WOOD TV 8 and Global Warming Skepticism

Over the past year, WOOD TV 8’s Chief Meteorologist Craig James has posted a number of blog entries on WOODTV.COM questioning the science on global warming. James frequently relies on industry-funded entities and advances the same confusion over science that industry groups have sought on global warming.

On Sunday, Craig James–the Chief Meteorologist for the West Michigan television station WOOD TV 8–posted a blog entry on WOOD TV 8’s website titled “A Summary of My Position on AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming).” In the entry, James argues that there “are several possible causes for warming and cooling of the atmosphere on a global scale” and ultimately asserts that:

“It seems to me the argument that the current rise in CO2 is solely responsible for the changes we have seen over the past several decades ignores much of the historical record and places an unwarranted confidence in computer model forecasts, which those of us who forecast weather know all to well, are NOT reality. I do think I am open to being convinced otherwise, but as of yet, I haven’t seen the smoking gun that would do so.”

In his entry, James does acknowledge that “I am not doubting that humans have been responsible for an increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and that this CO2 increase may have contributed to some of the warming we have experienced.”

However, James’ most recent blog post on the topic of global warming must be seen in the overall context of what he has written. Since starting his blog back in January of this year, James has cast himself as WOOD TV 8’s resident “contrarian” on global warming (or “climate change”), arguing repeatedly on his blog that there is not a consensus in the scientific community about the science around global warming. Specifically, James has questioned the idea the accuracy of various computer models and temperature data, predications based on those models, and the extent to which warming is caused by humans. James has stated that:

“…there is a consensus I agree with and that is “the earth is currently getting warmer”. I fought the idea for awhile, but I don’t think there is now any question that we have even exceeded the warmth of the 1930s across the globe. The question still very much open to debate is how much of the warming has been caused by humans.”

And also said that:

“Let me reiterate, my skepticism does not exist over whether humans have caused warming, but whether the “markedly deficient” computer models can yet adequately represent the global conditions 100 years from now.”

And finally:

“I firmly believe what I have written before that much of the warming is natural and cyclical and the computer model forecasts are not to be believed.”

This argument has also been taken off the internet, with James recently asserting in the Grand Rapids Press that “the science is anything but settled whether carbon dioxide is to blame” for increased warming since the 1960s and 1970s.

Of course, there is room for debate over the science pertaining global warming–and there are differences within the scientific community over the numbers. Much of the scientific community accepts the concept of global warming and that it is human-induced, although there has been debate over the extent of the problem (much of which has centered on whether “consensus” views are minimizing or overstating the problem). However, both of those strains accept the reality of human-induced global warming. However, on the other side of there debate there is a “global warming skepticism” that is often connected to industry groups and which has sought to create “confusion” over the science. Being up front that we are not climate scientists, meteorologists, or anything like that, it is not really possible for us to delve into the scientific basis of each of James’ claims. However, several interesting points did emerge when we considered his writing on the subject over the past eleven months, all of which ultimately lead to the larger question of whether or not having a global warming skeptic as Chief Meteorologist might color the station’s reporting on the issue?

First, it is interesting to note that it is common to see Craig James’ name posted around the Internet as a “skeptical” meteorologist on the issue of global warming. This no doubt stems from stems from James’ blog and his membership in and listing on the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project’s (ICECAP) website. The site was registered in 2006 by Joseph D’Aleo (whom James cites), a retired meteorologist who is also involved with the Science and Public Policy Institute. ICECAP promotes the views of global warming skeptics, many of whom argue along similar lines as Craig James in saying that the while human-induced factors may play a role in global warming, much of it has to do with the Earth’s natural cycles. ICECAP’s website featured James’ “A Summary of My Position on AGW” on its front page. On each page of its blog, it links to a variety of websites promoting “skepticism” on global warming, including the Marshall Institute, Junkscience.com, and the Heartland Institute–some of which question the idea of global warming in its entirety. James has disclosed his involvement with ICECAP in a comment on his blog (not in the actual post):

“Another item needs a comment. Yes, I am listed as a member of International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project (ICECAP). I support the following statement as listed above the membership list:

Within the spirit of the first amendment, the following broadcast and private meteorologists support an objective consideration and an earnest and open discussion of all aspects of climate change.

If there is anyone here who can’t support that statement, you are wasting your time on this blog.”

Not surprisingly, James never discusses or discloses ICECAP’s ties to other entities with a history of global warming skepticism. Nor is his membership disclosed in a place that is easy for new readers of his blog to find, instead one would have to sort through all of his entries and comments.

It is worth noting that James has occasionally cited some troubling sources to prove his points. James has cited Frontiers of Freedom, the Science and Public Policy Institute, and the Heartland Institute. Two of the three–Frontiers of Freedom and the Heartland Institute have received funding from Exxon-Mobil. While this might cause one to question their independence, James has stated (again in a comment, not in the original entry):

“I do thank you for enabling me to win my bet that within a day someone would state that the Heartland Institute was a “right wing think thank”. So what! They didn’t do the survey. Two German scientists did and those two people weren’t the ones who answered the questions. Of the over 500 respondents to the survey, I’m sure their views range from far left to far right. So what! Evaluate what is said and not who says it. And, I would not be all all [sic] surprised that if another survey was done today, it would reveal even more skepticism. Consider that a Michael Chertoff type of “gut feeling”.

