J.C. Moore Online
Current events from a science perspective.

Oklahoma: Where We Subsidize Air Pollution and Earthquakes

     Posted on Thu ,17/04/2014 by admin

Oklahoma is now coming in near last in most measures of civilized society, yet it is still cutting taxes – even as the Capitol Building is falling down. Generous in their hearts, the state Legislature has dug deep into the states resources to find a few hundred  million to continue its subsidies for state businesses.

One little-known act of generosity is the subsidies to the state coal mining industry. They’ve had a tough time of it, as Oklahoma’s coal is high in sulfur and is not worth much on the fuel market. Over the years the subsidy has been increased from $1 per ton to $5 or $10, no one is quite sure. Estimates are that the subsidies are costing the state about $16 million per year. That is not much when you consider what Oklahomans get for it, richer insurance companies and air pollution.

The subsidy is paid as a tax credit, but the coal mines are mostly unprofitable and pay very little in taxes. The laws were a little vague about what to do with the leftover credits, so the coal companies were  selling them to insurance companies at a discount, providing cash for the coal companies and a few million dollars per year for our struggling insurance companies. That cushy deal was cut out of couple of years ago, and the coal mines are now required to return the credits to the state for $0.85 on the dollar.

Since nobody really wants to buy Oklahoma’s coal, the Legislature required that Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants buy and use 10% of it to generate power. Since many of the power plants do not have adequate pollution control and scrubbers, the high sulfur coal produces more particulates and aerosols, which are considered air pollution by that interfering old EPA.

The state Legislature is now working on a bill which will put a three-year moratorium on building new wind farms in the Eastern Oklahoma while they study the problem. There are 27 windfarms in Western Oklahoma and a number of reports about their success, but apparently it will take the legislature three years to get around to looking at them. I brought that up as the Legislature seems much less curious about the relationship between fracking and earthquakes.

A bill to put a three-year moratorium on fracking while the problem is studied – would likely get little support in the state Legislature. Besides, that would leave a lot of money in the Legislature’s pocket with no place to spend it. While digging around for money to support the coal industry, the Legislature turned up an extra $200 million or so, which they are now using to subsidize fracking in Oklahoma. The legislature thinks the subsidy is important as it keeps our frackers from moving out of state, though some tightwad skeptics have pointed out that the frackers are probably here because that’s where the natural gas is.

Earthquakes

Click to enlarge.

It seems that there’s been a small increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma since fracking started, as shown in the graph. However our state Legislators are not big on graphical data, as it might involve statistics and is most likely based on models or something like that that you can’t trust. A number of our citizens, particularly those whose walls and foundations are developing cracks, or those whose chimneys and other stonework are falling down, are beginning to wonder. Getting back to that crumbling infrastructure, there’s been a lot of unusual damage lately to roads and bridges in areas prone to earthquakes. And then there is the problem with the crumbling Capitol Building. Unfortunately, we will never know the cause as the Legislature just doesn’t have the time or money to study the problem.

(C) 2014 J.C. Moore

OK SB 1440, Blowing Away Wind Development in Eastern Oklahoma

     Posted on Sat ,12/04/2014 by admin

Wind is in good supply in Oklahoma, leading to a “wind boom”  in Western Oklahoma. Congressman Frank Lucas supports what he calls the  “all of the above” policy on energy sources, and recognizes and supports the importance

of wind energy development in the third Congressional District, which covers the northwestern two thirds of Oklahoma.  The wind industry has taken off in Oklahoma because the state has enacted policies, such as a five-year property tax exemption and a production tax credit, that are more conducive and supportive of the wind industry than neighboring states. Until now.

Though there is plenty of wind in Eastern Oklahoma, the political climate is not good for wind development there. Senate Bill 1440, by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman , passed last week by a vote of 32-8 and is headed to the House for consideration. The bill puts a three-year moratorium on development of wind energy East of Interstate 35, which essentially prohibits any further wind development in the eastern half of the state for three years. The rationale was that the issue “needed more study”.  But, for three years?

It should take about 30 minutes to discover the advantages of developing wind energy in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has spent more than a decade developing wind energy and there are now 27 windfarms in Oklahoma. Mr. Bingham and his supporters should be well aware of them, or they could just study the report compiled by independent consulting firm Economic Impact Group. The report shows that wind industry construction and operating activities from 2003 to 2012 in Oklahoma have created:

  • More than $1 billion in Oklahoma production of goods and services
  • More than $340 million in labor income
  • More than 1,600 direct full-time jobs
  • More than 4,000 total jobs including manufacturing and support industries
  • More than $1.8 billion of economic activity during the first 20 year contracts
  • More than $43 billion in property taxes annually after the tax abatement.
  • More than $22 million annually to landowners and $15 million in wages to local workers

 

Other than ignoring the contribution of wind energy to economic development in Oklahoma, there are a number of other things wrong with SB 1440. It infringes on property rights as it tells landowners how they cannot use their  land, if they live on the wrong side of I-35. It is probably unconstitutional, as there is really no rationale for such an arbitrary division of who can and cannot develop wind energy. It singles out and treats wind energy differently from other energy industries. That was pointed out by Senate Floor Leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus, who voted against the bill, “We have been writing oil and gas legislation and regulations for over 100 years and continue to do so,” he said, “I don’t anticipate anything different in the wind industry.”

