Viridian Note 00481: The Counterpurge
- Key concepts:
- Lysenkoism, political purges of
scientists, New Scientist, lustration, truth and
reconciliation, future public show trials for
crimes against climate stability, Exxon-Mobil,
Attention Conservation Notice:
- It's a notion
that may seem a little improbable at first glance,
but it's much less improbable than tornadoes in
London and a lost war for oil.
The eco-chic Yves Behar "Leaf Light." Wow, that
would make an ideal desk lamp for vengeful lawyers
dismantling Exxon-Mobil and their fellow
(((The Purge at work:)))
Climate change special: State of denial
04 November 2006
NewScientist.com news service
KEVIN TRENBERTH reckons he is a marked man. He has
argued that last year's devastating Atlantic
hurricane season, which spawned hurricane Katrina,
was linked to global warming.
For the many politicians and minority of scientists
who insist there is no evidence for any such link,
Trenberth's views are unacceptable and some have
called for him step down from an international
panel studying climate change.
"The attacks on me are clearly designed to get me
fired or to resign," says Trenberth.
The attacks fit a familiar pattern. Sceptics have
also set their sights on scientists who have spoken
out about the accelerating meltdown of the ice sheets
in Greenland and Antarctica and the thawing of the
planet's permafrost. These concerns will be
addressed in the next report by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global
organisation created by the UN in 1988 to assess
the risks of human-induced climate change.
Every time one of these assessments is released,
about once every five years, some of the American
scientists who have played a part in producing it
become the targets of concerted attacks apparently
designed to bring down their reputations and careers.
At stake is the credibility of scientists who fear
our planet is hurtling towards disaster and want
to warn the public in the US and beyond. (((Not
to mention that the planet itself is at stake, but
the science press is always far more interested
in scientists than they are in the low-IQ hoi-polloi
with which scientists share the planet.)))
So when the next IPCC report is released in February
2007, who will be the targets and why? (((Sounds
like a great premise for an Internet betting-site.)))
When New Scientist spoke to researchers on both sides
of the climate divide it became clear that they are
ready for a showdown. (...)
One of those who knows only too well what it is like
to come under attack from climate change sceptics
is Ben Santer of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
in California. The lead author of a chapter in the
1995 IPCC report that talked for the first time
about the "discernible human influence on global
climate", he was savaged by sceptics and accused
of introducing this wording without consulting
colleagues who had helped write the chapter.
One sceptic called it the "most disturbing corruption
of the peer-review process in 60 years". Another
accused him of "scientific cleansing" – at a time
when the phrase "ethnic cleansing" was synonymous
with genocide in Bosnia.
Another scientist to suffer the ire of the sceptics
was Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University
in University Park. He was attacked after the IPCC
assessment in 2001 (...) The sceptics accused Mann
of cherry-picking his data and criticised him
for refusing to disclose his statistical methods (...).
Last year, Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton,
chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce,
ordered Mann to provide the committee with voluminous
details of his working procedures, computer programs
and past funding. Barton's demands were widely
condemned by fellow scientists and on Capitol Hill.
"There are people who believe that if they bring
down Mike Mann, they can bring down the IPCC,"
said Santer at the time. Mann's findings, which
will be endorsed in the new IPCC report, have
since been replicated by other studies.
Santer says, however, that he expects attacks
to continue on other fronts.
"There is a strategy to single out individuals,
tarnish them and try to bring the whole of the
science into disrepute," he says. "And Kevin
[Trenberth] is a likely target." Mann agrees that
the scientists behind the upcoming IPCC report
are in for a rough ride.
"There is already an orchestrated campaign against
the IPCC by climate change contrarians," he says.
The "contrarians" include scientists and politicians
who are sceptical of the scientific evidence for
climate change. Some of those who spoke to New
Scientist insist that they are not planning
character assassinations (...) (((They're not
"skeptics", either. They're Lysenkoist political
operatives in the pay of polluters.)))
Many of the IPCC's authors, some of whom asked not
to be named, say this is a smokescreen. They
claim there is an extensive network of lobby groups
and scientists involved in making the case against
the IPCC and its reports.
