Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Climate Deniers Sorry and Sordid Shell Game

By Bob Ferris

The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) and workshop. 
I was recently doing some research on this silly legend that the anti-wolf crowd is pushing about Echinococcus granulosa and wolves when I stumbled onto some materials posted by a group called Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).  Who the hell are they and why would they be posting this crap about wolves?

One of my first steps in trying to get a handle on this was to visit CFACT’s website and get a sense of them.  I looked first at their advisory board and a couple of names jumped right out at me.  The first was James Beers the infamously ousted US Fish and Wildlife Service employee and rogue biologist who is the darling of the anti-wolf and property-rights crowds (1,2,3). Suffice it to say anyone who adds Mr. Beers to any committee or board anywhere is not looking for a high level of credibility.
"...they [polar bears] can grow a little bit more if it's slightly warmer."  Dr. Willie Soon (at 26:23 minutes) during a July 13, 2008 talk entitled "Endangering The Polar Bear: How Environmentalists Kill" based upon research supported by the State of Alaska ($9,998.00) and used by then-Governor Sarah Palin in her unsuccessful efforts to block Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear (see also 1,2). 
The second name that popped out was Dr.Willie Soon.  Dr. Soon has been in the news lately because of his less than ethical approach to disclosing the funders of his climate change research (1,2,3,4,5). He evidently did not think it germane to disclose all sources of funding from the fossil fuel industry for his controversial studies and Senator Ed Markey is currently calling him out on this ethical lapse.

Beyond Beers and Soon the CFACT advisory board is largely a who’s who from the climate denier camp—some of whom are also on Congressman Raul Grijalva’s list to be investigated for not disclosing funding sources such as Robert Balling Jr.  And the rest are from conservative think tanks around the nation such as the Hudson, Heartland and Cato Institutes.  (It is so hard for me not to call these "stink tanks." And, yes, I did get distracted by what I found and so I changed course.  So hold on as we travel through this morass--some of it old news and some of it new.)

The picture of what is happening here becomes clearer when you look at the CFACT staff.  Right in the middle of the page is Marc Morano.   Well now, that is a familiar name indeed to those working on the climate change front.  To say that Mr. Morano is notorious seems inadequate.  His efforts to undermine progress on emissions reductions—first with Rush Limbaugh and latter with Senator James Inhofe—are the stuff of denier legend.  In fact, Mr. Morano is featured in the upcoming documentary “Merchants of Doubt” that, in part, explores the links between campaigns to discredit the the relationship between second-hand smoke and cancer and what we see in terms of manufactured confusion on the climate change front (see also here).

When I think of Mr. Morano I remember the WC Fields’ quote:  “If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”  It seems kind of funny in theory but not so hilarious in practice particularly when you look at the totality of the deception and the cataclysmic implications for all of us.  It is impossible to pull on any thread of this without running into connections and purposeful confusion.
“Established to safeguard the charitable intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise, Donors Trust is the sole donor-advised provider dedicated to promoting a free society and serving donors who share in that purpose.” Donors Trust mission from website and Guidestar Profile
“Trust is working to help alleviate, through education, research, and private initiative, society's most pervasive and radical needs, including those relating to social welfare, health, the environment, economics, governance, foreign relations, and arts and culture; and to encourage philanthropy and individual giving and responsibility, as opposed to governmental involvement, as an answer to society's needs.” From Donors Trust program activities on IRS form 990
How convoluted?  In 2011 CFACT gave conservative think tank funding funnel Donors Trust $303,000.00 followed in 2012 by a grant of $115, 000.00 and another $50,000.00 grant in 2013. Donors Trust gave the aforementioned Willie Soon’s climate change project $64,935 in 2012 and $49,864.00 in 2013.  OK, but Donors Trust gave CFACT $1,295,754.00 in 2010, $989,780.00 in 2011, $3,383,760.00 in 2012  and $305,000.00 in 2013 representing 45.5 percent, 33 percent, 61 percent and 15 percent respectively of CFACT’s annual budgets for those years.  Confused yet?

The above is suspicious to say the least particularly when you consider the greatly increased “need” to fund an organization spreading confusion about climate change and this set of actors during an election year.  Coincidence?  Probably not.  For me it brings to mind the old fundraiser’s saying that goes: People give money to people to help people.  Donors Trust seems to have turned that notion on its head with their own credo of: Rich greedy people give money to ethically compromised people to help rich greedy people.  It is really hard to find the charitable purpose or public good served by investing in organizations bent on confusing established science to delay needed action to protect the health and welfare of the nation.  Try as I might, I cannot see the broad benefit of this.

