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Climate Accountability Institute

Snowmass, CO, United States
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News Article | April 4, 2017

Last week, the House “Science” committee held one of its regular hearings to dispute the validity of climate science research. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) articulated the purpose of the hearing when speaking at a recent Heartland Institute climate science denial conference: For that, Smith was rightly called out by Jeffrey Mervis at Science magazine: Climate scientist Michael Mann was one of the witnesses testifying in last week’s hearing. In the event’s defining exchange, Mann quoted The Princess Bride, and then proceeded to quote Mervis’ condemnation of Lamar Smith: Smith responded by asserting “that is not known as an objective writer or magazine,” to which the scientific community collectively gasped in horror. This is the magazine associated with Science which, along with Nature, are the two most highly-respected peer-reviewed scientific journals in the world. Mervis has been writing about science policy for Science magazine for 24 years. Lamar Smith, on the other hand is a contributor to Breitbart, entered a Wall Street Journal op-ed into the congressional record, and said this shortly after President Trump’s inauguration: Unfortunately, as is usually the case in these hearings, despite being presented with the opportunity to learn from climate experts, most of the committee members seemed more interested in expressing their beliefs, however uninformed they might be. At the 2:04:05 mark in the hearing video, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) provided a perfect example of this behavior. He began by asking witness Judith Curry what causes ice ages (Milankovich cycles, which we’ve known for nearly 100 years), so that he could make the point that natural factors caused past climate changes – a point that usually leads to a common logical fallacy (presented here in cartoon form). Webster proceeded to claim it was “the standard belief of most scientists” in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an ice age. This is another long-debunked myth; in reality, most climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting impending global warming. However, some scientists had projected that if the amount of sulfur dioxide pollution in the atmosphere were to quadruple, that would block enough sunlight to cause dramatic cooling. But since that pollution was also causing acid rain, governments developed regulations like the Clean Air Act, and sulfur levels soon declined. The scientists’ projection wasn’t wrong; rather, the scenario didn’t happen because we took action to prevent it, much like if we take sufficient action to cut carbon pollution, we can prevent dangerous global warming. But Rep. Webster spent most of his allotted time expressing his ideologically-convenient beliefs about how clueless climate scientists are, rather than learning from the experts sitting in front of him. Dr. Mann could easily have explained this myth, but wasn’t given the opportunity. Curry spent most of her time exaggerating climate uncertainties, as she has done for years. In his first question to the witnesses, Lamar Smith made it clear that’s why she was invited (emphasis added): To be clear, it’s been decades since we’ve known enough about climate science to understand the need to take action to mitigate its risks. In fact, greater uncertainty translates into greater urgency. When driving a car on a foggy night, slowing down is the wise response to impaired vision; putting the pedal to the metal because of uncertainty as to whether there’s a brick wall ahead would be stupid. In fact, as Mann explained at the 1:09:36 mark in the video, many climate impacts are happening faster than expected. The brick wall is coming into view. Even one of the Republicans’ own witnesses, Roger Pielke Jr. argued at the 1:57:05 mark for Congress to act: Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) half-jokingly called this “blasphemy.” There was also a consensus among the witnesses that the Trump administration’s proposed slashing of climate research funding would be damaging and counter-productive. If Republicans want to argue that we don’t know enough to take action on climate change, cutting research funding would be grossly hypocritical. That’s like turning off the headlights and putting on sunglasses. Speaking of consensus, Mann was the only witness who accurately represented the conclusions of 97% of climate science research – a point that was frequently raised during the hearing. Fellow witness John Christy, for example, is among the less than 3% of publishing climate scientists who minimize human-caused global warming. His testimony focused on wrongly claiming that climate models have been falsified, using a flawed, debunked graph. Eventually, Lamar Smith claimed “there is no consensus; the 97% was derived from a small sample of a small sample.” My colleagues and I have a new paper addressing this claim that will be soon be published, so we’ll return to this myth within the next few weeks. There was one particularly McCarthyesque exchange at the 1:28:50 mark in which Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) inquired: This brought to mind a scene from The American President: Higgins’ concern is that members of the Climate Accountability Institute have suggested that if documents reveal that ExxonMobil knew of the threats its product poses (they did – we now know Exxon knew), like the tobacco industry, the company could be sued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Rep. Higgins doesn’t like this idea and confronted Mann, who is a scientific advisor to many climate organizations, including the Climate Accountability Institute. However, 17 state attorneys general have already formed a coalition to investigate ExxonMobil’s activities and determine if it’s guilty of fraud, so it’s difficult to understand why Higgins would attack Dr. Mann about this in what was supposed to be a scientific hearing. Unfortunately, last week’s hearing confirmed that far too many Republican Party leaders are more interested in protecting the profits of big oil and coal companies than preserving a livable climate for future generations.

