Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Greedy Lying Bar Stewards guilty of crimes against humanity

with 16 comments

Last week, I finally got to see Craig Scott Rosebraugh’s brilliant Greedy Lying Bastards documentary about the industry-funded campaign to discredit climate science and scientists. Even for someone like me – familiar with the subject matter – there was a great wealth of detail packed into this 90-minute documentary and/or the extras on the DVD.  Therefore, even if (unlike me) you got to see the film at the cinema, I would recommend that you get it out on DVD as soon as you can.  Indeed, as with Chasing Ice, you might even want to consider buying your own personal copy to keep for posterity (or for use in any class action Law Suits you may pursue at some future date).

Ecologists are prone to pointing out that trees cannot migrate.  They also don’t respond well to mandatory evacuation orders and – along with houses – tend to get burned in forest fires.  Thus, Greedy Lying Bastards begins with news and home movie footage of the June 2012 fires in Colorado, with the poignant voiceover – of what the devastating fires were like to witness first-hand – provided by some of those who lost their homes as a result:  To me, the most striking thing is that, in many cases, the homeowners complied with the evacuation orders but did not expect to end up homeless.  The message being fires come and go but, though they did not appreciate it at the time, the 2012 fires were on an unprecedented scale and out-of-control.  Although Rosebraugh could not have known it when he embarked on the production of this documentary, sadly, this has since become an all-too-familiar storyline.

Record-breaking fires, droughts, floods, freezes and storms have now become annual events:  This is what anthropogenic climate disruption  - as opposed to global warming – looks like and, it seems, we may have to get used to it.  Climate is not weather; and no single unusual weather event is indicative of climate change.  However, climate is the term used to describe the typical weather expected (in any one place) on the basis of long-term observations.  Therefore, when you have (as we do now) frequent and repeated instances of unusual weather in many different parts of the planet, this is indicative of what objective scientists – both liberal and conservative – now call global anthropogenic climate disruption.  

As Michael Mann points out early on in the documentary, the term ‘positive feedback’ sounds like a good thing but, as is now becoming painfully obvious, it is not.  A better term would be ‘vicious circle’:  As a result of a variety of vicious circles, the change that humans have caused is now becoming self-reinforcing and – unless we take concerted action – this will soon accelerate beyond our capacity to stop it:  Given the kind of responses required, the scientific consensus view is that we now have very little time to take action to prevent (effectively) irreversible change from also becoming unstoppable.

Another early contributor to the documentary is Kevin Trenberth who – echoing the subsequently-published ‘Climate Departure’ research of Camillo Mora (et al) – points out many places are already recording unprecedented rainfall and temperature events.  However, as he does throughout the documentary, Rosebraugh juxtaposes scientific facts with human examples of the consequences of those facts:  Such as the 30% reduction in crop yields experienced by third generation farmers in mid-Western states like Kansas – Farmers who say the droughts of 2011 and 2012 are unprecedented in living memory.  Such people do not need climate scientists to tell them that it is significant that this should have happened two years running.

Flipping back from citing examples of scientists with a history of industry-funded denial of environmental problems caused by industry – like Fred Singer and Pat Michaels – Rosebraugh then takes the viewer off on a trip to to Kivalina in Alaska… Kivalina is a Inupiat community on the shores of the Chukchi Sea (i.e. north of the Bering Strait separating Siberia and Alaska), which will now have to be relocated because of excessive coastal erosion.  As one of the community leaders points out, sea ice and/or pack ice used to protect their coast but now, given long ice-free periods in almost every year since 2004, coastal erosion is unmanageable. Interestingly, in 2008, events at Kivalina were the trigger for a class action Law Suit against 24 Energy Companies in the USA – similar to the action taken against the Tobacco companies a decade earlier.  Sadly, this case was dismissed by the District Court in Northern California on the grounds that “regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts”.

