Thursday, December 31, 2015

While Fighting Regulation, "Big Oil" Braced For Global Warming And Planned Accordingly

Big Oil Braced For Global Warming While It Fought Regulations

Amie Liebermann and Susanne Rust
December 31, 2015

A few weeks before seminal climate change talks in Kyoto back in 1997, Mobil Oil took out a bluntly worded advertisement in the New York Times and Washington Post.
“Let’s face it: The science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil,” the ad said. “Scientists cannot predict with certainty if temperatures will increase, by how much and where changes will occur.”
One year earlier, though, engineers at Mobil Oil were concerned enough about climate change to design and build a collection of exploration and production facilities along the Nova Scotia coast that made structural allowances for rising temperatures and sea levels.
“An estimated rise in water level, due to global warming, of 0.5 meters may be assumed” for the 25-year life of the Sable gas field project, Mobil engineers wrote in their design specifications. The project, owned jointly by Mobil, Shell and Imperial Oil (a Canadian subsidiary of Exxon), went online in 1999; it is expected to close in 2017.
The United States has never ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse emissions.
A joint investigation by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Energy and Environmental Reporting Project and the Los Angeles Times earlier detailed how one company, Exxon, made a strategic decision in the late 1980s to publicly emphasize doubt and uncertainty regarding climate change science even as its internal research embraced the growing scientific consensus.
An examination of oil industry records and interviews with current and former executives shows that Exxon’s two-pronged strategy was widespread within the industry during the 1990s and early 2000s.
As many of the world’s major oil companies — including Exxon, Mobil and Shell — joined a multimillion-dollar industry effort to stave off new regulations to address climate change, they were quietly safeguarding billion-dollar infrastructure projects from rising sea levels, warming temperatures and increasing storm severity.
From the North Sea to the Canadian Arctic, the companies were raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from increasing coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines and roads in a warming and buckling Arctic.
The industry contends that the difference between its public relations effort and its internal decision-making was not a contradiction, but a strategy to protect its business from misguided federal regulations while taking into account the possibility that the climate change predictions were valid.
“During planning and construction of major engineering and infrastructure projects, it is standard practice to take into account many types of risks both short-term and long-term, likely and unlikely,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, which merged in 1999. “These risks would naturally include a range of environmental conditions, some of which could be associated with climate change.”

The gas platform "Troll" is the world's largest concrete construction, standing 1,548.6 feet high. In this 1995 photo, a boat tows the platform from Stavanger in Western Norway to its position in the North Sea. (Associated Press)

By the late 1980s, calls by scientists and environmentalists to limit fossil fuel emissions were gaining traction. A growing scientific consensus was emerging, suggesting a link between climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, and a concern that those changes could cause global upheaval — from warming temperatures to rising sea levels and melting glaciers.
Governments across the globe took heed.
In 1988, Democratic Sen. Timothy Wirth of Colorado called a congressional hearing on the topic, and James Hansen, a NASA scientist, asserted “with 99% confidence” that global warming was occurring. That same year, the United Nations formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to examine its future impact.
Facing a growing environmental and political movement, a collection of energy companies, primarily from the coal sector, created the Global Climate Coalition to fight impending climate change regulations.
The group approached the American Petroleum Institute for funding and support in the early 1990s.
William O’Keefe, executive vice president of the Petroleum Institute at the time, delivered. The major oil companies, he recalled, decided “something has to be done.”
By 1993, he was sitting on the board, and within a few years, he was chairman. He brought with him support from the trade group, as well as individual trade group members, including Exxon, Mobil, Shell and others.
For the next 10 years, the coalition, whose annual revenue peaked at about $1.5 million before Kyoto, spent heavily on lobbying and public relations campaigns. As part of the effort, it distributed a video to hundreds of journalists, the White House and several Middle Eastern oil-producing countries suggesting that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were beneficial for crop production, and could be the solution to world hunger.
The coalition’s campaign emphasized the uncertainty surrounding climate change science, and warned of dire economic consequences for consumers should regulations on the industry be enacted.
Two recent papers published in the journal Nature Climate Change and in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that the coalition effort helped polarize public discourse on climate change.
“The ramifications of this multiyear effort by these funders are immensely important,” said Justin Farrell, a sociologist at Yale University and author of the studies, which looked at how the industry’s messaging affected the public debate. Their influence explains, he added, why the issue went from being bipartisan to polarizing.
O’Keefe said no one in the coalition denied the existence of global warming, but there was uncertainty about how well the models could project its future impact.
What coalition members felt certain about, he said, was that any government-mandated emission reductions would have “a clear negative impact,” including unemployment, higher energy prices and a drop in the U.S. standard of living.
When it came to their own investments, though, coalition members relied on scientific projections — from rising sea levels to thawing permafrost — to design and protect multibillion-dollar investments in pipelines, gas developments and offshore oil rigs.
O’Keefe, who is now chief executive of the George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative think tank that focuses on science and policy issues, contends that there was nothing inconsistent in the industry’s actions. “Companies always take into account a range of possible outcomes” before making billion-dollar investments, he said, and they didn’t “dismiss the potential of increased warming.”

