"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Scientific Manipulation’

Big Oil Uses U.S. Gov’t To Eliminate Threats To Drilling Plans, Research Supressed, Scientists Harassed, Terminated

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Source: Greenpeace

Oldspeak: “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE, It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska….There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska, that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay… There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.” –Dr. Rick Steiner, Professor, Marine Conservation

“In the context of this reality, in a maniacal ecocidal ever more destructive pursuit of profit, is there any wonder that Alaska is on fire as in no other time in recorded history? This is perfect example of the madness of Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy begotten by Industrial Civilization. Corportate “persons” funding government education and research institutions and dictating what is and isn’t researched, published and disclosed. Important science and research censored, scientists abused, harassed and drummed out of jobs when their findings don’t serve the ends of polluters. Can we reasonably expect anything but politically mediated and watered down science and research from institutions in the unfortunate condition of being captured by the industries their findings affect? Not likely. “Profit Is Paramout”,  -OSJ.

Written By Kamil Ashan @ Alter Net:

In February 2011, Charles Monnett, an Arctic marine biologist who in 2006 published the first observations of a decline in the polar bear population of the Arctic due to melting sea ice, was interviewed by Eric May and Lynn Gibson from the Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General. The conversation was perplexing. May and Gibson, criminal investigators with the IG, began by suggesting that Monnett was being investigated for scientific misconduct, but early on in the conversation they admitted that neither of them had any training in science and biology.

From there, the transcript of the conversation, a document released by Monnett’s legal representation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), becomes murkier. May and Gibson’s line of questioning shifts several times, making it increasingly unclear what aspects of misconduct were being investigated. Monnett explains that his findings, published in Polar Biology, were peer-reviewed; May responds by asking how Polar Biology got involved. Monnett painstakingly takes May and Gibson through the calculations and observations underlying his data, but they seem dissatisfied and change tacks.

What happened after isn’t murky at all. Soon after the interview, Dr. Monnett’s hard drive and notebooks were seized. In July 2011, Monnett found out from his employer, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), that he had been put been put on administrative leave, barring him from speaking to his colleagues or continuing his research.

The investigation had turned in to a virtual witch-hunt—but when the IG finally released its report toward the end of 2012, its only allegations were of an administrative nature. Monnett subsequently filed a whistleblower complaint against BOEMRE, alleging that the official harassment had impeded him from doing his job and that the Interior Department was violating its own scientific integrity policies intended to protect federal scientists from political interference. In November 2013, Monnett reached a $100,000 settlement with BOEMRE.

The tale of Dr. Monnett is now a few years old, but instructive. Both Monnett and PEER have maintained that Monnett was harassed and essentially eliminated from the ranks of BOEMRE because he represented a threat to the financial stakes of oil companies like Shell hoping to open up the Alaskan Arctic for offshore drilling projects, and that suppressing scientific research was seen as necessary for Shell’s permits to go through. At the time, BOEMRE had been reviewing Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. It approved those permits in 2012, and again, in a highly contentious decision by the Obama administration, earlier this year.

Now, years after the debacle, Monnett says he has complex feelings about the dynamics of the science done in federal agencies, given how overbearing the oil industry is and its pervasive influence on the government.

The Bush administration, Monnett recalls, had “created an environment where the managers [of BOEMRE] were very hostile and aggressive towards some of the scientists…which led to a number of people leaving the agency. These people were being actively attacked by managers, screamed at in hallways, threatened with all sorts of actions. Some of them were even being threatened with legal action. The agency just wasn’t receptive to honest analysis.”

“Because of pressure from industry and the administration…certain timelines had to be met, and those timelines weren’t long enough to allow [scientists] to do complete analysis. Management was dictating the outcomes…which is against the law in my view.”

The Bush administration’s agenda from the very beginning was pro-drilling, and therefore invested in fast-tracking Shell’s permits for the Arctic. During the administration’s tenure, there was a mass exodus of scientists from BOEMRE—at the time known as the Minerals Management Service—who were under pressure to overlook the overwhelming environmental concerns of Arctic oil drilling in their analyses.