The most shocking thing in the movie, however, is perhaps sight of a February 17, 1993 memo from within the Tobacco giant Philip Morris, which reveals the birth of the industry-funded campaign to deny climate science.  In a reality-inverting style that might even have surprised George Orwell, this front group was named ‘The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition‘ (TASSC).  Thus it was that, with the help of ideologically-blinded scientists like Fred Singer, the tobacco industry helped finance the setting up of supposedly-independent groups that would campaign to protect their industry’s interests.  However, as the memo reveals, beginning a practice that would later become known as ‘Astroturfing’, they made sure these fake ‘grassroots’ organisations would not be linked to their industry by ensuring they campaigned against things other than tobacco.  These included GMOs, nuclear power and nuclear waste but, top of the list, was global warming.  So it is that Rosebraugh reveals the counter-intuitive fact that the Fossil Fuel industry did not just copy the Tobacco industry’s idea of denying science:  Climate change denial was in fact the Tobacco industry’s idea.

With memos like that dated February 17, 1993 in the public domain, how is it that we are still arguing about whether or not industry funds the denial of inconvenient science?

Moving forward to the post-Tobacco era of denial, Rosebraugh reveals all the links between Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party.  The one glimmer of hope in all this must therefore be the electoral failure of Mitt Romney (and now Ken Cuccinelli too).  Is it too much to hope that those who deny science have now become unelectable?  The recent victory of Tony Abbott in Australia suggests it may be too early to say on a global scale but, in the USA at least, it may be that those who wish to pick a fight science and history are now going to lose.

This brings me to what I see as the second really alarming thing in the documentary – the revelation of the full significance of term ‘Citizens United’.  As a UK citizen, my understanding of this subject was, to put it mildly, somewhat confused.  I had thought this was just the idiosyncratic name given to a court case in the USA that resulted in Corporations being treated as individuals – thus allowing much greater scope for them to influence the outcome of elections.  In plain English, this could be described as a corruption – if not outright abrogation – of the democratic process.  However, as Rosebraugh illustrates, such a notion is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Towards the end of the documentary, the Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one Joel Reynolds, reduces our human predicament to a very simple assertion:

We face a choice between the survival of the planet and the survival of corporate profit.  

————–

This brings me briefly to mention the extras included on the DVD, which include the following:

1.  An explanation of how and why the IPCC is not a politically motivated organisation by Achim Steiner – the Director of UNEP.  Ardent believers in the Agenda 21 conspiracy for Communist World Domination via the UN will of course say to themselves, “Well he would say that wouldn’t he!”.  However, such zealous believers – such as these guys – need to actually listen to what he says and then come up with some actual evidence to demonstrate that he is lying.

2.  A factual summary of the effects of lobbying in the USA, which highlights the 1 billion US Dollars fossil fuel companies spent between 1998 and 2011 – $147 million in 2010 alone.  They used this money to: protect their $4 billion/year subsidies; to block cap and trade legislation (or any other effective legislation to put a price on carbon pollution); to preserve a weak legislative framework that allows them to pollute our atmosphere with impunity; and to promote policies favourable to their profitability.  And how was all this achieved?  Primarily by means of a network of over 700 political lobbyists on Capitol Hill, which is more than one for every elected representative.

3.  An assessment of the poor quality of media coverage of the climate change issue:  Put bluntly, climate change is the consequence of a great many journalists to differentiate between objective scientific fact and prejudiced unscientific opinion.  Sometimes, although now quite rarely, those who deny the nature of reality do manage to put forward a genuine scientist.  However, by indulging in what Max Boykoff calls “He said, she said” journalism, some media outlets fail to assess – or report – the motives and/or special interests of those putting forward minority views.  This failure is either irresponsible (willful ignorance) or disingenuous (ideological blindness) – or is just evidence of incompetence.

4.  Case study 1 – Peru:  As in many other parts of the World, glaciologists have used photographs taken almost 100 years ago to determine that about 70% of the glaciers left in Peru after the last Ice Age have now disappeared.  This did not shock me half as much as discovering that, as the glaciers have disappeared, the local climate has become more extreme.  Given my life-long interest in geography, however, I really should have been able to work this out for myself:  Proximity to glaciers high up in the Andes Mountains has exactly the same moderating influence upon climate as does proximity to the sea in low-lying areas (i.e. maritime climates have less overall variation in annual and diurnal temperature than continental climates).  As a result, local high altitude farmers have seen a 50% drop in crop yields and an increase in disease and mortality in their animals.

5.  Case study 2 – Uganda:  In 2010, months of unusually heavy rain resulted in mudslides.  However, even more remarkably, many farmers in Uganda now say that their climate has changed:  Since 2007, there has been no recognisable seasonality to rainfall and as such no specific time to plant crops or harvest them.

