Thursday, September 3, 2015

High Noon in the Climate Denier’s Camp (and It is Not Pretty)

By Bob Ferris

So is the sheriff actually coming to town?
I am continually amazed by folks so willing to expound or write on topics in the absence of credentials and with little or no regard for truth or balance.  My amazement here is only surpassed by the apparent capacity of a certain sector of the US public to absorb these stinking piles of propaganda like fudgesicles on a steamy day.  The most recent example of this is a Breitbart piece “exposing” the million-dollar “secret” anti-fossil fuel conspiracy currently at play.

And are these really the bad guys?
Holy crap we have billionaires, the White House and front groups involved in a conspiracy to educate the public about the dangers of climate change and engaging governors in forwarding policies that will bring us cleaner air and a more hopeful future.  Heck, why would we want all that when we could have a hotter and more polluted future brought to us by fossil fuel industry shills who actually are engaged in a real conspiracy funded by hundreds of millions?   And why in a year with escalating wildfires, three category 4 hurricanes in the eastern Pacific, the hottest month ever recorded, and Dengue fever spreading  with more to come (1,2,3) would anyone really want to do anything about climate change?  Lands sake, why don’t these conspirators just mind their own business?

Okay enough facetiousness.  This piece in Breitbart is expected as those involved in the real scheme to misinform and deceive folks about climate change and fossil fuels (1,2,3) likely thought that a response was needed to all the documentation of their own massive cabal.  What is surprising is that this response is amazingly weak, easily refuted and transparently deceptive.

The above from here.
Let’s start with the messenger Marita Noon (AKA Marita Littauer) a fossil fuel advocate and Christian author.  It is really no secret that Ms. Noon head of Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy and also the associated Energy Makes America Great works on behalf of New Mexico natural gas interests.  This is reinforced by her repeated public statements about fracking most notably on the Daily Show where she was parodied out of her socks (see clip here).  I suspect that she does not truly understand the satirical nature of this type of programming because when she was interviewed later by former governor and retired professional wrestler Jesse Ventura (see clip below) she pointed to the Daily Show much like one would point to an achievement rather than an instance when she was held up to public ridicule.

Her attempts in the Ventura interview to characterize fracking as a 100-year old improving technology much like cell phones, dismissing the health risks of polluted water systems because she knew someone in some community where fracking took place that suffered no ill effects, and trying to compare fracking-catalyzed earthquakes with big trucks or trains all seem reminiscent of the Breitbart piece arguments.  They earned her eye rolls from a frustrated Ventura in the interview and should receive even a stronger response for this written piece.  This Breitbart piece and her arguments are a little like a teenager caught chucking an M-80 into a mailbox and trying to convince angry parents that the real danger is the child in the neighborhood with a cap pistol.

In a real sense the bit about fracking being a century-old process getting better is industry tripe that ignores both the monumentally greater frequency of fracking during this natural gas boom that started in 2003 and the fact that water is now part of the process where before oil, gasoline or other materials were used. And when I say water I mean millions of gallons per well (see above graphic).

The anecdotal bit about the best friend thriving in fracking country is telling on a lot of different levels.  This type of unqualified statement being offered up as “proof” of safety by anyone let alone the head of an organization claiming to be qualified to comment on fracking is ludicrous.  Pollution plumes involving a myriad of complex compounds travelling in three dimensions through many different substrates and potentially poisoning people through short and long-term exposure needs to be addressed in terms of test wells, water samples and presented symptoms not via some lame “I have a friend” defense.  Why would anyone think that sufficient?  Perhaps Ms. Noon who is certainly a devout Christian with no apparent post-secondary education believes that faith and proof are the same?  But while I respect her right to embrace the Bible as a guiding document, I am hard-pressed to remember the chapters and verses in that tome that dealt specifically with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, bio-accumulation, mutagens and oncology.  Was that Old Testament or New?  (I know, again with the facetiousness.)

The fracking boom hit in 2003 and has accelerated ever since (see here for history)
And then there is the comparison of earthquakes to truck and train traffic.  Where do I start with this? Fracking has been tied to earthquakes (1,2,3) and those of us who are Seahawk fans and remember the Beast-Quake set off by running-back Marshawn Lynch know that surface actions can be read by seismographs and measured on the Richter Scale they only have to be large enough (Go Hawks).
I do not come from an energy, science, or public policy background. I’ve spent my life in speaking and writing either as a communicator or a trainer of communicators. When circumstances in my personal life mandated that I get a real job, I never imagined that I could be so enthusiastic about something not of my own making.” Marita Noon 2011 in Master Resource a Free Market Energy blog 
The above statement by Ms. Noon explains much as to why her responses to questions are often technically spongy, unerringly consistent with a political ideology, and bereft of any thought of future consequence for her positions.   It also explains why she is frequently flat wrong like with her confusing comment about the lack of association between fracking and methane release in the Ventura piece (1,2,3) and when the science writer for the normally supportive Albuquerque paper had to correct her claims about wind power in an opinion piece (1,2).  As someone who has hired dozens and dozens of employees to work in the non-profit sector (working on energy or other technical issues) my goal was always to try and maximize the depth and breadth of my employees’ relevant skills sets in the hope that would help us in our quest to find the best solutions and most defensible positions.  So I am confused by the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy's decision to do something different in their hire of an unqualified Ms. Noon...unless they got exactly what they wanted.

