Naomi Oreskes, the Golden Opportunity

Naomi Oreskes can do no wrong in the eyes of her supporters with her Merchants of Doubt book / documentary movie efforts that supposedly exposed the corporate-bought corruption of climate scientists skeptical about the idea of catastrophic man-caused global warming. In the eyes of people she accuses and people who see through her smear tactics and clumsy science pronouncements, she can’t seem to do anything right. Mere discussion of her antics accomplishes very little — she is emboldened to continue her accusations in the most reckless way because she’s met with practically no significant public opposition. The golden opportunity to hold her accountable, however, is arguably in the hands of the public hearing officials she faces, who might be able to do something about this problem. Making false statements in congressional hearings is actually a crime.

Oreskes’ faulty narratives are a never-ending gift. I’ve covered her seriously faulty narratives in two different series of blog posts, one 3-part set starting with her claim about a particular newspaper contacting her, and the other set concentrating on her apparently fabricated story of discovering who her main critic was. To make these particular dissections easier to find at GelbspanFiles, I’ve just re-tagged them as “Oreskes’ faulty narratives” or “Oreskes’ discovery odyssey.” Her Merchants of Doubt co-author “Erik Conway” also factors into her ‘discovery odyssey,’ of course.

But wait, there’s more. Consider her response to what U.S. House Rep Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said about the notrious American Petroleum Institute “Victory will be achieved …” leaked memos during her October 2019 U.S. House hearing appearance (full hearing transcript here):

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. And in 1998, API ‘s global science communications team action plan, which involved Exxon, Chevron, Southern Company, and more, laid out the industry’s denial campaign. They knew that they were going to dump unknown at that time amounts of money, but a large investment in a climate denial and doubt campaign in the United States and around the world, correct?
Mr. Hoffert. To the best of my knowledge, that’s true. But I didn’t know of that personally.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. They said victory would be achieved when, quote, “average citizens,” quote/unquote, understand uncertainties in climate science. Dr. Garvey, would you say these goals accurately represent the mission of Exxon in the past and today?
Mr. Garvey. Not in the past. Certainly not when I was there.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Would you say that currently the current environment that is fostered around doubt on scientific consensus could be a result of lobbying from the fossil fuel industry?
Mr. Garvey. I would say so, but I should let my cohort–you should answer that.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Sure. Dr. Oreskes?
Ms. Oreskes: Three hundred and 50 pages on that in my book “Merchants of Doubt.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Thank you very much.

The overall insinuation here was unmistakable: the mission of Exxon and other fossil fuel companies is to carry out high-dollar disinformation campaigns, proven by all 350 pages of Naomi Oreskes’ “Merchants of Doubt” book, and by the leaked API “Victory will be achieved” memo.

Watch the video for this specific hearing passage, though. Oreskes’ overly smug satisfaction with her reply most likely stems from her expectation that nobody would question it.

The Republican committee members not only missed a golden opportunity to skewer Rep Ocasio-Cortez on her ignorance regarding the unsolicited,* never implemented, and otherwise valueless-as-evidence API memos, they missed the opportunity to completely reframe public perception about Naomi Oreskes’ credibility.  *[*Author’s 5/13/21 note: this is corrected/clarified here]

To their credit, Republicans Carol Miller and Chip Roy at least made Oreskes look slightly uncomfortable by asking her about an apparent oversight in her study of ExxonMobil, and about her obvious bias against Exxon. If they or the other Republican members had been fully prepped on everything there is to know about Oreskes, they would have viewed her self-congratulatory response about her 350 pages as a gift from heaven. Even a Democrat representative expressing simple curiosity about the matter could have asked this:

Rep. from either political party: Ms Oreskes, I see one of the two books you brought with you is your “Merchants of Doubt.” I have a copy of my own and may have missed where the passage is – could you tell me which specific page tells the details of the leaked API “Victory will be achieved” memo?

Deer-in-the-headlights look on Oreskes’ face. Her book doesn’t mention that memo at all, in any form, and only references the American Petroleum Institute twice in ways so cursory that they don’t even appear in the book’s index list.

It could have gone downhill at an exponential rate after that.

