Put all your Eggs in the “Reposition Global Warming as Theory Rather than Fact” Memos Basket

Accusers who push the idea that fossil fuel industry executives colluded with skeptic climate scientists to spread lies undermining public belief in man-caused global warming repeatedly reveal they only have one bit of so-called ‘viable evidence’ in their arsenal — a particular set of supposedly leaked internal fossil fuel industry memos. Their latest effort to keep the accusation afloat contains an unforced error where they felt compelled to repeat a specific line about the ‘discovery’ of the memos which they haven’t spoken of since 1996.

Spencer Walrath wrote a fascinating 12/6/18 article about UK Guardian / California freelance journalist Amy Westervelt and the “Drilled” podcasts she produces and hosts. She self-describes them as “a true-crime style pod about the creation of climate denial.” His paragraph attributing ‘leaked memo’ phrases to Kert Davies caught my attention (yes, that Kert Davies), and while the complete podcasts’ content was predictable to me, I was still surprised to hear one particular statement within them.

The podcasts are at Westervelt’s “Critical Frequency” site (click the “More Episodes” button here for the series). Alternatively, they are more easily individually accessed, latest-to-earliest, here. My transcript for the key part of “The Turn” podcast begins at the 13:09 point, and I emphasize critical bits in boldface, with the most noteworthy highlighted in red. Westervelt’s lead-up to this point concerned how oil industry executives, along with other heavy industry leaders, supposedly sought to persuade the public that the global warming issue wasn’t something to worry about:

Westervelt:  Here’s our document guy Kert Davies again.

Davies:  This is early 1991. To set the context, the IPCC has been born, we’re talking about the Rio Earth Summit coming in 1992, the issue is on people’s minds, the summer of 1988 and Jim Hansen’s testimony, the burning planet on the cover of Time magazine. It’s becoming an issue, and the Edison Electric Institute, ….. they team up with the Western Fuels Association, and form a campaign that they call “The Information Council on the Environment.”

Westervelt:  That document emerged in the mid ’90s via journalist Ross Gelbspan and the environmental group Ozone Action.

Davies:  The strategies, quote unquote, include “repositioning global warming as a theory, parentheses, not fact,” “Targeting print and radio media for maximum effectiveness,” ….. In Arizona, for example, they did telephone interviews with 500 adults in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the data indicates, quote, “89% say that they have heard of global warming,” “82% claim some familiarity with global warming,” …..

So, it’s penetrated. A vast majority have heard of the issue, think it is serious, and the campaign is to reverse that, is to change that. So, they’ve hired an outside firm to design this campaign ….. they talk about specifically the target audiences of this test round they’re gonna do, to see if their theory works and they can move people. And it says people who respond favorably to such statements are, quote older, less-educated males from larger households, who are not typically active information-seekers and are not likely to be green consumers.”

Westervelt:  Hmmm. Older men who are, quote, “not active information-seekers.” If you were living in America during the 2016 election presidential campaign, that demographic might sound familiar. And to put some of those data points from the I – C – E poll into perspective, here’s a more recent stat: In 2017, 52% of Americans believed the threat of climate change has been exaggerated. That’s despite the fact that we have more scientific evidence now, and more extreme weather events showing us it’s a problem every year. In other words, these influence campaigns have been remarkably effective.  ……

I’ll get to Westervelt’s error about “remarkably effective” in a moment. But wait, there’s more: In her “Aggressive Think Tanks” podcast episode, the ICE campaign (or as Westervelt improperly spells it out) is brought up again. Just prior to her bit below starting at the 5:30 point, Westervelt led into it with notions about what the talking points were for fossil fuel public influence campaigns and who they targeted:

A key target of the I – C – E campaigns played into this too. Their strategy documents cite older, less-educated men as a choice demographic for anti-climate science campaigns. That target turned out to be right on. This group ate up the messaging around climate denial, and were easily mobilized by conspiracy theories. To this day, the vast majority of climate deniers fit this demographic. ……

Westervelt subsequently notes Dr Katharine Hayhoe’s agreement regarding the ‘older, dumber men’ problem and then tries to bolster the idea by citing a study by sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap.