Automobile, coal and oil companies have coordinated
and funded past attacks on them, the scientists say.
Sometimes this has been done through Washington
lobby groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute
(CEI), whose officers include Myron Ebell,
a former climate negotiator for George W. Bush's
administration. Recently, the CEI made television
advertisements arguing against climate change, one
of which ended with the words: "Carbon dioxide,
they call it pollution, we call it life." (...)
The money trail
Some sceptical scientists are funded directly
by industry. In July, The Washington Post published
a leaked letter from the Intermountain Rural
Electric Association (IREA), an energy company
based in Colorado, that exhorted power companies
to support the work of the prominent sceptic Pat
Michaels of the University of Virginia,
So what is this money buying? For one, an ability
to coordinate responses to the IPCC reports. (...)
In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, and with a
US administration that has a record of hostility
to concerns about climate change, Trenberth's
statements are political dynamite. (...)
Trenberth himself fears the worst. "I would not
be surprised if the hurricane aspect of the report
is targeted, along with my own role," he says.
"But I am proud of what we have achieved."
(...) Another sensitive area is the concern that
existing models of ice sheets on Greenland and
Antarctica massively underestimate future melting
and consequent sea-level rise. "Our understanding
of the dynamics of ice-sheet destruction has
completely changed in the last five years,"
says Richard Alley of Penn State University, a
lead author of the chapter on ice sheets who expects
to find himself in the firing line over this issue.
"We used to think it would take 10,000 years for
melting to penetrate to the bottom of the ice sheet.
But now we know it can take just 10 seconds," he says.
Michaels dismisses the idea of more rapid loss as
Some insiders suggest that the IPCC may be more
cautious in its upcoming report than it has been in
the past, but this is unlikely to placate climate-
change sceptics. (...) Here too Trenberth may find
himself caught in the headlights. The US Senate's
Environment and Public Works Committee under its
chairman James Inhofe has begun investigating NCAR,
Inhofe has repeatedly written to NCAR and other
agencies demanding details about financial and
contractual arrangements with their employees and
with federal funding agencies such as the National
Science Foundation (NSF).
Inhofe has a record of hostility to the idea of
climate change, having asked on the Senate floor
in July 2003: "Could it be that man-made global
warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on
the American people? It sure sounds like it."
NCAR is not commenting on Inhofe's investigation,
but many climate scientists contacted by New
Scientist regard it as a tactic designed to intimidate
those working on the IPCC report. (...)
Out of 168 scientists listed as lead authors or
reviewers involved in assessing the science of
climate change, 38 are from the US – more than
twice as many as the second-largest national
grouping, the British.
IPCC scientists who spoke to New Scientist insist
they are not trying to turn science into politics
or to shut down genuine debate. They do, however,
worry that their conclusions might be drowned out
by some politically motivated and industry-funded
"I'd hate to see hundreds of people putting years
of their lives into producing a report that is then
trashed by these people for political ends," says
Santer. "That is what happened in my case, and I
felt very bad about it."
(Looks pretty bad, eh? Yeah. But not for the
purgees. They may have been cherry-picked for
neocon assault by denialists, but at least they
didn't risk jail.)))
(((Consider the fate of Viridian contestee, Enron.
Most everybody at Enron was cheerily drinking their own
champagne bathwater and making merry on the carcass
of the public interest. Jeff Skilling was not the
worst of them, but Jeff was the one who didnít ritually
repent and come clean. They dropped an anvil on this
guy. Jeff ought to be an object lesson to energy
executives. Him, and Ken, who's dead.)))
Lee Raymond took his Exxon pile and split, but the
top guys at Exxon still dearly love those smoke-and-
mirrors. Look at 'em shimmy and backpedal and
"While our scientific understanding of climate change
continues to improve, (((No thanks to us))) it
nonetheless remains today an extraordinarily complex
area of scientific study. (((No it doesn't.)))
