Public Relations

PR Flack Randal Simonetti Sells Conflict to Corporations

Randal Simonetti. This isn't a joke - image via TalkZone.com

In the public relations world, there exists a subset known as crisis communications, or crisis management. This is the type of service a company like Takata may purchase to handle deaths and recalls from faulty air bags, how BP and Halliburton seek damage control after causing the worst accidental oil spill in history, or how TransCanada may hire (then fire) PR giants like Edelman to handle activist groups that are resisting development of tar sands pipelines.

Now, DeSmogBlog's Kevin Grandia (a former Greenpeace employee) reveals how one particularly un-savvy PR agent named Randal Simonetti is using Greenpeace campaigns to end deforestation in Indonesia as an excuse for companies to hire people like him to troll activists' Facebook pages and slander activists as a bunch of greedy hypocrites. Simonetti says that activists don't really care about the bad things corporations do, like "defoliating" forests. Instead, we're just a bunch of greedy treehuggers, laughing all the way to our eco-friendly banks credit unions:

As is often the case, funding is a primary driver of any activist organization’s behavior.  However, there are people within the activist organization that really do believe in the mission but dislike the strategy of attacking just to raise awareness to increase funding.

These folks are essentially whistle blowers.  Primarily, they only feel safe to express those opinions through social media therefore it is essential to search the social media networks for syntax clues provided by the whistle blowers. Then, expose that information through your own media channels.

This from the guy hired to protect the profit margins of large corporations during times of public scrutiny. Never considered is the fact that rainforest destruction in Indonesia is linked to slavery at palm oil plantations, local air pollution, global climate change, and habitat loss for critically endangered tigers and orangutans.

Randal Simonetti: don't solve the problem - attack the messenger!

DeSmog's Grandia sums up Mr. Simonetti's likely motivation nicely:

By assuming from the word go that the company is right and that activists are only in it for the money, Simonetti sets up a path that ends in ruin for both his client and for the environmental advocates who want to see positive change.

It creates a confrontation, instead of dialogue — a log jam before either party has even had the chance to consider the other's point of view.
 
It sets up a scenario where nobody wins.
 
Which, I guess if you are in the business of crisis communications, is a pretty lucrative situation to find yourself in.  

How Corporate Executives Imagine Protests

Most hilarious is the Tweet where Randal Simonetti's company, EFP Rotenberg, attempts to sell its bad advice with the most awkward of images. Apparently, this is what impeccably-groomed middle-aged white men think grassroots protests look like:

 

 

For those hungry for more laughs, the full Ignition Consulting / EFP Rotenberg blog can be viewed here. The Greenpeace International campaign it references was waged against chocolate giant Nestle to end its role in driving the destruction of Indonesia's Paradise Rainforest. That campaign ended in productive partnership, the way Greenpeace (and most companies) prefer to collaborate on solving important problems.

But if corporations would rather favor Ignition Consulting's conflict-mongering instead of listening to the case of activist groups seeking solutions, they have every right to waste their time and money doing so. We don't want that, nor do we recommend it.

Evidence of Climate Denial in Koch-funded Florida State University Economics Department

Crossposted from Greenpeace's blog, the EnvironmentaLIST.

Students at Florida State University are telling Charles Koch to stop compromising academic integrity with multimillion dollar grants that come with strings attached.

You may recall: back in 2011, two Florida State University (FSU) professors revealed that the Charles Koch Foundation was given inappropriate control over the professor hiring process in the economics department, where millions of dollars were granted from the Kansas billionaire. Three years later, the case still isn't closed on this corporate manipulation of university functions. The FSU students write:

Our university’s academic integrity has already been compromised from the influence of high-dollar donors like Koch, who managed to assume inappropriate control over our economics department’s curriculum and hiring process per an agreement signed in 2008. Three years have passed since FSU professors exposed Koch’s financial grip over our school and a committee of faculty senators formally rejected several stipulations of the agreement. Yet, it is clear that the administration refuses to act to appropriately limit outside influence on FSU’s educational operations.

A new agreement with Koch, signed by both ex-President Barron and current Interim President Garnett Stokes, still contains many provisions from the original agreement that were explicitly rejected by the faculty senators who reviewed it. Barron himself stated that the initial agreement “did provide the opportunity for outside influence” from Koch. This leads us to question whether the new agreement leaves that influence intact.

The op-ed focuses on the departure of Eric Barron, who is transitioning into the president's office at Penn State University after serving as president of Florida State University.

Mr. Barron is being celebrated for his expertise in climate science as he cycles into his new position at Penn State (which also gets money from Charles Koch).

Why does this matter? What's the relevance of President Eric Barron's climate change credentials?

Let's start with Florida State's economics department. FSU's economics department has received much of the $3,898,657 itemized to FSU in the Charles Koch Foundation's tax filings from 2009 to 2012.

Beyond the well-documented concerns highlighted by FSU students and professors alike, FSU's Koch-funed economics department appears to host professors who are misrepresenting climate science, a field well outside of their credentialed expertise.

Ph.D economist Yoram Bauman has twice reviewed and ranked economics textbooks for how accurately they portray climate change science. Citing top climate science institutions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Bauman has repeatedly given a failing grade to a widely-used textbook authored by professors from several of the top Koch-funded schools across the country, including FSU. Three of these four authors have direct ties to FSU: one primary author is a current economics professor, one formerly taught in the FSU econ department, and one obtained his economics Ph.D at FSU.

