The Heat Is Online

API Plans Major Disinformation Campaign (April, 1998)

INDUSTRIAL GROUP PLANS TO BATTLE CLIMATE TREATY

The New York Times April 26, 1998

Industry opponents of a treaty to fight global warming have drafted an ambitious proposal to spend millions of dollars to convince the public that the environmental accord is based on shaky science.

Among their ideas is a 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 like carbon dioxide that trap the sun's heat near Earth.

An informal group of people working for big oil companies, trade associations and conservative policy research organizations that oppose the treaty have been meeting recently at the Washington office of the American Petroleum Institute to put the plan together.

Joe Walker, a public relations representative of the petroleum institute who is leading the project, said in an interview that the plan had been under consideration for about two months and was ''very, very tentative.'' Mr. Walker said no industry executives had yet been approached to pay for it.

But an eight-page memorandum that he wrote shows in detail how some industry lobbyists are going about opposing the climate treaty.

It is a daunting public relations task. Whenever the treaty's advocates, including the Clinton Administration, discuss global warming, they present the science as essentially settled and unchallengeable, and they compare dissenting scientists to discredited apologists for the tobacco companies. That view has become widely accepted among reporters and the public.

Although mainstream scientists do identify considerable uncertainties in their climate predictions, which are based on computer models, they are increasingly confident that global warming is a serious problem and often say that the uncertainties do not justify inaction.

Based on the latest science, most of the world's nations agreed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 that industrial nations should cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and the treaty was modified last year to require further reductions in emissions to levels well below those of 1990, over the next 10 to 15 years. But the United States Senate has not yet agreed to that treaty provision, which could require deep reductions in American consumption of fossil fuels.

Documents describing the proposal to undermine the mainstream view were given to The New York Times by the National Environmental Trust, whose work in support of the global-warming treaty is financed by philanthropic organizations, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, the biggest of the nation's pro-environment grant makers.

Phil Clapp, the president of the environmental trust, said he obtained the papers from an industry official. Exposing the plan at this stage, Mr. Clapp said, would probably ruin the effort to raise money to carry out the plan.

Industry representatives confirmed that the documents were authentic, but emphasized that the plans had not been formally approved by participating organizations. The document listed representatives of the Exxon Corporation, the Chevron Corporation and the Southern Company as being involved. Representatives of Chevron and Southern acknowledged attending meetings on the project; the Exxon representative could not be reached for comment.

The draft plan calls for recruiting scientists to argue against the Administration, and suggests that they include ''individuals who do not have a long history of visibility and/or participation in the climate change debate.''

But among the plan's advocates are groups already linked to the best-known critics of global-warming science.

They include the Science and Environment Policy Project, founded by Fred Singer, a physicist noted for opposing the mainstream view of climate science. Frederick Seitz, another prominent skeptic on global warming, is involved with two other groups mentioned in the plan: the George C. Marshall Institute, where Dr. Seitz is chairman, and the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, where he is on the science advisory board.

On Monday, the National Academy of Sciences disassociated itself from the most recent effort to drum up support among skeptical scientists. That effort came in the form of a statement and petition on global warming circulated by Dr. Seitz, a physicist who was president of the academy in the 1960's.

The petition, attacking the scientific conclusions underlying the treaty on climate change, was accompanied by an article that was formatted to resemble one that might have been published in the academy's prestigious peer-reviewed journal. It was not.

The draft plan, recently discussed at the oil industry offices, calls for giving such dissenters on climate science ''the logistical and moral support they have been lacking.''

It also calls for spending $5 million over two years to ''maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media and other key audiences.''

It would measure progress by counting, among other things, the percentage of news articles that raise questions about climate science and the number of radio talk show appearances by scientists questioning the prevailing views.

The document says that industry's polling, conducted by Charlton Research, has found that while Americans see climate change as a serious threat, ''public opinion is open to change on climate science.''

Supporters of the plan want to raise money quickly to spend much of it between now and the November negotiating session in Buenos Aires, where important details of the international treaty are to be decided.

A proposed media-relations budget of $600,000, not counting any money for advertising, would be directed at science writers, editors, columnists and television network correspondents, using as many as 20 ''respected climate scientists'' recruited expressly ''to inject credible science and scientific accountability into the global climate debate, thereby raising questions about and undercutting the 'prevailing scientific wisdom.' ''

Among the tasks, the petroleum institute's memorandum said, would be to ''identify, recruit and train a team of five independent scientists to participate in media outreach.''

What the industry group wanted to provide, the memorandum said, was ''a one-stop resource on climate science for members of Congress, the media, industry and all others concerned.''

The industry group said it wanted to develop ''a sound scientific alternative'' to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a large group of scientists advising the United Nations that has published the most authoritative scientific assessments of global warming. That panel has predicted that the next century will bring widespread climatic disruptions if actions are not taken to reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The draft plan suggests that despite industry efforts to convince the public that the climate treaty would be costly to carry out and unfair to the United States, the treaty remains popular partly because environmentalists are winning the debate on the science.

''Indeed, the public has been highly receptive to the Clinton Administration's plans,'' the memorandum said. ''There has been little, if any, public resistance or pressure applied to Congress to reject the treaty, except by those 'inside the Beltway' with vested interests."