For well over twenty years, climate deniers have tried to stymie discussion of extreme weather events and climate change. Why? Because extreme weather kills people, destroys property, trashes things and costs billions of dollars. And that’s when people start searching for accountability and looking for who to blame.
Hurricane Harvey’s damage is breaking records. Who will pay, remains an unanswered question. What we do know is that a concerted campaign of climate denial, over the past three decades, has measurably slowed down society’s reaction to the climate crisis and has wasted valuable time and money.
For example, in October 1998, the Cooler Heads Coalition put together a “Media and Congressional Briefing” titled “Extreme Weather and Climate Change”, held in the Cannon House of Representatives office building. The sponsoring organizations are a who’s who of ‘free market’ anti-government groups. Many of the organizations are connected to Koch money and most of them were being funded by ExxonMobil in 1998 and subsequent years. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell was the chair of Cooler Heads then and now. CEI received $85,000 from Exxon in 1998. The full roster of Cooler Heads members got over $472,000 in grants from Exxon that year.
The guest speaker was the famous hurricane scientist Wizard of Oz, Dr. William Gray (who passed away in 2016).
In the wake of hurricane Harvey, its important to recall the corporate fake news campaign of 2006 to suppress the discussion of hurricanes and climate change. The campaign was spearheaded by DCI Group, then employed by ExxonMobil, and connected to TechCentralStation, a news site DCI Group set up to insert corporate friendly messages and third party messengers onto the internet before blogs were really a thing. Video cassettes with a prepared news segment were distributed to Gulf state local TV stations.
Trump has twisted the term “fake news” to his own martyred ends, but fake news created for corporations has been around for quite a while.
The message of the DCI video was simple:
“There’s a lot of debate as to what’s been causing all of these hurricanes… [Scientists] believe it’s not global warming that’s creating these massive hurricanes, but the cycle of nature itself.”
Hurricane Harvey brought these memories right back, as did the climate denier camp’s over-the-top efforts right now to stop any discussion of the linkage between climate change and bigger, fatter, wetter hurricanes, now agreed by scientists worldwide to be a fact of life.
Bottom line: Hurricanes are not caused by climate change, but they are now made much more destructive by warming
“There is universal agreement” that global warming will boost rainfall during hurricanes because warmer air holds more moisture, increasing the risk of severe floods, said Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“If you look at long-term effects of hurricanes on society, the impacts are more about water than wind,” he said. “Harvey is an example of how vulnerable modern society is to rainstorms as the climate warms. It’s solid physics,” he said.
Emanuel and other scientists were careful to say that storms like Harvey were not caused directly by climate change.
“To sum things up: Storm Harvey was not caused by climate change, yet its impacts – the storm surge, and especially the extreme rainfall – very likely worsened due to human-caused global warming,” said Stefan Rahmstorf at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Footnote: Kerry Emanuel authored this landmark paper in June, 2005, months before Katrina hit…with the key finding from the abstract: “My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century.”
Meanwhile, Exxon funded free-market anti-government extremists and climate deniers have actively and repeatedly attacked climate science and climate policy for 20 years. These actors have repeatedly tried to stop discussion of climate and hurricanes many times over the years. The Cooler Heads Coalition, started in 1997 by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, with funding from Exxon, released a report right off the bat in 1997 called “Calmer Weather – the Spin on Greenhouse Hurricanes” by Robert Balling, long time climate denier associated with coal industry campaigns. The CEI headline:
INSTITUTE RELEASES LATEST SPIN ON HURRICANES Study Shows No Connection Between Climate Change And Hurricane Activity
The report had the blissful conclusion, “There is plenty of evidence to argue that the greenhouse effect will suppress hurricane activity.” Cooler Heads Coalition also held seminars on Capitol Hill featuring Dr. William Gray, of the fake news video below
RECAP OF “FAKE NEWS” ON HURRICANES
In May-June 2006, the beginning of hurricane season, less than a year after the devastating Hurricane Katrina, Exxon’s contractors designed an intervention to push a counter narrative – that hurricanes have nothing to do with climate change. Make no mistake, this was covert corporate-sponsored fake news with a purpose.
Video cassettes sent to local TV stations in states all along the Gulf of Mexico (hurricane vulnerable places)
In May 2006, less than a year after Hurricane Katrina, DCI Group, Tech Central Station and Media Link produced and distributed a Video News Release (VNR) that called into question the science linking stronger hurricanes with climate change. Was this work on the ExxonMobil contract? That has not been disclosed, but we know DCI was employed as lobbyists by Exxon at this time, that Exxon helped fund Tech Central Station and that both DCI and TechCentralStation were involved in pushing the fake news about hurricanes.
Why would Exxon want people not to associate climate change with hurricanes? hmmm
The campaign, the VNR itself, along with a local TV newscast that indeed aired the piece, was discovered during a “fake news” investion by PR Watch in October, 2006, and the VNR itself was thankfully preserved on YouTube by the Center for Investigative Reporting: PR Watch sums up their investigation and the lack of disclosure here:
In June 2006, the broadcast PR firm Medialink Worldwide put out a video news release (VNR) titled, “Global Warming and Hurricanes: All Hot Air?” In accompanying materials, the firm identified “TCS Daily Science Roundtable” as the client behind the segment. But Medialink didn’t disclose that TCS Daily is a website published by Tech Central Station and was, at the time, a project of the Republican lobbying and PR firm DCI Group. (In October 2006, the TCS Daily website.) Or that DCI Group counts among its clients ExxonMobil. Or that ExxonMobil gave the Tech Central Science Foundation $95,000 in 2003 for “climate change support.”
VNRs are pre-packaged “fake” news segments, contracted generally by corporations, edited and sent out to news stations in small markets in hopes of filling airtime within the actual newscast.
The press release for the VNR video said:
“Some scientists say it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle, while others have made the claim global warming is to blame. Two of the foremost weather and ocean scientists believe that this is all part of the cycle of nature.”
The voiceover in the video included a similar message:
“There’s a lot of debate as to what’s been causing all of these hurricanes. Some scientists say it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle, while others have made the claim global warming is to blame.
“Dr. William Gray and Dr. James O’Brien, two of the nation’s top weather and oceans scientists, point to scientific data for the answer […].
“Gray and many of his colleagues believe it’s not global warming that’s creating these massive hurricanes, but the cycle of nature itself.”