These same four professors, who aren't climate scientists yet authored the worst economics textbooks in regard to climate science misinformation, are affiliated with numerous Koch-funded climate denial organizations. Such affiliations include the Tallahassee-based James Madison Institute, The Heartland Institute, the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and the Association for Private Enterprise Education (APEE). These professors are closely affiliated with groups created and directly overseen by the Koch brothers, like the Cato Institute in Washington, DC and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

All of these climate denial front groups are affiliated through a Koch-funded umbrella called the State Policy Network. Koch Industries' executives are well-known for dumping tens of millions of dollars into organizations that deny the science or the solutions to global climate change. Now it appears that Koch-funded professors may be an extension of the same political campaign.

Florida State University students and faculty alike have good reason to ask hard questions about Charles Koch's grants to FSU. Whether or not the Koch money caused or simply encourages such manipulated teaching doesn't matter--lying to students about science is wrong and its one of the key controversial things that KochWorld has a habit of funding.

It is directly contrary to the principles of academic freedom for Koch to walk in and fund departments that then impose a curriculum reflecting Charles Koch's business interests and political strategies. Florida State University explicitly honors the principles of academic freedom in Koch's crosshairs. FSU students Jerry Funt, Gladys Nobriga, Lissa Reed and Ralph Wilson conclude their opinion piece emphatically:

As students striving to live by the Florida State seal of Vires, Artes, and Mores — strength, skill, and character — we’d rather not surrender our character just to serve Charles Koch. Our impartiality is more valuable than his money.

With FSU's outgoing president Eric Barron taking the helm at Penn State University, a good first step would be to ensure that Charles Koch's grants to Penn State aren't affecting the presentation of climate science or other critical topics to the student body. As a climate scientist, Mr. Barron must know how much is at stake when conversations regarding climate change are polluted executives at companies like Koch Industries, which profit from oil and gas operations.

Greenpeace strives to support students who are questioning Koch's manipulation of education through high-dollar grants, especially in the realm of science.

Check out the article and comments from the students themselves!

Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.

VIDEO: Climate Denier Willie Soon Dodges Questions of Koch & Exxon Payments...

Here's one climate change denier who really doesn't want you to think twice about his funding from Koch, coal and oil: Dr. Willie Soon, freshly profiled in today's Boston Globe. In the video above, we asked Dr. Soon about his fossil fuel funding at a climate denial event hosted by the Heritage Foundation last month--the event that wraps up Christopher Rowland's article in the Globe.

There is a bizarre sense of urgency in Dr. Soon's statements, both in our video encounter with him and in the Boston Globe article. He is a man whose profession has developed far outside of his actual expertise as an astrophysicist. After Greenpeace revealed that Willie Soon has taken over $1 million in payments from fossil fuel interests on "research" intended to undermine climate science, his credibility has evaporated. Professionals in the field of climate have been hugely critical of Dr. Soon's pre-determined "research."

Highlights from the Boston Globe:

The Boston Globe notes Willie Soon's contrarian stance against basic facts of climate change.

"Polar bears? Not threatened. Sea level? Exaggerated danger. Carbon dioxide? Great for trees. Warming planet? Caused by natural fluctuation in the sun’s energy."

Soon’s views are considered way outside the scientific mainstream, which makes him a prophet or a pariah, depending on which side you ask. Some say his work simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, that his data are cherry-picked to fit his thesis.

Dr. Soon's industry-funded interference is contextualized by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

Outside the Beltway, the science is largely settled. Yet in the capital, government response to one of the major environmental and economic challenges facing the planet is mired in an endless cycle of conflicting claims and partisan finger-pointing.

The work of Soon, and a handful of like-minded scientists, is seen by a critics in Congress and elsewhere as a case study in how this deadlock has been engineered by energy companies and antiregulation conservatives.

“They are merchants of doubt, not factual information,’’ said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who delivers a Senate speech every week demanding stronger air-quality standards. “Their strategy isn’t to convince people that the scientists are wrong. Their strategy is simply to raise the specter that there is enough doubt that . . . you should just move onto the next issue until this gets sorted out,’’ he said. “It gives credibility to a crank point of view.’’

American Petroleum Institute falsely associates Dr. Soon with Harvard

While Dr. Soon's office is on Harvard's campus, Dr. Soon has no formal affiliation with the university and has been forced to acknowledge as much after misrepresenting the relationship as a credential for pro-coal pollution op-eds.

“You have a guy that is aligned and associated with Harvard University, one of the top universities in the United States, and the Smithsonian, also very reputable,’’ said institute spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel.

The Globe notes how Harvard requires Dr. Soon to disassociate his unqualified views from the institution's name:

Soon said he is required by the center to recite a disclaimer – saying his views are his own, and not that of Harvard-Smithsonian — each time he speaks or writes on anything outside his expertise in solar radiation. But the complexities of his relationship with Harvard-Smithsonian are often ignored by his sponsors and conference hosts eager to showcase his impressive credentials.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s former director, Harvard astronomy professor Irwin Shapiro, said there was never any attempt to censor Soon’s views. Nor, he said, was Soon the subject of complaints or concern among the 300 scientists at the center.

“As far as I can tell,’’ said Shapiro, “no one pays any attention to him.’’

Not Credible, but Not Done Denying Either

Willie Soon continues to attend industry-funded climate denier events and detests questions that highlight the dirty energy companies funding his work: watch Dr. Soon shout at a student asking critical questions last April, at events run by the campus arm of CFACT, a well known climate denial organization.

