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Climate change denial: Don’t buy it!

November 30, 2009
by Harold Shepherd

Oil shale experiments in Colorado

It is not really news that the oil and gas industry launched a disinformation campaign about the realities of global warming once the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change produced the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, an international project that took five years to develop.

According to Naomi Oreskes, a professor of science history from the University of California (San Diego), the pushback began "as soon as the scientific community began to come together on the science of climate change."

John Cushman of the New York Times reported in 1998 about a leaked memorandum written by the American Petroleum Institute, which described a $5,000,000 campaign "to recruit a cadre of scientists who share the industry's views of climate science and to train them in public relations so they can help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases."

This plan would mimic the tobacco industry's campaign to discredit the scientists who linked lung cancer to cigarette smoking.

The propaganda campaign picked up speed recently after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar outlined a program to lease federal lands to conduct research and development programs for potential oil shale products in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and to investigate the spurious midnight leases for oil-shale development by former Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne.

For example, take the recent comments of the Irish film-makers, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, who stated in Op-Ed's from various newspapers in Colorado, “Salazar's backward thinking is typical of the politicians who embrace environmental hysteria. They seem to despise fossil fuels and want to stop Americans from using them.”

Beyond the insinuation that one can actually have an emotional relationship with a fossil fuel, this statement is really an attempt to accuse Salazar and the environmental groups with violations of civil rights toward the poor for potentially interrupting their consumption of cheap energy products in the here and now.

In reality, what environmentalists really hate is the greed and selfishness of the multinational energy corporations that have imperiled the poorest of nations who have no security toward food, water and energy, not to mention the impending collapse of their native ecosystems.

Not surprisingly, McAleer and McElhinney do not see it quite that way at all. They stated “as Europeans, we can't understand such contempt. This country is blessed with an abundance of natural resources that produce cheap energy and foster economic progress. Forsaking those natural resources in reaction to the kind of global warming hysteria we expose in our documentary ‘Not Evil Just Wrong’ jeopardizes the American dream for millions of people.”

The confusing thing about this conclusion is that Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney, who are citizens of Ireland, seem to have an abundance of knowledge about the oil shale-bearing states of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, and fail to mention the disastrous economic history of the oil shale industry's boom and bust cycles to these communities.

This includes Colorado’s first oil shale boom gone bust in the late 1910s and the early 1920s when oil and gas companies moved on to new oil discoveries in Oklahoma, Texas and California, bankrupting many hard-working Americans.

Nearly 60 years later, on May 2, 1982 and known as Black Sunday, Exxon abandoned its oil shale project near Parachute, Colorado amid plummeting oil prices. More than 2,300 workers lost their jobs that day and many other jobs disappeared as other companies followed Exxon’s move, causing Rifle, Parachute and Grand Junction to suffer years of economic turmoil.

The ability of the proponents of oil shale development to embrace denial and blame, however, is also matched by their undying optimism about the ignorance of people and how easy it is to manipulate them with disinformation campaigns.

Consider instead the stern leadership of the poor countries attending the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen, who announced emphatically to the rich countries that failure to address climate change is not acceptable.

Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney also stated that, “Environmental alarmists are determined to scare Americans away from fossil fuels with horror stories about dying polar bears and melting Arctic ice, but don't believe their lies. Global warming hysteria ignores the fact it has been warmer in the past—a past without SUVs and mass industry—and the globe has not warmed in 13 years.”

One is forced to ask McAleer and McElhinney what part of the last 13 years do they not understand about how, for the first time in recorded history, the dissipating ice of the Artic Ocean was significant enough this year to give a common commercial freighter successful passage?

Click here to read another article about Artic Ocean passage.

I for one will take the word of a fish and wildlife biologist working in the field over documentarians funded by industry groups. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration have stated, unequivocally, that the wild polar bear population in the United States will be wiped out for lack of critical habitat within 50 years.

Salazar’s oil shale proposal opens public lands for oil shale development at leases of 160-acre, which can be expanded to 640 acres if viable commercial products are actually produced. (Salazar should actually encourage research and development for energy projects that reduce greenhouse emissions and don't require daily water consumption.)

However, the oil and gas companies complain about this research component of the lease agreements, because it forces them to answer key questions about oil shale production, especially its impact on our scarce water resources in the arid west.

Secretary Salazar, himself, hit it right on the head when he responded to corporate whining about the federal leasing plan by stating that "we believe that our oil and gas leasing program is robust, but it is also a program that we have brought back into balance…But you wouldn't know it if you listened to the untruths coming out of some of the corners of the oil and gas industry."

Salazar further lamented how some of the industry trade groups were "behaving like an arm of a political party…that have all the poison of a political campaign.”

This is the only explanation for why film makers from Ireland would write opinion pieces in Colorado newspapers to convey a message that those who are opposed to developing oil shale are “un-American” and that these organized deniers of global warming would much rather continue a debate that the rest of the world considers closed as it moves forward with an international action plan.  

It is critical, therefore, that we as citizens educate ourselves about the complexities of oil shale development and don’t buy into conspiracy theories over climate, nor dive into the blame game.

Harold Shepherd, is the Acting Executive Director for Red Rock Forests.

For reliable information on oil shale development, please visit Center of the American West.

Document archive. Western Resource Advocates.

Opinion piece in Denver Post (12/18/09) on impacts of oil shale development.

Utah Lawmaker Says Climate Change is a Ruse (02/05/10)

Utah Legislative Panel OKs Resolution On Climate Change

Climate Skeptics Call On BYU Scientists To Apologize

BYU Scientists Letter for Climate Change Action

Water Fallout. High Country News.


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