Despite this, he never confronts the larger issue with the Heartland Institute–that it has received funding from ExxonMobil–and that ExxonMobil has funded a network of organizations with the goal of creating “confusion” over global warming. It is worth noting that James’ writing has appeared on the Heartland Institute’s website.

In addition, some of the scientists that James has cited are connected to a variety of entities skeptical of global warming. These include Chris Landsea who has authored a report on hurricanes and global warming with Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger, both of whom have published several articles critical of global warming, and Roger Pielke. A letter written by sixty scientists in Canada has also been cited by James, without discussion of the connections that many of the scientists have to industry and entities skeptical of global warming. Many of the same scientists signed onto a 2006 letter arguing that there are problems with the science related to global warming and that consequently the Canadian government should rethink its plans to address the problem.

James has attacked consensus in the scientific community, despite reports from the IPCC that have stated that there is consensus on many issues pertaining to global warming. He has reacted with skepticism to the IPCC and used several posts to argue concerns over the IPCC’s data (1, 2). However beyond these criticisms of data, Craig has associated those expressing an opposing view with James’ apparently dreaded “liberals:”

“Ah, another fine example of people who call themselves liberal being the most close-minded people I know. Scientific evidence is neither republican nor democrat and for someone to assume I am of one party or the other is indeed putting his “ass” in front of “u” and “me”.”

James has criticized the National Wildlife Federation and further says that to the only way “to cut pollution by 80% by mid century” would be to “go back to living in caves.” No proof is offered for his claim, and in fact, there is never any real discussion on his blog about how to reduce the human-induced–which he admits exist–contributors to global warming.

Finally, James has also used his blog to criticize the media’s–both here in West Michigan and nationally–reporting on global warming, charging that it is occasionally nothing more than “biased propaganda” and “opinion.”

Like James’ concern over differences in science, there is certainly some truth to his attacks on the media, although he again turns towards a path friendly to industry. Whom does he hold up as an example of a courageous journalist? None other than ABC’s John Stossel:

“John Stossel is a breath of fresh air in the world of media hype. I can’t believe they have the courage to keep him on the air. Bravo for ABC.”

What James leaves out is that John Stossel has for years been incredibly friendly to industry and has a close relationship with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (who has received funding from ExxonMobil). Stossel is skeptical about global warming and has presented industry-funded scientists without disclosure on his show, and even claimed that global warming might be “a good thing.”

While there is certainly space for skepticism about the particulars of individual studies in the debate over global warming, James’ concerns often tend more towards the side of the debate that is connected to industry and is largely attempting to use concerns over science–sometimes legitimate and sometimes not–to create confusion over the issue. The ultimate goal would be that this confusion would limit government action and undercut science arguing that global warming is both human-induced and is a matter that demands serious and immediate attention.

Report Finds Widespread Consensus on Human Causes of Global Warming

A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found widespread consensus on the human causes between global warming, and in light of new findings, is calling for increased action to prevent further warming.

Only a few days after the Midwest Governors Association and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm announced new plans to address global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on Saturday that concludes that global warming is caused by humans and that immediate action is necessary to address climate change. The report argues that there are stronger “reasons for concern” than previously thought as significant effects from global warming–including impacts on humans and non-humans–may happen at lower temperatures than previously believed. The report was signed by 130 nations including the United States.

Some key points from the report include:

20 per cent to 30 percent of the plant and animal species assessed are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if global average temperatures exceed 1.5 degree Celsius to 2.5 degree Celsius over late 20th century levels.

Increases in sea surface temperatures of about one-three degrees C are projected to result in more “frequent coral bleaching events and widespread mortality.”

Concern that in “many semi-arid areas, for example the Mediterranean basin, western United States, southern Africa and northeast Brazil, will suffer a decrease in water resources due to climate change.”

Concern that the Greenland and possibly Antarctic ice sheets may mean that the rate of ice loss will increase above previous forecasts

Concern over the likelihood of “irreversible” impacts. If temperature increases exceed about 3.5 degrees Celsius between 40% and 70% of the species assessed might be at increased risk of extinction.

Unlike three previous reports that were released by the IPCC, this report was not “diluted” as were previous reports from the IPCC. Nevertheless, there has been significant criticism of the IPCC center around the fact that its scientific consensus might minimize the potential impacts of climate change (1, 2). Among these criticisms are that the IPCC’s relying on a data set that ends in 2005.

Just in case folks think that this is old news, there is still considerable misinformation out there. Some of it is due to the influence of the oil industry who has funded “climate change skeptics” (including Grand Rapids’ Acton Institute) who have sought to cause “confusion” over global warming. Such confusion can often lead to absurdity, as seen in a column published in Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Lanthorn student newspaper titled “Global Warming has become Annoying:”

“There is no doubt that advances in society have created more pollution and increased the ability to become more wasteful, but is this to blame for the climatic change?

Personally, I find thousands of years of evidence from scientists saying otherwise hard to ignore. Science has shown plenty of proof that this is nothing more than the Earth’s natural course.”

Midwest Governors Sign Global Warming Pacts

On Thursday, the governors of ten midwestern states–including Michigan–signed two agreements setting goals to address global warming and carbon emissions in the midwest. Unfortunately the agreements focus on market-oriented approaches rather than taking a comprehensive approach to global warming.