Dr. Soon's oil- and coal-funded climate "research"

Dr. Soon's grants came from the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, Southern Company, and the American Petroleum Institute, among others, according to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from Greenpeace to the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Soon's employer. A newer entity called Donors Trust is now helping funnel money from undisclosed donors to Dr. Soon. Donors Trust and affiliate Donors Capital Fund have sent $146 million to groups that deny climate science (since 2002).

Dr. Soon's reaction to Greepeace's request for clarity on the Donors Trust grants doesn't give us much confidence that they aren't simply obscuring more donations from fossil fuel interests, rich political ideologues, or both.

Recognition must be lent here to Dr. Soon's call for an end to FOIA probing of scientists--many legitimate researchers (and their employers) have had their time and reputations wasted by industry-funded attacks from climate denial groups that work closely with the Heartland Institute, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These abusive probes do nothing to advance a constructive dialog on solutions to runaway climate change.

The key difference is this: Dr. Soon's work is a platform for The Heartland Institute and other political entities to lie and confuse the public and policymakers alike about the seriousness of global warming, funded exclusively by dirty energy interests. Thanks to the obstruction led by Dr. Soon and other people who sold out the public interest to the highest bidder, it's too late to prevent climate change. The climate is changed, and we're feeling the impact.

The question is how radically we can cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil and gas and rapidly shift to a clean economy that doesn't thrive off of the ruin of our planet. This is why it's crucial to leave the obstructionist opinions of Heartland and Dr. Soon out of true scientific conversations.

But with the IPCC 5th Assessment Report coming out the door and Heartland touring the country to undermine what real scientists are saying about climate change, it is time to stand up to the madness and show this country how bought and sold their positions are. When The Heartland Institute came to town with Willie Soon, we pressed president Joseph Bast to acknowledge their funding from Chicago billionaire Barre Seid for the climate denial work:

Look to Greenpeace and PolluterWatch in the coming weeks for ongoing accountability of those who are paid to undermine our future, and help spread the word!

GREENPEACE REPORT: Climate Change Denial Machine vs. Scientists

Written by Cindy Baxter, crossposted from Greenpeace: Dealing in Doubt.

Who likes being lied to by people paid by the oil industry who pose as “experts” on climate change?

Did you know it’s been going on for 25 years?

In a couple of weeks, the UN’s official advisors on climate change science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will update its global assessment on the issue. Yet in the background, more attacks on the climate science are underway

For the last quarter century, the climate science denial machine, its cogs oiled by fossil fuel money, has been attacking climate science, climate scientists and every official US report on climate change, along with State and local efforts – with the aim of undermining action on climate change.

Our new report, Dealing in Doubt, sets out the history of these attacks going back to the early 90s. These are attacks based on anti-regulatory, so called “free market” ideology, not legitimate scientific debate, using a wide range of dirty tricks: from faked science, attacks on scientists, fake credentials, cherry-picking scientific conclusions: a campaign based on the old tobacco industry mantra: “doubt is our product”.

We give special attention to perhaps today’s poster child of the climate denial machine’s free market think tanks, the Heartland Institute, which is about to launch a new version of its “NIPCC” or “climate change reconsidered” report next week in Chicago.

Unlike the real IPCC, with thousands of scientists involved from around the world, the Heartland Institute’s handful of authors is paid. Several of them claim fake scientific credentials. They start with a premise of proving the overwhelming consensus on climate science wrong, whereas the real IPCC simply summarizes the best science to date on climate change.

This multi-million dollar campaign has been funded by anti-government ideologues like the Koch brothers, companies like ExxonMobil and trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute.Big Oil funding of climate denial declines. "Anonymous" funding through Donors skyrockets. Interesting.

More recently, less visible channels of funding have been revealed such as the Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, organization that that has been called the “ATM of the conservative movement”, distributing funds from those who don’t want to be publicly associated with the anti-environmental work product of organizations like the Heartland Institute.

In the last week we’ve seen new peer-reviewed science published, linking at least half of 2012’s extreme weather events to a human carbon footprint in the atmosphere and on the weather and climate.

As the scientific consensus strengthens by the day that climate change is happening now, that carbon pollution is causing it and must be regulated, the denial machine is getting increasingly shrill. But today, while they are being increasingly ignored by a majority of the public, their mouthpieces in the US House of Representatives, for instance, have increased in number.

They’re still fighting the science – and they’re still being funded, to the tune of millions of dollars each year, to do it.

Dealing in Doubt sets out a history of these attacks. We show how the tactics of the tobacco industry’s campaign for “sound science” led to the formation of front groups who, as they lost the battle to deny smoking’s health hazards and keep warning labels off of cigarettes, turned their argumentative skills to the denial of climate change science in order to slow government action.

koch brosWhat we don’t cover is the fact that these organizations and deniers are also working on another front, attacking solutions to climate change. They go after any form of government incentive to promote renewable energy, while cheering for coal, fracking and the Keystone pipeline.

They attack any piece of legislation the US EPA puts forward to curb pollution. Decrying President Obama’s “war on coal” is a common drumbeat of these anti-regulation groups. One key member of the denial machine, astrophysicist Willie Soon from the Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics, has portrayed himself as an “expert” on mercury and public health in order to attack legislation curbing mercury emissions from coal plants.

This recent history, as well as the prior history of denial by the tobacco companies and chemical, asbestos and other manufacturing industries, is important to remember because the fossil fuel industry has never admitted that it was misguided or wrong in its early efforts to delay the policy reaction to the climate crisis. To this day, it continues to obstruct solutions.

The individuals, organizations and corporate interests who comprise the ‘climate denial machine’ have caused harm and have slowed our response time. As a result, we will all ultimately pay a much higher cost as we deal with the impacts, both economic and ecological.