The United States has the goals of achieving energy independence, reducing carbon emissions,  and and cutting air pollution. However, a number of politicians have been working against those goals by trying to hinder the development of alternate energy sources. There is nothing that hinders investments more than uncertainties in the investment climate. At one time, Tulsa was the home of DMI industries, a wind turbine tower manufacturer employing 167 people. The plant was closed in 2012 because of changes in the subsidy program that created uncertainty in the funding for the business. Even if SB1440 doesn’t pass, it will have a chilling effect on investments, as even the possibility of a ban creates uncertainties that discourage investors. SB1440 was designed to slow the development of wind energy in Oklahoma. Mr. Bingham and his supporters are clearly not acting in Oklahoma’s best interest.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

 

 

 

McCutcheon vs FEC: Destroying Democracy $1 Million at a Time

     Posted on Wed ,09/04/2014 by admin

“Americans need to take responsibility for government” - Steve Fair

Steve Fair’s article  in the Tulsa World, by that title,  was meant to describe how we should  address the McCutcheon versus FEC Supreme Court ruling. However, it turned out to be a rationale for putting more money into politics and blaming the citizens for allowing it. The ruling  furthered the damage done by Citizens United, which essentially ruled money was the same as speech, corporations were entitled to free speech, and corporations could express their political opinion by donating money. McCutcheon versus FEC essentially removed the restrictions on how much could be donated.

McCutcheon vs. FEC  was supported by the Republican National Committee and applauded by Chairman Reince Priebus: “Today’s court decision is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse.” However, when someone speaks, we know who is speaking, while much of the money in politics is funneled through 501C(3) foundations and other tax-exempt organizations, which hides the identity of those giving the moneyand the amount given.  So much for transparency.

Mr. Fair had three points to his article:

First, the Supreme Court got it right. The First Amendment trumps federal campaign laws. Americans have a constitutional right to participate in the political process at whatever level they want, whether it be volunteering for a candidate or contributing money to their campaign.

Second, it is indisputable that money rules in the political process. Candidates at all levels now must raise large sums of money to “get their message” to voters. State legislative and county candidates must solicit donors for money in order to be competitive in the political arena.

Third, big donors and political consultants are not to blame for money in politics. A common misconception is if big donors and political operatives were taken out of the process, big money in politics would dry up. That is simply not true. The reason we have so much money in politics is because we have an unengaged and ignorant electorate.

Equating money with speech means that those who donate large sums money have a much louder voice than the ordinary citizen. Money did have a role in the political process before, but it was limited so that an average citizen could at least make a reasonable donation. This ruling, and Citizens United , means that money will have even a larger role. Republican presidential candidates are already trekking to Las Vegas to be anointed by Sheldon Adelson. The third point  blames an “unengaged and ignorant electorate” which seems to echo our Republican leader’s perception of American voters. Does it mean you’re “unengaged” if you can’t donate millions and that you are “ ignorant” if you can’t sort through all the propaganda, misinformation, and lies created by those with money.

Quid pro quo corruption:  Chief Justice John Roberts tried to justify the decision when he wrote in the majority opinion. “We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”

By requiring proof of quid pro quo corruption,i.e. outright bribery, the decision fails to address the problem of indirect bribery. An example of that is the effect of ALEC in Oklahoma politics. ALEC is composed of about 300 corporations and special interest groups who supposedly help our legislators write model laws. Those laws, of course reflect the interests of the corporations and the special interest groups, often over those of the citizens. The legislators who are members and support ALEC’s goals are guaranteed the support of the special interests and their money in the next election. Not only does ALEC provide money, but it also provides propaganda support such as letters to the editor of newspapers and op-ed pieces that favor the special interest’s viewpoint - and praise the politicians who support them.  And, ALEC does not thrive on openness as it keeps its agendas, meetings, members, and proposed legislation secret.

Mr. Fair finished by emphasizing again that the voters are at fault,  “ Ignorant voters believe candidate propaganda, and whichever candidate in a race that is the most effective at ‘marketing their message’ wins.  America is a country founded on the principle of self-governance. If we have poor government, it’s our fault. If we have too much money in politics, it’s our fault. It’s time Americans took responsibility for the mess we call our government and quit blaming the system. ” He says,  “ First, don’t just swallow a candidate’s  propaganda without researching the facts. Stay engaged in your government at all levels 24/7/365. Second, hold elected officials and our government accountable. Trust, but verify. Once elected, watch what they do and not what they say.’’