But Monnett’s investigation began in 2011, not during the Bush administration but during the Obama administration, foretelling Obama’s climate legacy of paying lip service to climate change while fast-tracking Shell’s offshore drilling plans all the same.

On Monday morning, President Obama arrived in Alaska to shed “a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.” The trip, mere weeks after the final approval for Shell’s summer plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, is likely to be seen in retrospect as illustrative of the schizophrenic energy policy the Obama administration has long espoused.

The Limits of Academic Freedom

Scientific suppression and the loss of many scientists to BOEMRE during the Bush administration have been well-documented, but as Dr. Monnett’s case reveals, something similar, if not worse, has been underfoot during the current administration. As the case of Professor Rick Steiner demonstrates, the influence of oil goes well beyond federal agencies in Alaska.

A tenured professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska, Steiner spent a large part of his career in the Arctic and then Anchorage, Alaska. Steiner had been a vocal opponent of offshore oil drilling since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and a staunch defender of marine conservation—positions that got him in to trouble multiple times during his career.

In December 2007, soon after Monnett’s polar bear paper was published, there was a federal proposed rule to list polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, Gov. Sarah Palin publicly stated that Alaska state marine mammal biologists (ADFG) disagreed with the rule, but Steiner was unsatisfied. After much resistance from the ADFG, he obtained the state review through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. The review, underscoring the dishonesty of the Palin administration, showed that marine mammal scientists overwhelmingly agreed that polar bears should be classified as endangered. This move, and many others, put Steiner on the radar as a staunch advocate of marine conservation and opponent of the pervasive influence of the oil industry in Alaska.

In 2008, when the federal government began to consider an expansion of oil development projects in Alaska, Steiner continued to raise major environmental concerns. Written records released by PEER chart out what happened next: the University of Alaska and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration terminated the grant funding for Steiner’s research work. The documents demonstrate how pressure from NOAA led university officials to cut Steiner’s funding: federal officials wrote that they “had an issue with Steiner” and that his environmental advocacy could “cause problems nationally” for the agency. PEER called this one of the first instances where a university and federal agency admitted to removing a faculty member’s funding because of their environmental positions.

Steiner filed multiple internal grievance claims which were all rejected by the university, and in February 2010, Dr. Steiner resigned from the university faculty on principle. Soon after, he was told by a friend who had been in a meeting with university officials that oil executives had met with university officials, telling them point blank that as long as Steiner continued to oppose the oil industry, the university would not get a dime of its money. The University of Alaska, like many public institutions in Alaska, is funded largely by oil revenues.

Like Monnett, Steiner says his experience taught him the limits to academic and scientific freedom in a place like Alaska. “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE,” he explains. “It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska.

“[The University] felt I was being too much of an advocate for marine conservation which is in contradiction to their professed goal of being in favor of academic freedom.”

And indeed, the brazen nature of the university’s statements on Steiner’s case is deeply shocking. In the recommendation to cut Steiner’s funding, Dean Wiesenburg of the University of Alaska noted that Steiner “regularly takes strong public positions on issues of public debate.” Steiner, he said, “has chosen to be a maverick and work independently.”

To Steiner, what this means is clear. “There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska,” he explains, “that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay.”

“There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.”

A Handy Guide to Scientific Suppression

The cases of Charles Monnett and Rick Steiner have dire implications for how we view Shell’s offshore drilling plans in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and the lengths to which they went to acquire the permits. Much of this can only be guessed at. Steiner talks about the prevailing culture where federal agencies and universities begin to eliminate scientists who do not conform to the pro-oil agenda by not granting promotions or incentive awards, or giving them inadequate annual performance reviews. Another tactic, he says, is overwhelming staff scientists with trivial tasks, pulling them off projects for which they are qualified.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, an organization that seeks to protect scientist whistleblowers, can add to this list. “The range of things we see,” he says, “range from attempts to terminate, suspend, crippling internal investigations. In one case involving a lab director, the funding for his graduate students was jeopardized so he lost a lot of his research capacity. Preventing publications has no limits—in one case, a scientist was raising issues and her email privileges were taken away. We were left scratching our heads wondering how that could have happened.”