Eventually, these interests will be held accountable for their actions.

Koch blacklash against New Yorker reporter continues history of media interference

Click to read New Yorker’s article on David Koch’s influence over WNET. Image: The New Yorker.

Amid concerns that Koch Industries could buy several major U.S. newspapers from Tribune Company, industrial billionaire David Koch was forced to step down as trustee of WNET, New York City's largest public TV station, after the New Yorker revealed how WNET gave Koch inappropriate influence over its programming. Mr. Koch was floating a seven-figure donation over WNET's leadership as the station aired a movie that portrayed him as a particularly greedy Manhattan resident.

Sure enough, WNET didn't wind up receiving David Koch's hefty donation.

Last Thursday, David Koch submitted his resignation at a WNET Board of Trustees meeting, and Brad Johnson at Forecast the Facts* reports that Koch's name was scrubbed from WNET's website several days prior to the resignation. Koch Industries' public relations website, KochFacts, released a preemptive response to the New Yorker article (which it has now urgently elaborated on), attempting to stifle New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer and the details of her newest piece. David Koch's resignation as a WNET Trustee, coupled with telling quotes from WNET president Neal Shapiro and other sources, makes it clear that Koch had too much influence at the decreasingly-public TV station in New York.

The article is a fascinating culmination of two portions of the ongoing legacy of the Koch brothers: their desire to influence media, which is playing out with their company's bid for the Tribune Company's eight national daily newspapers, and their attempts to intimidate journalists and silence reporting they consider unfavorable.

Jane Mayer's epic 2010 profile of the secretive billionaire brothers has left Charles and David Koch firmly positioned in the center stage of politics, and they have cursed her since. In repeated and increasingly desperate attempts to discredit Mayer and ease the impact of her reporting on Koch Industries' terrible reputation, the company posted her face on the Koch "Facts" website and wrote letters urging the American Society of Magazine Editors to stop considering Mayer's 2010 article for an award.

The Koch brothers' attacks on Ms. Mayer provide more examples of how they use their connections to manipulate media (including in Mayer's new article, which caught Koch spokesperson Melissa Cohlmia in a complete lie).

Following her 2010 expose, Koch Industries was caught trying to fabricate a scandal to take Mayer down. Using the Daily Caller, founded by Koch's billionaire political ally Foster Friess and run by Tucker Carlson, a senior fellow at the Koch-founded, Koch-funded and Koch-governed Cato Institute, the Kochs tried to get a story placed into the New York Post accusing Mayer of plagiarism. The Post dismissed the idea--and that's saying something, given the lack of integrity at Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, not to mention FOX News, the collapsed News of the World and other outlets the media mogul owns. (NOTE: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has also expressed interest in Tribune Company's L.A. Times.)

Update Oct. 2014: Daily Caller Foundation is now funded by Charles Koch Foundation, receiving $11,064 in 2012.

Click to sign Greenpeace's 32,000-strong petition to Tribune Company: Don't Sell Your Newspapers to Koch Industries!

Greenpeace remains concerned about how the Kochs have already used their media ties to promote denial of climate change science. Beyond the pressing issue of global warming, the implications of media manipulation from Koch Industries spans across issues from education to public employee unions to immigration to healthcare reform.

This is why Greenpeace is working with a growing coalition of unions, media transparency advocates, environmentalists, good government watchdogs and other organizations to oppose Tribune Company's potential sale of its newspapers to Koch Industries, as well as Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, and any other politically-charged business interest whose history indicates they would manipulate reporting at Tribune's papers for political and financial gain.

*Disclosure: Forecast the Facts is one of the groups Greenpeace is working with to oppose Koch Industries' bid for Tribune Company.

Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.

Heritage Foundation crisis clogs Koch Brothers outreach to Hispanic voters

The Heritage Foundation isn't helping billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch reach Hispanic and Latino voters.

If you were the Koch brothers and you wanted to connect better with Latino and Hispanic voters, after you just dumped millions of your own cash into a presidential election that didn't go in your favor, you'd probably be annoyed if one of your favorite front groups started undermining your voter outreach.

That's exactly what's happening with the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. Heritage is having a public relations crisis after releasing a contentious report claiming that immigration reform would cost $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years, indebting taxpayers to support people who live in the U.S. illegally. The offensive kicker is that the Heritage report's freshly-resigned co-author, Jason Richwine, previously published a dissertation claiming that Hispanic and Latino immigrants have lower IQs than White people.

Here's a helpful meme for Mr. Richwine:

As Heritage Foundation is one of the billionaire Koch brothers' favorite groups to implement their political agenda--receiving more than $2.7 million from Koch-controlled foundations since 2005--this is a poor start for the Kochs' new interest in reaching Hispanic and Latino voters in the U.S.

Amid the fiasco, Heritage pulled out of Buzzfeed's forum on immigration sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. See infighting over Heritage's assumptions about how so-called "illegals" contribute to the U.S. economy from the Koch-funded Reason Foundation, of which David Koch is a trustee.

Hispanic & Latino Voter Engagement is Central to the Kochs' Refined Political Plans:

After coordinating hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama with the direct help of other billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, and Philip Anschutz, the Kochs are meticulously refining their methods of controlling U.S. politics from behind the scenes. Some of those methods already involve serious marginalization of U.S. immigrants from Latin-American countries, as I've previously written:

It’s worth noting that the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council distributed Arizona’s controversial racial profiling law, SB 1070, to states around the country so private prison companies can rake a profit off the incarceration of immigrants.