Having said that, the potential risks to society
could prove to be significant, (((the potential
risks to us; "society", as St Margaret said, doesn't
exist))) so despite the areas of uncertainties that
do exist, ((no they don't))) it is prudent to develop
and implement strategies that address the potential
risks. ((("Develop strategies," donít carry them out.
Waffle and equivocate. Name a single thing Exxon's
done in the past 20 years that is "prudent."
Nothing. They bet the Texan farm, just like Bush II,
just like Enron. They didn't really do that much:
purge scientists, sabotage IPCC, logjam the US
Senate – but the consequences are calamitous,
and they have no one to blame but themselves.)))
"In my view, this means we should continue to fund
ongoing scientific research without conditions or
preconceived outcomes (((we mean fund denialists
more than any actual scientists))) to increase our
understanding of all of the forcings which are part
of this very elegant, but very complex climate
systems in which we live (((Nature is pretty, but
only oil folks are fit to deal with it))) –
includingongoing study of not only the possible
forcing effects resulting from mankindís socioeconomic
activity, (((nice "socio" there, Mr Free Market)))
but equally if not more important understanding of
the natural forcing elements that are and have
been apart of the climate system since the dawn of
(((The takeaway? "Blame anybody or anything for the
climate mayhem we've been creating and obscuring for
years, but don't blame us. At least, not now.
Blame nature. Blame lesbians. Blame the Chinese,
blame anybody, but not us, not during our lifetime.
We never thought, we never dreamed that the bill
would come due this fast. That was never supposed to
happen in a time-frame where we could be held to
account." They haven't learned a damned thing.
They're too stupid to live. Exxon threw a
climate-war for oil, and not only are they
losing the oil, they're going to lose the climate.)))
Exxon's actual, years-long, entirely consistent
policy of funding logjammers, reputation assassins
and Beltway bandits. Basically this composes a
list of likely future indictees for crimes against
humanity. Everybody in the world is going to want
a piece of these people. Except for a few blinkered
Australians, whose stricken nation is in
spectacular flames as we speak, these American
malefactors are the biggest global-climate
patsies around. Everyone's responsible for climate
change, but the one thing every player can surely
agree on without demur is that these guys are
the worst and must culpable. Everyone else can
pretend to be all caught unawares and shocked,
shocked by a climate crisis: these people are
without any question its deliberate aiders and
There aren't, in fact, many of them. Their
budgets have always been quite small. Their chances
of defending themselves from a worldwide outcry
are slim. If Jeff and Ken couldn't save themselves
after buying a President, these guys are in ten
I don't doubt that Exxon-Mobil's hasty new clean-air
PR campaign, meant to ingratiate themselves with
the new Democratic Congress, costs five times
as much as they've ever spent on these minor
organizations. But: they did fund them,
and in some cases simply invented them. And when
their empty pretense that the climate is fine and
dandy is proved as utterly hollow as the bold
pretense that Enron makes money and Iraq loves
freedom, someone is going to have to take the
fall. And it's a huge, huge fall. And it's all
theirs. Who else is there? They're finished.
Wait and see.
Who would actually go and get them? Rich people.
ANGRY, PANICKY, VENGEFUL, RUTHLESS rich people.
"Alpine communities have coped with warm winter
weather before, but this year there is a sense that
it could be the beginning of the end of the European
skiing experience." That must be a lot of fun for
well-to-do Esso investors.
ASEAN summit politicians flee an Asian typhoon. Makes
you wonder what the Davos Forum will look like when
there's no Swiss snow. Hey, 'world leaders,' you
will be brought to the climate or the climate will
be brought to you. You can run, but you can't hide.
Who do you plan to blame for this -- for the way
climate change makes you flee like rabbits?
How do you sleep with that kind of humiliation?
It's going to happen time and time again.
Tornado in London. Not actually in 10 Downing Street,
but, well, not too far. Wait till next time.
"Exxon: facing the toughest energy challenges."
The toughest of all? Avoiding the melancholy
southern-Gothic fates of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling.
