. After all, why bother running a successful and responsible newspaper when you can instead cozy up to the oil friendly Prime Minister for a hand-out that will be refused to your competition?

While CanWest may bounce happily in a government-funded safety net, the Heritage Minister has made it clear that our national public broadcaster will be allowed to hit the ground with a splat.

The CBC is looking at a budget shortfall of $100 million and may even have to auction hard assets to keep the doors open. There will be no helping hand for them. Heritage Minister Moore instead suggested they should slash up to 1,200 positions.

It is no coincidence that the CBC has dug much deeper on climate issues, last year embarrassing the Harper government by debunking claims that carbon capture will solve emissions at the tar sands. They also have done fine journalism countering the mountain of misinformation from the fossil fuel lobby seeking to confuse the public around climate science.

Perhaps they will take comfort in these good works while they are cleaning out their desks…

In the meantime, the National Post may ironically be rewarded for their journalist malpractice. It seems that far from being a liability, their shockingly irresponsible position on climate science may prove to be one of their greatest assets.

Only in Canada.


Climate Clowns Grumpy Over New Learning Resource

Climate change “skeptics” are feeling a little down today.

The US government under the umbrella of 13 federal agencies and 24 educational and science bodies just published a brochure called “Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science”.

Guess what? They all agree that climate change is not a hoax.

This 17-page document will be distributed across the nation and covers the basics of climate science, how the energy budget of our planet works and the well-known dangers of climate change.

It is also a calculated counter-attack by the US government on the creepy campaign by the fossil fuel lobby to keep the public confused about climate change.

"There is so much misinformation about climate," said Tom Karl, director of the government's National Climatic Data Center. "We want to provide an easily readable document to help everyone make the most informed decisions. Having one product endorsed by the nation's top federal science agencies, as well as leading science centers and associations, makes this document an essential resource." Karl said.

Amen to that Brother.

A poll last week showed that Americans were more badly informed about climate science than any time in the last ten years. This is a legacy of eight years of obfuscatation by the Bush administration, millions of dollars of propaganda from the fossil fuel lobby, and criminal irresponsibility on the part of many in the media.

The brochure will be an important resource to undo that damage and is being distributed by teachers throughout the country. It's also available for free download here.

The most sinister PR campaign in history would of course like to continue spinning the myth of perpetual controversy about climate science, however this learning resource is crystal clear:

"We now know that…human activities—burning fossil fuels, for instance—have had a profound influence on Earth’s climate. To protect fragile ecosystems and to build sustainable communities that are resilient to climate change—including extreme weather and climate events—a climate-literate citizenry is essential."

The goal of course the industry campaign is exactly the opposite – keep the public confused and misinformed about the most important issue of the 21st century.

The old tobacco strategy that was so spectacularly successful in delaying meaningful regulation of cigarettes was repackaged for Big Oil. The results are seen in every day in newspapers throughout North America.

In contrast, the brochure explains in plain English what we now know about climate science, including the following basic statements that directly contradict millions in messaging invested by the carbon mongers of the world:

  • The overwhelming consensus of scientific studies on climate indicates that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the latter part of the 20th century is very likely due to human activities, primarily from increases in greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.
  • The impacts of climate change may affect the security of nations. Reduced availability of water, food, and land can lead to competition and conflict among humans, potentially resulting in large groups of climate refugees.
  • A combination of strategies is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The most immediate strategy is conservation of oil, gas, and coal, which we rely on as fuels for most of our transportation, heating, cooling, agriculture, and electricity. Short-term strategies involve switching from carbon-intensive tScienceo renewable energy sources, which also requires building new infrastructure for alternative energy sources.

Such plainly articulated facts, co-authored by virtually every relevant branch of the US government, are a welcome change from the impenetrable prose of the IPCC.

The spin-doctors of the world have had a field day with how unbelievably bad many in the scientific community often are at communicating with normal humans.

The professional charlatans who shill on behalf of Big Oil also never break character no matter ludicrous the lines they are given the read. A job is a job – you got a take what you can get in this economy.

However their performance just became a little more implausible for the viewing audience to swallow.

After all, it is relatively easy, in disingenuous kind of way, to cast aspersions on the green motives of Al Gore, or even poorly paid environmentalists.