At the Kochs' most recent political strategy and fundraising meeting, the Kochs prioritized outreach to Hispanic voters, according to leaked material published by Mother Jones. Kevin Gentry, a Koch Industries employee and Koch World's central fundraiser, explained the new priority in his invitation to "several hundred of America's top business owners and CEOs" attending last month's Koch meeting:

Among other topics, in April, we'll discuss how to more effectively engage growing demographic groups, such as Hispanic and Latino voters, and how to encourage principled and effective advocates of free enterprise to run for office.

Kevin Gentry then offered mild elaboration to invitees of the Koch meeting:

Hispanic, women and youth engagement. Allies will present an approach to more effectively communicate to these growing demographics, all of which will play a critical role in advancing free enterprise.

New Heritage President Jim DeMint's History with Koch World:

It's unclear if anyone from the Heritage Foundation attended the recent Koch meeting, although Heritage's new President and former U.S. Senator James DeMint has repeatedly attended the Kochs' secretive confabs in the past. In turn, the Kochs were one of the top contributors to Jim DeMint's political piggy bank while he ran and served in the Senate (2004-2012). Sen. DeMint's campaign and leadership PACs received a total $76,000 from Koch Industries and the Koch family (see p. 21 of Greenpeace's 2011 Koch report).

Either Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation didn't heed the notes from the Kochs' latest gathering, or Heritage staff didn't realize that calling people stupid isn't the best way to sell an ideology.

On a human level, the Kochs don't get it. Even ignoring the offensive work of the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and other Koch front groups, the recent focus on Latino and Hispanic voter outreach is clearly a self-serving political tactic, where broadly-defined groups of people are used as a means to an end.

Koch Industries bid for U.S. Newspapers includes major Spanish outlets:

The Koch brothers could potentially influence U.S. Latino voters through Koch Industries' controversial bid for a pile of major U.S. newspapers owned by Tribune Company. Tribune Co's print news in Chicago and Los Angeles isn't limited to the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times; Tribune Co. owns Hoy, the nation's second largest daily U.S. newspaper published in Spanish, as well as two major weekly outlets in Florida: El Sentinel de Florida Central and El Sentinel del Sur de la Florida, published in conjunction with two Tribune daily papers written in English, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Each Saturday, 127,000 copies of El Sentinel is distributed to its reader base, while Hoy's weekend edition reaches over one million homes in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Tribune Company's widely distributed English newspapers also include the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, and the Allentown, PA's Morning Call and Hampton Road, VA's Daily Press.

While Koch Industries doesn't yet own any media, a network of Koch-friendly media has shown it is capable of spreading misinformation on key topics like climate change. Due to the high possibility of warped editorial reporting if Koch buys Tribune, ten public employee unions and groups like Free Press, FAIR, Forecast the Facts, Courage Campaign, Daily Kos, and the Center for Media and Democracy have all urged the public and owners of the Tribune Company to reject an offer from Koch Industries.

Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.

Koch & Exxon-funded scientist challenged by students at climate denial event (VIDEO)

Rarely do we meet those who have made careers selling us lies. Consider the oddball doctors who took tobacco money to deny a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, or the handful of scientists who take oil and coal money to discredit global warming science, or the people who have done both.

Last week, students in Wisconsin and Michigan stepped up to such an opportunity when CFACT Campus, the student arm of a well-known cabal of fossil fuel apologists, hosted climate change denier Willie Soon at several campus events around the country.

Dr. Willie Soon is a Smithsonian Institution astrophysicist paid by Charles Koch, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and coal utility Southern Company to write papers dismissing climate change, publish op-eds saying coal pollution won't affect our health, refute the seriousness of ocean acidification, and apparently anything else he can be paid to deny. Dr. Soon has misrepresented himself by repeatedly claiming affiliation with Harvard University and using his credentials as an astrophysicist to make people believe he's a climate expert, and he shows no sign of stopping. Indeed, he told students in Madison, "I am as as qualified as anyone on the planet on this topic."

In both Madison, Wisconsin and East Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Soon was caught with his pants down. As the Michigan State News documented in its article and accompanying audio interview, Soon claims that all the scientists around the world who study and recognize the seriousness of climate change are motivated by money, yet somehow his funding from coal and oil companies for his extremely marginalized viewpoints doesn't matter.

Here is the dialog with Willie Soon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with direct links to key clips below:

1) Willie Soon insinuates ExxonMobil will no longer fund him (emphasis added): 

"I have been receiving money from whoever that wants to give me money. I write my scientific proposal. I have received money from ExxonMobil, but ExxonMobil will no longer give me any money for a long time. American Petroleum Institute, anything you wish for, from Southern Company, from all these companies. I write proposal and let them judge whether they will fund me or not, always for a very small amount. If they choose to fund me, I'm happy to receive it." Click to watch (starts @ 1:52).

2) Dr. Soon stands behind his attempts to discredit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with help from ExxonMobil lobbyists: 

"I was trying to bring down IPCC--is that what you imply?! [...] Let it be known that I do not like IPCC, because IPCC does not stand for science, it is corrupting science." Click to watch (starts @ 3:32).

After a question referencing emails with ExxonMobil lobbyists to undermine climate research at the United Nations before it even hit publication, Dr. Soon quickly loses his cool over his record of global warming denial, peppering the student with mild insults before owning up to his actions.