Mr. Fair is right that much of the influence of money in politics could be overcome if voters were more informed, but they can’t research everything they read in the paper or hear on television. It is unrealistic to ask, as he does, that citizens spend 24/7/365 working to ensure that what they read is true. Only politicians and pundits have that kind of time to spend on politics.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, said the decision “understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. Today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.” It is too bad that some Republicans see money as a way to gain power and the spoils of power, rather than seeing it as an impediment to democracy, which it is.

Frank Kennedy, in a post in the Tulsa World summed it up quite nicely,” Freedom of speech, guaranteed in the First Amendment, is not unqualified: one cannot falsely yell fire in a crowded theater. Nor should corporations and billionaires, under the guise of free speech, be able to nullify the concept of one man, one vote with mountains of cash to politicians. It is the job of the Supreme Court to decide among contending rights which have priority. This time the Roberts court got it wrong.” Again.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

Alternate Universe Discovered at Oklahoma Capitol

     Posted on Sat ,05/04/2014 by admin

Recent research now suggests that multiple universes may have been formed during the Big Bang. There is evidence that one of those alternate universes may exist here in Oklahoma. I became aware of it by accident because I saw a large sign outside of Yukon Oklahoma which said,

“Welcome to Oklahoma. Where 144,000 people are denied health care because Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.”.

That is not right, as many Republicans supported expanding Medicaid and it was Governor Mary Fallin’s decision not to do so.

When I called the Governors’ office to protest, I was transferred to someone in the public relations department which may exist in an alternate universe. I did not get the gentleman’s name, but it probably doesn’t matter since he may not exist in reality, so I’ll just call him, Au. I explained to him the reason for my call and ask why the governor had not expanded Medicaid.

Au:  It was a decision forced upon the Governor by the Affordable Care Act.

Me: But the Affordable Care Act allows the Governor to expand Medicaid to cover those people.

Au: Yes, but it makes it too expensive.

Me: But the federal government will pay for Medicaid expansion for the next 10 years, providing $1.3 billion for the program while costing the state something like $200 million.

Au: But the state doesn’t have $200 million, and it could not pay for the expansion in 10 years as then the federal government only pays for 90% after that.

Me: But couldn’t the state cancel after 10 years if it found it too expensive.

Au: We couldn’t do that and leave all those people uninsured.

Note: It was about here that the theme for Twilight Zone began running through my head.

Me: Couldn’t we put the money to expand Medicaid into the budget?

Au: No we couldn’t. You have to face reality.            (Which one?)

Me: Couldn’t we forgo the tax cut winding its way through the Legislature – or just raise taxes enough to meet the needs of the Oklahoma citizens?

Au: The budget meets the needs of the citizens.

Me: Then why is our education system so underfunded?

Au: Our education system is not underfunded.

Note: It just happened on this particular day there were 25,000 teachers, administrators, parents, grandparents, and students outside the Capitol Building protesting because the legislature would not properly fund education.

Me: Then why are all those citizens outside the Capitol Building today protesting educational funding?

Au: That’s not what they’re protesting about.

Me: Of course it is. The Oklahoma Policy Institute says that the current level of education funding is below what it was in 2008.

Au: That’s not true. Oklahoma has actually increased funding for education to an all-time high,  over $12,000 per-pupil.

Me: That’s not what the Oklahoma Policy Institute says. Where do you get your numbers?

Au: Good Day. Click.

That confirmed it for me. Only in an alternate universe would a public relations person hang up on a citizen. In science, however, it takes an independent confirmation before a discovery is credited. Luckily, someone at the Oklahoma Policy Institute also had contact with the alternate universe and was able to retrieve Au’s school budget . A breakdown of his $12,000 per-pupil is shown below, arrived at by including everything but the kitchen sink into the per-pupil expenditures. At the bottom is the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s comment on Au’s budget.

Au

The 64.3% which funds school operation is about $706 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars than in 2008. Apparently, reality in the alternate universe is very different from the one  that most Oklahoma citizens perceive.

You too may explore an alternate universe. Just call the Oklahoma Governor’s office about Medicaid expansion.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

Poll: Vote for the 2013 Hall of Fame/Shame Awards

     Posted on Mon ,31/03/2014 by admin

 

Earthrise

Thanks  to those of you who entered your nominations. The four top nominees for each award have been selected from those nominated by readers. Please help select the winner by voting  for the nominee who you think has most affected the environment for good or ill.  If you wish, please post a reason for your vote and a suggestion for other suitable gifts for your favorite candidate. Some great gifts have already been proposed. The author will buy the gifts from his copious blogging earnings, so please don’t worry about the expense.

