Forget the Science; Is Al Gore's Accusation of Skeptic Climate Scientists a Hoax?

People on Al Gore’s side of the issue know this intuitively: ‘Nearly all climate scientists agree, humans cause global warming – dissent only comes from a tiny cadre of fossil fuel industry-funded skeptics’. You must not question any part of this. Ever.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum boldly questions the first part. Meanwhile, the accusation against skeptic scientists sits there like an unseen 800lb-gorilla-in-the-room. I suggest this is actually an 8,000lb gorilla. Conservative leaders have much to gain by putting the accusation under hard scrutiny, and probably have no idea how hard Gore’s followers will work to divert attention from its monstrous problems.

Why is this so huge? Two reasons:

First, Al Gore’s narratives about corrupt skeptic scientists have every appearance of containing a huge irreconcilable contradiction, and second, this completely undermines the global warming crisis while shaking the mainstream media’s credibility to its core. If there’s no legitimate reason to ignore skeptic scientists’ climate assessments, then Democrats pushing this as a crisis demanding draconian countermeasures have a monumental problem, as do journalists who jumped on the ‘burning planet’ bandwagon without questioning anything about it.

It’s easy to trace the lineage of Gore’s accusation and spot where its source changes. In a May 8, 2010 article for The New Republic (full text reproduced here), he says, (bold emphasis added)

The largest carbon polluters have, for the last 17 years, sought to manipulate public opinion with a massive and continuing propaganda campaign… It is a game plan spelled out in one of their internal documents, which was leaked to an enterprising reporter, that stated: “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact.” In other words, they have mimicked the strategy pioneered by the tobacco industry…

At the 29 minute 10 second point of this January 2008 YouTube video, Gore (off camera) clearly says:

Exxon Mobil has funded 40 different front groups that have all been a part of a strategic persuasion campaign to, in their own words “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact.”

In his 2006 An Inconvenient Truth movie just before the 1 hour 13 minute point, he spells out “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” full screen in capital red letters, comparing it to the way tobacco industry executives hired ‘experts’ to confuse the public about the science of cigarette smoke. The companion book for the movie directly mentions his source on page 263 (bold emphasis added):

One of the internal memos prepared by this group to guide the employees they hired to run their disinformation campaign was discovered by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ross Gelbspan. Here was the group’s stated objective: to “reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact.”

(I put the misnomer of “Pulitzer winner” under an entertaining interrogation at The Daily Caller last December, and blogger Steve Milloy pointed out this error 14 years earlier, but that’s another story)

Ross Gelbspan had the movie’s memo quote and another memo phrase on pages 51-52 of his 2004 Boiling Point book:

One campaign… was crafted, according to its strategy papers, “to reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” and, more specifically, was designed to target “older, less-educated men . . . and young low-income-women” in districts that get their electricity from coal…

Gore’s familiarity with Gelbspan is evident in his August 15, 2004 NY Times review of the book, where he repeats the “reposition global warming” phrase. Gelbspan’s citation source was his own 1997 The Heat is On book, page 34:

This public relations firm clearly stated that the aim of the campaign was to ‘reposition global warming as theory rather than fact’…. the ICE campaign targeted “older, less-educated men and young low-income-women”

The earliest I can find when Gelbspan repeats words from the memos is a December 1995 NPR radio interview. Wikipedia describes the ICE campaign as a coal industry association’s PR effort, but doesn’t show the memos in complete context, a critical omission on the part of every single person who makes the corruption accusation while citing the memos as proof. It took me seven months to find them at an obscure Greenpeace archive scan page (click on thumbnails 10 and 17 to see the “reposition” and “Low-Income/Less-Educated phrases”, respectively). Rather than appearing to be a sinister top-down industry directive for skeptic scientists, they instead look like ordinary interoffice instructions. That’s probably why Gelbspan never shows them, the most he says about how he has them is “we got a copy of the strategy papers“, or that these were “internal strategy papers I obtained at the time“.

Obtained from whom?

The ‘source’ for the memos changes prior to December 1995. A July 8, 1991 New York Times article repeats the “reposition global warming” phrase, noting they had received the memos from the Sierra Club. A June 24, 1991 article in The Energy Daily is titled “Greenhouse Ads Target ‘Low-Income’ Women, ‘Less-Educated’ Men” (seen in this book page’s footnote reference), but I have not yet found an online version of the article. It’s plausible that it had the same source, considering the proximity of the articles’ dates, and a note by Gelbspan saying the ICE program was “exposed by a trade paper, The Energy Daily, … The National Journal, The Arizona Republic and The New York Times“.

A more troublesome citation of the memos is found in Al Gore’s own Earth in the Balance. No online preview is available at Google Books, so readers will read this in the actual book. On page 360 of my 1992 copy, Gore says (bold emphasis added):

Documents leaked from the National Coal Association to my office reveal…as follows: “People who respond most favorably to such statements are older, less-educated males from larger households, who are not typically active information-seekers… another possible target is younger, lower-income women…”

In order to counter entrenched interests like this one, we will have to rely on the ability of an educated citizenry to recognize propaganda for what it is.

Gore left himself no wiggle room in the 2004 NY Times book review I mentioned above, when he clearly stated, “… Gelbspan first encountered the issue as a reporter nine years ago…” That’s 1995. Earth in the Balance was published in June 1992. It’s possible Gore received the memos around the same time in 1991 as the reporters at the NY Times and The Energy Daily.

His call for “educated citizenry to recognize propaganda” may have stemmed from problems surrounding praise of his college professor Roger Revelle in pages 4-6 of Earth in the Balance. Gore prominently described how Revelle introduced him to the idea of global warming, but during 1992, Revelle essentially recanted his long-held climate assessments in an article co-authored with skeptic scientist Dr S Fred Singer, as described in a 2006 American Thinker article.

More appearance problems arise, considering how Ross Gelbspan began promulgating his accusation at the Ozone Action enviro-advocacy group, which itself was the target of Fred Singer’s criticisms about their cries to ban CFCs. From that time onward, his general fossil fuel funding accusation against Singer has continued unabated.  And unquestioned.

Hard scrutiny of the overall global warming issue never yields nice neat answers, it prompts ever-increasing questions. Among those, we all should ask why people who accuse skeptic scientists of corruption can’t keep their stories straight.

Russell Cook’s collection of writings on this issue can be seen at “The ’96-to-present smear of skeptic scientists.” You may also follow him at Twitter via @questionAGW