On Thursday at a regional summit on energy policy and climate change hosted by the Midwestern Governors Association, the governors of ten Midwestern states signed two agreements that address global warming. The two pacts–the Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform for the Midwest and the Greenhouse Gas Accord–were signed by governors from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas, while Indiana, Ohio, and South Dakota signed on as observers. Currently, the Midwest–which makes up 22% of the United States’ population–generates 27% of the country’s emissions.

According to a press release announcing the pacts, they will:

“Establish greenhouse gas reduction targets and timeframes consistent with MGA member states’ targets;

Develop a market-based and multi-sector cap-and-trade mechanism to help achieve those reduction targets;

Establish a system to enable tracking, management, and crediting for entities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and

Develop and implement additional steps as needed to achieve the reduction targets, such as a low-carbon fuel standards and regional incentives and funding mechanisms.”

Over the next twelve months, the group will establish specific emissions reduction targets and an overall strategy for the plan, which is to be implemented in thirty months. The plan ultimately calls for a reduction in carbon emissions between sixty and eighty percent with different limits for each state depending on their emissions levels. In addition, the pact sets the goal of reducing energy consumption by 2% by 2015 with 2% reductions each year, offering ethanol-based gasoline known as E-85 at 15% of gas stations, and generating 10% of the region’s electricity from renewable resources by 2015 with a goal of 30% being from renewable sources by 2030.

The signing of the Midwest agreements coincided with an announcement from Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm that a Michigan Climate Action Council has been formed that will come up with recommendations for reducing the state’s output of greenhouse gas emissions, lowering energy consumption, and reducing the need to purchase energy from out-of-state suppliers. The Michigan Climate Action Council will consist of thirty-five representatives from the public and private sector, including environmental groups and representatives from utility corporations. The panel has been charged with producing an interim report on the issue by April of 2008 with a final report released in December 2008. The formation of the Council was accompanied by an executive directive calling on the state to reduce its energy use by 10% by 2008.

It is refreshing to see the states of the Midwest and the government of Michigan talking–and pledging to do something–about global warming. However, the plans being discussed highlight some of the many difficulties with finding solutions to global warming. The plan outlined by the Midwestern Governors Association focuses heavily on technological solutions such as biofuels or pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the earth rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. According to the preamble to the report, it is written to meet the challenge of “how to address climate change while sustaining and enhancing economic growth and job creation.” Author George Monbiot, who recently wrote a book titled Heat that explores much of the science around global warming and proposed solutions, argues that ultimately people are going to have to accept the idea that aspects of our current lives are unsustainable. However, the Midwestern Governors Association report fails to even consider any larger discussion about sustainability and the notion of progress, instead focusing on solutions that would allow for the maintenance of current levels of “progress” without demanding any sacrifice.

Many of these new technologies–such as biofuels–come with the promise of allowing for essentially infinite economic growth. However, various studies have pointed to the fact that biofuels may cause considerable damage to the environment including the cutting of rainforests. While this plan mentions E-85–which could presumably be made of corn grown in the Midwest–researchers have raised questions about the amounts of corn available for . At the international level, there is serious concern that in the so-called “Third World” crops for use as biofuels might be grown in place of food and set off a humanitarian crisis.

Similarly, “cap-and-trade” schemes such as the one contained in the Midwestern Governors Association plan setup markets through which companies and other entities can “sell” carbon credits. While such schemes differ in their particulars, basically, they involve companies being allotted a certain number of pollution “credits.” If a company cuts its emissions below allowed levels, it can sell its “credits” to another company on an open market. With the carbon trading system developed as part of the Kyoto agreement, this has resulted in considerable profits for some of the companies that generate the most pollution while doing little for the environment.

“No War, No Warming” Bike Ride Visits Hoekstra Fundraiser and Hummer Dealership

On Monday, a “No War, No Warming” bike ride organized by ACTIVATE/SDS visited a fundraiser for war supporter Pete Hoekstra and a Hummer dealership to highlight the connections between the Iraq War and global warming.

On Monday, ACTIVATE/SDS held a Critical Mass bike ride in solidarity with the “No War, No Warming” protests taking place in Washington DC. That morning, around 60 protestors were arrested attempting to block access to Capitol Hill in Washington DC to highlight the links between the Iraq War and global warming. Here in Grand Rapids, the Critical Mass bike ride visited a fundraiser being held in East Grand Rapids for Representative Pete Hoekstra as well as the Harvey Hummer dealership on 28th Street. Similar solidarity protests were held around the country, including in Detroit.

pete hoekstra campaign sign

The Critical Mass ride began shortly after 5:30pm, following the distribution of stenciled patches reading “No War, No Warming” and a brief announcement explaining that the bike ride would be going to a fundraiser being held for consistently pro-war Congressman Pete Hoekstra. The 25-35 cyclists then assembled on Sheldon before beginning the ride to the Hoekstra fundraiser. The ride to the East Grand Rapids home of Dave and Linda Mehney was fairly uneventful with the Mass received generally favorable reactions from motorists and pedestrians. When the group entered the East Grand Rapids neighborhood of the Mehneys, energy rose considerably, with the group chanting “No War, No Warming” and telling people in SUVs to ride a bike instead. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Mehneys have given over $90,000 to Republican candidates for federal office. This fundraiser featured a $1,000 per couple “private reception” with Hoekstra and a general $250 per person reception. Once the group arrived at the Mehneys’ home, they were greeted by signs for Pete Hoekstra’s campaign featuring a bike and the slogan “Securing America’s Future.” Some of the cyclists rode through the circle driveway, booing and chanting “No War, No Warming” and “Stop Funding the War,” while others in the group placed leaflets on the cars of attendees criticizing Hoesktra’s continued funding of the occupation of Iraq ($462 billion) and his opposition to the recent State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation ($35 billion). Hoekstra’s staffers–who were chatting somewhat frantically on their cell phones–quickly came out and told the group to get off the private property. Before the inevitable visit by the police, the group departed en route to the Hummer dealership.