3) Dr. Soon thanks anyone who uses petroleum products or electricity from coal for supporting his work:

"I really want to thank her, because she's receiving the electricity used for her house, she's driving cars, she's doing all of these things because you are funding me. It's not an oil or coal company. They are a company that provides a service to humanity--to people who want to use electricity." Click to watch (starts @ 5:14)

Anyone looking at Southern Company's record of pollution and political interference would be skeptical about its commitment to serve humanity. Soon continues with an aggressive rant claiming that the student isn't qualified to question his fossil fuel payments until she stops driving, using electricity, and wearing nylon. 

4) Willie Soon states "I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything," despite listing himself as an "expert in mercury and public health" for a discredited Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing health concerns over mercury pollution from coal plants. Soon invented similar credentials for another opinion piece in the Washington Times, before he swapped back to being a 22-year veteran of "researching the relationship of solar radiation and the Earth's climate," research Dr. Soon did on the dime of oil and coal companies.

Basically, Willie Soon is an expert in whatever problems vested industries will pay him to deny. Michigan State students note how Willie Soon now refutes research indicating adverse impacts from ocean acidification, a global crisis that is married to climate change (both problems stem from humans burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

That's effed up. This man makes a career lying to the public, not to mention our lawmakers, about some of the most serious issues of our time. Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of 400,000 people each year and costing global GDP about $1.2 trillion, according to a report commissioned by multiple nations. 98% of actual climate scientists (a distinction Dr. Willie Soon does not earn) agree that global warming is real and primarily drive by humans burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.

Not only has Dr. Soon lied to us and our lawmakers about the seriousness of global warming--he even lied directly to Congress in 2003 about his sources of funding at a time when he was promoting his study funded by the American Petroleum Institute, the $200 million/year oil and gas lobbying group. The Guardian wrote last year:

"In 2003 Soon said at a US senate hearing that he had "not knowingly been hired by, nor employed by, nor received grants from any organisation that had taken advocacy positions with respect to the Kyoto Protocol or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."

This is why it's crucial to demand accountability of people like Willie Soon. He is a public relations tool of oil and coal companies, and as a scientist attempting to publish in fields well outside of his expertise, that oil and coal money is crucial to recognize.

Here are some of the best examples of Soon's pseudo-science paid for by Big Oil and King Coal:

Dr. Soon's work is like a joke, but not the type you'd laugh at. While he cracks these fossil-funded zingers, reputable scientists warn that humanity is running out of time to stop climate change from self-reinforcing to the point that it spirals out of human control. As quoted by the Michigan State News, young conservatives on campus had trouble taking Dr. Willie Soon's presentation seriously:

“I’m not a science major, but I think (Soon’s presentation) has got valid points, but also other scientists who disagree with him have valid points,” Sobecki said. “I’m not crazy enough to think that six billion people don’t have an effect on climate in the world we live in.”

Science majors attending the MSU event didn't agree that Soon's points were particularly valid. See this account from a MSU Greenpeace student activist on PolluterWatch for more details.

Michigan State: students highlight Willie Soon's oil and coal-funded climate denial career

Image from a USA Today article detailing Willie Soon's at events to confuse the public over climate science.

Written by Rachna Pannu. This event was covered in the Michigan State News by Simon Schuster, whose interview with Dr. Willie Soon confirms CFACT paid for Soon to attend these events.

Dr. Willie Soon, a well-known climate change denier, was invited by the MSU Campus Conservatives at Michigan State University to talk about climate change.  The event was sanctioned by CFACT, an obscure but vocal group among climate science deniers. We at MSU Greenpeace saw this as a great opportunity to have some of our members attend and question the reasons and methods with which he chooses to deny what 98% of climate scientists have agreed to be true
 
The bulk of Dr. Soon’s talk involved aggressively targeting published or well-known supporters of climate change prevention, including professors, Al Gore, and federal, national and international organizations. He went through the data, attempting to discredit it with conflicting data from other studies and experiments. However, this aspect of his talk left me with more questions than answers, especially since he is a known recipient of oil and coal money.
 

Willie Soon’s fossil fuel-funded career

 
Willie Soon spent a good amount of the talk repeatedly defending himself as an independent scientist simply seeking to learn the truth before anyone had even questioned his motives and his expertise. He ranted that people question his funding and his intentions, but he is just an objective man trying to get to the truth of climate change. He also used this opportunity to criticize the current scientific model of publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, claiming that it was a buddy-buddy system and peer-reviewing did not affect the validity of the article.
 
Essentially, Dr. Soon was warding off the holes in his credentials before anyone had questioned them because his doctorate is in astrophysics, which is not even related to the Earth’s climate, and has only been able to publish one article on climate science in a peer-reviewed journal. Even that article was hotly debated by the editors, who wrote a negative response and resigned from their positions in outrage. And Willie Soon's funding? It comes from fossil fuel companie--like ExxonMobil and Southern Company--totaling over $1 million in the last decade.
 

Questionable Climate ‘Science’ 

 
Willie Soon pulled up a graph showing the temperature range over a series of years in the 2000’s and asked rhetorically whether anyone could see an increase in the temperatures over time. Yes, I could, but I would rather like to question the validity of using a period of less than 10 years to examine the change in the Earth’s temperature over time. In another example, he showed a graph that analyzed both the variance in amplitude and shift in time for the predictions of temperatures by many different model used by scientists. The models were dispersed around the central point of zero difference in amplitude and zero shift in time, but he simply stated that the image showed errors in all of the models and stated that none of them were in the lower left corner. Why they should be in a region of less amplitude and a negative shift in time in relation to the actual temperature patterns baffles me.  
 