Please take the poll HERE or put your choice as a comment.

Hall of Shame Nominees:

The Executive Producers and Hosts of the five Sunday Morning talk shows: They have done a terrible job of covering climate change. Their coverage of the topic dropped from an inadequate 61 minutes in 2009 to a four-year low of 8 minutes in 2012. They are:

 

  • NBC – Meet The Press – Rob Yarin, Executive Producer, David Gregory, Host
  • CBS – Face The Nation – Mary Hager, Executive Producer, Bob Schieffer, Host
  • ABC – This Week- Jonathon Greenberger, Producer, George Stephanopolus, Host
  • FOX – News Sunday – Jay Wallace, Executive Producer, Chris Wallace, Host
  • CNN – State of the Union – Rick DiBella, Producer, Candy Crowley, Host

Their award should be the booklet recently published jointly by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society “Climate Change – Evidence and Causes.”

 James Delingpole: He is not a scientist, yet he wrote columns for the Telegraph denying climate change and personally attacking climate scientists, comparing them to Nuremberg criminals and suggesting they be tortured.  Thinkprogress suggests that the Telegraph should retract and apologize for Delingpole’s articles as they violate their policies against “obscene, threatening, menacing, offensive, defamatory, and  abusive” material.  Award??
The Koch Bothers: They own almost 2 million acres of Alberta tar sands land where the Keystone XL pipeline originates. If approved, much of the tar sands products will be shipped to other countries after refining, but it will put the central United States at risk for oil spills and leave environmentally hazardous residue behind after refining. The Kochs,  one of the largest funders of AGW denier groups, have been using their extensive wealth to lobby politicians to let the KXL pipeline go through.

Award??

The George C. Marshall Institute:  They espouse “Science for a Better Public Policy” but they specialize in churning out misinformation about Climate Change.  Realizing they could not dispute the scientific evidence, they developed the strategy of “Doubt Is Our Product”, i.e. creating doubt about the scientific evidence and the scientific consensus to keep effective action from being taken.  Their Award should be a copy of Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes, who exposed their strategy.

Hall of Fame Nominees:

Bill McKibben: He is the founder of 350.org , an international grassroots organization whose goal is to raise awareness about anthropogenic climate change, to confront climate change denial, and to cut CO2 levels to 350 ppm in order to minimize the damage from global warming. His weekly newsletter keeps followers updated on the latest research and issues in climate science.

His Award should be many new members, so please check out his newsletter.
Kevin Cowtan and Robert G. Way: They found  the ‘missing heat’ in the climate system, casting doubt on suggestions that global warming has slowed or stopped over the past decade. Observational data on which climate records are based cover only 84 per cent of the planet – with Polar regions largely excluded. They reconstructed the ‘missing’ global temperatures using a combination of observations from satellites and surface data from weather stations and ships on the peripheries of the unsampled regions.  Their research published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society shows that the Arctic is warming at about eight times the pace of the rest of the planet.

Their Award should be the acclaim of having a link to their paper attached to every article which says: “Global warming has stopped”.

The Candu Engineers: They designed the Candu nuclear reactor to run on thorium. The reactors are very fuel efficient and have been adapted to use thorium in existing reactors that already have regulatory approval. http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2…

Their Award should be regulatory approval of new designs for thorium reactors.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: He a strong advocate in the Senate for legislation to reduce our carbon emissions.  He addressed claims made by fellow Senator Jim Inhofe; “The bottom line is when Senator Inhofe says global warming is a hoax, he is just dead wrong”, adding “research shows the climate is changing in response to man’s activities. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing, the temperature of the Earth is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, the probability of severe weather events is increasing, and weather-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more costly “.

His Award should be more support from fellow Senators for action on climate change.

Nominations were taken from three sites, and the poll set up HERE.  Please vote for your choice for each award. The poll will close on April 30, 2014.

You may also post your choices as comments.

(c)2014  J.C. Moore

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Climate Change: What We Know

     Posted on Sun ,30/03/2014 by admin

The science Skeptics dispute almost every discovery by climate scientists, and the facts are often lost in the disputes. This is a guest article by Rachel Martin which summarizes nicely the AAAS report meant to separate what scientists know from the misinformation:

I’ve just found this great interview with Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University, and he is a delight to listen to. If I were making a movie about some impending catastrophic event which included a part for an honest and dedicated scientist whose role was to alert the human population, I would pick Richard Alley. He just really looks and acts the part which I realise is a dumb thing to say because he really is the part! I just think he does a great job.

The interview, which is less than 9 minutes, is a part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)What We Know initiative which is to try to communicate to the public that human-caused climate change is happening, that it carries dangerous risks and that the sooner we act the lower the costs will be.