One possible remedy is scientific integrity policies that protect whistleblowers, but as Ruch explains, they are far from satisfactory. “Industry puts pressure on government agencies, and government agencies are the instrument of retaliation,” he explains. “For the most part, scientists have few legal protections. These scientists are not covered by whistleblower laws, because they’re not disclosing violations of law, fraud, or abuse. They’re disclosing suppression of research, or watering down of methodologies or the omission of key findings.”

“The law generally treats these as a matter of opinion and in these cases, the chain of command generally wins over the staff scientist.”

In his experience, Ruch says “scientific integrity policies operate within the Department of the Interior—those were weakened in December to make it even more difficult to sustain a complaint. Up until that time, there had been 2 instances out of 14 where the scientist involved faced multiple suspensions and the responsible managers escaped punishment altogether. It’s difficult to advise scientists in good conscience to file complaints under their own name because they’re unlikely to resolve in anything good.”

Early in 2009, Obama released a presidential directive to develop policies that restore scientific integrity to federal actions, including providing federal scientists better whistleblower protections. At the time, this was hailed as a huge leap in the right direction.

Ruch feels not much has changed. “The agencies in the Interior have largely ignored the presidential directive,” he explains. “Some policies claim protections but have no mechanisms by which that protection is implemented, which makes it empty protection.”

Environmental groups argue that this scientific suppression, and overlooking the enormous environmental risks, has been key to the Obama administration’s approval of Shell’s permits this year. Much of the information detailing the safety and reliability of Shell’s operations has not been released to the public, despite multiple FOIA requests by groups like Greenpeace and PEER. A recent FOIA request by PEER, directed at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), seeks to release information on how Shell’s plans for certified by third-party observers, as well as information on the deployment of capping stack and containment domes in the event of an oil spill. BSEE has not responded. PEER has now filed a lawsuit in a federal district court to bring these details to light.

As President Obama continues his trip in Alaska to highlight the dangers of climate change amid overwhelming opposition from environmental and indigenous groups, it begs big questions about the administration’s overarching legacy with federal scientists and the oil industry. Ruch feels strongly about this: “In terms of the actions inside these agencies, there has been no discernible difference between those under George Bush, who was an oil man, and Barack Obama, a constitutional law professor who when his own Commission on the Deepwater Horizon spill met with him, one of the very first questions he asked was about Arctic drilling.”

“It has been clear that Arctic drilling is part of the ‘all-the-above’ energy strategy and the same sort of suppression and the same suite of issues have never really been analyzed.”

For an administration pretending to conduct a dramatic push toward mitigating climate change, that is a shameful record.

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Kamil Ahsan is a freelance journalist and a doctoral student in developmental biology at the University of Chicago.

Why Good News For The Ozone Layer Is Bad News For The Climate

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2014 at 12:19 am

2014 927 ozone fwOldspeak: “The “good news” arrived via the Associated Press on September 11: Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, atmospheric ozone is recovering. Scientists have been monitoring atmospheric ozone since 1989, the year the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete Ozone (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer) came into effect (it was negotiated in 1987). The scientists released their latest assessment on September 10, the subject of the Associated Press report….According to NASA scientist Paul A. Newman, ozone levels climbed 4 percent in mid-northern latitudes at about 30 miles up from 2000 to 2013… The very slight thickening of the ozone layer is, as claimed, due to the phase-out of CFCs and other bad ozone actors. But it’s also due to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases cool the upper stratosphere. As that region of the heavens cools, ozone is rebuilt. The good ozone news is thus bad climate news….Among the most powerful greenhouse gases are HFCs, the non-ozone-destroying substitute for CFCs. Some HFCs have a global warming potential (GWP) 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide (the most commonly used, R-134a, has a GWP of 1430). The growth in their use is clear… without global action, HFC use is expected to increase significantly over the next three or four decades with dire consequences for the climate…Pretending that miniscule improvement in atmospheric ozone levels is cause for celebration is not that big of a deal. The more serious problem is continuing to suggest that the Montreal Protocol is a model for international action on climate change. Dealing with CFCs and their problematic substitutes was, and is, infinitely easier than confronting climate chaos. Banning gases with especially high global warming potential (GWPs) is necessary, but nowhere near sufficient. Carbon emissions are the lifeblood of the global economy, of affluent life styles lived by the few but aspired to by the many. A vigorous climate convention requires far-reaching shifts in virtually every corner of daily life in the developed world.” -Steven Breyman