But the Department of Defense? It seems a bit of stretch that they are part of some grand eco-conspiracy.

But cheer up sad clown. Maybe there will be some work denying the link between exectutive bonuses and corporate bankruptcies.


Bobbing in the Big Apple?

Climate change just got a little closer to home.

We have heard a lot about potential displacements of millions in Bangladesh, or the disappearance of Tuvalu under the waves. But Manhattan?

A new study published today shows that shifting ocean currents due to human-induced climate change will raise sea levels in New York by an additional 36 centimeters by the end of the century.

That's on top of the 15 cm due to thermal expansion of the oceans in our warming world.

Then there's the impacts of melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, which scientists last week stated could double the IPCC predictions of only two years ago – to about a meter.

Let's not forget another study published in February showing that the northern hemisphere will be preferentially impacted by melting in Antarctica – adding another 30% of sea level rise in places like New York.

Doing the latest math, that could total more than 180 centimeters (close to six feet) of sea level rise in the Big Apple by the end of the century. This sea level thing is starting to add up.

Guess what? Many parts of Lower Manhattan are only 150 centimeters above sea level. Some of the most expensive real estate in the world could be under water in only 90 years. That ironically includes the Marriott Marquis Hotel where the notorious Heartland Institute held their climate deniers gathering last week.

I am sure that even if the ocean were up to their knees, such professional hucksters would find some novel way to spin how it had nothing to do with climate change.

Back in the real world, The Mayor of New York is taking these new findings very seriously.

“Climate change is real and could have serious consequences for New York if we don’t take action,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “We cannot wait until after our infrastructure has been compromised to begin to plan for the effects of climate change now.”

Bloomberg ordered urgent infrastructure investments now to deal with rising sea levels predicted by the scientific community.

These new findings also illustrate just how little we understand about how this planet works, and how insanely stupid it is to start turning knobs and pushing buttons in the absence of an owner’s manual.

Dr. Jianjun Yin of Florida State University published the latest study today in the respected journal Nature Geoscience.graph from Nature

He found that the titanic forces unleashed by climate change would alter ancient ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Current.

These two currents contribute to a deep ocean upwelling called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which has kept local sea levels around New York lower than they would otherwise be.

The AMOC also transports warm surface waters to the high northern latitudes, keeping Europe unusually warm given its proximity to the arctic circle.

Already, some studies have shown that the AMOC slowed by about 30% between 1957 and 2004, and it is expected to disappear further because of global warming.

This slowdown not only threatens the relatively balmy climate enjoyed in Northern Europe but will also eliminate the dynamic forces that keep the sea level lower along the US east coast.

"Some parts of lower Manhattan are only 1.5 meters [5 feet] above sea level," said Dr. Yin, a climate modeler at Florida State University. “Twenty centimeters [8 inches] of extra rise would pose a threat to this region."

The changes in ocean circulation will also bring increased risk of damage from hurricanes and winter storm surges, researchers say.

Increased sea levels and more intense storms are a nasty combination and will make the challenges of our new climate even more challenging to adapt to in densely populated areas like New York.

Buckle up those of you in the Big Apple. This climate change thing is getting more freaky all the time.


Paris Hilton and the End of the World

Britney Spears is a great artist. Paris Hilton is very talented.

It seems the yawning gulf between perception and reality has never been greater.

Truer still for how the public perceives climate science. A new poll shows that 41% of Americans now believe concerns around global warming are exaggerated -the highest level of skepticism in over a decade.

This is a shocking figure given the latest scientific findings being reveled, even as we speak, at a gathering of 2,500 of the world’s leading researchers on climate change.

This chasm of opinion between the scientific community and the public shows how criminally irresponsible many in the mainstream media have been about portraying climate science, and how effective the misinformation campaign by the fossil fuel lobby has been in deceiving the average American.

Does public opinion even matter? In a voting (and shopping) society like ours, it is about the hottest commodity going. Right or wrong, any politician goes against it at their peril.

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God.”

This ancient principle is not lost on the industries of the world. The Union of Concerned Scientists showed how ExxonMobil “funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science”.Gallup Graph

One of those groups was the Heartland Institute that just wrapped up their climate deniers conference in New York. Likewise, the coal industry last year shoveled $45 million on a PR campaign to promote the baseless idea of “clean coal”.