The “What we know” initiative has three key messages they want to communicate:

1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.

2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.

3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do. Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk, and foreclose options to address the risk.

The AAAS has released a full report specifically aimed at a large audience to address the myth that the scientific community is divided on the issue of climate change. It explains how climate change is and will affect your life. It can be read here.

 

 

Where Do Our Tax Dollars Go?

     Posted on Fri ,21/03/2014 by admin

The federal debt has been one of the most divisive issues in Congress, leading to cuts in public welfare, near default on our debts, and a sequester agreement which has hurt almost every segment of our economy. Yet, we have not adequately addressed two of the largest expenses, which could be reduced without sacrificing our security or our safety net programs.  The graph below reports the way our country spends its money.

spending

Interest on the public debt is one of our largest expenses and one that could easily be addressed. That could be addressed by restoring a progressive tax rate, by cutting tax loopholes,  and by removing subsidies to profitable industries and the wealthy. Congress cannot seem to act on raising taxes as many of the Legislators have signed on to Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes.  Senator Tom Coburn, in his Back in Black report , has identified many of the porkbarrel programs that could be cut if Congress had the will to do so.

The second area could be cut is military spending. The graph below shows the military spending by country. The United States spends five times as much as any other country, and as much as the next 10 countries put together on defense. We certainly need to defend our country, however, we still invest a tremendous amount of money in military hardware which is mostly useless against our greatest threat, which is terrorism. Why do we do so? President Dwight Eisenhower warned us in his farewell speech,

My country wants to be constructive, not destructive. It wants agreement, not wars, among nations.  In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Defense

The military–industrial complex refers to the policy and monetary relationships which exist between legislators, the armed forces, military contractors, and the military industrial base that supports them. These relationships include political contributions, political approval of military spending, and lobbying to support military bureaucracies and weaken oversight of the industry. We have not followed Ike’s advice, as we have allowed the military-industrial complex, in the name of providing security, to gobble up a large share of our national spending. We need to shift our resources to intelligence and diplomacy to combat terrorism, and away from the much more expensive, and much less necessary, conventional military spending.

It should be possible to eventually reduce our expenses for social programs, but not while we are still recovering from a recession which has greatly increased the need for public assistance. To justify that I will quote Eisenhower again:

To blend, without coercion, the individual good and the common good is the essence of citizenship in a free country. Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” 

(c) 2014  J.C. Moore

Legislating Away Climate Change

     Posted on Mon ,17/03/2014 by admin

 

 ”Any time a law discourages science, you can be sure  there is a special interest behind it.”

 The 113th United States Congress has been busy making sure that money is not spent on climate research and that the research is not used to make rational decisions. Here is a sampling of some of the recent bills.

 Flood Insurance Rates: The House passed the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HR 3370) sponsored by Michael Grimm (R-NY) which would bar FEMA from increasing flood insurance premiums to reflect updated flood risk in certain areas or reducing subsidies for property that was insured.

You might wonder why Congress would wish to bar FEMA from doing its job. This is similar to a North Carolina law (HB 819) which imposed a four-year moratorium on any sea-level forecast to be used as the basis for regulations while the issue is studied. “North   Carolina should not ignore science when making public policy decisions,” Governor Bev Perdue said. And then she ignored science by refusing to veto HB 819. Research on rising sea levels would predict that more of the North Carolina coastal region would be in a floodplain. It’s a sweet deal, the North Carolina developers and builders profit by building homes in the floodplain, and the federal government picks up the tab when the homes flood. Apparently the legislature is not going to let a little science interfere with that sweet deal.

Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The House passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act (HR 3826), sponsored by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), which restricts the ability of the EPA to issue a rule under the clean air act to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel fired power plants.

Fossil fuel companies now get a competitive edge on sustainable energy sources, as they do not have to pay for the true cost of carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal, if costs to the environment and to human health were included. This law makes sure that the competitive edge for fossil fuels remains intact.

Social Cost of Carbon Emissions: This amendment to HR 2641, sponsored by David McKinley (R-WV), would bar regulatory agencies from using the social cost of carbon emissions as a factor when conducting environmental reviews of proposed construction projects. West Virginia produces a large amount of coal.

This law is designed to head off  a new report on the social cost of carbon from being used in rulemaking. A special panel of scientists has just issued  a 1,146-page draft report that details  the social costs of carbon. The report describes how climate change is already disrupting the health, homes and other facets of daily American life. It warns that those disruptions will increase in the future and the social costs will grow unless we reduce our carbon emissions.

Defunding climate research: The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (HR 2413), sponsored by Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), is designed to shift much of the funding of climate change research to weather radar research.  Mr. Bridenstine apparently does not know or care that this would defund much of the climate and weather research  vital to our national interest. The reason for this bill is clear, what you don’t know can’t be used as a basis for regulation of CO2 emissions.