Shell Oil announced in 1989 that it was raising its "Troll" North Sea natural gas platform a meter or two in anticipation of climbing sea levels caused by climate change. (Morten Hval / Associated Press)

In 1989, before Shell Oil joined the Global Climate Coalition, the company announced it was redesigning a $3-billion North Sea natural gas platform that it had been developing for years.
The reason it gave: Sea levels were going to rise as a result of global warming.
The original design called for the platform to sit 30 meters above the ocean’s surface, but the company decided to raise it by a meter or two.
The company’s then-chief offshore engineer, Chris Graham, said rising sea levels and increasing wave heights were “really showing” during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the company was taking them seriously. A rash of storms and monster waves that had battered the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico during those years was particularly concerning, and engineers wondered whether climate change might be behind it.
“The tipoff to there being changes came from hurricanes,” said Bob Bea, another Shell offshore engineer at the time who also worked for the global engineering firm Bechtel. “Even back in those days ... hurricane intensities were changing.”
In 1994, representatives from the oil industry, insurance companies and several North American and European governments formed a quasi-governmental organization called Waves and Storms of the North Atlantic Group to determine whether climate change was behind the worsening weather.
The group concluded that if carbon dioxide levels continued to climb, there’d be “moderate increases of surges along the North Sea coast and of wave heights in the North Atlantic.”

That same year, industry engineers submitted a document to European authorities on the construction of the Europipe, a natural gas pipeline leading from a North Sea offshore platform to the German coastline, via the ecologically fragile Wadden Sea.
In it, the engineers noted that sea levels had risen over the last century, and suggested there could be a “considerable increase of the frequency of storms as a result of a climate change.” They concluded that although climate change was a “most uncertain parameter,” their pipeline designs should include protections against its impact.
The Europipe was jointly operated and owned by a group of companies, including Shell, Exxon, Conoco, Total and the biggest investor, Norway’s Statoil. They included climate change protections in their design specifications in part to convince German authorities to give them the go-ahead, according to Romke Bijker, a Dutch engineer who co-wrote the design specifications.
“We had to think at the time, what are the most important aspects we have to include if we look 50 years ahead,” he said.
By the mid-1990s, though, Shell had joined the Global Climate Coalition, and with its partners was publicly questioning the science behind climate change and casting doubt on its projected impact.
“There has been a great deal of speculation about a potential sea level rise,” the coalition said in a 1995 mission statement obtained by Greenpeace. But, the statement continued, “most scientists question the predictions of a dangerous melting of Greenland or Antarctic ice caps.”
In a section on the science of sea level projections, the document concluded that warmer air temperatures could actually “increase snowfall, decreasing the likelihood of sea level rise due to polar ice cap melting.”
Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, declined recently to comment on the company’s actions two decades ago. However, he said Shell recognized the “importance of the climate challenge and the critical role energy has in determining quality of life for people across the world.”
Shell left the Global Climate Coalition in 1998 after the Kyoto agreement had been effectively derailed.

The Rowan Gorilla V jackup oil rig is silhouetted in the evening light near Sable Island. (Peter Parsons / Herald)