Members of MSU Greenpeace questioned Soon about his articles on climate science, and he became aggressive and very defensive, stating that peer-review did not signify greater accuracy (peer-review is crucial to ensuring the highest conduct in scientific research). When a member of The State News, the MSU student newspaper, asked why with about 13,900 published articles on the verity of climate change and only twenty-something that argue the reverse he felt that climate change did not exist, Dr. Soon again became frustrated. Soon referred to a quote from Albert Einstein, saying that it only takes one person to disprove what everyone agrees upon. Read coverage of this event from the State News here.
 
There was no way to have an effective discourse about climate change with Dr. Willie Soon because he refused to accept the very basic premises of our current scientific standards that peer-review ensures accuracy of the published articles and that a large consensus by educated individuals who have done their own research into a matter indicates the verity of the hypothesis. In addition, some of the data and sources he provided seemed either not applicable or reputable as we are taught is critical to reliable scientific research. 
 

Dr. Soon adds Ocean Acidification Denial to his Growing list of Specialties

 
Separate from Willie Soon’s questionable assertions about global temperature trends were his assertions used to dismiss ocean acidification, a serious problem that is linked with increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (caused by companies funding Dr. Soon, like ExxonMobil and Southern Company). Soon's sources were shaky--data cited from a BlogSpot website, for instance, not exactly a credentialed scientific institution. He disputed a report by a marine biologist that claims increasing CO2 content of the ocean results in weakening of the shells of marine organisms by interfering with their ability to use calcium carbonate in their shells. 
 
Scientists who are serious about scientific standards tell us that ocean acidification is having a profound impact on coral reefs (they are dying rapidly), and scientists are working to determine if more acidic oceans are impacting crustaceans, ocean animals that have shells. Dr. Soon apparently already has the answers, stating that crabs and lobster shells were not composed of significant amounts of calcium carbonate, and then he provided data that showed lobsters and crabs increasing in size after carbon dioxide was bubbled through their water. If indeed the shells of crustaceans are not mainly composed of calcium carbonate, how does an experiment showing the effect of carbon dioxide presence in the water of lobster and crabs conflict with the statement that it affects the availability of calcium carbonate? 
 

Soon’s Limited Audience

 
The only thing I can say is that I felt some relief in that he was only able to attempt to influence a half-filled classroom composed of 1/3 individuals who did not attend the university and already believed in Soon’s paranoid vision of the world and 1/3 supporters of the movement to protect our planet. There are always a few doubters, a few critics and a few conspiracy theorists that refuse to acknowledge global warming no matter how much evidence is presented to them. If we can get the majority of rational individuals to understand the changes occurring to the environment, we can create change to save our planet and make it a healthier place to live. 
 
Rachna Pannu
Senior, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology B.S. 
Lyman Briggs College
Michigan State University
 

 

Greedy Lying Bastards: See the movie Exxon and the Kochs hope you don't

The new film Greedy Lying Bastards (GLB for short) opens today in theaters in about 30 cities around the US. Go see it, first of all...there is a theater list here. And tell your friends about it.

The film contains some gems, including this clip of "Lord" Monckton, reacting to a question about the consensus that climate change is real and man-made:

"Right...the only scientists who are capable of coming to a conclusion as barking mad as that are computer modelers. These are typically zitty teenagers, sitting in dark rooms with a can of CocaCola and too many donuts and playing on their X-Box 360s and they are making predictions about the climate..."
Wow. And that's only the beginning of the lunacy and nastiness from the deniers.
 
The long legacy of denial and deception will never be erased for members of the Carbon Club - Big Oil, Dirty Coal, mining, metals, auto companies - all those who would rather the fossil fuel age went on forever. The auto companies have modified their position over the years. In the 90s, this whole team was lock step. Now there are laggards and leaders.
 
Who are the laggards? The culprits who have held us back? They know who they are. We know exactly who they are. And we know exactly they have done...Greedy Lying Bastards is the most complete telling of this story to date.
 
We have the files at ExxonSecrets.org and PolluterWatch, in fact file cabinets full - twenty plus years of research and documentation of industry efforts to slow down the uptake of climate science, replace urgency with uncertainty and derail the policy train that is pulled along by that scientific consensus. Steve Coll's book Private Empire, which came out in 2012, pulled even more details into focus about Exxon's roll in the climate denial machine.
 
The legion ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, the Koch brothers, electric companies like Southern Company and others have collectively dumped millions of dollars into front groups and think tanks they could prompt to say and do things they couldn’t be caught dead saying or doing themselves. The corporate puppeteers knew that sowing doubt and uncertainty would buy them time. The free market front groupers had hit pay dirt and feel that taking action on climate change is some UN conspiracy to shackle their god given free market freedom.
 
So what? What can be done to hold these individuals and corporations accountable for their actions? What court of law will find them guilty of obstruction and deception? The film shows the similarity to the tobacco industry, who fought on for years after knowing full well that cigarettes caused health problems and nicotine is addictive – straight up denial. There will be hearings, trials, cases, whistle blowers. The truth will be known.
 
 
Bottom line is real people are craving answers as extreme floods and hurricane superstorms sweep away everything they own, as “exceptional” drought knocks farms off the map one by one, as heat waves make life unbearable. The weather is out of whack and people are waking up one by one and want to know who to blame for their misfortune.
 
The culprits try to change their stripes, say they have been “misunderstood” in the case of Exxon, but you cannot change history. Their actions have contributed to two decades of inaction, costing us lives, property loss, economic and ecological damage. Species are going and will go extinct due to this inaction. This is no joke.
 
