#Awalkinthepark – Coal, climate, counter-movements

Almost every morning I lug a heavy (25kg/55lb-ish) backpack and my sorry ass around a local park. There are squirrels, dogs, dog-walkers (but no doggers) and also things to read. Yep, I read as I go. What I haven’t been doing is systematically writing about what I read. No more! Today I begin this, and – with the help of friends nagging me on facebook – I should turn it into a very useful habit indeed.

Today’s readings were all/portions of-

Rubin, E. 1991. Envionmental constraints: threat to coal’s future? Keynote session presentation to World Coal Institute Conference on Coal In the Environment, London, 3 April 1991

McMullan, J. 1991. International Collaboration in Carbon Dioxide Collection and Disposal. In Thompson, P. (ed) 1991. Global Warming: The Debate. London: John Wiley& Sons.

Evans, R. 2006. Nine Lies about Global Warming. Melbourne: Lavoisier Group, February 2006.

Evans, R. 2006. Nine Facts about Climate Change. Melbourne: Lavoisier Group, November 2006.

Rotty, R. 1979. Atmospheric C)2 consequences of Heavy Dependence on Coal. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 33, pp. 273-283.

Breslow, J. 2012. Robert Brulle: Inside the Climate Change “Countermovement.” PBS, 23 October.

Edward Rubin, 25 years ago, makes for rueful reading. He admits coal’s environment problems date back to 1300 and that “the argument coal used for power generation accounts for only 8% of the global warming problem so please leave us a one and go worry about more important things simply will not carry way in a world where growing environmental concerns are increasingly being voiced through political action and regulatory change.”

He flags the “enormous uncertainties” in climate change, and notes “fully a third of the presentations at this conference are devoted” to it.

His solution? Well, the primary one of the top five is “technological innovation. New and improved technologies that reduce the cost of using coal in compliance with environmental requirements in different parts of the world represent the best long-term solution for the sustained growth of this industry, and we must pursue such developments aggressively.”

Didn’t happen.

McMullan casts a wary and weary eye over energy conservation, increased use of nuclear power, a shift to renewables, a shift to hydrogen, stop cutting trees and replant more. The most interesting thing is his sceptical eye on what we now call carbon capture and storage. He outlines the problems and opportunities with ocean disposal, geological structure storage and enhanced oil recovery. None seemed convincing to him…. So much has changed!!

Next up the ‘exec summaries’ of two “climate counter-movement” pamphlets by the late Ray Evans, Tonto to Hugh Morgan’s Lone Ranger. (Morgan is a mining executive and much much more. Since the 1970s he has had a very keen interest in shrinking the state and attacking the legitimacy of environmentalists.
The Lavoisier Group was founded in 2000, the first explicitly climate denialist group in Australia. The February 2006 set of “lies” starts with “Carbon dioxide is a pollutant” and carries on in that vein. Reminds me a bit of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s ad campaign later that year ahead of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” – “Carbon Dioxide. They call it pollution – we call it life”. Evans had visited the CEI in November 1996, and helped plan the “Countdown to Kyoto” conference. But I digress…

The “Nine Facts” on is a rewrite, sort of. It got launched at Parliament on 28 February 2007, with Arvi Parbo (Aussie industrialist) leading, and Dennis Jensen (soon to be ex-Liberal senator) also giving comments. Such is the nature of political and economic elite thinking on climate change…

Next up, Rotty, 1979. Nothing terribly surprising, once you know the history of US scientists concerns (they grew massively in the 1970s). Best book for that is Howe, 2014, and best short article is Kellogg, 1987. Spencer Weart’s Discovery of Global Warming is pretty damn excellent too..
Anyway, Rotty lays out the problem, the possible impacts (there were more uncertainties back then)
My favourite bit was when, having looked at probable increases in fossil fuel extraction and use he concedes that “even lower fossil fuel-use scenarios are conceivable if the global society recognizes the potential environmental challenges soon enough.”

Ha ha ha.

Finally, an excellent interview with Robert Brulle, a US sociologist who studies the climate change counter-movement. Some clips –

So they are very much, I would say, neoliberal foundations. There are some libertarian foundations, but they are not anywhere near as prominent as what I would consider to be traditional conservative foundations. The funding of the countermovement organizations from the oil and gas interests is actually, when you look at the foundations of those organizations, fairly minimal. So it really is driven by these ideologically focused organizations, which is no surprise, because they’ve been building a conservative movement now for 40, 50 years, and they have these organizations that they’ve created and sponsored and helped develop over that period of time. So what they did was alongside of all of the other conservative issues — affirmative action, English as the official language, the Defense of Marriage [Act], these sorts of issues — they added on climate change as an additional dimension to the conservative movement’s issue agenda.


Institutional movements really function through what we would consider to be informal arrangements and weak coordination. So in the case of the climate countermovement, what you see is that the conservative movement coordinates itself quite well, that when you look at the funding flows you can go and look at the dynamics of the Philanthropy Roundtable, which is where these sorts of issues of funding flows are discussed.


What you see in the number of sponsorships in the Heartland conference is the attempt to build a worldwide climate countermovement. So you see a lot of organizations from different countries: Italy, New Zealand, Australia. You see a lot of sponsorships from those kinds of countries, and the more organizations you have, the more legitimate the conference looks.


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