no war, no warming at hummer dealership photo

The ride continued south towards the Hummer dealership, cutting through Calvin College’s campus before moving onto the East Beltline. Despite the 55 mile per hour traffic, the group brought traffic on the Beltline to a crawl by taking up one southbound lane between Calvin and Woodland Mall. The group then cut through the Woodland Mall parking lot before continuing westbound on 28th street, taking up the two westbound lanes before turning into the Harvey Hummer dealership. Participants rested while a number of people in the group scaled a “mountain” in the dealership parking lot and attached a banner reading “No War, No Warming” to the grill of a Hummer parked atop the “mountain.” A confused employee came out and told the group they couldn’t be there, although at that point, the riders were already heading back out towards 28th Street. As the ride headed west on 28th, participants were able to witness the salesman scale the “mountain” while talking on his cell phone and with his eyes moving from the banner to the departing cyclists in frustration.

The ride continued on back to Eastown with no intervention from the police before concluding at the “Hub Lot” on Wealthy Street.

Assessing the Choice of Al Gore as the Nobel Laureate for 2007

photo of al gore

So what do we make of the Nobel Prize Committee awarding Al Gore a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize? Much has already been written that reflects a wide array of thinking on Gore being named the Nobel winner. On the liberal website Alternet, there is an article about how the right is using his Nobel Peace Prize win as more fuel for their smear campaign. The Democratic Party front group MoveOn.org has a big congratulation to Al Gore on the front of their website and the Draft Gore in 08 website is hoping to use the announcement to get more signatures and put Gore on the ballot in next year’s presidential election.

There has also been a fair number of articles from left or more radical writers that tend to be equally suspicious of Republicans and Democrats. Many of these articles take a critical look at Al Gore during his tenure in the Senate and as Clinton’s Vice President. Joshua Frank, author of Left Out: How Liberals Helped Re-elect George W. Bush calls Gore “A Prime Time Hypocrite.” Frank takes a serious look at Gore’s environmental track record and his personal profiting from owning stocks in Occidental Petroleum. Frank cites Jeffrey St. Clair’s book Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature, a book that exposes how the Clinton/Gore administration was friendly to the oil, logging, nuclear and mining industries. Frank also points out that even on the issue of climate change Gore was not in any way progressive while in the White House. The Clinton/Gore team would not sign on to the Kyoto Protocol with this rational, “As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change.” In other words, we will not take the lead on this issue. Many people might say “but now he has taken the lead and made Climate Change part of the national dialogue and therefore deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.” Let’s take a look at the idea that Gore has made climate change part of the national debate and then the idea of who is deserving of the Peace Prize.

Like many social movements there are those who do the work for years and get no recognition and there are those who stand on the shoulders of grassroots activists and take credit for making people aware of a particular cause. There have been scientists, activists and organizers who have been fighting Global Warming for years, long before Al Gore decided to take on this issue. In 1997, Martin Khor, director of the Malaysia-based Third World Network, said this about climate change, “Climate change (and its convention) is emerging as perhaps the most economically and politically contentious and significant of all the global environmental issues because the decisions taken on countries’ emission limits or reductions will have substantial implications for limits to and quality of energy use, industrial production, and overall economic growth.” Many Third World activists have been leading the way on the issue of global warming and pointing out that it is the US and other major industrial nations that are most responsible for the warming of the planet.

Another important point about Al Gore’s recent interest in climate change is that it isn’t the same thing that grassroots activists are advocating for. Gore has been promoting more of a corporate style approach to reversing Global Warming, with a message that is less abrasive to American audiences in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Gore does not advocate any radical critique or alternative to reducing CO2 output. Journalist Mitchel Cohen writes, “Gore never critiques the system causing the global ecological crisis. At one point, he even mourns the negative impact of global warming on U.S. oil pipelines. Oh, the horror! What it all comes down to, for Gore and the Democrats, is that we need to shift away from reliance on fossil fuels and tweak existing consumption patterns.”

So the question still remains, why would the Nobel Committee give this award to Al Gore? Well, let’s take a look at the organization who awards the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The Nobel Peace Prize was begun by Alfred Nobel, a chemist who developed and later patented the explosive known as dynamite. Alfred Nobel wrote in his will that the Peace Prize should be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” So how does a business-model for greenhouse gas reduction work to reduce or abolish standing armies? This is not to say that the Nobel Committee never awards the prize to worthy individuals. The great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. won the award (1968), along with Burma’s human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), and Mayan activists Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992). However, a close look at who has won the award since 1901 have been mostly men from imperial nations. This list includes men like Teddy Roosevelt (1906), former US Secretary of State Elihu Root (1913), Woodrow Wilson (1920), another US Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1945), Henry Kissinger (1973), and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat (1978). Many of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have been high-ranking government officials who had extremely questionable commitment to abolishing or reducing standing armies. In reviewing the list of winners it is somewhat understandable that Al Gore would win the award in 2007.

