Wednesday, October 28, 2015

WSJ: It’s Always Exxon’s Fault- Why climate warriors keep returning to the same whipping boy

It’s Always Exxon’s Fault

Why climate warriors keep returning to the same whipping boy.

In 2009, the New York Times was forced to issue a 328-word correction (a retraction in all but name) because a reporter, assailing an industry group, could not distinguish the proposition “the greenhouse effect exists” from the proposition “any and all environmentalist proposals for dealing with a possible human influence on the greenhouse effect must be met uncritically.”
Here we go again, in the form of an exposé of Exxon by the website, echoed by the Los Angeles Times and other media organs. See if you can follow the logic exhibited in the ICN series.
Because Exxon concerned itself with how a warming Arctic might affect the safety of its pipelines and drilling structures there, Exxon is a hypocrite on climate change.
Because Exxon refrained from developing an Indonesian gas field that would have meant releasing or capturing a large amount of associated carbon dioxide, Exxon is a hypocrite on climate change.
Exxon, in the early 1980s, adapted then-existing climate models to estimate that a doubling of atmospheric carbon would lead to a temperature increase of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius. Then as now the company also judged such models not reliable enough to serve as the basis for large and costly policy actions. So Exxon is a hypocrite.
Here’s the interesting part. These studies took place 35 years ago. In completely unrelated comments, nobody’s idea of a “denier,” Harvard’s Martin Weitzman, co-author of the book “Climate Shock,” recently complained about the lack of climate modeling progress in “35 years.” He cited the U.N. climate panel’s latest temperature forecast, which is identical (i.e., unimproved in precision) to Exxon’s three decades earlier.
Through six installments ICN kept promising the goods on how Exxon’s public advocacy conflicted with its private understanding of climate change. The series essentially delivered nothing.
An Exxon spokesman is quoted as saying, “The risk of climate change is real and warrants action.”
Exxon’s CEO in the 1990s, Lee Raymond, the villain of the series, is quoted as saying, “Many people believe that global warming is a rock-solid certainty. But it’s not.”
The company’s position on a carbon tax is that . . . it should be revenue neutral.
The real smoking gun isn’t the Exxon revelations but the climate community’s hysterical reaction to them. Veteran campaigner Bill McKibben and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders demand the Obama administration launch a criminal investigation.
A Washington Monthly writer, in a blog post for the psychiatric textbooks, delivers himself of this remarkable paragraph: “ExxonMobil’s deceit continues to this very day. The company still insists that it supports federal revenue-neutral carbon tax legislation. How can we possibly take their word for it, after the company spent years attacking the abundant scientific evidence pointing to the critical need for such legislation?”
Just spend a minute parsing that one.
ICN calls its Exxon series “the road not taken.” Were its reporters really the free thinkers they imagine themselves to be, however, they would put aside such crass exercises in orthodoxy enforcement. They would investigate exactly when and how the climate movement itself made its ill-advised turn toward frantic exaggeration, false certainty and vilification of anybody who raises scientific caveats.
They’re right: Exxon was once a respected participant in the debate. It wasn’t Exxon that equated its opponents to holocaust deniers. The $16 million that Exxon spent between 1998 and 2005 to support organizations that pointed out the inadequacies of climate models would have bought less than 1% of the media attention Al Gore was getting at the time.
Talk about a road not taken. A calmer discussion based on uncertainties, risks and benefits might long ago have allowed the introduction of a modest carbon tax in the only way it would be politically salable—by using the proceeds to reduce taxes on investment and work.
Washington might have set itself a clear if modest agenda to fund basic battery research, rather than squander taxpayer dollars on Tesla and Solyndra.
All this might have been below-the-fold, inside-the-paper news, rather than turning climate science into another polarizing proxy for irreconcilable left-right partisan differences on economics.
But the truth is, people like Mr. McKibben can’t afford practical, meaningful progress—because it would be unnoticeable and undramatic. Modest tweaks to incentives, then seeing how energy technology and the energy economy adapted over time, would not fulfill their need for a pressing global crisis that casts them as moral warriors (well-funded ones) whose victory over deniers and climate criminals is always just around the corner—and must remain so in order to keep the money, media attention and political fealty flowing.

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