But shouldn’t companies be able to spend their advertising dollars any way they want?

Think of it this way: ordinary citizens rightly resent how massive lobbying efforts in Washington undermine democracy. The only difference between PR campaigns and Capitol Hill lobbying is that the person being lobbied is you.

Do these tactics work? Of course. Exxon did not become the largest corporation on Earth by making decisions that were not in their best interest. And they are certainly not going to part with their hard-earned money unless there is something in it for them.

Consider the recent media coverage of the climate conference in Denmark where 2,500 of the leading researchers on global warming are basically describing how the world is going to end. One would think that would be worthy of a bit of media ink.

Instead papers like the National Post chose to send their reporters to the climate deniers costume ball in New York.

So who was the winner in this latest skirmish for public opinion? As always, the answer is revealed by Google.

A quick internet search shows the real climate conference in Denmark generated 989 news stories. The deniers conference garnered about 112 stories. So truth won, right? Not quite.

The goal of a PR campaign like the one being waged by Big Oil is never to win the debate, just to keep it going. The now infamous 1969 memo by the PR firm Brown and Williamson to their tobacco client perhaps said it best:

“Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' [linking smoking with disease] that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

The enormous time and effort that went into the climate conference in Denmark, as well as all the underlying research, is useless unless it creates political action. The likelihood of that is severely undermined when newspaper editors decide to give equal or comparable coverage to industry-funded hacks saying there is really nothing to worry about.

While the world’s scientists continue to try in their own pedantic way to communicate the latest findings with ever-greater urgency, the forces of dumb are carrying the day.

What is at stake in this war for your mind is nothing less than the fate of the planet. If we are to make the radical shift in our economy that scientists warn we must (and fast), it is imperative that public opinion be onside. Without it, we fail.

Vested interests that would loose big if the world became a greener place know that very well. They are apparently succeeding in confusing the public about climate science - even as that science becomes more compelling, urgent, and terrifying by the day.

The vehicle for this heinous campaign of misinformation is of course the media itself. Mark Twain had some thoughts on that subject as well:

That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditch digging and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.”

By the way, CanWest stock is now trading at 31 cents.


More Blather From the National Post

The National Post is on a roll. After three stunningly stupid articles on climate change by Lorne Gunter and Peter Foster, they have published a fourth.

This latest dispatch by Foster “reporting” from the climate deniers gathering in New York further undermines the Post as a legitimate media outlet. So one-sided and erroneous is their editorial position on climate science that it might best be described as journalistic malpractice.

While the Post felt it important to send Foster to cover the Heartland denier’s conference, they of course neglected to send any reporters to cover the UN climate conference last year in Poland, or the current gathering of 2,000 leading climate scientists in Denmark.

I suppose it is simpler to avoid mixing ideology with any actual information.

Speaking of which, they is plenty of newsworthy material being revealed at the real climate conference in Copenhagen – all of it very topical (and terrifying).

Projected sea level rise by 2100 has doubled in only two years to one meter “or more”. That would put at risk more than 600 million people who currently live in low lying in areas around the globe.

"The seas are undergoing much greater changes than those described in the IPCC report...Two or three years ago, those making this type of statement were seen as extremists," said Eric Rignot of the University of California.

The reason for this huge increase is due to ballooning emissions, the painfully conservative nature of the IPCC process, and our better understanding of melting ice sheets.

For years scientists believed this was merely a matter of rising temperature. Now researchers are realizing that glacial melt water also lubricates the flow of ice sheets towards the ocean – greatly accelerating their demise.

"Ice is slipping into the ocean at a rapid rate, a phenomenon that was not correctly incorporated into previous models," said Rignot.

"In Greenland, we estimate that two-thirds of the cause of the glaciers' disappearance is accelerated ice slide, while the remaining third of the cause is ice melting. In the Antarctic, the cause is 100 percent ice slide, and the speed-up there is exponential."

Such positive feedbacks are the exactly the kinds of nasty surprises that researchers worry may propel the Earth into a radically different climate regime as has happened many times before in the planet’s history.

There are other emerging booby prizes that illustrate the dangers of playing the chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere – something the National Post regularly advises their readership we should feel completely comfortable proceeding apace with.