Possibly the best response I read online to Gore’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize came from the Rainforest Action Network in a short piece entitled “Al Gore should be arrested.” Here is what the RAN statement said:

“Today, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Al Gore (and the IPCC). No one deserves it more than he does. We’re very happy for him. And we think he should go to jail.

Specifically, he should go to jail on RAN’s November 16-17 Day of Action Against Coal Finance. As reported in Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column on August 16, Al is on record as saying:

“I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers … and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.”

Well, Al, it’s because by the time they’ve rolled out the bulldozers, it’s already too late. That’s why Rainforest Action Network, Coal River Mountain Watch, Appalachian Voices and thousands of supporters are mobilizing to stop Bank of America and Citi from financing coal extraction and the construction of those coal-fired power plants. We at RAN would really like you to come along.

If you, too, think Al should be arrested, go ahead and sign our petition asking him to be arrested with us. I will personally guarantee you that if Al is going in the slammer, I’m coming with him. How about you?

G8 Meeting Ends in Germany with Weak Promises on Climate Change and Africa

The G8 summit ended last Friday in Germany with–as is frequently the case–little in terms of concrete promises from G8 nations despite much touted statements on global warming and aid to Africa.

photo of protests at 2007 g8 meeting

Largely echoing the 2005 G8 (Group of 8) Summit in Scotland in 2005, the annual G8 summit has ended with a series of meaningless statements on “climate change” and aid to Africa. The summit, described by many observers as the most divided in the G8’s 32-year existence (http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/06/372876.html), failed to accomplish its pre-summit goals on climate change and has received widespread criticism from NGOs.

Despite a “compromise” deal on climate change that overcame some opposition from the United States and recognized the danger of global warming, the G8 has been criticized by environmental groups for failing to take serious steps to address global warming. The United States and Russia agreed only to “consider” steps being taken by other nations and made no pledge to reduce their emissions. The six remaining G8 nations pledged to reduce emissions, although the G8’s statements are non-binding. Greenpeace rejected the G8’s actions, summarizing them with the statement “G8 to act on climate change, later… maybe,” as did Friends of the Earth.

On aid to Africa, the G8’s actions were similar. Despite the G8’s continued statements that they will live up to previous promises of aid to Africa, Oxfam criticized the G8 for breaking their 2005 promise on aid to Africa. While the summit pledged “new” aid to Africa, Oxfam pointed out that this at most amount to $3 billion in aid or $27 billion short of the $30 billion promised in 2005. Aid for HIV prevention in Africa will also fall short of the 2005 goal, reaching only $23 billion of the $50 billion by 2010. The announcements of new aid were described by NGOs as “smokescreens” designed to hide the dismal failure of the G8 on Africa.

Protests at the summit received substantial media coverage early on following clashes between police and protestors the weekend before the summit began. Throughout the week, there were a series of protests targeting both the G8 and capitalism, and addressing issues ranging from migration to agriculture. Once the summit began, protestors effectively blockaded the summit for two days, turning away delegates and forcing them to be brought in via helicopter. Protests were held outside of Germany as well, with solidarity demonstrations taking place in a variety of cities including Portland, Chicago, and San Francisco in the United States and around the world St. Petersburg, Santiago, and Thessaloniki.

Throughout the summit, the corporate media’s coverage downplayed the reasons why people were opposed to the G8, highlighted protestor “violence,” and favorably reported on the G8’s “action” on climate change and Africa. Aside from the excellent coverage of the protests provided by the Indymedia network–in particular the Germany and UK sites–protestors also focused on deconstructing the corporate media and public relations “spin” surrounding the protest. The Unspin the G8 website features an archive of corporate media coverage of the summit and analyses of how the coverage frames messages about the G8 and the protestors.

Grand Rapids Think-Tank Receives Additional $50,000 from Exxon-Mobil

exxon is funding lies graphic

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty has received another $50,000 from Exxon-Mobil according to a review of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) documents conducted by Greenpeace. The $50,000 contribution from the Exxon Foundation brings the Acton Institute’s total received from Exxon-Mobil to $215,000 since 1998.

Exxon-Mobil has come under intense criticism in recent years for funding research that promotes confusion over global warming. It has spent more than $28 million since 1998 funding organizations who question the science behind global warming or who directly attack environmentalists. While receiving less money and attention than some of the larger organizations funded by Exxon, the Acton Institute advances views and policies friendly to Exxon. This year, the Acton Institute brought global warming skeptic Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to Grand Rapids and also began running a regular blog feature dedicated to challenging the idea that there is scientific consensus on global warming. These recent activities fit within a history of advocating industry-friendly “free-market” policies and attacking environmental regulations.

Industrial Woodworking Corporation Offsets 100% of its Carbon Emissions

Zeeland, Michigan – Industrial Woodworking Corporation (IWC) announced today that it has offset 100% of its carbon emissions with Carbonfund.org, the country’s leading carbon reduction and offset organization, through their CarbonFree™ business program. IWC has offset 100% of its emissions from electrical and natural gas use, management’s air travel and corporate vehicles. This step highlights IWC’s commitment to be a green leader in West Michigan’s furniture manufacturing community.

