Reinventing Fire

Is there movement already under way in the world of industry which will outstrip the painfully slow progress of the political world in facing up to the challenge of climate change?  Amory Lovins certainly thinks so and his recent book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, explains why. Lovins is the co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute(RMI), a well-staffed non-profit organisation established thirty years ago and active in research and consultation on issues relating to energy and the efficient use of resources. The book is the product of some years of work by many RMI staff. It focuses the Institute’s current initiative to map and drive the transition from coal and oil to efficiency and renewables.

Can the US realistically stop using coal and oil by 2050? And can such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business?  The answer the book gives to both questions is yes, based on painstaking exploration of existing renewable technologies and an assessment that they are already competitive with fossil-fuel-based industry for those who have eyes to see. The book is directed to the business world. It presents the energy transition as a major shift for a civilisation which has benefited greatly from fossil fuels but must now move from the old fire dug from below to the new fire which flows from above and works without combustion (save for a small amount of sustainable biofuel). It is a time of exceptional business opportunity for those prepared to recognise it and take it. The costs of oil and coal are rising as the price of renewables keeps on dropping. “The curves are already crossing. The endgames of oil and coal have already begun.” Lovins reminds readers that inattentive whalers in the 19th century were astounded to find they had run out of whale-oil customers before they ran out of whales.

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Heartland on education: they’d like to teach the world to lie

This is the Climate Reality Project‘s response to plans by the Heartland Institute to create a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Schools” in the USA that “isn’t alarmist or overtly political”, as revealed in the recently leaked documents. Heartland wants to “teach the controversy” about global warming, and has budgeted US$200,000 for the project. The CRP video is very effective, but if you think that Climate Reality might be slightly over-egging the pudding — that perhaps even Heartland wouldn’t go that far — then have I got news for you. The indomitable John Mashey has released a special report on Heartland’s history of attempts to get its distortions of climate science taught in schools — he’s dubbed it Fakeducation — and it stretches back over a decade.

In an attempt to counter the success of An Inconvenient Truth, Heartland released a DVD called Global Warming: Emerging Science and Understanding, together with supporting teaching materials, and a web site: globalwarmingclassroom.info. There’s a trailer for the DVD here, and further excerpts available here. They are remarkable for cramming just about every item in the climate crank catechism of cliché into just a few minutes, but it’s the teaching materials that I find most interesting. Virtually nothing in them is true. In fact, you could argue that Heartland was aiming to teach children to lie.

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(Not So Simple) Twist Of Fate

Something I didn’t expect: Peter Gleick, the director of the Pacific Institute, a vocal opponent of climate denial and a highly respected scientist, turns out to have been behind the leak of the Heartland Institute board meeting documents that have been creating waves for the last week. Gleick made the admission in an article at Huffington Post earlier today (NZ). He reports that he received:

…an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

In order to attempt to verify that document’s contents, he:

…solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget.

Gleick goes on to apologise for what he calls “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics”.

As you might expect, the usual suspects are all over Gleick’s admission like a rash, but it’s important to retain some perspective here. The people so ready to decry Gleick’s actions were notably silent about the theft and release of private emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The Heartland Institute was central to promoting discussion of those emails, and continues to paint their contents as a scandal. Their hypocrisy, and that of Watts, McIntyre and the rest of the Heartland fellow travellers, is breathtaking.

Nevertheless, Gleick should not have done what he did. However valuable the public service he performed in exposing the reality of Heartland’s climate lobbying and the roots of its funding — and that information is hugely important to any “rational discussion” of why, more than 20 years after the problem was first identified, the USA and the world remains unable to take meaningful action on emissions reductions — the means he chose were not those we would expect from a respected senior scientist.

However this plays out in the longer term, it’s clear that Peter Gleick played the role of whistleblower, bringing the attention of the world to the nefarious activities of a well-funded right wing lobby group with mysterious “anonymous donors” and zero accountability for their actions. It’s a job that any worthwhile investigative journalist would have loved to have done — and which should have been done long ago.

Together with the sterling efforts of John Mashey, the leaked documents confirm in detail what many had suspected. Heartland have made a career out of subverting the truth, the law, and the democratic process.

Gleick might pay a heavy price for his indiscretion, however laudable his goals. Heartland, its funders and the pet “scientists” on their payroll must be made to pay the higher price. Their actions have condemned future generations to far worse than any lapse of judgement or ethics. The real price of Heartland’s policies will be paid in human suffering, and for that there will be no forgiveness.

See also; The Guardian, George Monbiot on why We need to know who funds these tinktank lobbyists, Union of Concerned Scientists report on How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense, Josh Rosenau on parallels between Heartland’s climate “education” tactics and that of creationists, plus Peter Sinclair on Heartland’s abject pleading for tobacco money as recently as 1999 — and let’s not forget they arer still getting it today, and are happy to have a “smoker’s lounge” on their web site.

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The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

It was clearly never Michael Mann’s wish to be embroiled in the public controversy that has been manufactured by the denial industry around his and his co-authors’ work. He’s a scientist first and foremost, the nine-year-old who wanted to know what it meant to go faster than the speed of light, the high school student whose idea of a fun Friday night was hanging out with his computer buddies writing programmes to solve challenging problems, the Ph.D candidate looking for a big-picture problem to which he could apply his maths and physics interests, the post-doctoral researcher wanting to pursue curiosity-driven science. “When we first published our hockey stick work in the late 1990s,” he explains, “I was of the belief that the role of a scientist was, simply put, to do science.”

In support of that belief he eschewed the notion of taking any position regarding climate change policy. But merely doing the science, resulting in the hockey stick graph which showed a rapid and unprecedented global warming in recent time by comparison with the proxy temperature records of the last thousand years, meant that he was catapulted willy-nilly into public attention. And not just attention, but attack and vilification by the denial campaign. The title of his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines is no overstatement. He has battle scars.  However it’s not a conflict he is prepared to retire from.  He no longer thinks he should avoid communicating the societal implications of climate science. Quite the opposite. He points out that scientists who study climate science and its potential impacts understand better than anyone the nature of the climate change threat. It would be irresponsible in the extreme for scientists to leave the field to industry-funded climate change deniers to confuse and mislead the public and dissuade policy makers from taking appropriate action.

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What becomes of the broken Heartland?

The ramifications of last week’s leak of internal documents from the Heartland Institute — the US lobby group up to its neck in organised climate denial in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and perhaps elsewhere — continue to make news. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Heartland money was used to fund Aussie climate denial campaigners in 2009 and 2010, with funds channelled through the “American Climate Science Coalition” — a member of the coterie of climate “science” coalitions spun off from the New Zealand original with Heartland funding. Heartland’s charitable status in the US — which allows donors to the group to claim a 30% tax deduction (effectively a tax-payer subsidy of Heartland activities) — is being called into question as a result of the latest Mashey report into the links between Fred Singer and Heartland, and the dodgy nature of Heartland’s overseas grants. There have also been calls for some of Heartland’s large corporate donors to cease providing financial support for an organisation so steeped in climate denial.

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