Researchers are now concerned that natural processes that absorb billions of tonnes of CO2 spewed out by humans every year are beginning to shut down. Since we don’t even fully understand how these processes work, one would think it might be a good idea not to tinker with them.

For instance, recent research has shown that plankton shells are now 30% thinner than prior to the industrial revolution due to rising ocean acidity. The world’s oceans currently absorb about 50% of global carbon emissions but there is a price: they are becoming more acidic – an increase of 32% in only the last 200 years.

So why should we care about plankton? These tiny plants and animals make up the foundation of the ocean food web. If they loose the ability to make their shells due to our impact on ocean chemistry – that is bad news.

"The oceans play a vital role in the earth's climate and other natural systems which are all interconnected. By blindly meddling with one part of this complex mechanism, we run the risk of unwittingly triggering far reaching effects," said Professor Raven, Chair of the Royal Society working group on ocean acidification

There is also new evidence that oceans are losing their ability to mop up our emissions mess. A study in 2007 revealed that marine absorption of carbon in the Atlantic had halved in only ten years. Similar results were reported in Sea of Japan.

“It is a tremendous surprise and very worrying because there were grounds for believing that in time the ocean might become 'saturated' with our emissions - unable to soak up any more, " reported the BBC. If true, that would "leave all our emissions to warm the atmosphere".

But what the hay? I’m sure those folks at the National Post and Heartland Institute have it all figured out. After all, who are you going to believe - a bunch of egghead scientists, or courageous skeptics like Christopher Walter Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley?

As dutifully parroted by Foster and the National Post, the assembled luminaries in New York aren’t worried about climate change at all.

Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute hectored the crowd that climate change is all a bunch of hooey. He believes voters should instead only ask politicians one question: "Why do you want to raise my energy prices?"

Then again, his employer has received more than $2million from ExxonMobil since 1998.

But as I often ask, what does money have to do with anything?


Truth or Consequences

As the masquerade ball of phony scientists talks to itself (and of course the assembled media) in New York this week, a very different conference is happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

Hundreds of the worlds leading climate researchers are gathering at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen to discuss the latest findings about our warming world. Early dispatches are not encouraging regarding how much time we have to get serious about this crisis.

"The sea-level rise may well exceed one metre (3.28 feet) by 2100 if we continue on our path of increasing emissions," said Stefan Rahmstorf, professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "Even for a low emission scenario, the best estimate is about one metre." (Hear that Bjorn Lomborg?)

That is almost double what the IPCC estimated only two years ago.

"This means that if the emissions of greenhouse gases is not reduced quickly and substantially even the best-case scenario will hit low-lying coastal areas housing one-tenth of humans on the planet hard," the organizers warned in a statement.

The vast increase in potential sea level rise is partly due to ballooning emissions and partly due to improved understanding of the emerging science – even in the last two years.

There is something else at play as well. This conference is outside of the confines of the IPCC. When so-called skeptics call this process overly politicized, they are right – only in the wrong way.

Researchers have long complained that diplomats and politicians who draft the final wording of their assessments force them to be painfully conservative in their estimates and communications about our warming world.

The conference in Copenhagen is strictly about science and in this context the world’s leading researchers are free to tell it like it is – particularly about the need for massive and rapid reductions of carbon.

We could pass a threshold during the 21st century that can commit the world to metres of sea-level rise," warned John Church, a researcher at the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Hobart. "Short-term emission goals are critical."

The importance of moving quickly is critical say scientists to avoid committing our world to centuries of devastating temperature increases.

"With stiff reductions in 2050 you can end the temperature curve (rise) quite quickly, but there's not much you can do to the sea-level rise anymore," Rahmstorf said. "We are setting in motion processes that will lead to sea levels rising for centuries to come."

The Copenhagen conference is being held in part to give politicians the minimum amount of wiggle room when they meet for the next IPCC gathering next month in Turkey. These meetings have been notoriously ineffectual and researchers are worried that the next one may follow the same well-worn path of inaction.

All of which makes the industry-funded costume party in New York all the more heinous. Politicians have a difficult enough time making courageous decisions without a bunch of Big Oil hacks playing dress-up and giving them political cover for ever more delay.

The stakes are high in this planetary game of chicken. Will it be truth or consequences? As the clock runs down, our chances to turn the global emergency around are diminishing by the day.