A look at three sources for climate denial groups and how the mix has changed over time.
Now on to the materials presented by Ms. Noon in the Breitbart piece.  There is a concept in law known as "fruit of the poisonous tree.”  This deals with evidence in a criminal case collected illegally that is tainted by the manner in which it was gathered (e.g., without warrant or probable cause).  That evidence cannot be used in court because of this taint.  It is a strong and time-tested legal concept.

In this Climate Denial situation substantial proof has been offered that fossil fuel interests and conservative donors have invested heavily in anti-climate change, pro-fossil fuel activists and organizations such as the Heartland Institute, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), Americans for Prosperity, American Enterprise Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute and many others (1,2,3).  These moneyed interests and their millions have essentially created a "poisonous tree" hung with misinformation and deception. Ms. Noon who has connections with the Heartland Institute , CFACT, and Environment & Energy Legal Institute (nee American Tradition Institute) among others is not only part of this poisoned tree, she uses its "fruit" almost exclusively as her source of information. Essentially she offers up materials generated by tainted sources as proof that it is others who are tainted.
"In 2011, documents allegedly found in a stolen car and then discovered in a Colorado meth house revealed the inner workings of WTP/ATC, including possible illegal coordination with Republican candidates."  From Wikipedia entry on Western Tradition Partnership (see also here for article in the Atlantic)
In looking at my above claim about Ms. Noon’s sources let’s spend a little time with the Environment & Energy Legal Institute (E&E Legal) which was the source of the report mentioned and mooned over by Ms. Noon.  Sounds legitimate and prestigious.  Then you scratch the surface a little and find that E&E Legal used to be known as the American Tradition Institute which was also associated with the American Tradition Partnership, Western Tradition Institute and Western Tradition Partnership.  To say they were scandal ridden is an understatement.

Above from Media Matters
American Tradition Institute is also notorious for the Michael Mann e-mail lawsuit where the ethics of ATI’s David Schnare were called into question.  Christopher Horner who was recently criticized for being too funded by and too close to the coal industry is also associated with ATI as are John Droz , Stephen Milloy  and Joe Bastardi.
"I’ve read the entire report—which had me holding my breath as if I were reading a spy thriller—and reviewed the emails."  Marita Noon in Breitbart piece.
In short, Ms. Noon’s silver bullet to take attention away from her crowd’s well-documented links to industry and conservative donors by casting aspersions on those working to find solution pathways to dealing with climate change’s immense challenges is a report written by folks associated with a group that is neck-deep in the world of the fossil fuel industry and conservative donors.  I am not holding my breath as I read her piece, but I am holding my nose.

So what about all this about former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.  My sense is that he is a man of principle trying to keep too many people happy who got caught in a media buzz saw that made any practical solution impossible.  Were mistakes made?  Probably.  Were they as gruesome as they are being portrayed?  Probably not.  Here I will have to admit that my lens is colored some by being married to a woman with a graduate degree from Princeton who has given up much and has frequently had to live in my professional shadow.  Relationships between two people with ambitions and skills particularly when their universes overlap is a very, very delicate dance in which toes are regularly stepped upon.

As to Noon’s other claims about Dan Carol and Tom Steyer they just seem kind of weird and naïve.  I worked on a project (see Amber Waves of Gain) that included Dan about 15 years ago and he was very good.  My sense is that Ms. Noon would not be against people with skills being reasonably paid for their work, but it seems so in her comments.  She also talks about aides and political advisers in a negative manner which seems strange as many of the folks she works with and she calls colleagues participate in these activities.

Moreover, Tom Steyer has been anything but secretive in his actions starting with his funding—along with his wife Kat Taylor —of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford as well as his related political actions on climate (1,2,3). This is in addition to Tom and Kat helping to found Beneficial State Bank which is very much worth checking out . Here too I will disclosure that I met Kat Taylor when looking for financing for a non-profit that I once ran in 2011 and I used to socialize occasionally with Dan Reicher executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and his family while we were all living in Vermont.
“Oh, how I wish we were that well coordinated and funded. If we were, I would have written this column last week when the E&E Legal report was released. Instead of receiving the information from the source, a New York City journalist forwarded it to me.” Marita Noon in Breitbart piece.
I will begin to close here with the above whiny quote which could indicate a number of things—none of them good for Ms. Noon.  Either she was not paying attention or the movement which is actually well-funded in general is passing her by.   Greenwire clearly got a press release from E&E Legal and so did the New York City journalist she mentioned.  E&E Legal also tweeted about the report on the day of the release.  I also find it odd given the number of times that Ms. Noon has dropped his name and cheer-leaded his positions (1,2,3,4,5 ) that the primary author of this report about secret e-mails and cloak-and-dagger mayhem the aforementioned Christopher Horner would not have sent Ms. Noon a hot-off-the-presses copy of his work.  Go figure.

Attacks or rebuttals work best when they are written by those with relevant credentials, demonstrated credibility and appropriate distance from the controversy.  Ms. Noon as she has pointed out by her actions and words possesses none of these characteristics.

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