But Donors Trust is not the only complex web associated with this crowd.  Consider all that happens at 1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 for a moment.  This single suite houses:

1. American Legal Health Foundation
2. Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (1,2,3)
3. Association of American Physicians and Surgeons Education Foundation
4 Southwest Institute for Science
5. Southern Arizona Association for Play Therapy
6. Physicians for Civil Defense (1,2)
7. Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (1 ,2,3)

All of these ultra-conservative organizations have a common connection in the person of Jane Orient MD.  (As someone once commented, it must be one crowded office.)  Between her salaries at ALHA and AAPS Dr. Orient pulls in at least $364,600.00 annually in compensation as both those entities’ sole paid employee.

And as evidenced by the excerpt from the ALHA’s 2012 990s (at left), the board seems unaware of the messages sent by Sarbanes-Oxley.  Even the least aware board member should understand that it is probably not a wonderful idea for the treasurer to be the sole paid employee and then also not have an independent board salary or audit committee—nearly all the money raised by that non-profit goes directly to Dr. Orient.  That is probably good because her attempts as a novelist on books such as Neomorts where her characters try to bring down the obviously evil "Federal Transplant Registry" or Moonshine where she points out the dangers of "ecophiles" loving the earth are likely not putting a lot of food on her table.

Doctors for Disaster Preparedness Board: Jane Orient MD - Claud Boyd MD - Art Robinson MD - Donald Miller MD - Howard Hayden MD - Howard Maccabee MD - Norbert Rempe MD - Robert J. Cihak MD - John Kasch MD - Paul Morris MD - Steven Hatfill MD

Of the seven groups housed at that locale in Tucson two are most relevant to this piece: the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) and Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (DDP).  AAPS has been around for a long time since it first opposed government health care in the mid-1940s.  Since then the group has opposed an amazing number of reforms and measures favored by other doctors such as gun control, Social Security, and comprehensive testing of drugs.  They also are against abortion or emergency birth control and believe that there is a link between abortions and breast cancer.  Both Ron and Rand Paul have been associated with this organization in the past (see here for a more complete listing of their policies and practices).

Now while AAPS members are dyed-in-the-wool ultra-conservatives that, like the Koch Brothers, have historic ties to the John Birch Society (1,2), Doctors for Disaster Preparedness is just simply strange.  When you visit their less than professional website it is really difficult to see a theme that is consistent with their name or mission.  There are, however, some familiar names like Dr. Orient and also Art Robinson MD who heads up the Republican Party in Oregon and recently lost a race to Congressman Peter DeFazio in 2014.

From OISM website
Dr. Robinson also runs a group in Oregon called the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine that shows Dr. Orient as a faculty member as well as board member and which, incidentally, wants your urine (see above).  In addition, Dr. Robinson is famous for being part of the team that organized the so-called Oregon Petition of scientists opposed to climate change that was widely circulated and then widely discredited on many different levels (1,2,3).  Dr. Robinson also periodically publishes something called Access to Energy which he took over from Petr Beckmann  when Dr. Beckmann died.


And Dr. Petr Beckmann (not Dr. Peter Venkman, that is the guy from “Ghost Busters” played by Bill Murray) brings us back to DDP because their top award is called the Petr Beckmann Award which in the last 20 years has been given eight times to leading actors in the climate deniers camp and most recently to Marc Morano (see below list and above video).  (I am not exactly sure how opposition to climate change helps doctors be more prepared for disasters.)

Petr Beckmann Award Winners

1995 - Jane Orient
1996 - Robert Jastrow
1997 - Sallie Baliunas
1998 - Arthur B. Robinson
2000 - S. Fred Singer
2003 - Sherwood B. Idso
2004 - Willie Soon
2012 - Marc Morano

It is interesting to note that four out of these eight Beckmann Award winners also got awards at a Heartland Institute ceremony in 2014 as follows (see also Note at bottom):

2014 Frederick Seitz Memorial Award
Presented to Sherwood B. Idso
Presentation made by Fred Singer

Voice of Reason Award
Presented to Arthur B. Robinson
Presentation by Joseph Bast

Courage in Defense of Science Award
Presented to Willie Soon
Presented by John B. Sheldon

Lifetime Achievement in Climate Science Award
Presented to S. Fred Singer
Sponsored by The Heartland Institute
Presentation by Joseph Bast

(Note: In the above it is important to remember that Frederick Seitz founded the George C. Marshall Institute and collaborated on the Oregon Petition with Art Robinson.  Fred Singer founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project.  Willie Soon worked for the George Marshall Institute and co-authored papers with Sallie Baliunas. And on and on...circles within circles)


Now certainly the Heartland Institute (that has also received funding from Donors Trust) was quick to jump to Dr. Soon's defense with paid ads on Google (see above) so that anyone who searched for their 2014 conference's honoree would see this advertisement first rather than the 416,000 other results many of which talked about his non-disclosure, the conflicts of interest and problems with his research.  Heartland was also offering up a page with a defense of sorts.  It included a statement by Heartland's president that basically backed Dr. Soon, in part, because he was a repeated speaker at a conference organized by...wait for it...Heartland.  In fact the list of speakers for the Heartland-hosted ICCC-10 in 2015 contains a fair overlap of the awardees and players mentioned above.  And if you take time to read the list of pro-Soon opinion pieces provided by Heartland you will also find a high overlap between the authors and Heartland staff, experts, honorees and speakers at the ICCC events.