Considering the implications of climate change and the alarming evidence that is currently being presented from the scientific community, IWC sees carbon offsets as a business necessity and a natural extension of its mission.

The move also positions IWC’s new online, contemporary home office furniture sales company, Knú, as an entirely green and sustainable venture. Knú launches its website in September 2007.

“It is simply unconscionable not to do this,” said Brad Davis, CEO of Industrial Woodworking. “It is blatantly obvious that climate change is here now. We must act both on an individual and a business level to lessen our impact on the Earth.”

“IWC has been committed to environmental stewardship since we began in 1995,” Davis added. “We intend to lead by example, to show the furniture industry and our customers that a company can be very successful when it puts the environment first.”

“Carbonfund.org’s message to individuals and businesses is, ‘Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.'” said Eric Carlson, Executive Director of Carbonfund.org. “IWC is doing exactly this by utilizing the most energy efficient technologies available and offsetting the energy it does have to use by supporting renewable energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal. IWC is reducing the amount of energy it needs and helping to ensure the energy it does need comes from renewable sources.”

Carbonfund.org is a non-profit organization whose goal is to make carbon offsets and climate protection simple, affordable and a normal way of life for every individual and business. Carbon offsets empower individuals and businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in one location, where it is cost effective, to offset the emissions they are responsible for in their normal activities, like home, office, driving or air travel emissions. By supporting renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation projects Carbonfund.org offsets an equivalent amount of carbon offsets and is helping the development of clean, renewable domestic sources of energy.

Other Energy Saving Measures at IWC/Knú:

IWC’s newest plant addition, which has added over 10,000 square feet to the existing facility, will be using F-Bay fluorescent lighting which uses 30% less energy than traditional metal halide lighting and maintains 89.1% foot candle output over the life of the bulbs which have a 20% longer lifespan. Metal Halide only achieves 70% efficiency.

Winter heating is handled by infra-red heaters which use 23% to 25.5% less fuel than conventional forced air heating methods.

IWC’s Short Wave Infrared finishing ovens run on electricity, come up to temperature within 5 seconds and use light waves to cure finishes. Other furniture companies use gas fired ovens which can require up to an hour and a half to come up to temperature and then consume energy all day long maintaining that operating temperature.

Additional Information about IWC/Knú:

IWC has been using sustainably harvested wood products exclusively for many years and only works with suppliers who have a demonstrated commitment to sustainable resources and low impact raw materials.

Knú’s proprietary hardware is made from 40% recycled steel and it is 100% recyclable.

All finishing is accomplished with HAPS compliant or waterborne finishes utilizing the lowest volatile organic compound emissions possible.

Knú does not believe in the marketing of our products using catalogs, all product information will be available in a web only format. Not only does the creation of the catalogs destroy millions of trees annually, the delivery and disposal has an extremely negative effect on the environment.

All Knú products will be shipped directly to the customer from the place of manufacture thereby greatly reducing the environmental footprint of logistics.

IWC/Knú is dedicated to the principal “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.” Waste is reduced by mixing the minimum amount of materials needed for use that day, and by utilizing cut-to-size programs. We routinely salvage what would have been trash for use as raw material in other products. Nearly all of the packaging material from incoming shipments is recycled. From cardboard to skids to foam spacers, anything that can be recycled or reused is given a second life, and in some cases is used repeatedly.

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Carbonfund.org is the country’s leading carbon reduction and offset organization. Carbonfund.org educates the public about the dangers of climate change and makes it easy and affordable for individuals, businesses and organizations to reduce their climate impact. Carbonfund.org is reducing the threat of climate change by promoting cost-effective carbon reductions and supporting renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects globally that reduce and offset carbon dioxide emissions. Carbonfund.org works with over 100 corporate and non-profit partners including the National Wildlife Federation, Dell, IMD, Ovation Travel Group and Working Assets.

Acton Speaker: Corporations should not do anything other than Generate Wealth

Fred L. Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who was brought to town by the rightwing Acton Institute, spoke Thursday against the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility, arguing that the only responsibility and role corporations have is to generate wealth for their shareholders.

On Thursday, Fred L. Smith, founder and director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, spoke in Grand Rapids at a talk hosted by the Acton Institute. The Acton Institute, which essentially exists to provide a religious justification for capitalism, brought Smith to Grand Rapids to talk about the “Irresponsibility of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Smith, who has a history of making statements dismissing the concept of global warming, opened his talk saying that earlier in the day he was joking with some of the people at the talk “about global warming” but that “sometimes it is hard to joke about these issues,” as their seriousness takes care of themselves, citing the recent cancellation of a hearing in Congress on global warming because of ice storms.

Smith’s Competitive Enterprise Institute, who like the Acton Institute has received money from Exxon-Mobil to question the idea of global warming, touched on the topic several times during his speech. Early on, Smith talked about how he recently spoke in Congress with a group of CEOs called the “Climate Action Partnership” who are working with the government to “create a carbon cartel to restrict the rights of all citizens in the United States to use energy.” He went back to this theme of regulating carbon emissions as a means of infringing on individual rights later in his talk, explaining that Enron was a primary backer of policies that would manage global warming because they stood to make considerable profit when energy became “rationed.” Smith claimed that Enron was aware that when every American had to have a “credit card” rationing energy when they filled up their gas tank, visited grandma, or decided that they would turn their lights on at night, they (Enron) would make money as the “managers of a carbon constrained future.” With this analysis, Smith stated that Enron supported Kyoto, a policy that would raise gas prices significantly higher than the $3 per gallon that had people “up in arms” in the United States. Smith also said that 13% of Americans have never heard of global warming despite what he called the “daily discussions of death, doom, and destruction.” This, according to Smith, shows that most Americans have more important things to do then “worry about the end of the world.” None of his statements on global warming were substantiated.