Many more laws like these are coming down the pipeline. Any time a law discourages the use of scientific research, you can be sure there is a special interest group behind it.

(c) 2014  J.C.Moore

The Climate Change Denial Machine: The Psychology of Denial

     Posted on Mon ,03/03/2014 by admin

 “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” – AAAS

Similar statements have been adopted by every major scientific organization in the world, nearly 200 organizations. Yet, there are those who deny there is a scientific consensus as well as the evidence upon which it is based. They object to being labelled as “deniers”  so writers often use ”dissenters”, “contrarians”, or “Skeptics”, with the capital “S” denoting their skepticism is based more on financial consideration or ideology than reason. The scientists who investigate human behavior use the term “denial”, as it is correct.

Denial: In psychology, denial is an aberrant behavior  exhibited by individuals choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable truth. It is also a sociological concept, as author Michael Specter defined group denialism, “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.” Smokers, when confronted with the reality that their habit could shorten their lives, often denied the evidence – and the Tobacco companies were only too happy to provide the comfortable lies.  They funded scientific study after scientific study that found no link between smoking and lung disease and made commercials with doctors, or actors playing doctors, assuring people that smoking was safe. The tactics worked, as people still smoke today, harming themselves and everyone who inhales their secondhand smoke.

In tobacco’s denialism, money and misinformation were distributed through an organization of Conservative think tanks and front groups. Those who wish to deny climate change use many of the same organizations and tactics, with improvements. They are better funded,  support a far greater number of  Skeptics and politicians, and  use the Internet to widely disseminate their propaganda. Sociologists Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright have investigated the denial system and named it the Climate Change Denial Machine . Its main components were examined and explained in their article in the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society . Their diagram of the machine showing how all the components interact is below.

 Oxford-figure-reprinted-revised

 

Corporations and Foundations: The climate denial machine is funded by wealthy corporations and foundations. It is difficult to track the funding as it is channeled through 501C(3)  tax exempt organizations, which makes it difficult to trace the donors or the money. The front groups add another layer of anonymity for the donors and help distribute the money in what they claim to be charity and education expenses, justifying the corporation’s tax-exempt status.

The citizens watchdog group Opensecrets.org reported that during the last six years, fossil fuel companies spent an average of $152 million per year on lobbying alone. The corporations see the money as an investment, as last year the US subsidized the fossil fuel industry by $13.6 billion, about six times as much as subsidies to develop sustainable energy sources. Their lobbying efforts result in laws favorable to the industry and help them avoid taxes and regulation, essentially transferring  health and environmental costs  of pollution to the public. Since the lobbying money is funneled through tax-exempt organizations, taxpayers are helping fund the climate denial machine, a machine which is undermining our scientific and democratic institutions.

Motivated reasoning . Those who support the climate denial machine often justify it by  ”motivated reasoning”. A  study of climate change deniers found they tend to hold general beliefs in free-market ideology and conspiracy theories. University of Western Australia psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky  and two collaborators  investigated the dynamics of science doubters. They surveyed visitors to  climate change blogs  and asked them about free-market ideology, their views on climate science,  and their belief in conspiracy theories. The study,  published in Psychological Science, found :

 1. The more people believed in free-market ideology, the less they believed in climate science.

2.The more they accepted science in general, the more they accepted the conclusions of climate science.

3. And the more likely they were to be conspiracy theorists, the less likely they were to believe in climate science.

These results fit in with a longer literature on what has come to be known as motivated reasoning. Other things being equal, people tend to believe what they want to believe, and to disbelieve new information that might challenge them.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The study upset those denying climate science and they rejected the study,  claiming it was  just a part of the  global warming conspiracy .

Think Tanks: The Conservative think tanks are misnamed as they present climate change denial as a conservative cause, but there is nothing conservative about advocating for policies which result in changing the climate of the Earth. Think tanks are the brains of the climate denial machine, as they plan the strategy and generate the misinformation and comfortable lies that are passed on to the public. They also coordinate the production of misinformation by fake scientists, such as Lord Monckton, and, even worse, produce misleading statements by science Skeptics, such as John Christy, Roy Spencer, Judith Curry, and a few dozen others who regularly attend the NIPCC (Not the IPCC) meetings sponsored by fossil fuel corporations.  

The Sounding Board is in made up of politicians, media sources, and blog sites. Politicians, particularly those who claim to be conservatives, spread misinformation that ranges from “climate science is a hoax” to “scientists have not proved their case enough for us to take action”. The science Skeptics are invited to Congressional hearings where they cast doubt on the testimony of climate scientists and provide cover for the politicians. Politicians often speak at public gatherings and are quoted in newspapers, giving them many opportunities to spread propaganda.