I know my premise here seems a tad farfetched,
but here on Viridian List, we're getting used to things
we discussed ten years ago emerging into broad
daylight like a horde of Morlocks. So Exxon, let
me level with you a little. You're always bragging
about how many "thousands of scientists" you employ,
and how you have a cast-iron Texan hammerlock on
geopolitical realism – but did you ever imagine it
would get this bad, this fast? Do you know what
melancholy Texan figure you Houstonians most resemble
at this point? No, not Skilling. Not even Bush.
Not Tom DeLay, either. You look like General Santa
You know: slaughter a few stubborn scientists in
the Alamo, then march on to inevitable victory.
You've still got the flags up and the trumpet
sound of the deguello in your ears, but that strategy
stank. You are reaping the whirlwind. You could blow
off the occasional corrupt meeting with Cheney, but
the climate problem? That can only get worse and
worse. And worse. And fast. For years. And who,
in the world, is there, in the world, available
to blame for that? At a bottom line, politically,
realistically, who else but you? You bet your all,
everything, on keeping the oil flowing and sustaining
the Texo-American Dream – but when rich people,
not poor ignorant people but rich ones, see their
prospects and their fortunes wrecked because of
your malfeasance, you will collapse. You will
have brought utter shame and discredit on everything
you ever held dear. Where will you hide from the
sky? Where's your safe haven?
"The vast U.S. energy industry might be the ripest
target for a corruption investigation. When Vice
President Dick Cheney's energy task force was meeting
in early 2001 – meetings whose secrecy Cheney has
managed to protect against legal challenge – the
goal of U.S. energy independence was barely an
afterthought. Now, with the United States mired in
the affairs of petro-dictatorships in the Middle East,
even the president has emphasized the need to cure
our addiction to oil.
"Studied inaction on this front stems from the
coziness between the administration and big oil.
Investigations into that relationship are a sure
win for the Democrats. Just lining up oil company
executives under the hot lights – much like the
seven tobacco company chief executives were lined up
in 1994, looking like gray-suited deer – creates
the image, if not necessarily the fact, of activist
government. (Suggested witnesses: Lee Raymond, chief
executive of Exxon Mobil until this year; Spencer
Abraham, former energy secretary; Cheney; and David
Addington, Cheney's deputy on many energy matters.)"
(((Of course you can duck that one, buy yourself a
new Senate, but your problems are BIGGER than that.
Your troubles are just starting. What's the true
extent of your bad judgment?)))
(((Well, just for fun, let's frankly confront
the absolute worst-case scenario. That would be
climate crisis as the Queen of Spades, the Big
Sister of Nuclear Armageddon, instead of its dirty
little sister... Suppose that plankton, as these
scientists now publicly speculate, really
does die off because the oceans got too suddenly
warm and too acidic.
(((What gives, in that case? You would die. You, your
bankers, your lawyers, your pet Senators, everybody
on the Board of Directors, all the employees,
the public-relations firms... The entire Bush Clan...
the scientists who made the grim assessment....
every jackrabbit on the plains of Texas... Actually,
if the plankton dies, pretty much every living thing
above the level of a slime mold would die. Die like
poisoned rats in a cellar.
(((Not that anybody worldwide would seek to blame you
much for this... Why bother? Instead of merely wrecking
civilization in your febrile quest for subterranean
goo, you'd have accomplished something unbelievable
and grand, unleashing an awesome smoke-genie
Fossil Gotterdammerung that exterminated all
known intelligent life in the Universe. Quite a feat
for an oil company and a handful of hired right-wing
cranks. There'd be a sense-of-wonder sci-fi grandeur
to that, if there were any sci-fi writers left
to type that up.)))
So that's the worst-case scenario. I don't expect it.
I think a likelier one is Hague-style show-trials.
I mean, not THE Hague, not the "International Court
of Justice" – that one had a Bush regime spoke
thrust through its wheels early on. That was a
street-smart, deeply cynical move, but at the scale of
the mayhem you're wreaking, the Hague Court wasn't
near big enough for you anyway. The Hague didn't
matter. Nobody who counts really cares all that
much about "war crimes." As long as crimes occur in
Sudan, or Afghanistan, Congo, "Non-Integrating Gap"
locales that fail to affect the flow of commerce,
these misdeeds don't compel attention. Yours do.