While Smith’s comments discrediting the idea of global warming are interesting and relevant in light of the support that his organization has received from Exxon-Mobil, the core of his talk was a defense of capitalism and an opposition to the idea that corporations have a responsibility to do anything other than generate wealth for their shareholders. Smith said that modern corporations, who have been responsible for creating the wealth that has funded several centuries of economic growth, are being pressured by the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement to address issues such as the environment or human rights that are unrelated to a corporation’s purpose. Smith argued that Corporate Social Responsibility is a misguided response to “a real threat to business in the world today” from special interest groups. The CSR response has failed to consider whether they can even meet the demands of the “so-called stakeholder groups” that pressure corporations and whether they should. Smith cited an unnamed acquaintance who once said that “a stakeholder is someone who holds a stake and wants to drive it through the heart of capitalism,” telling the audience that stakeholders want to run corporations despite having no direct interest–unlike employees, suppliers, or shareholders–in the corporation and whether it continues to function as a viable wealth creating entity.

Organizations such as the Rainforest Action Network, Wake Up Wal-Mart, and the Sierra Club have had some success in pressuring companies according to Smith, becoming what he views as heirs to the muckraking movements of the early twentieth century. Smith argued that corporations have been wrong to meet with these movements and to negotiate, because there is no way of “satiating the antagonisms of the enemies of freedom” whom Smith accused of being relentless in their attacks on corporations. CEOs have tried to push issues raised by campaigners under the table by cutting deals, admitting a certain degree of misconduct (often justified by saying they are not as bad others), or agreeing to regulations just to have some guide as to what standard they will be held to. Smith argued that these responses have been a failure, because corporations are not able to and should not address social issues. Instead, Smith argues that these issues should all be addressed at the individual level, because corporations’ only responsibility is to create wealth and knowledge which is then dispersed to individuals in society who can take that wealth and put it towards protecting the environment. If the Corporate Social Responsibility movement had its way, Smith argued that these choices would be “taken away” and given to the “rulers of society” who would then determine how money was spent.

This analysis of the importance of individual action fit within an argument that Smith made claiming that capitalism has been one of the greatest guarantors of freedom in the modern world. Smith claimed that capitalism gives ownership to many people, with competition fostering a “secure and orderly” system within the context of an “egalitarian society” that enhances freedom. Smith praised the “genius of capitalism” as being the way that it has “democratized the privileges of the elites.” Smith did not confine his exclusively to capitalism, but extended it to the whole concept of “civilization,” with Smith arguing that civilization has made the world freer, wealthier, and fairer, with the challenge of civilization being, in Smith’s words, to “bring institutions of liberty to the darker spots of the world.” Smith argued that corporations are “morally positive entities” because they help to disperse power and ensure that power is not concentrated within society. Smith’s praise of capitalism ignored the negative aspect of capitalism, making no mention of the concentration of wealth in United States society or the millions living in poverty or on the streets of cities across the United States. Undoubtedly, their view of the “genius of capitalism” and the spreading of “privileges” would be considerably different than the take of Smith, who has a comfortable job at an organization supported by a variety of wealthy rightwing foundations and corporations. Similarly, Smith’s praise of “civilization” made no effort to define civilization or to engage the various substantive critiques of civilization that question the sustainability of civilization, among other aspects.

However, Smith was not brought to Grand Rapids to have an honest discussion of capitalism, civilization, or corporations. Instead, Smith was brought to defend capitalism and to discredit the various movements and organizations working to fight the abuses of corporations. As such, Smith’s talk fit well within the scope of the work that the Acton Institute has historically done in seeking to provide a religious justification for discrediting activism. The Acton Institute has taken a variety of positions minimizing the threat of global warming, supporting genetically modified agriculture, attacking activists campaigning against PVC products used by the healthcare industry, among others. Smith’s talk was just one part of what has been an ongoing effort by the Acton Institute, and the Institute will likely bring many more such speakers to town in the future.

Grand Rapids Think-Tank Brings ExxonMobil Funded Global Warming Skeptic to Town

The Acton Institute, a Grand Rapids-based rightwing think-tank, is bringing ExxonMobil-funded founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to Grand Rapids to talk about the burden that Corporate Social Responsibility creates for businesses.

On February 15, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a think-tank located here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will bring global warming skeptic Fred Smith to Grand Rapids for a lecture as part of the Institute’s 2007 lecture series. Fred Smith is the founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a rightwing think-tank that promotes free-market ideals over human concerns and opposes government regulations on everything from fuel economy to pesticides. However, both Smith and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are most known for their role in attacking the idea of global warming. In its opposition to government regulation and opposition to global warming, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has much in common with the Acton Institute. While the Competitive Enterprise Institute has received attention for being given more than $2 million by ExxonMobil to fund its operations, the Acton Institute has received $160,000 from ExxonMobil. The Acton Institute’s Reverend Gerald Zandstra has even gone so far as to praise ExxonMobil as a company with an “excellent” record on “human rights” and the “environment.” However, more troubling than its praise of ExxonMobil, is the Acton Institute’s work in promoting policies that minimize environmental concerns.