Heede R.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Harvard University
Global Environmental Change | Year: 2016

Scientists have argued that no more than 275GtC (IPCC, 2013) of the world's reserves of fossil fuels of 746GtC can be produced in this century if the world is to restrict anthropogenic climate change to ≤2°C. This has raised concerns about the risk of these reserves becoming "stranded assets" and creating a dangerous "carbon bubble" with serious impacts on global financial markets, leading in turn to discussions of appropriate investor and consumer actions. However, previous studies have not always clearly distinguished between reserves and resources, nor differentiated reserves held by investor-owned and state-owned companies with the capital, infrastructure, and capacity to develop them in the short term from those held by nation-states that may or may not have such capacity. This paper analyzes the potential emissions of CO2 and methane from the proved reserves as reported by the world's largest producers of oil, natural gas, and coal. We focus on the seventy companies and eight government-run industries that produced 63% of the world's fossil fuels from 1750 to 2010 (Heede, 2014), and have the technological and financial capacity to develop these reserves. While any reserve analysis is subject to uncertainty, we demonstrate that production of these reported reserves will result in emissions of 440GtC of carbon dioxide, or 160% of the remaining 275GtC carbon budget. Of the 440GtC total, the 42 investor-owned oil, gas, and coal companies hold reserves with potential emissions of 44GtC (16% of the remaining carbon budget, hereafter RCB), whereas the 28 state-owned entities possess reserves of 210GtC (76% of the RCB). This analysis suggests that what may be needed to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference (DAI) with the climate system differs when one considers the state-owned entities vs. the investor-owned entities. For the former, there is a profound risk involved simply in the prospect of their extracting their proved reserves. For the latter, the risk arises not so much from their relatively small proved reserves, but from their on-going exploration and development of new fossil fuel resources. The sentence should read: For preventing DAI overall, effective action must include the state-owned companies, the investor-owned companies, and governments. However, given that the majority of the world's reserves are coal resources owned by governments with little capacity to extract them in the near term, we suggest that the more immediate urgency lies with the private sector, and that investor and consumer pressure should focus on phasing out these companies' on-going exploration programs. © 2015 Z.Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Heede R.,Climate Accountability Institute
Climatic Change | Year: 2014

This paper presents a quantitative analysis of the historic fossil fuel and cement production records of the 50 leading investor-owned, 31 state-owned, and 9 nation-state producers of oil, natural gas, coal, and cement from as early as 1854 to 2010. This analysis traces emissions totaling 914 GtCO2e-63 % of cumulative worldwide emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1751 and 2010-to the 90 "carbon major" entities based on the carbon content of marketed hydrocarbon fuels (subtracting for non-energy uses), process CO2 from cement manufacture, CO2 from flaring, venting, and own fuel use, and fugitive or vented methane. Cumulatively, emissions of 315 GtCO2e have been traced to investor-owned entities, 288 GtCO2e to state-owned enterprises, and 312 GtCO2e to nation-states. Of these emissions, half has been emitted since 1986. The carbon major entities possess fossil fuel reserves that will, if produced and emitted, intensify anthropogenic climate change. The purpose of the analysis is to understand the historic emissions as a factual matter, and to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy. © 2013 The Author(s).

Frumhoff P.C.,Union of Concerned Scientists | Heede R.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Harvard University
Climatic Change | Year: 2015

Responsibility for climate change lies at the heart of societal debate over actions to address it. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” among nations, suggesting that industrialized nations that had produced the greatest share of historic emissions bore particular responsibility for preventing dangerous interference with the climate system. But climate responsibilities can be attributed in other ways as well. Here, we explore the conceptual territory of responsibility. We consider the distinctive responsibilities of the major investor-owned producers of fossil fuels, assessing the actions these companies took and could have taken to act upon the scientific evidence of climate change. We conclude that major investor-owned fossil energy companies carry significant responsibility for climate change. It is still possible for these companies to effectively contribute to a solution. Significant progress in reducing emissions and limiting climate change could be achieved if companies 1) unequivocally communicate to the public, shareholders, and policymakers the climate risks resulting from continued use of their products, and therefore the need for restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the 2 °C global temperature target; 2) firmly reject contrary claims by industry trade associations and lobbying groups; and, 3) accelerate their transition to the production of low-carbon energy. Evidence from history strongly suggests that a heightened societal focus on their climate responsibilities will be needed to hasten such a transition. © 2015, The Author(s).

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