I think all this can be summarised as follows:  Anthropogenic climate disruption is already here; and with it has come increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, suffering and premature death.  The only question that therefore remains is this:

How bad must things get before the morally reprehensible political lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – which is perpetuating energy policy paralysis – becomes socially unacceptable?

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16 Responses

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  1. Great review, Martin. I really want to see this movie.

    Rachel

    19 November 2013 at 09:30

    • Thank you. I hope you can track down a copy. If not, you appear to be able to buy the DVD via YouTube for £3.49.

      Martin Lack

      19 November 2013 at 10:06

  2. great review- I shall put on my xmas list [for the soon to be built rural cinema- waiting to watch The Crisis of Civilisation on the big screen].

    Yesterday- before the ‘cold snap’ set in [where is the snow predicted by the Mail Express etc?] I was on the roof slating and when the sun came out I had strip down to a tee-shirt. mid November and as someone who has worked outside most of my life the autumn is getting longer. The weather is all over the place making planning difficult although the warmth of october was welcome the rain hasn’t.

    I suppose the issue is the difference between scientific observations and personal anecdotal evidence. Humans do make poor witnesses- the courts understand how poor our memories are. Yet observations also have limitations: for instance because the UK includes Scotland and England & Wales there are averages that appear to be pretty stable- but Scotland and N.Ireland have had very different ‘extremes’ to those of England and Wales. On a regional level the West Midlands to the Welsh border suffered an unprecedented prolonged drought prior to summer 2012 with local farmers telling me it was the first time ever their wells had dried up.

    micro climates are changing and these are difficult to track.

    more in a bit- just have a delivery to see to.
    j

    julesbollocks

    19 November 2013 at 12:07

    • Thanks Jules. It is much colder today than it has been (i.e. unusually warm), there was even snow on the ground (i.e. less than 200m above sea level here). Furthermore, I think we can add Sardinia to the list of places experiencing anthropogenic climate disruption:

      http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/apocalyptic-storm-floods-sardinia-14-dead-20932518

      Martin Lack

      19 November 2013 at 14:36

      • I was just going to post the Sardinia cyclone!

        julesbollocks

        19 November 2013 at 15:49

        • What we need is mass participation in civil disobedience. Here’s a tune to get you motivated: ‘Mississippi Goddam’ by Nina Simone, written in response to the death of civil rights activist, Medger Evars, murdered in 1963 by a white supremicist (et al)… as performed in Holland in 1965.

          Martin Lack

          19 November 2013 at 16:07

  3. The other issue the GLBs- as one gets older there is tendency to lean more right, for me it is the opposite- certainly when it comes to neo-libral capitalism.

    Their excuse in the Gecko ‘greed is good’ is that ‘others will do it’ ‘it is up to China’ ‘warming is good’, I am sure they are not evil in the same way Hitler didn’t see himself as evil- a job needed to be done. There is the notion of ‘survival of the fittest’ that some how pruning jobs or destroying communities is natural.

    Capitalism came about because of cheap energy and the ability to borrow from the future of growth in that cheap energy- with cheap energy powering everything from consumer wealth to population growth, but it is in trouble. The derivatives market, the financial products market that wrapped up toxic loans into neat packages and currently the massive investments in gold rush- shale, tight oil, and even coal suggest the system is desperately looking for expansion in an economy that refusing to grow.

    I would guess that almost all the growth since 2007 crash is paper growth- fuelled by QE [money printing] and ultra low interest rates. Oil has flat lined, and it would appear even coal is getting harder to dig out. Poland’s coal production has halved in 25 years- Iran is oil production decline, as are Brazil and Venezuela although less obviously. The excuse is- reorganisation, lack of investment, cash flow problems etc not we are hitting limits to growth.

    The response of the market is to jump on the next big thing- huge investment into Californian tight oil fields, that are turning out to be more problematic than first thought. Apparently coal in the new hot investment- but hang on- wasn’t the Brazil offshore oil fields the great discovery and investment opportunity? Brazil is struggling to keep its oil producers from bankruptcy.

    there seems a great deal of hype- but of course it won’t save us from future ACD, or tipping points but may slow things down. Nonetheless China will consume all its coal in 20 years, the declining easy oil will be burnt. We just face economic collapse alongside ACD.

    julesbollocks

    19 November 2013 at 12:44

  4. Martin, suggest you leave a comment and link to your great post on Patrice’s latest: Gates of Hell

    Paul Handover

    19 November 2013 at 13:47

  5. That ‘Citizens United’ gerrymandering was totally unethical and wrong. I am part way through watching GLB as I write. Hence late to this thread.

