Retract the “Climate Homicide” paper

Did I mention that I don’t merely write about what’s wrong with the “crooked skeptic climate scientists” accusation, I do something about it? Oh, yeah, in my previous blog post about the opportunity for congressional investigators to expose one of the ‘weak link’ people promulgating that accusation.

I haven’t stopped there – my latest concerns an action I initiated over a year ago, and updated just days ago.

My March 31, 2023 blog post covered the central ‘leaked memos set’ fault within David Arkush’s “Climate Homicide: Prosecuting Big Oil For Climate Deaths” draft paper version to the Harvard Environmental Law Review (HELR), submitted well in advance of their Spring 2024 publication date, and otherwise strangely posted online for the whole world to see.

But even before I put that blog post online, I had emailed the editors of HELR three days earlier with quite subtle suggestions on how they should carefully examine the manner in which Arkush had clearly taken words out-of-context from the 1998 American Petroleum Institute “victory will be achieved” memo to seemingly portray the goal of the memos as something it did not actually have. A basic breach of scholarly ethics there, is what I implied. I reproduced that email verbatim in my Part 2 April 13, 2023 blog post (where it was my repeated typo mistake to leave the word “Environment” out of their HELR name), along with editor Michaela Morris reply to assure me, “The article will undergo a robust editing, revision, and fact-checking process prior to its publication in our Journal.”

What I didn’t mention in my Part 2 April 13 blog post is that I immediately replied right back to Editor Morris thanking her for the quick reply, while further adding – again in a subtle manner so as not to introduce bias into the editors’ examination – that HELR should pay particular attention to one of Arkush’s article citations about the API memos, by reading the entire article. Not only would the HELR editors see that Arkush had taken words out-of-context from the API memos … if they dug just a bit deeper using one of his own citation links, they’d discover there was no evidence that anything in the memos had been implemented. Surely such a treatise would be rejected for publication if it attempts to dupe readers with disingenuous quotes of a proposal that was never used. I ended my followup email with the suggestion that if they did ultimately reject the paper, they should not just ‘sweep this under the rug’ and pretend like it was never written.

HELR did not apparently heed any of my suggestions; they published the paper in their current edition 2024 issue. I’d actually forgotten about its impending publication until news started popping up about it after mid-April.

But I could not resist sending Ms Morris a less subtle email four days ago, on May 6th:

Subject:  “Climate Homicide: Prosecuting Big Oil for Climate Deaths”, Vol 48, #1, 2024 — new details come to light, re the retraction of this paper

Ms Morris and Harvard Environmental Law Review staff,

I was recently alerted to the publication of the Arkush/Braman “Climate Homicide” paper, and was disappointed to its acceptance by HELR. You may recall my March 28, 2023 pair of emails calling your attention specifically to the paper’s paragraph about the American Petroleum Institute’s ‘Communications Plan’ on page 28, continuing onto page 29, where the paragraph is currently footnoted with #s 162-163-194, but if not, please refer to them. Fundamentally, I suggested that you review what Arkush/Braman partly quoted from those API memos compared to what was actually said in full context within the memos. My second email reply to Ms Morris additionally suggested that HELR editors carefully review what was seen in the full article cited by Arkush/Braman immediately afterward in footnote #165 (as seen in the final publication) for a May/June 2005 Mother Jones article.

I was arguably too subtle in my suggestions in order to not to infuse bias into your own analysis. Arkush/Braman had taken what they said about the intentions of API completely out of context. I thought it would be readily obvious without saying so directly. Further, when editorial reviewers read the full context of the footnote #165 citation, the Mother Jones article said clearly enough, “… ExxonMobil’s Lauren Kerr says she doesn’t know the “status of this reported plan” and an API spokesman says he could “find no evidence” that it was ever implemented …” That statement alone should have been enough to prompt HELR staff to find out for certain if the plan, notoriously and very widely known as the “victory will be achieved” memos, was ever implemented. A fact-check effort with the former Executive VP and COO of API William O’Keefe, who is very much alive, would confirm that no part of the plan was ever implemented.