“This is what’s it’s come to in our sad state of affairs. Manufacturing a “victory” and “one of the great success stories of international collective action in addressing a global environmental change phenomenon.” out of something that actually signifies defeat and failure in addressing the global environmental change phenomenon. The reality, is the chemicals that were used to replace the chemicals found to deplete the ozone layer, are thousands of times more potent and harmful than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most of our attention is focused on. The use of these chemicals are expected to increase significantly over the next 3 to 4 decades. How can this reality be couched as good news? Only in a reality where words, artfully and duplicitously weaved together, mean their complete opposite. An Orwellian world, where “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength”.  No matter how we choose to perceive reality, Earth’s 6th mass extinction keeps rolling along.” –OSJ

 

By Stephen Breyman @ Truthout:

We live in a world hungry for good environmental news. But that’s no excuse for journalistic or scientific spin passing as an unvarnished victory for the environment, nor for exaggeration of the value of a narrowly focused environmental treaty as a model for a universal agreement.

The “good news” arrived via the Associated Press on September 11: Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, atmospheric ozone is recovering. Scientists have been monitoring atmospheric ozone since 1989, the year the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete Ozone (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer) came into effect (it was negotiated in 1987). The scientists released their latest assessment on September 10, the subject of the Associated Press report.

Some background is in order. The Montreal Protocol is important on its own merits. A world of thinning atmospheric ozone is a world of increased skin cancer, eye problems and reduced agricultural yields and phytoplankton production. Every member state of the United Nations ratified the Protocol. But it is as a model for climate change negotiations and agreement that it takes on greater importance. The successful negotiation of the Montreal Protocol required agreement among policymakers, scientists and corporations, as will the replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.

The original Montreal Protocol achieved iconic status – Kofi Annan called it “perhaps the single most effective international agreement to date” – because it phased out production of five chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) known to destroy atmospheric ozone. CFCs were most widely used as refrigerants, solvents, blowing agents and fire extinguishers, as are their substitutes today. There have been five effectiveness-improving amendments to the original Protocol.

The Protocol and its amendments were possible for five reasons:

First, given the phase-in of the phase-out (zero production and use of the five CFCs was not required until 1996) DuPont, the dominant firm in the business, had time to research and manufacture the economical and less destructive substitute hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and the nondestructive hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), even though it had to be pushed hard to do so. Lacking a chlorine atom, HFCs do not attack the ozone layer. HFCs and HCFCs are also less persistent in the atmosphere than CFCs, from two to 40 years for the former, to up to 150 years for the latter.

Second, CFCs were going off patent, so it was in DuPont’s interest to protect the multibillion-dollar market by developing HCFCs and HFCs.

Third, the science was clear on the Antarctic ozone hole, with but a handful of companies, led by DuPont, working to deny it.

Fourth, other ozone killers – several halons and some other CFCs – were not phased out until 2010.

Fifth, mandated phaseout of HCFCs does not begin until 2015, with zero production and consumption required by 2030.

The Montreal Protocol came to be because it posed a minor challenge to the profits of but a few firms, allowed time for new substitutes to come to market, and permitted use of less dangerous ozone-destroying chemicals, or those posing no threat at all.

Now back to the alleged good news report: According to NASA scientist Paul A. Newman, ozone levels climbed 4 percent in mid-northern latitudes at about 30 miles up from 2000 to 2013. (The tiny change for the better explains why it is hard to see much if any improvement between 1989 and 2010, or between 2006 and 2010, in the photos above.) The Associated Press does not tell us about ozone concentrations at other latitudes or other altitudes (except for 50 miles up, but no specific improvement figure is reported; this probably means the improvement was less than 4 percent elsewhere in the upper atmosphere).

