John Mashey emails me a link to a video a Naomi Oreskes talk about the Western Fuels Association’s PR campaign against the global warming science.

Mashey’s summary of her talk:

Naomi is an award-winning geoscientist/science historian, a Professor at
UCSD and as of July, promoted to Provost of of the Sixth College there. She
is also a meticulous researcher, as seen from past books, and from having
reviewed a few chapters of the book she mentions in the talk. She unearthed
some fascinating memos, although of course, impossible to replicate the
exhaustive database of tobacco documents.

If you haven’t seen her earlier 58-minute video, The American
Denial of Global Warming”
, you might watch that first. It’s first half
is a longer version of the development of climate science, and the second
half is about the George C. Marshall Institute.

This talk has about 10 minutes of background, and the rest is new material
on the Western Fuels Association.]

The video production isn’t flashy, but it’s good enough. The lecture room
was packed, I had to stand. Interesting people attended.

This, of course, is an informal seminar talk – for the thorough
documentation, you’ll have to await the book.


00:00 Background [fairly familiar, some overlap with earlier talk]

10:30 1988, Hansen in Congress, IPCC starts

11:05 “Tobacco strategy” to challenge science

I.e., use of similar techniques, sometimes by same people

14:50 Western Fuels Association (Power River coal companies)

Sophisticated marketing campaign in test markets

17:20 1991 – WFA creates ICE – Information Council for Environment

ICE ~ Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC) –
See Allan M. Brandt, “The Cigarette Century”

21:00 WFA print campaign

23:00 Scientists are more believable than coal people, so use scientists,
create memes

25:30 WFA produces video “The Greening of Earth”, provides many copies

The Greening Earth Society (astroturf); more CO2 is good for the whole
Earth Excerpts from video

30:00- Video shows the Sahara turning completetely green

32:20- “Plants have been eating CO2 and they’re starved”
Discussion of circumstances under which CO2 does help and illustration of
marketing tactics, cherry-picking, etc. I.e., how does one use a few
tidbits of real science to create an impression very different form the
overview? Are there lessons for scientists?

40:00 end

[Speaking as an old farmboy, plants need sun, water, soil, nutrients, and
CO2, and sometimes right climate, i.e., sugar maples need cold. The Sahara
will not be a new cornbelt, no matter how high CO2 goes.]


  1. #1 Brian D
    August 11, 2008

    Isn’t that [bracketed] section commentary from Michael Tobis? I’ve seen John post that summary before and I could have sworn it didn’t have that note until it showed up on Only In It For The Gold. (That, and I don’t recall Mashey ever mentioning working on a farm. Bell Labs, yes, farming, not to my knowledge.)

    That said, it’s an interesting talk after she gets past the overlap bit (although that part would be more interesting to someone who hasn’t seen The American Denial of Global Warming). I’m particularly smitten with her description of traditional science communication as “supply-side science” — it’s an almost perfect sound-bite-sized summary of the issues with disseminating scientific findings to the public, and it’s a term I think deserves to be spread around. Even though it’s only a tangential tidbit to her talk’s topic.

  2. #2 Brian D
    August 11, 2008

    Update and correction: It seems I misread mt’s caveat on his page. Disregard my first paragraph above.

  3. #3 John Mashey
    August 11, 2008

    Well, for the last few decades, server farms and render farms have been more relevant, but I lived (and so, worked) (until off to college) on a small farm North of Pittsburgh, PA that had been in the family ~100 years.

    I have sketches of the house & barn and maps from the 1840s, some arrowheads, a few farm implements, and various written records.

    The best is a handwritten journal covering 1850-1900, with every item of income and expenditure down to the penny – stereotypically meticulous Swiss, they kept track of each cow the way modern Swiss measure their glaciers, as in the entry:

    “The Lady cow took the Bull the 22nd of February 1875”,
    as one of several such entries. [Not bovine p*rn, serious business for farmers then.]

    Also, there was a small oil well [Western PA = early oil country]:
    “January 4, 1900 Sold Oil 56 B at 1.66 per Bl = $94.45.”

    Of course $1 went a bit further then…

  4. #4 Chris O'Neill
    August 12, 2008

    Oreskes points out that the denialism industry has been successful in creating the false impression that there is still a lack of agreement between scientists about whether global warming is anthropogenic etc. This despite the vast majority of people accepting that it’s true. i.e. a lot of people accept AGW but think there is still significant scientific controversy.

  5. #5 TokyoTom
    August 12, 2008

    Nice of John to circulate this. I note that the reference at 14:50 should refer to the Powder (not Power) River.

    Naomi Oreskes’ focus on the WFA is important (as well as on the related raidroad and utilities indistries), but what people seem to forget is that our state, provincial and federal governments, here in the US, in Canada and elsewhere, largely own the land from which coal is being extracted and collect very significant royalties as a result.

    Political progress is delayed because the federal government doesn’t want to cut off an important stream of revenues without a replacement, and because local governments are strongly opposed to losing such revenues and employment (and are effective at blocking change in Congress).

    If we want to see progress, the coal states out West and in Appalachia will need to be bought off.

  6. #6 Chris O'Neill
    August 12, 2008

    our state, provincial and federal governments, here in the US, in Canada and elsewhere, largely own the land from which coal is being extracted and collect very significant royalties as a result

    Somewhat ironically, a carbon tax is virtually the same thing as a royalty, although depending on how much carbon gets into the atmosphere, the carbon tax might be so large that it causes coal production to decrease.

  7. #7 Michael Tobis
    August 12, 2008

    Hey all.

    The idea of me as a farmhand makes me laugh; I am the ultimate city boy, born and raised in Montreal, spent most of my adulthood in Chicago. I just adore a penthouse view… Hopefully the revised introductory paragraph on my blog clarifies that all following text is John’s.

    John mailed his review out to several people. I asked him for permission to post it and he granted it, but he didn’t especially grant exclusive rights. Think of it as a syndicated column.

    Mashey really ought to start a blog. Even if it were occasional enough people would subscribe that it would get due notice. Meanwhile, any time Oresekes material becomes available it deserves the widest possible distribution.

    So despite the redundancy I think neither Tim nor myself should take John’s article down.

    best regards

  8. #8 John Mashey
    August 12, 2008

    TokyoTom: yes, Powder River for sure.
    Regarding government and $$, note the parallel with cigarette taxes…

    Michael & Brian D:
    Re the farmer confusion, I think Brian D may have seen your hat on your blog picture and assumed you were some kind of gentleman rancher who did computing and blogs as hobbies.

    ANY: if you found Naomi’s video useful, you might visit Margot’s website where it is and post a comment or two to encourage her. I’d bugged her for months to get the full video up, and promised her I’d spread it around.

  9. #9 Anna Haynes
    August 13, 2008

    re Tobis’s “Mashey really ought to start a blog” –

    For now, I’ve created a Best of Mashey blog – let’s put his “hoisted from comments” ones there. I get awfully tired of having to go googling for his stuff all the time.

    Or – having 2nd thoughts – should we* just tag the “hoisted” posts “best of Mashey”? “hoisting Mashey”? Tagging would likely be less labor intensive.

    (* that’s “we” meaning “y’all”, of course.)

  10. #10 Anna Haynes
    August 13, 2008

    fyi, a retrenchment from previous comment – based on email feedback (someone who thought it was a dumb idea) I’m de-creating the B.o.M blog.

  11. #11 bi -- IJI
    August 15, 2008


    It’s the snippet spammers!

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