Fossil Fuels Under Fire
Climate Change Weekly #282
On March 21, William Alsup, the presiding judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, requested a tutorial on climate change and climate science. Alsup asked for the lecture prior to commencing a trial in which Oakland, San Francisco, and environmental groups are suing oil companies for seeking to delay emissions regulations by discrediting climate change research. The cities and environmental groups claim oil companies should be held liable for the possibly dangerous impact of climate change, including damage caused by rising seas.
Oil companies are now facing a slew of court cases—from lawsuits fronted by children (funded by radical, anti-fossil-fuel environmental groups) to municipal proceedings claiming oil, gas, and coal companies knew for decades they were causing climate change (presumably robbing kids of their future) but colluded to hide or deny the evidence.
Alsup requested the prosecution and defense present briefings on climate science, focusing on eight questions he addressed to each side. Both teams had 60 minutes to present a historical study of climate change and an hour to discuss the best available science on climate change, melting ice, sea-level rise, and coastal flooding.
Among oil company defendants, only Chevron participated in the tutorial. To the dismay of the cities and environmentalists involved in the suit, Chevron embraced the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to accounts, the plaintiffs were apoplectic, disavowing the IPCC’s reports they had previously upheld as the gold standard of climate research.
Chevron examined the IPCC’s research in detail, not just the talking points composed by activists, authors, and politicians in the IPCC’s “Summary for Policy Makers,” which downplays doubts and stresses the possibility of climate catastrophe. Climate realists have long noted IPCC reports contain in-depth research. And although the reports are not comprehensive, the documents are far less apocalyptic than the often-cited summaries.
Joe Bast, former president and current senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, notes several positive aspects of Chevron’s tutorial:
We have long argued that the full reports of the IPCC reports contain many admissions of uncertainty and doubt (see, e.g., page 39 of Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming) while the “summaries for policymakers” are political documents that exclude all language implying doubt and are edited by environmental activists and politicians to serve political ends. Chevron quite rightly looked to the actual studies and documented the admissions of uncertainty during the period of time when they are accused of hiding a scientific consensus. That’s a good and safe argument.
Chevron also noted the accusers and their constituents (cities and their businesses and residents) – not oil companies – are using the fossil fuels that produce most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As Bast put it, “Chevron asks the court to distinguish between the defendants’ activities – the extraction of fossil fossils from the ground – and the activity that may be causing climate change – the combustion of fossil fuels.”
Chevron also showed IPCC reports demonstrate a lack of consensus on the amount of rising seas attributable to alleged human-caused climate change, as well as when and how much it might affect California. This is consistent with The Heartland Institute’s publications and those of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. Additionally, Chevron stressed “the plaintiff’s own words, contained in municipal bond offerings, admit future sea level rise cannot be predicted.”
Commentators noted the irony of Chevron embracing IPCC’s reports while environmentalists renounced what they previously claimed was the best available climate research. University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke, Jr., publisher of numerous peer-reviewed studies on climate science and policies, stated, “This tweet indicates how much the climate debate has changed. An oil company is invoking the IPCC consensus as their opponents, environmental activists (including some climate scientists), deny the IPCC consensus. Bizzaro world!”
Two “Friend of the Court” briefs authored by separate climate research groups supported and enhanced Chevron’s presentation to Alsup. The briefs expose the IPCC report’s myriad uncertainties, as well as how climate models produce unreliable temperature predictions and misleading climate data. One brief states:
The amici curiae will demonstrate that there is no ‘consensus’ among scientists that recent global warming was chiefly anthropogenic, still less that unmitigated anthropogenic warming has been or will be dangerous or catastrophic. The ‘consensus’ proposition, as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states no more than that most of the global warming observed since 1950 was anthropogenic. That proposition does not necessarily entail the conclusion that global warming has been or will be net-harmful.
These two briefs provide solid evidence for continued skepticism on anthropogenic climate change’s purported dangers.
Bast argues fossil-fuel advocates ought to go on the offensive and advance the abundant research undermining the case for catastrophic anthropogenic climate change:
Chevron may have made only so many arguments as it thinks is necessary to win this case, which I suppose is what good lawyers do. It made those arguments well, and perhaps they will convince a liberal judge to end a frivolous case. But Chevron left many false and misleading claims before the court, claims that contaminate the public debate on climate change and will continue to haunt the fossil fuel industry and threaten our energy freedom unless they are faced and debunked.
Based on reactions from journalists and activists at the court tutorial, Chevron may have accomplished one of its main goals: dispelling the notion oil companies colluded to suppress climate science.
“Alsup dismissing the idea that there was some sort of conspiracy amongst fossil fuel companies to suppress info on climate,” tweeted Amy Westervelt of Climate Liability News.