As one observer wryly noted, “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”


National Post Disgraces Itself Again (Again)

Lorne Gunter of the National Post disgraced himself yet again this weekend with another outrageously inaccurate column

about something he apparently knows nothing about: climate science.

Gunter held forward William Happer as his climate skeptic champion to put those hacks at the IPCC to shame. He crows that Happer "is hardly a climate change 'denier'", and is instead "one of the world's leading experts on the interactions of visible and infrared radiation with gases."

A quick internet search reveals that Happer is not climate researcher at all. His recent publications relate to MRI imaging in the lungs of rats.

Perhaps more revealing is that Happer is also the Chairman of the George C. Marshall Institute – a right wing thing tank that has received $715,000 from Exxon Mobil since 1998. The usual list of Exxon-funded hacks have also been involved with this “Institute”, including Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon, and Patrick J. Michaels.

Wiki GraphLast week Happer told a congressional committee, "I believe the increase of CO2 (in the atmosphere) is not a cause for alarm."

He went on to add: “We evolved as a species when CO2 concentrations were three or four times what are now”. A video of this testimony is available here.

Is this true? Of course not.

Here is a graph of atmospheric concentrations of CO2 for the last 450,000 years. Humans evolved as a species about 200,000 years ago.

The planet has been around for a long time and there is evidence that atmospheric CO2 hundreds of millions of years ago was higher that it is now. However, it is hardly a world that humans would want to live in.

Radically different atmospheric chemistry during the Carboniferous period allowed millipedes to grow up to ten feet long. How would you like to find this critter eating your cat food?big bug

Happer also reassured Congress that the frightening scenario of positive feedbacks such as carbon and methane release from melting permafrost is nothing to worry about. "The feedback is close to zero and may even be negative." Prof. Happer testified.

True? Absolutely not.

A recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found many of the Earth’s ecosystems are already being pushed close to dangerous tipping points.

“Everywhere we looked, there was evidence that what was believed to be likely has happened. Nature has been cooperating with climate change theory unfortunately," warned author Dr. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University.

Other interesting insights about Happer are covered here in a telling post from one of his former colleagues at Princeton.

It is also illustrative to look at what media outlets parroted the Happer story last week - minus of course any of the quick fact checking that I just did above.

A Google news search shows that Happer's grossly inaccurate testimony was covered by such luminary publications at the American Thinker, Capitalism Magazine, and the Right Side News – in a piece penned by non other than Marc Morano.

Morano of course is former staffer of Senator Inhofe, who has made a lucrative career out of denying climate science and taking hefty donations from the fossil fuel industry.

Could it be that Lorne Gunter and the National Post are on Marc Morano’s speed dial in his new gig as a “clearinghouse and one-stop shopping' for climate and environmental news”?

The quality of Gunter’s research is so laughably bad that there has to some explanation.

National Post Disgraces Itself Again

Poland is a long way from New York, and the distance illustrates the vast gulf between truth and rhetoric in how many in the mainstream media continue to cover climate science.

Last year, not a single English language Canadian news reporter was sent to cover the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan in Poland.

Yet even as they teeter of the edge of bankruptcy, the National Post felt it important to have a reporter covering the climate denier’s conference held this week at the swank Marriott Marquis in New York and sponsored by the notoriously unethical Heartland Institute.

The UN Conference featured actual scientists and had the potential to generate real news on how the world might come to grips with climate change.

The Heartland Conference is instead a retread of last year’s denialpoloza, featuring the same washed up hacks on the oil industry payroll.

Unlike a real scientific conference, this event is a Potemkin village constructed to give the appearance of scientific debate, when none has existed for at least five to ten years. Yet many in the media still eat it up.

On his way to New York, Peter Foster of the National Post gushed that the Heartland conference will: “feature dozens of presentations by…top scientists and other researchers who question the conclusions of the United Nations' highly-politicized Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

One can gather how much critical thought Mr. Foster will bring to this event. He does not seem to realize or care that media like himself are the real audience of this stunt - not the public or the scientific community.

Consider the plan hatched by the American Petroleum Institute in 1998—calling for a “campaign 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”.

Even eleven years later, Big Oil is still getting much mileage out of their ruse, as evidenced by the giddy Mr. Foster.