Rep. from either political party: Ms Oreskes, could you point out where the specific evidence is within your book, meaning leaked documents or devastating interview responses? For example, within the 40 pages for your chapter 3 on “Sowing the Seeds of Doubt: Acid Rain,” regarding claims that Exxon hired supposedly skeptic climate scientists to knowingly put out misinformation designed to undercut the IPCC reports about human-induced global warming?

The problem for Oreskes is, even within the 46 pages of her book’s chapter 6 solely on global warming, she provides exactly zero evidence of any pay-for-performance arrangement between any fossil fuel entity and skeptic climate scientists. But the book was praised as exposing exactly that situation, as was Oreskes’ documentary film of the same name, something eco-zealots widely spread and never questioned:

Well, set the book and movie aside. What about her own Prepared Written Testimony mentioning the “Informed Citizens for the Environment” disinformation campaign? As I already showed in extensive detail in my dissection of her appearance at the October House hearing, her incorrect naming of a very minor pilot project public relations campaign only makes the situation exponentially worse for her credibility, potentially opening a Pandora’s Box on the consideration that the only real disinformation campaign existing in the global warming issue may be one where enviro-activists orchestrated efforts to smear the reputation of skeptic climate scientists.

Right now, there’s no end in sight of efforts to keep the global warming issue alive via character assassination against skeptical critics because none of the major leaders of these efforts have ever faced withering examination by political committee members or mainstream media reporters. House Reps Carol Miller and Chip Roy demonstrated last October how just the barest of tough questioning makes Naomi Oreskes nervous. She faced no such questioning at a subsequent one-sided Senate “Special Group” discussion, and openly laughed at a similar 2016 joint Congressional Progressive Caucus / Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (CPC / SEEC) forum discussion about her pleasure to speak to a “friendly committee chairman” (EiD’s Spencer Walrath described the session as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for future genuine congressional hearings).

Of course, nobody would seriously say Naomi Oreskes should be indicted for perjury when she said all 350 pages of her book is evidence of a skeptic scientists / industry executives disinformation conspiracy. She could have been reminded that she was under oath, that her declaration was not really remotely accurate, and that making corruption accusations devoid of evidence to back them up is a far more serious offense.

Therein lies the golden opportunity to stop the smear of skeptic climate scientists. Going on the offense to hold Oreskes accountable for her claims might prompt Democrats to seriously think twice before following her advice of subpoenaing alleged disinformation campaign ‘participants,’ when that could backfire in the most spectacular way imaginable.

Imagine the potential line questioning from a representative or Senator who is fully aware of myriad problems connecting Oreskes to Al Gore and the worthless “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” memo that Gore spelled out in his 2006 movie as evidence of the industry paid corruption of skeptic climate scientists. Imagine how the questioning could connect to the old Ozone Action environmentalist group that gave that leaked memo its first major media traction, the same place headed by John Passacantando and Kert Davies, the same pair who were more recently seen in a 2016 leaked email that detailed efforts to portray Exxon as a corrupt institution, the same pair who seem to be swimming in dark money, of which a large amount may be earmarked for Davies efforts at his Climate Investigations Center (CIC) to accuse fossil fuel companies of conspiring with skeptic climate scientists in disinformation campaigns.

That Kert Davies, the man I showed in my previous blog post, the man who stood in the doorway of the hearing room for Oreskes’ CPC / SEEC forum presentation, displaying glowing nodding approval.

 Imagine the discomfort in the hearing room if we all heard the following:

Fully knowledgeable Rep. / Senator: Ms Oreskes, have a look at this photo from your 2016 CPC / SEEC forum presentation – is the witness seated right next to you today the same man circled in that image? Can you tell us if it was a coincidence that he attended your presentation?

This can actually happen, and the possibilities for devastating questioning are endless. But it can only happen if members of oversight committees and their staffers are alerted by prominent influential people to the importance of this golden opportunity. It isn’t Earth in the balance here, it’s ultimately Al Gore’s legacy if it turns out he needed Oreskes’ 100% global warming consensus paper reference in his 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth” movie as leverage for the accusation within it that skeptic climate scientists are paid fossil fuel money to undercut the settled science of man-caused global warming.