Fundamentally Arkush/Braman propose to have people charged with climate homicide …… based on a memo that was nothing more than a set of truisms on how the public would be better informed if they knew more of both sides of the issue …. which was never implemented.

However, new details arise which further imperils the credibility of both the authors of this paper and HELR: in their April 10 promotion of their paper in Newsweek, the authors claim ( , paragraph 8) immediately before referring to the API “victory” memos:

…. Another fossil fuel front group, the “Information Council for the Environment,” set out to “Reposition global warming as theory (not fact)” through, for example, advertisements comparing concerns about climate change to “Chicken Little’s hysteria about the sky falling.”

The clickable links in the Arkush/Braman article sentence go to a Union of Concerned Scientists file, but UCS in turn sources a set of (now offline) Greenpeace scans containing the notorious “reposition global warming” memos and the “Chicken Little” advertorial. Again, intensive fact-checking by HELR staff on this new development will reveal that the “reposition global warming” memos was a rejected, never implemented proposal sent to a non-profit coal association’s public relations campaign, and the “Chicken Little” advertorial was never published anywhere. Greenpeace, at the time their scans were uploaded, was headed by John Passacantando and Kert Davies, but the scans actually date back to the Ozone Action group when Passacantando and Davies were the top administrators there ( ). UCS omits the cover sheet for Ozone Action for their file ( ) while the PayUpClimatePollutors includes it ( ). At the bottom of that cover sheet at the “PayUp” PDF file, you will see the reference to the “Chicken Little” advertorial. When you zoom in at the bottom of the “Chicken Little” advertorial at either the “PayUp” file (pg 49) or the UCS PDF file (pg 48), you will see a nonexistent toll-free phone number and a name that contradicts Arkush’s/Braman’s claim about the PR campaign being called “Informed Citizens for the Environment.” A 1991 New York Times article ( ) about the stillborn PR campaign reported that an official with the campaign said the “Informed Citizens” name suggestion was unsolicited and never used. Ask the CEO of the Western Fuels Association, Fred Palmer, who is very much alive, if the Information Council for the Environment campaign ever paid and directed anybody to “reposition global warming” – ask any other top administrator at WFA / ICE – they will say that memo set’s ridiculous proposal directives were never used.

Kert Davies left Greenpeace in 2013, and by 2016 had created his ClimateFiles website, which features both the “Chicken Little” advertorial along with the “reposition global warming” memos and the reference to the “Informed Citizens” name ( ). The Arkush/Braman Climate Homicide paper in HELR cites Kert Davies’ ClimateFiles 19 times …. but not for the “victory will be achieved” memos, which also source from Kert Davies when he was at Greenpeace ( ).

I’ll be less subtle this time. Arkush and Braman now propose to charge people with murder based on two memo sets that were never implemented by any fossil fuel company anywhere, and based on an advertorial that was never published anywhere. Their paper needs to be retracted immediately, as it is a complete embarrassment to the authors who apparently trusted dicey information they found, and it is an embarrassment to HELR, which apparently did not at least minimally fact-check what these authors said about the never-implemented “victory will be achieved” memos.

– Russell Cook

Will reason and moderation prevail, where the HELR editors see the problem here? I wouldn’t hold my breath over it – after all, HELR is actually a student-run publication, and … well, … Harvard students are not exactly displaying reason and moderation on another hot-button political issue, and there’s no indication that anyone at Harvard has fact-checked anything one of their more notorious professors has written about the climate issue. Plus, there was that other crippling problem besetting Harvard from top-to-bottom recently.

But as the old saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Enviro-activists may view the ‘industry-orchestrated disinformation campaigns‘ angle of the climate issue as being solid as a rock, but when any unbiased, objective person examines this edifice, they will see it has an uncountable number of fault lines in it. It’s rotten to the core, such that somewhere, somehow, all it will take is for someone to hit it hard enough for one crack to open up, and then there will be no stopping it.