“Judge slams California cities lawyers says they misled the court - says document they claim ‘shows conspiracy’ shows nothing of the sort #climatechange tutorial @ClimateDepot,” documentary filmmaker Phelim Mcaleer tweeted.
“There is no conspiracy among fossil fuel cos to suppress info re climate science,” Amy Johl, a self-described climate “organizer,” tweeted.
Hopefully, this is the end of this judicial farce – not just in this case but in similar dockets across the country. If so, then oil and gas companies can stop squandering precious resources to fight frivolous legal claims and instead focus on what they do best: provide reliable, inexpensive energy people want and need.
— H. Sterling Burnett
IN THIS ISSUE …
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt said he will not wait for Congress to rein in EPA’s use of “secret science.” EPA is moving forward with guidelines to specify scientific standards the agency will use when crafting rules or offering guidance.
Pruitt said he planned to reverse EPA’s present policy allowing the agency to rely on non-public scientific data when crafting rules, guidance documents, and in undertaking other agency actions. In the past, EPA often relied on studies using data and assumptions not publicly available for review, retesting, and verification to impose regulations that cost consumers and businesses tens of billions of dollars.
Under the forthcoming rules, Pruitt says EPA regulators would only be allowed to consider scientific studies whose researchers make their data available for public scrutiny and whose findings can be replicated. The new policy would apply to outside research used by the agency and research EPA funds.
“We need to make sure their [the studies] data and methodology are published as part of the record,” Pruitt told The Daily Caller. “Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important.
“If we use a third party to engage in scientific review or inquiry, and that’s the basis of rulemaking, you and every American citizen across the country deserve to know what’s the data, what’s the methodology that was used to reach that conclusion that was the underpinning … [for] rules that were adopted by this agency,” Pruitt stated.
The No Tricks Zone analyzed numerous peer-reviewed studies from the past 15 months examining regions in the northern and southern hemispheres and concluded twentieth century warming is relatively inconsequential, with the present temperature being approximately the same or slightly lower than at least two previous warming periods occurring since the previous ice age.
One study evaluated 2,500 years of reconstructed winter temperatures using fjord sediment archives from the northeastern Atlantic Ocean and found twentieth century warming “does not stand out in the 2500-year perspective and is of the same magnitude as the Roman Warm Period (from approximately 350 BC through 450 AD), and the Medieval Climate Anomaly (from approximately 850 to 1350 AD).”
A study of alpine temperatures and snow cover in Australia found the “warming over the past five decades has experienced equivalent magnitude of temperature change and snow cover decline to the Roman Warm Period and Medieval Climate Anomaly.”
A 2018 study in Geophysical Research Letters found the eastern U.S. had cooled appreciably since the 1950s: “annual maximum and minimum temperatures decreased by 0.46°C and 0.83°C respectively.”
Another report concluded it is cooler in Greenland today than it was in the 1930s. A second study determined, although Greenland has warmed on average since the 1990s, temperatures actually declined from 2000 to 2015. The satellite temperature data show the warming experienced since the 1990s in Greenland is concentrated near coastal cities with growing populations, which, though the researchers don’t say so, indicates it is a function of the urban heat island effect.
No Tricks Zone confirms these findings are neither isolated nor unusual. Studies from Antarctica, Australia, the eastern United States, Greenland, northern Europe, South Africa, South Korea, and the Tibetan Plateau all show present temperatures are not outside of historic temperature ranges.
A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveals global carbon dioxide emissions surged to record levels in 2017, just one year after nearly 200 countries signed the Paris agreement, a pledge to reduce emissions. IEA reports energy-related emissions climbed 1.4 percent in 2017, equivalent to adding 170 million cars on the road.
The emissions increase occurred because of a global spike in economic growth after several years of slow economic development. Worldwide demand for energy increased 2.1 percent in 2017, with fossil fuels accounting for approximately 72 percent of the increased use. Globally, demand for coal rose by about 1 percent, and demand for natural gas and oil increased 3 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively, IEA reported. The rate of energy efficiency gains slowed in 2017 as well. Although global energy intensity, the amount of energy used per unit of output, improved 1.7 percent in 2017, this represented a decline from the annual 2.3 percent average in efficiency gains made from 2014 to 2016.
Carbon dioxide emissions increased in Europe and Asia, with the latter accounting for two-thirds of the increase in global carbon emissions.
Carbon dioxide emissions increases in places such as Asia and Europe stand in stark contrast to the situation in the United States. Despite President Donald Trump’s decision to no longer participate in the Paris agreement and the United States’ robust economic growth, America experienced the largest year-over-year reduction in carbon emissions of any advanced country.