Oops. Putting all your eggs in one basket. Elsewhere, Hayhoe cited James Hoggan and Naomi Oreskes’ for evidence of the ‘crooked skeptics’ accusation; Hoggan cited Oreskes, who in turn cited Ross Gelbspan. McCright and Riley Dunlap turn out to be members of a select number of sociologists who rely on Gelbspan’s accusation to imply that only industry-corrupted climate scientists oppose the idea of man-caused global warming.

Arguably, the only real climate change deniers in this issue are enviro-activists who ate up incomplete anti-science messaging from the Al Gore side of the issue and demanded a static climate, while not being uneducated about contrasting climate science reports from skeptic climate scientists, and who were easily mobilized by conspiracy theories claiming those skeptics were “liars for hire.” E.g., material from Oreskes / Hoggan / Gelbspan.

The problems Westervelt inadvertently creates for herself by citing Hayhoe and McCright / Dunlap aren’t the only ones. What are the others?

  • For all the time (more on that below) that Kert Davies has known about the Information Council for the Environment, he still gets the name wrong at this podcast and at his Climate Files website. The official campaign information letter response template says “for,” as does the advertising agency handling the campaign, and even the old Ozone Action environmental group labeled it properly.
  • Davies also seems to be either oblivious to the earliest news report about ICE’s alleged efforts to sway public opinion and how the Edison Electric Institute said they had no part in running it (further detailed here), or else he may have purposely failed to disclose that to Westervelt.
  • Westervelt strangely says “I – C – E campaignsplural, and that they were “remarkably effective.” There was only one single very short-lived ICE campaign, but Ross Gelbspan also said exactly the same thing about its nationwide effectiveness in 2005, despite the fact that the campaign was only run in three small cities.
  • Westervelt’s assertions about the “reposition global warming / older, less educated males” strategy/targeting document are only correct in one technical sense, in that Ozone Action did indeed give those memos their first major media traction in their 1996 “Ties that Blind” report. However, Ross Gelbspan was not a journalist at that time, and those alleged ICE memos were first prominently reported in a 1991 New York Times article (emerging somehow out of the Sierra Club – which they never brag about) and in then-Senator Al Gore’s 1992 “Earth in the Balance” book.
  • “Ozone Action ….” who? Westervelt never explains what that environmental organization was or who was in it.

………. which leads to …..

  • In Westervelt’s “The Bell Labs of Energy” episode 1 podcast, she introduces Kert Davies at the 5:01 point as “an investigator who’s dug up dozens of documents that reveal what the oil industry was up to.” In episode 2 “The Turn,” it was “Here’s our document guy Kert Davies again. Episode 3, “Here’s researcher Kert Davies again” at the 3:55 point. Episode 4, “Here’s our document guy Kert Davies with that” at 3:50. In episode 5, she has him at the 1:41 / 14:43 points, respectively, with “as Kert Davies put it” / “Here’s our document guy Kert Davies on that” (where he properly pronounces ICE as in the words “ice cube”), and in episode 7, after opening it with a claim that what’s known about oil companies’ nefarious disinformation efforts only arose in the last five years, she says (45 second point) “Independent investigators like Kert Davies .. also contributed to that knowledge.”

………. and that leads to possibly the biggest blunder Westervelt made …..

That document emerged in the mid ’90s via journalist Ross Gelbspan and the environmental group Ozone Action.

The only place that wording has ever been seen is two places: at Ozone Action, and in my screencaptures of archive versions of Ozone Action’s long-disappeared webpage. Who in the enviro-activist community would have the most familiarity with that specific wording? Kert Davies, who worked at Ozone Action when those memos began gaining increasingly larger media traction. Westervelt just never bothers to disclose this massive problem nor does she even take the time to at least say Davies was formerly the main guy persecuting Big Oil companies at the much more famous Greenpeace organization. Davies, as I noted at my October 27, 2017 post, doesn’t disclose this either.

