The Heat Is Online

The Coal Industry's "ICE" Campaign (1999)


The year before the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment in Rio, a coalition of coal and utility companies launched a disinformation campaign designed by a public relations firm to create the Information Council on the Environment (ICE).

The plan specified the use of three so-called "greenhouse skeptics" -- Drs. Robert Balling, Pat Michaels and Sherwood Idso -- in broadcast appearances, op-ed articles and newspaper interviews in selected markets.

The goal of the campaign was to "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact," according to strategy papers developed by a polling firm used by the public relations company that managed the ICE campaign.

Those strategy papers, developed by the polling firm, Cambridge Reports, recommended moreover that the campaign specifically target "older, less-educated men" and "young, low-income women" in districts which get their electricity from coal and which, preferably, have a Representative on the Energy Committee of the House of Representatives.

An official of the campaign denies that strategy of targeting selected groups was ever implemented. Rather the public relations "program targeted . . . all the people in the communities" that were the objects of the campaign, according to Frederick Palmer, CEO of Western Fuels Association, Inc., and a vice-president of the Board of Directors of the ICE Campaign.

Nevertheless as recently as the spring of 1999 Michaels played to an audience of older men at a gathering in Maine, telling them that environmentalists are "just looking for an excuse to take the money that you earned and give it to somebody who didn't." Michaels likened advocates of addressing climate change to "some kid in a Phish T-shirt and an earring," according to press reports.

Demographic targeting aside, the ICE campaign contained demonstrable untruths.

One newspaper advertisement prepared by ICE was headlined: "If the earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis getting colder?" (In fact, data published in several scientific journals indicates the Minneapolis area actually warmed between 1 and 1.5 degrees C. in the last century.)

One industry participant, Arizona Public Service, quit the coalition over the dubious public relations campaign. "The subject matter is far too complex and could be far more severe than the ads make of it," said Mark DeMichele, CEO of the utility.

The ICE program was discontinued when it was exposed by a trade paper, The Energy Daily, as well as by The National Journal, The Arizona Republic and The New York Times.

Nevertheless, Palmer of Western Fuels said in a 1999 letter: "It's unfortunate that ICE did not go forward" since the campaign did provoke a "dramatic turnaround in how people viewed the issue of global warming" before its demise.