Science Skeptics often present their ideas in interviews and op-ed articles in newspapers to bypass the peer review required by science journals. The media sources are complicit in this, claiming they are presenting both sides of the issue. This makes the Skeptic’s arguments, supported by little research, appear equal in weight to the arguments of climate scientist, supported by thousands of peer-reviewed research papers. A count of research papers from  1991 to 2012 found that 13,926 papers supported the consensus opinion, while only 24 rejected it.

Blog sites are one of the main ways that misinformation is spread to the public. Free from editors or peer review, the skeptics can, and do, distort information to suit themselves. Many of the science Skeptics have web sites which, along with sites like Wattsupwiththat and ClimateAudit, dispute the findings of peer-reviewed research. The misinformation they create is then picked up by other websites and Internet trolls who spread it across the Internet.

Astroturf organizations are fake grassroots organizations designed to make it appear that a cause has much more widespread support than it actually does. An example is an ad in support of clean coal that showed a large group with a banner reading “We Support Clean Coal”. The hoax was exposed when someone noticed that that the same photo was available on the Internet and that the clean coal banner had been Photoshopped in. The Internet can be used to create Astroturf organizations such as occurred on an Internet site protesting genetically modified food. A large number of bloggers in support GMO foods descended on the site to dispute the message and to shut down the discussions. The bloggers were exposed as trolls when their IP addresses were found to be registered to Monsanto – which sells genetically modified seeds, and ironically, also holds the patent for Astroturf.

Paid trolls are often called “sock puppets” as their message is controlled by those who create them.  Paid trolls are often given a target site, a set of talking points, and a program which allows them to set up a number of fake identities for additional sock puppets, to make it appear that many support their arguments . Sometimes a troll will create a sock puppet with weak, easily refuted arguments, to make the troll’s arguments seem stronger. Sock puppets do not follow the rules of debate and are often uncivil, using personal attacks in an attempt to shut down reasonable discussion. Research shows that sock puppets, and even unpaid trolls, often enjoy what they do because of negative personality characteristics.

Trolls: personality study correlated the activities enjoyed by Internet users with personality traits. The study  explored whether Internet trolls’ behavior fell into the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). The chart below shows the results.

sadism

It shows that the Dark Tetrad traits were positively correlated with self-reported enjoyment of trolling. Of the traits, the researchers  found sadism stands out among trolls.  The internet has given sadistic trolls, those who think that hurting people is exciting, a broader and more anonymous outlet to express their behavior. We have certainly all run across these trolls on climate change articles.

Trolling works: Popular Science shut down its comment section because of trolls,  citing a research report which showed that even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story. The results of the study by Dominique Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele was summarized by the authors in a New York Times article:

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.  Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with a technology.  Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

George Monbiot who covers environmental issues at the Guardian, wrote in Reclaim the Cyber-Commons, of the need to restore civility to internet discussions of climate change. In it he said:

“… two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.”

His comments explain a lot about the motivation behind sock puppets and ideological trolls.

 In Summary: A study by McKee and Diethelm titled,  Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?,  describe the five tactics used by deniers as a means to identify them.  Their five tactics of denial were summarized very nicely on Rachel’s Blog  which,  with a  few changes, are:

1. Identifying conspiracies. In climate science denial, people have argued that scientists are doctoring the temperature records to make it look like warming is happening when it is not. This idea must be incredibly hard to justify to oneself as it is ridiculous to think that thousands of scientists from lots of different countries could be in on some conspiracy theory which will not benefit them in any way and which all of us want to be wrong.

2. Using fake experts. This technique was employed by the tobacco industry which had a strategy of employing scientists whose views were at odds with the consensus in the field. The same tactic can be seen in climate change. From the McKee article: “In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.”

3. Highlighting outliers. This happens in climate change when contrarians make a big deal out of research that claims figures for climate sensitivity lying outside the IPCC range. They are highlighting a few research papers that are outliers while ignoring the majority of evidence.

4. Placing impossible expectations on research. The repeated phrase that the “models failed to predict the pause” fits with this. No-one can predict the future exactly. Scientists do not work with ouija boards.  Climate models – just like all models of physical systems – contain uncertainty and it is unreasonable to expect them not to. But although the model projections do a remarkably accurate job of making future projections of climate, contrarians still place unreasonable expectations on what they can do.

5. Using misrepresentation and logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, deliberate attempts to change the argument, and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute. Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy and the excluded middle fallacy (either climate change causes a wide range of severe weather events or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one event, such as a hurricane, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any weather event).