    It is the similarity between that and the following that made my hair stand on end when I first became aware:

    “In parts 2 and 3 of the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill there are provisions which could criminalise the legitimate and transparent activity of such groups in the run-up to elections, while political parties backed by corporate interests spend millions of pounds virtually unchallenged.

    See here for full article from which that extract was taken.

    This is the heart of the matter, Downing Street want to curb any actions against e.g. fracking [1] ahead of the next election. Unless of course some Lib-Dems grow some and walk forcing a ‘no-confidence’ vote.

    The Conservative Party will move from being the Regressive Party to the Repressive Party if that Part 2 passes as was.

    [1] Find a copy of ‘Fracking the UK’ to discover why there is a nasty stink emanating from Whitehall, and other district and county councils, such as Hampshire, right now.

    Lionel A

    24 November 2013 at 17:43

    • Thanks Lionel, your suspicions may be well founded. Back in July, the Gagging Bill (now on hold pending further consultation…?) appeared fully-formed from nowhere – as if it had been cut and paste from the Internet (which it probably was). It bears all the hallmarks of having been provided by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation or the American Legislative Exchange Council.

      Martin Lack

      24 November 2013 at 19:53

      • Yes, both AERF and ALEC suck at the Koch teat. The Kochs using that oily AFP President Tim Phillips, who gives me the creeps, as a front man and seen in GLB,

        Lionel A

        24 November 2013 at 22:19

      • Further to our distrust of government WRT Gagging Law Part 2 and its similarity in intent to ‘Citizens United’ (Orwell would have smiled wryly) I think this post by uknowispeaksense is worth adding to the mix for Australia, as well as Canada with the Harper gang, are going down the route of full on corporate fascism. Now the remark I am about to make is not aimed at you Martin, do not invoke Godwin’s Law for that would be as inappropriate as linking the label ‘denier’ with ‘The Holocaust’, note the difference in status between those later two indicated by the cap’s in a title.

        The more I read of ‘Fracking the UK’ the more alarmed I am becoming. Any who thought our regulatory processes were adequate for what is happening here will be disabused as some shape shifting, name melding makee-lookee companies turn out to be run by the same few individuals often linked to Australian Eden Energy, Linc Energy [1] and Canadian Rathlin Energy.

        What would you think about fracking licenses in the Mendips? This includes Cheddar Gorge and Caves and Wookey Hole. If you have not visited these yet do so quick before they are closed because of dangerous gas levels.

        [1] Linc Energy, who run a Uzbekistan Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) has set up a demonstration facility in Australia. UCG and its ugly sister Coal Bed Methane (CBM) are the processes flying in under the radar as opposition to fracking grows. Yes I know that iCBM stands for Continental Ballistic Missile but this new version is even more dangerous.

        Setting fire to underground coal seams to collect driven off flammable gases is madness. I wonder if they have factored in the possible presence of pyrites which can enhance the possibility of ‘firedamp’ production. Firedamp has a collection of equally nasty siblings which can cause explosions and or anoxia.

        These process produce much water that has to be pumped out and processed (given cost concerns – dumped in the local somewhere) As Tootill indicated, this water has marinated the coal to produce more toxic brew than water, Just what our reservoirs, rivers, canals, ponds etc.. need.

        Lionel A

        25 November 2013 at 12:24

        • Thanks Lionel. What annoys me is that, as a hydrogeologist, I am in danger being seen as an environmental extremist simply by asserting that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Such an assertion should be – and in almost any other scientific profession would be – seen as a simple affirmation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (i.e. because burning fossil fuels millions of times faster than they are being created has ended the relative climatic and sea level stability that made settled agriculture and modern civilisation possible).

          Martin Lack

          25 November 2013 at 14:24

  6. […] 2013/11/19: LoE: Greedy Lying Bar Stewards guilty of crimes against humanity […]


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