The improvement is a “victory for diplomacy and for science, and for the fact that we were able to work together,” said Nobel Prize chemist Mario Molina, one of the scientists who first made the connection between certain chemicals and ozone depletion. Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, hailed the slight recovery of atmospheric ozone as “one of the great success stories of international collective action in addressing a global environmental change phenomenon.” Political scientist Paul Wapner said the latest findings were “good news in an often-dark landscape.”

The very slight thickening of the ozone layer is, as claimed, due to the phase-out of CFCs and other bad ozone actors. But it’s also due to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases cool the upper stratosphere. As that region of the heavens cools, ozone is rebuilt. The good ozone news is thus bad climate news.

2014 927 chart 1Among the most powerful greenhouse gases are HFCs, the non-ozone-destroying substitute for CFCs. Some HFCs have a global warming potential (GWP) 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide (the most commonly used, R-134a, has a GWP of 1430). The growth in their use is clear in the graph below; without global action, HFC use is expected to increase significantly over the next three or four decades with dire consequences for the climate, according to MIT atmospheric scientist Susan Solomon. (Source: TEAP/EPA/UNEP)

Ready for more double-edged good news? The Obama administration appears intent on phasing out HFCs (just in time for the UN gathering and Peoples Climate March in NYC), and a chemical that is nondestructive to ozone, with only four times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide – the hydrofluoroolefin HFO-1234YF, also known as 2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene – is ready to go as the latest substitute for CFCs.

The plan (as under the Montreal Protocol) is to give giant producers (including DuPont and Honeywell which own most of the patents) and massive users (including, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Target and Kroger’s) time to phase in HFO-1234YF. The European Union directive that automotive air conditioners use refrigerants with global warming potential (GWPs) of 150 or lower had most European car makers begin shifting to HFO-1234YF in 2011 (a total ban on more powerful climate-changing chemicals comes in 2017). General Motors has been using HFO-1234YF in Chevys, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs since 2013. Chrysler reportedly plans to transition to HFO-1234YF as well.

Given the history of CFCs and their substitutes, at least some adverse effects from HFO-1234YF production and use, and some glitches in the transition are likely. German automakers worry that HFO-1234YF is both too expensive and too flammable (they’re investigating the use of carbon dioxide). In case of fire following a collision, HFO-1234YF releases highly corrosive and toxic hydrogen fluoride gas. One report had it that Daimler Benz engineers witnessed combustion in two-thirds of simulated head-on crashes. Considering the requirement that auto repair shops retool their air conditioning service equipment to use HFO-1234YF, it’s likely they’ll stick with the HFC R134a as long as possible. India is so far uninterested in moving toward replacing R134a by HFO-1234YF (China is working with the United States to jointly reduce emissions of HFCs). Canada, Mexico and the United States intend to propose amendments to the Montreal Protocol to command the phase-out of HFC production.

Pretending that miniscule improvement in atmospheric ozone levels is cause for celebration is not that big of a deal. The more serious problem is continuing to suggest that the Montreal Protocol is a model for international action on climate change. Dealing with CFCs and their problematic substitutes was, and is, infinitely easier than confronting climate chaos. Banning gases with especially high global warming potential (GWPs) is necessary, but nowhere near sufficient. Carbon emissions are the lifeblood of the global economy, of affluent life styles lived by the few but aspired to by the many. A vigorous climate convention requires far-reaching shifts in virtually every corner of daily life in the developed world.

Confronting ozone depletion permitted business as usual with but the smallest of tweaks that went unnoticed by most. Overcoming the ozone depletion denial industry was a trivial challenge compared to that posed by the forces arrayed to muddle climate science and stymie strong action.

Again: a climate change agreement that includes robust mitigation, a serious campaign to build resilience against a destabilized climate, and a foundation on the principle of climate justice requires genuine and widespread change.

Preventing catastrophic and irreversible climate change compels conversion of the complex systems of transportation, agriculture, generation of electricity, cooling and heating, waste management, manufacturing, technological innovation and more. It also requires transformation in developed countries’ sense of responsibility for past and future emissions. This is why we have yet to see one. Military budgets must be slashed and war machines stopped to free up the funds necessary for building clean green economies and to stop exacerbating the problem. How likely is that as the United States returns to Iraq for the third time in as many decades?