The latest academic treatment linking the Arab Spring to climate change raises the stakes again. Climate security is national security. Inseparable. Climate change is about where we live and how we live there. About how we grow our food, our water sources, the way we build our homes and buildings…All these things are adapted to the climate of the place where we are. All this is now turning upside down. When 100 year events happen every year, when thousands of weather records are broken in a single year, it is inescapable.
 
There will be accountability, and not only in the court of public opinion. These are moral crimes, crimes against humanity. The stakes are high and the consequences are only starting to fall out. People are starting to realize they have been lied to, led to believe that global warming was some figment of Al Gore’s imagination, told to look the other way…
 
And if there is one thing that gets people all riled up, its being lied to.
 
Good luck explaining yourself to our children and grandchildren, David and Charles Koch, Rex Tillerson and Lee Raymond at Exxon before him... and all the others in your denial army. You better start now.

Wind Group Dumps ALEC, Duke Energy Continues Contradicting Itself with ALEC Membership

Image: Checks & Balances Project - ALEC Attacks Clean Energy Standards: Ohio & Virginia

An article in Greenwire today revealed a few interesting things about the American Legislative Exchange Council's attacks on state clean energy laws through its "Electricity Freedom Act."

First, ALEC was recently abandoned by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) due to ALEC's efforts to repeal state renewable portfolio standards--laws that ensure a growing percentage of electricity comes from clean energy. AWEA joins over 45 companies and organizations that have dropped ALEC due to its support for voter legislation, Stand Your Ground and other NRA gun laws, climate science denial, racial profiling laws, and other measures against the public interest.

Not only did AWEA leave ALEC, but they're warning other ALEC affiliates about their steadfast opposition to clean energy (which ALEC denies--see below):

Now, AWEA is warning state lawmakers not to be taken in by ALEC's message, one that [Peter] Kelley said is driven by fossil fuel companies. He pointed out that conservative think tank and climate skeptic Heartland Institute told The Washington Post last year that it had joined ALEC to write language to revise state renewable energy mandates in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

"We want to warn our former fellow members of ALEC about that misinformation because we won't be around to protect them," he said.

Greenwire notes contradictory statements from coal polluter Duke Energy, which betrayed its own past support for North Carolina's clean energy standard, the law that ALEC's Rep. Mike Hager is targeting:

Duke Energy, a member of ALEC and large player in North Carolina, is trying to sidestep the debate.

Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni said the utility hasn't taken a formal position on the bill, and the decision to implement or repeal renewable portfolio standards should be "state specific."

"Though we're a member of ALEC, we don't always agree with every issue that the organization or any other organization of which we're a member takes," he said, adding that Duke is a member of a wide array of liberal and conservative groups.

But a spokesman for Duke told the Charlotte Business Journal last May that the utility indeed opposes Hager's bill and helped craft North Carolina's RPS. Duke also opposes ALEC's position to curb U.S. EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions and coal ash storage and set standards for mercury emissions, the spokesman said.

But wait! Not only does Duke Energy still pay ALEC, but Duke is member to the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council," A.K.A. coal lobbyists from Bracewell & Giuliani paid by Duke and others to block EPA rules on mercury pollution from power plants. Duke and Progress Energy ranked 12th and 22nd respectively of the top 25 mercury polluters in 2011 before they merged last year.

Meanwhile, Duke Energy lobbyists like Bill Tyndall have worked on blocking effective controls for coal ash, which contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements. Duke has a coal ash pollution monopoly in North Carolina, with tests confirming they are contaminating groundwater near their storage sites. Duke's opposition to coal ash regulations is also inherent in their membership with yet another front group, the American Coal Ash Association.

So maybe Duke Energy doesn't support ALEC's opposition to reducing mercury and coal ash pollution, they just support other groups willing to do those things for them.

Finally, ALEC's Todd Wynn is either dishonest or has a short memory.

In the Greenwire article, Todd Wynn was trying to make the point that ALEC legislators, not the corporate interests funding ALEC and driving its agenda, are taking the reins on repealing renewable energy. Greenwire quotes Wynn, emphasis added:

"Members are driving the debate. ... Our state legislators have taken up the torch on these issues," he said. "But ALEC itself isn't driving an energy mandate repeal campaign."

To that point, Todd Wynn fully contradicts himself--check out his own blog on the clean energy attacks, titled "ALEC to States: Repeal Renewable Energy Mandates." 

It's also ridiculous for Wynn to assert that ALEC legislators have "taken up the torch" on repealing clean energy laws--ALEC's model was written by climate science deniers at the Heartland Institute, not state legislators.

Mr. Wynn's job is to keep this debate centered around debunked economic arguments that obscure the ideological corporate agenda he is paid to advance. As an operative of the Koch-funded State Policy Network, an aversion to reality is a necessary component of his resume. Wynn previously worked for a SPN member group called the Cascades Policy Institute promoting climate science denial.

Todd Wynn says that ALEC isn't against clean energy, just against government favoring one energy industry over another. Yet ALEC has done nothing to repeal subsidies to the oil and coal industries, or loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, or any other comparable measure to their attacks on clean energy. That's because ALEC's anti-environmental legislation is supported and even written by ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Duke Energy, and other major polluters.

No wonder groups like AWEA and the Solar Energy Industries Association abandoned ALEC shortly after joining. ALEC's polluter agenda is already set, backed by dirty money, and not open for discussion.

The full article can be found in Greenwire, E&E Publishing: Wind, solar groups quit ALEC as conservative powerhouse targets clean-power programs 

Syndicate content

Connect

Keep In Touch

FacebookTwitterYouTubePolluterWatch RSS


Sign up for
POLLUTERWATCH News