There’s more to this inadequate disclosure problem. As Spencer Walrath pointed out in his piece about Westervelt’s “Drilled” podcasts, she doesn’t disclose that she writes for Davies’ Climate Liability News. Regarding the lawyer she praises in episode 7, Matt Pawa, she digs another hole for herself. Immediately after saying people like Davies contributed to the ‘evidence collection’ against fossil fuel companies, she offers the following (1:00 point / 1:48 point / 2:05 point):

But long before these investigations kicked off, lawyers were digging up this stuff, too. …

More than a decade ago, an environmental lawyer named Matt Pawa brought the first suit that tried to hold a company responsible for inaction on climate change …

He went on to represent some of the first climate refugees, people displaced from the village of Kivalina, Alaska, by melting icecaps and rising seas …

In her subsequent glowing review of Pawa’s work and speeches, she not only fails to disclose that she wrote a lengthy article praising his work in 2010 for the Solve Climate News website (before it changed its name to the less advocacy-sounding name “Inside Climate News”, and before ICN was cited by Pawa in his most recent global warming lawsuits), but she also doesn’t mention that Pawa’s Kivalina v Exxon case’s core evidence for the ‘corrupt skeptics accusation’ was those never-actually-used-in-the-ICE-campaignreposition global warming / older, less educated males” strategy/targeting memos ….. and Pawa didn’t cite either Ozone Action or Ross Gelbspan, but instead bent over backwards to avoid that problem. And when she brought up Pawa’s pair of California lawsuits during her podcast’s 9:06 to 9:50 span …. she completely failed to tell her listeners that both were dismissed, along with his New York City lawsuit, and that all three were crippled by an ‘insufficient evidence’ problem. And in the last five seconds of that span, Westervelt says,

… there are more than a dozen or so active cases right now, and more seem to be filed every month.

She fails to disclose to her listeners that nine of those lawsuits are being handled by the Sher Edling law firm, that all are nearly exact copies of each other, and that are all enslaved to the same non-ICE memos which she emphasizes in her podcasts. Sher Edling doesn’t credit Ross Gelbspan or Ozone Action for the memos, they cite the Union of Concerned Scientists’ ‘Dossier #5’ ….. which cites the “Greenpeace USA née Ozone Action” scan collection.

Sher Edling’s Media page containing their list of lawsuits additionally features an interactive horizontal sliding timeline below the list, and its 1991 spot features the ICE campaign with an ICE ad illustration captioned “Image provided by: Climate Files.” Westervelt’s Climate Frequency page has an interactive horizontal sliding timeline below her “Drilled” podcast collection, and its 1991 spot features the ICE campaign with a link straight to Kert Davies’ Climate Files ICE page.

Sheer coincidence? How does ‘journalist’ Westervelt avoid either the appearance of being little more than a propagandist promoting these global warming lawsuits, or appearing so inept in her profession that she had no intellectual curiosity to independently corroborate if the ‘fossil fuel industry misinformation conspiracy’ idea was above reproach?

On the same day Westervelt Tweeted a gripe about Spencer Walrath’s “Drilled” article without actually disputing what Walrath reported, she put out a cryptic Tweet hours later, “Need a word like mansplaining for non-reporters explaining how reporting works.”

Unbiased, objective, ‘old school’ reporting works by informing the public about all the critical details surrounding an important issue, including ones which undercut the issue. “Full-contextsplaining” might be the term Westervelt needs. “Propagandasplaining” assumes a less educated audience is gullible enough to absorb material which falsely portrays a situation as something it actually is not.

When the majority of the public becomes fully aware of the total issue, ‘journalists’ like Westervelt and the PBS NewsHour will have a whole lot of ’splaining to do on why they only told us half of it.