In Heartland's Soon defense materials, I particularly liked the above statement by Dr. Christopher Essex about the funding at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center where both Dr. Soon and Dr. Sallie Baliunas hold positions.  Not only is his characterization incorrect as these funds were often restricted specifically to certain works, projects and deliverables, but who is Dr. Essex to be making authoritative statements about anything at "the Smithsonian" and why would Heartland think Dr. Essex was the go-to guy in this instance or that we would buy it?  Particularly when the Smithsonian had already made a statement that basically contradicted the statement by Dr. Essex (see below from Smithsonian's Facebook page).


As evidenced above and throughout this piece and the associated links, the Heartland Institute, like many others of their ilk, follows a fairly simple model.  When there is no platform for your viewpoint, create one.  When your position is not supported by experts, recruit and promote your own set of experts. When there are difficulties getting your research published or in the public's eye, develop your own publications such as Environment and Climate News.  When legitimate professional conferences fail to provide podium time for your people, put together your own conference.  And constantly hand out lofty sounding awards like popcorn to your own experts.

In digging through all of this it is difficult not to think in terms of shit-stacked-on-shit (pardon me, but really).  The degree of connectedness bespeaks smallness and the mutual self-reinforcement is purposely meant to give all the denier players more stature than they rightfully deserve and the denier movement the appearance of larger size and more credibility.  It fails because what you continually see is a small group of politically-homogeneous actors who seem to have more connectedness within their movement than Kevin Bacon has within the movie industry.


A Facebook friend of mine recently stated: At some point, the strangle hold that the fossil fuel lobby has on our government will have to be broken.  I agree with this and more, but in order for that to happen this whole tangled web above and the allied structures must be exposed, seen for what they are and disassembled. Institutes need to become institutes again rather than fronts for industry-sponsored science or thinly disguised political machines such as Heartland which is happy to co-sponsor CPAC events (see above video) and push the Tea Party nonsense.  The money issues too need to be dealt with from Citizens United's influence on our political system to better tracking and reporting of the sources of donations over $100,000.00 so it becomes obvious when players like the Koch Brothers with billions in fossil-fuel interests invest more than $67 million since 1997 to discredit the concept of climate change and in efforts to forestall regulation.

For the above changes to happen legitimate media need to tell this story and investigative reporters need to tug hard on the threads introduced here and elsewhere. This needs to be called out for what it is: An elaborate shell game meant to benefit a few while digging us deeper into a course that will ultimately sink us all. But there also needs to be public outrage over this overt deception and an understanding that needed change is unlikely to come from the very people put in office by this increasingly oligarchic system.

This piece opened with a life-threatening but cryptic parasite so in a sense we have come full-circle. I look forward to seeing whether the American public will wake up and take steps to reclaim our democracy or succumb to this money and greed-driven infection which compromises us so much and jeopardizes our future and that of our children.  Time will tell.

[DISCLOSURE: I received no funding or assistance in researching and writing this piece.  And I am not affiliated with any entity other than a family that has lived on this continent for nearly 395 years, contributed materially to the founding of this experiment in democracy, and has consistently defended this great nation from threats, both internal and external, for more than two centuries]

If you need more to make you understand the seriousness and pervasiveness of this situation and the need to take action, here is more to ponder:

Congress as Viagra Gone Bad

Koch-backed network aims to spend nearly $1 billion in run-up to 2016

Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher

Meet the Network Hiding the Koch Money: "Donors Trust" and "Donors Capital Fund"

Secret funding of climate sceptics is not restricted to the US

Actions to Take:

There are many, many actions to take and petitions to sign from a number of groups with a number of differing perspectives and agendas.  Rather than point people in certain directions, I would rather suggest that folks find groups that feel comfortable to them and then work with those groups on these issues.  My sense is the core messages and, therefore, the solutions are three: 1) Science needs to be conducted openly, honestly and without undue influence by entities with vested and significant interests in the outcomes; where this is not happening safeguards need to be established; 2) Some corrective solution must be implemented to solve the representational inequity created by the Citizen's United Decision; and 3) Additional reporting and transparency requirements need to be established on contributions to non-profit organizations or foundations exceeding $100,000.00 individually or in sum.

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