Civil-rights NGOs are basically hobbyists;
they're persistent but they're feeble. Whereas YOU,
the mayhem YOU have publicly chained to your own
wrists and ankles, the scale of the misdeeds YOU have
cheerily brought to pass while lining your pockets
at the cost of every power-player, the extent of
the public penance that YOU require...
Wow. It boggles the mind! Think that over! It'll have
to be some kind of long, ritualized, endless
counterpurge, something like the Germans coming
clean for 60 long years, with lots of ritual
apology and self-abasement... Something like the
Czech lustration process and the South African
Truth and Reconciliation hearings, only bigger.
Bigger, and in the full and horrible light
of a smoggy planetary dawn. And with no end.
Because the seas keep rising and the storms
keep getting darker. For decades. There's no
exit strategy for a firm that's the bride of
Imagine yourselves 'fessing up in the dock.
"Fast Andy" Fastow had to do it; you, too, eh?
"Yeah, we did dark, and secret, and terrible
things to science and politics, and those
seemed like a sensible, hardheaded, businesslike
things to do at the time... if I'd known that it
meant that I had to spend the next 20 years of
my life looking into the hollow, drowned, dead eyes
of little Jimmy there and his family of nine..."
I mean, there's that prospect, the de-Stalinization
process; the "Transition" – I've seen that done.
It's doable. People get over it. It's just, you
know, the faster you move and the quicker you
point the finger at the past's 'regrettable excesses'
-- well, the less that hurts, and the more chance you
have of oozing back into power later, but with
a different lapel button and an utterly transformed
infrastructure. You know, the BP way. The Shell
way. You didn't do that. Because you were
aggressive, cocksure morons. Just like Bush and Enron.
Then there's the Skilling option, which is to
deny the existence of the giant black tornado even
after it demolishes the employee retirement funds.
I know you're aching to do this. It's very Alamo.
You'll be going to jail if you choose that option,
and given that climate change harms everybody on
the planet including lunatics packing suicide bombs
and weird KGB-ites with polonium in test tubes,
you'll be lucky if you even manage to reach the
safety of jail, rather than perishing in some
particularly gruesome and exemplary fashion.
I know, this all sounds a little far out. So what's
a sensible first step? Something you might do
tomorrow. Something that wouldn't cost much.
Well, the first and most sensible step for you would
be the public rehabilitation of the many purge
victims you've already piled up. Kind of a
Krushchev Thaw gambit. If you want to
get anything like a fair legal shake from the hurt
you've piled up for yourself, you'd better look
to the fate of these scientists. See how you pestered
the, sidelined them, made them non-persons?
That effort cost you maybe 15 million and, also,
your good-will, credibility and brand-name.
For a lot less than 15 million dollars, you could
probably re-fund them, re-hire them, and put
them all back in the schools and labs. And instead
of carrying out a guerilla war against the IPCC,
you could underwrite big, fancy, Houston penthouse
parties for the IPCC. Shell and BP would do that.
In a second.
You chose a Lysenkoist campaign, based in your
Houston HQ but carried on on a global scale.
That was basically a minor act of petrocratic tyranny.
Not too entirely divorced from the mainstream
of the Texan political tradition. But:
the scale's gotten much bigger now, you were utterly
and totally wrong in your assessment of what
was happening and how that would enrich you, and,
frankly, you are much bigger than your victims
ever were. So your end will be much messier.
Your fate will be theirs, only big-time. The
victims of a counterpurge commonly catch just
what the original purgees did, only louder and
Instead of a little geek-fight in the science
world, you're going to see these sinister tactics
adapted worldwide and brought against your own
org. Your "politics of personal destruction"
don't have all that much traction in the world
of science -- geeks lose some funding and prestige,
they get fired, they get shut up -- but in the
corporate world? The political world? Where
there's actual harm done -- real money? Oh my
So have a look at what you wrote on the wall.
Does it take a prophet to interpret what's
waiting there for you and yours? No, I didnít
think so, either.
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
NICE HOT SUNNY
WINTER DAY TODAY
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