Greedy Lying Bar Stewards guilty of crimes against humanity
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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