The Acton Institute’s booking of Fred Smith to deliver one of their Acton Series lectures fits into their overall pro-market and anti-environment ideology. Smith will deliver a lecture challenging the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility, likely expanding on assertions he has made previously that Corporate Social Responsibility is a “misguided” response to an allegedly pervasive attack on business by the media and the left. Throughout its history, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has taken a number of strong positions opposing environmental regulations, opposing increased fuel efficiency, attacking environmental education in the schools, claiming that dioxin is healthy, and publishing a study claiming that naturally-produced chemicals from plants are as dangerous as those produced by industry (source). However, it is the organization’s work in attempting to debunk the concept of global warming that has received the most attention. Fred Smith himself, who founded Competitive Enterprise Institute in 1984, once described global warming as looking “pretty good” and signaling a shift towards “Warmer winters, warmer nights, no effects during the day because of clouding, sounds to me like we’re moving to a more benign planet, more rain, richer, easier productivity to agriculture” as part of a world that is “a lot closer to heaven than hell.” While Smith’s quote is from 1992, the politics of the Competitive Enterprise Institute with regard to global warming, despite increasing amounts of research demonstrating the negative impacts of global warming, have remained incredibly consistent since 1992. Smith himself has continued to minimize the impacts of global warming, saying that “periods of warmer weather have actually coincided with periods of human flowering” and attacking what he calls the “eco-socialism” of environmental activists, while the Institute has opposed the Kyoto Protocol and has lobbied against regulating emissions. In a 2006 campaign designed to coincide with the release of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, the Institute released television advertisements praising carbon dioxide as essential to life and even stating that “carbon dioxide is our friend.” The Institute’s positions fit into the larger rightwing lobbying effort to mask the realities of global warming, an effort that has recently included offers of cash payouts to scientists willing to speak out against the and pressure by the Bush administration on government scientists to deny global warming.

The Acton Institute has a history of promoting politics friendly to ExxonMobil and others seeking financial gain through the denial of global warming. The Institute also has relied on Smith in the past for analysis, with a lecture by Smith being featured on the Acton Institute’s website as a resource on “Economics & Environmentalism.” Two organizations represented on its board, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, have received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil. The Acton also offers a list of ExxonMobil funded entities as resources on “Environmental Stewardship” including organizations like the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Pacific Research Institute. Ties to the oil industry also extend beyond ExxonMobil, with its present Board of Advisors featuring former executive with BP-Amoco, James L. Johnston and its Board of Directors featuring Sidney J. Jansmaa, Jr., of Wolverine Gas and Oil Corporation.

In 2000, the Acton Institute convened a conference and published a document titled “Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment” that seeks to steer the religious debate over the environment towards one that promotes industry-friendly policies. As part of this effort, the Acton Institute and the conference participants issued the Cornwall Declaration, a document that sought to provide a theoretical and religious justification for free-market environment policies under the guise of biblical support. The document described how “certain misconceptions about nature and science, coupled with erroneous theological and anthropological positions” “impede the advancement of a sound environmental ethic” and undermine “reason” in environmental matters. The Declaration defines “reason” as including “sound theology and sound-science” before justifying human and capitalist domination of the earth. The Declaration takes three major positions–that economic progress is essential and that humans should be viewed as “producers and stewards” rather than “consumers and polluters,” that “human stewardship unlocks the potential in creation for all the earth’s inhabitants” and that humans should manage the environment, and lastly that there are “well-founded” environmental concerns such as the improper disposal of nuclear or other hazardous wastes in countries lacking regulatory safeguards, inadequate sanitation, primitive practices in agriculture, industry, and commerce, and the use of primitive biomass fuels such as wood and dung, but that there are “unfounded or undue concerns” including global warming, overpopulation, and species loss. Of these “founded” and “unfounded” issues, the Declaration characterizes the “unfounded” ones as speculative, the concern only of environmentalists in wealthy nations, of low and hypothetical risk, and with solutions that are costly and of dubious benefit. Far from advancing discussion on how to deal with the destruction of the earth, the Declaration–especially in its “Our Aspirations” section–lays the groundwork for a laissez-faire approach to environmental problems. The Declaration ends with its “Aspirations” calling for the elimination of any government role in managing the environment, economic freedom, an elimination of collective ownership of property and resources under the guise of fostering “stewardship,” and technological advancements in industry and technology to lessen pollution and to “improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

The Cornwall Declaration is just one of several methods that the Acton Institute has used to shape the religious debate on the environment and to combat efforts by the religious community to challenge the destruction of the environment. The Acton Institute regularly publishes commentaries opposing environmental activism on its website and has attacked evangelical environmentalism, promoted genetically modified crops and strong laws protecting seed manufacturers, opposed the Kyoto protocol, opposed cuts in CO-2 emissions, and attacked animal rights activists. Its journal, Religion & Liberty, has published similar articles while Acton’s website sells a host of materials promoting a these views. The Acton Institute also issues occasional press releases challenging religious-based environmental activism and frequently appears on rightwing radio shows attempting to debunk global warming.