If the industry shills in attendance in New York had important new insights and data to back it up, they would surely present their findings to their peers at an actual gathering of scientists, or in peer reviewed scientific literature.

Instead, like washed-up boxers who only pick fights in bars, these skeptics restrict their pugilism to industry funded fetes rather than the bearpit of real scientific debate. And supposed journalists like Mr. Foster are of course given a front row seat.

Other National Post staffers have fallen for Big Oil’s ploy and regularly spill buckets of ink trying to convince the public that the entire scientific community is wrong about our looming climate emergency. The immorality of this, I cannot begin to fathom.

As a writer myself, I don’t begrudge journalists the ability to hold forth on whatever subject they want. The important caveat of course is that sources be properly referenced and fact-checked. Climate denial news stories inevitably are not.

The fault for this lies with those editors and television producers acting as compromised gatekeepers of what information makes it into the public discourse. Many, such as the editors of the National Post, have failed so miserably to accurately communicate our evolving understanding of climate science that it called only be called journalistic malpractice.

So enjoy your stay at the Marriott Marquis Mr. Foster. I am certain that Big Oil will make sure you are well looked after – as long as you continue to deliver their message for them.


Wanted: Coal Industry Spin Doctor - Ethics Not Required

Looking for lucrative gig as a coal monger? The dirtiest industry in the world may have a job for you.

At top public relations firm working on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is looking for a “Vice President, Paid and Digital Media” to increase the public’s “appreciation for the use of coal”.

And do they have money to burn… Big Coal is blowing more than $20 million for a massive on-line propaganda effort to spread their message that coal is “clean”. More than $3 million is dedicated to “digital media programs” and another $17 million is being shoveled towards “media placement” in mainstream outlets.

That is just a small part of the media onslaught pushing the notion that its possible to apply an unproven and expensive technological band-aid to an industry that is pushing the world towards dangerous atmospheric tipping points.

This latest PR blitz is on top of the $45 million that Big Coal spent last year, including a whopping $10.5 million just to lobby Congress.

It is not often that public gets to gaze this far into the maw of the mighty media machine of the coal lobby. Our good friends at Think Progress broke the story when a senior staff member at Center for American Progress was bizarrely approached by head hunting firm for the position, and was sent this confidential job description. It’s not confidential anymore…

Big Coal is looking for someone who will:

Work with ACCCE’s senior staff to prepare recommended strategies and tactical plans for engagement in shaping public attitudes and in support of public policy advocacy goals.

They will judge their success on the “Effective expansion of the America’s Power campaign in digital media formats (including, but not limited to, on-line/display, social media, and other digital formats).

Next time you get invited to a pro-coal facebook group or twittered by a “clean coal” blogger, you’ll know who to thank.

It is not surprising that Big Coal is trying to improve on previous on-line efforts promoting their filthy product. Past campaigns ideas like the coal carolers and “blogger brigade” have been laughably bad.

Beyond the $20 million budget, their on-line spin doctor will also have access to:

  • One (or more) national public relations/digital media PR firms
  • One national traditional media placement PR firm
  • One national digital media placement PR firm

So if "clean coal" is such a great idea, why do they need such a massive PR effort to sell it?

Besides the obvious goal of trying to insulate the coal industry from meaningful climate change policy, governments are also shoveling money out the door like never before in history. The infrastructure that will be built with this unprecedented infusion of public cash may drive public policy for decades into the future.

In other words, if government and public can be made to buy (and build) the doubtful idea that carbon capture and storage (CCS) will eliminate the massive carbon footprint of coal, it could be business as usual for the next twenty years - whether it works or not.

Strangely there is another technology that involves drilling deep holes in the ground that, unlike CSS, has been commercially proven for more than 100 years: geothermal electricity.

Imagine if we invested all the money that may be wasted on a CSS pipe-dream and instead invested in infrastructure that would generate clean, domestically produced, renewable electricity powered by the ancient heat of the planet?

A panel of experts at MIT did just that only last year, concluding that emerging geothermal technologies could supply the United States with 2,000 times the current generating needs for centuries into the future.

There's something else the coal industry doesn't want you to know: Recent figures from Credit Suisse show that geothermal electricity is now cheaper than from coal fired plants - even before future carbon pricing mechanisms like cap and trade are factored in. What’s not to like?

It’s too bad that no one is spending $65 million to promote that…