Climate Files Update: Decades of Denial

CIC has recently published twenty-five hard to find documents to our Climate Files portal. The documents added to our collections feature entities who have perpetuated climate denial for decades, including:

  1. The Western Fuels Association, a consortium of coal utilities and suppliers,
  2. Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute,
  3. ExxonMobil, and The Global Climate Coalition

The Western Fuels Association

Adding to our Trade Association, Business Groups, and Industry Law Firms Collection, Climate Files now hosts an assortment of documents from the Western Fuels Association (WFA), a consortium of coal utilities and suppliers.

As its annual reports from the early 1990s reveal, WFA had a clear understanding of the consequences climate change policy could have on the coal industry. In 1991, WFA’s CEO Fred Palmer warned that “the fusion of the ‘greenhouse’ and ‘externality’ theories spells big trouble for utilities that burn fossil fuels.” Palmer acknowledged the “huge potential impact of a lopsided global warming debate on coal-based utilities” and claimed they had “no choice but to enter the fray.” To Palmer, fixing the “lopsided” debate on climate change meant launching an aggressive campaign against climate change science.

Since then, WFA documents have stated that “expected negative results of fossil fuel combustion are unfounded” and that climate science was “simply wrong.” It has attacked legislative efforts to regulate CO2 emissions and labeled climate-change a “political lever” of the environmental agenda that “must be resisted.”

Along with supporting the work of climate change deniers such as Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling and Fred Singer, WFA also produced denial propaganda through its project, The Greening Earth Society (GES). Launched in 1998, the GES was created to counter what WFA considered an “unnecessary fear among the public” of climate change. Its content targeted an audience of “educators, students, business and media representatives, community leaders and policy makers” with the explicit intention to cast doubt on climate science, and in particular, the dangers of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.  

WFA bluntly compared accepting “the scientific premise of global warming” to conceding legal liability for damages caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere. WFA lamented the “close to universal impulse in the trade association community” to discuss climate policy prescriptions, which WFA described as “arguing damages.” Within this framework, WFA’s campaign to deny the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change was largely an effort to avoid accepting legal liability for damages incurred from their product. To the WFA, accepting the science of climate change meant accepting their own culpability.

The documents curated for this collection exhibit the explicit intention of WFA’s climate denial propaganda and the clear motivation behind the trade association’s efforts. The timeline below represents the full collection of WFA and GES documents found on Climate Files:

The Patrick Michaels Collection

Patrick Michaels, currently the Director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, has built a career on creating doubt about the reality of climate change and its threats. His contributions as an ‘expert’ to stall action on climate change have been subsidized for decades by the industries that have the most to lose from any such action.

Michaels has been a part of shaping public policy and public opinion since 1984. He has appeared frequently before the judiciary and legislature, where his findings are considered reliable and unbiased. Beyond legal and legislative proceedings, various news programs, ranging from Fox News to CNN, have also given him a platform. Despite revelations of covert fossil fuel funding and questions of credibility following Michaels’ career, he is somehow taken seriously, even when he veers into economics and environmental policy, subjects well outside his area of scientific expertise.

While consensus over the causes of climate change has grown, Michaels has gone from flat denial of the science to a denial of the severity of its impacts, ignoring the already-deadly and devastating effects being felt all over the world. As more lawsuits are filed seeking accountability for fossil fuel companies’ emissions and subsequent funding of climate denial, Michaels’ work will be referenced again and again – giving him and his industry backers a platform to continue forwarding their agenda.

The collection of documents demonstrate Michaels’ lack of credibility as a neutral academic resource in determining the causes and impacts of climate change.The following timeline reflects the complete collection:

2001 Department of State Meets with ExxonMobil and Global Climate Coalition Representatives

In the last update we published a 2001 State Department briefing that outlined talking points for an upcoming meeting with the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). After that meeting, where Under Secretary Dobriansky “solicit[ed] views” on alternatives to Kyoto from the GCC, she sat down with ExxonMobil’s (Exxon) Environmental Advisor Randy Randol.

In that meeting, Dobriansky reemphasized the administration’s intent in working with industry, referring to them as “friends,” while stressing the importance of taking the issue seriously. However, Dobriansky was asked to highlight the government’s view that more research was needed before mitigatory action could be taken.

After entertaining one Exxon employee, the Department hosted the company again in September, this time with four senior staff: Brian Flannery and Frank Sprow of the Health, Safety and Environment department, Corporate Planning General Manager Sherman Glass, and Washington Office Vice President James Rouse.

Acknowledging Exxon’s own efforts to stress scientific uncertainty, along with its work with the GCC, the briefing concedes shared views on Kyoto, but stresses “the need to include real efforts to cut domestic emissions.” The agency predicted that “Flannery and his colleagues will undoubtedly be interested in gleanings of the U.S. stance at COP7 [the 7th Conference of the Parties].” The briefing gave Dobriansky leeway to “indicate our hope to present ideas pursuant to the President’s initiatives, despite certain criticism from pro-Kyoto forces.” Faced with Exxon’s clear stance against mitigatory climate policy, the administration maintained an open dialogue, providing insight into their international and domestic posture toward climate change.

Flannery’s presence in the meeting is noteworthy. Flannery is a model case study for Exxon’s decades-long effort to obfuscate climate science, including its own. Flannery began his work for Exxon as Scientific Adviser for Research and Engineering in 1980. In 1998, ExxonMobil promoted Flannery from a source of science to the face of it, giving him the title of Manager of Science, Strategy and Policy. As this document recognizes, Brian Flannery was actively participating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

New documents from the State Department include:

  1. 2001 State Department Briefing for Follow-Up Exxon Meeting

  2. 2001 State Department Briefing for Exxon’s Randol Meeting

Posted by Climate Investigations Center