To respond these tactics, the authors suggest it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal civil response to an opposing argument is to engage it, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties have a willingness to  follows certain rules such as looking at the evidence as a whole, rejecting deliberate distortions, and acceptance principles of logic. They say, a ” meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects the rules. Yet it would be wrong to prevent the denialists having a voice. Instead, it is necessary to shift the debate from the subject under consideration, to instead exposing to public scrutiny the tactics denirs employ and identifying them publicly for what they are.”

Dealing with Trolls: Exposure would probably work with sock puppets, as those controlling them do not wish to be exposed. Those who troll for the fun of upsetting people would likely enjoy the diversion off topic, deny being a troll, and heap abuse on anyone who even suggested their motives were not pure. A good strategy is to just ignore trolls. If one wants to confront the lies and distortions, it is more effective to write a separate article refuting their premises.  Running up a large number of  comments on a troll’s article is simply “feeding the troll”, giving them more opportunities to respond and enriching paid trolls. Clicking on trolls’ links only runs up the hit count of denier sites, making them appear more important than they are and possibly adding to their advertising value.

In most  cases, ensuring civility is up to the blog moderators. Blog sites can discourage trolling with good policies and strong moderation. Those who attack others or claim obvious lies as fact should not get posted.  Repeat offenders should be banned or blacklisted. The trolls may claim violations of freedom of speech or censorship. If they do, invite them to resubmit their posts with valid references, in a civil manner, and without  personal attacks.  They will likely disappear. Don’t we wish?

(c) 2014  J.C. Moore

 

More on ALEC

     Posted on Tue ,25/02/2014 by admin

This is a continuation in the series  Who Is ALEC ? and Academic Freedom and Democracy – ALEC Style, as it is important to keep the light on ALEC. On the surface, the American Legislative Exchange Council provides model legislation for state and national legislatures. Its membership boasts 300 corporations and special interest groups, and about 2000 state legislators, governors, US Congressmen, and US Senators. ALEC sponsors meetings where corporations and their representatives entertain our legislators and help craft “model legislation”. From the corporation’s viewpoint, it is “dream legislation” – and ALEC is the organization that helps their dreams come true. What corporation wouldn’t want legislation designed to limit liability, provide subsidies, weaken regulations, criminalize whistleblowing, lower taxes, provide an edge over competing technologies, or to transfer public funds to them by privatizing education, health care, workers comp, public pensions, and prison systems?

About 1000 model bills are available from ALEC. Legislators can copy the bills, change them to disguise their source, and present them as their own. Most voters, the press, and even legislative colleagues often do not realize that the legislation came from ALEC. ALEC’s hidden hand was exposed when a Florida lawmaker introduced a resolution urging “Congress to Cut the Federal Corporate Tax Rate” that carelessly included ALEC’s mission statement. Sponsoring ALEC legislation insures politicians they will receive support for reelection campaigns. ALEC’s legislation is supported by biased research, talking points, and slick ads to convince voters that the politicians are really looking after their best interests. 

 The press, average citizens, and small business owners are excluded from ALEC by steep fees and screening to insure harmony with ALEC’s mission. An elaborate system insures that information cannot be obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests. Much of ALEC’s secret activity is coordinated through Americans for Prosperity, a Libertarian think tank, which now has offices in all 50 states. ALEC takes great pains to keep secrets, as several corporations have withdrawn when their participation was discovered. Clearly, transparency and full, honest disclosure is need.  However, ALEC has 401(C)3 status, which makes it tax exempt and allows it to hide its agenda and the identity of donors. Although ALEC claims it is not a lobbying group, it is hard to see how claiming they are “coaching” and “educating” legislators exempts them from laws requiring disclosure of lobbying activities.

ALEC’ s most shameful activity is attempts to suppress the votes of those not likely to support its agenda – the poor, the elderly, minorities, college students, and working people. Paul Weyrich, the founder of ALEC, once explained why, saying “our leverage in the elections goes up, quite candidly, as a number of voters go down.” One of ALEC’s favorite tactics is to accuse detractors of being leftists or liberals to discredit them with religious groups and Conservatives. However, the network of think tanks and donors that support ALEC are not Conservative, but Libertarian, and their low regard for the for the truth  or the poor or is hardly Christian.  Citizens United gave corporations a large voice with their money, but it could not give them a heart or a soul.

 According to  Bill Moyer , ALEC is undermining our democracy. The strength of the United States is its unity. Corporations, through ALEC , Libertarian think tanks, and the far right wing of the Republican Party, are working to destroy that unity so they can escape regulation and avoid taxes. We live in a country with enough resources to insure that every citizen has food, shelter, medical care, education, and an opportunity to contribute back to society. That won’t happen as long as our legislatures are willing to let some citizens go without so others can have more. The best situation is a balance in power between business, labor and government. However, modern-day Libertarians want to give all the power to businesses, claiming that businesses making decisions in their self interest will lead to the most good for everyone, but the reality is that it makes the most good for the already wealthy.