During this period, Mobil Oil (now part of Exxon Mobil) considered climate change when designing its Sable gas development off Nova Scotia.
Big storms, monster waves and sea level rise were “all part of the discussion,” said Bassem Eid, author of the report. Eid’s firm, Maclaren Plansearch, was hired by Mobil to conduct the company’s environmental assessment for the Canadian government.
“I used the engineering standards of the day to incorporate potential impacts of Global Warming on sea-level rise,” Eid said in an email. “It was a hot topic in the early 1990s.”
Regulators and engineers at the time were beginning to incorporate such planning into other large infrastructure projects, including a bridge designed to span Northumberland Strait from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. Climate change was discussed as project plans were assembled, according to regulators and contractors who worked on the project.
In public, though, the coalition partners, including Exxon’s CEO, Lee Raymond, said that the impact of climate change was uncertain, and that even if the models did prove to be accurate, the effects from warming were not imminent.
“It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now,” Raymond told a 1997 gathering of energy executives at the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing.
: :
By the early 2000s, the Canadian government explicitly required companies to consider climate change in their operations.
Exxon Mobil’s Canadian affiliate, Imperial, addressed the effect that climate warming could have on its plan to build pipelines, gas processing and separation facilities, airstrips, helipads and barge landings in the Northwest Territory’s Mackenzie Delta. Its conclusion: very little.
In a 28-page report examining the effects of climate change on the project, Imperial concluded that although “uncertainty exists” and “climate change could affect the northern environment,” those changes were unlikely to have any meaningful impact.
However, at a public hearing on the project, an Imperial engineer told an audience that “the project generally accepts that climate warming is occurring and that’s generally included in the design calculations.” At other hearings, company engineers noted that Imperial had incorporated climate change projections into its plans.
During this same period, Exxon Mobil provided money to organizations questioning that science, including more than $200,000 in 2004 to the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, which supported the work of Willie Soon, a well-known climate change skeptic. Between 1998 and 2005, Exxon Mobil’s foundation provided more than $15 million to similar organizations.
“There is nothing inconsistent about Exxon Mobil managing potential environmental risks while speaking publicly about the limits of scientific knowledge and advocating for effective public policy approaches,” said Exxon Mobil’s spokesman, Jeffers, referring to all of the company’s projects at the time, including those in Canada. “Any suggestion to the contrary would be inaccurate and a distortion of the company’s position.”
When Shell left the Global Climate Coalition in 1998, it was followed by Ford Motor Co., Daimler Chrysler, Texaco, Southern Co. and General Motors. The organization disbanded in 2002.
O’Keefe, the coalition’s former chairman, said he had recommended it be shut down because members were “taking a lot of heat” for a job they had already accomplished — effectively quashing any regulation that would have limited fossil fuel use.
Today, all of the major oil companies publicly acknowledge the risks of climate change.
In the mid-2000s, the American Petroleum Industry began funding a project by the National Center for Atmospheric Research to better understand the relationship between climate change and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2007, Exxon Mobil disclosed to shareholders — for the first time — the potential risks that climate change posed to its bottom line.
“What is most unfortunate,” said Farrell, the Yale sociologist, “is that polarization around climate change ... was manufactured by those whose financial and political interests were most threatened.” Even today, he added, that polarization has crippled any hopes for bipartisan policy solutions.
Meanwhile, the sea level along the Nova Scotia coast, as Mobil Oil’s engineers originally forecast, is indeed rising — and at rates higher than the global average.
Michael Phillis, Melissa Masako Hirsch, Elah Feder and Asaf Shalev contributed to this report.
About this story:
Over the last year, the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, with the Los Angeles Times, has been researching the gap between Exxon Mobil’s public position and its internal planning on the issue of climate change. As part of that effort, reporters reviewed hundreds of documents housed in archives in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and at the University of Texas. They also reviewed scientific journals and interviewed dozens of experts, including former Exxon Mobil employees. This is the third in a series of occasional articles.
The Energy and Environmental Reporting Project is supported by the Energy Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Lorana Sullivan Foundation and the Tellus Mater Foundation. The funders have no involvement in or influence over the articles produced by project fellows in collaboration with The Times.
Additional credits: Digital producer: Sean Greene. Lead photo caption: The Dartmouth ferry passes by the Rowan Gorilla V, left, as it and the Galaxy II sit in Halifax Harbor. (Eric Wynne / Herarld)

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162 Top Experts Provide New Ranking Of American Presidents: Lincoln #1 And Obama #18

New ranking of U.S. presidents puts Lincoln at No. 1, Obama at 18; Kennedy judged most overrated
By Brandon Rottinghaus and Justin Vaughn, Washington Post
February 16, 2015
About the survey: 391 members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents & Executive Politics section, the premier organization of experts of the American presidency, were invited to complete the online survey, which was administered by Brandon Rottinghaus of the University of Houston and Justin S. Vaughn of Boise State University. 162 surveys were completed online between May and November 2014. For more information, please contact the authors.
Although it has been celebrated officially since 1879, Presidents’ Day serves essentially two purposes: a patriotic excuse for retail discounts and an irresistible occasion to engage in armchair analysis of the nation’s presidents.
To add some systematic evidence to the perennial conversation, in 2014 we surveyed 162 members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents & Executive Politics section and asked them to rate the U.S. presidents. Here is what we found.
The most highly ranked presidents contained many of the usual suspects. Abraham Lincoln was rated the greatest president, with an average score of 95 out of 100, followed by George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The rest in the top 10 were Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson. Those presidents with a score of more than 50 are graphed below.
This list is similar to past lists, except that both Clinton and Eisenhower crack the top 10.
We also asked respondents which president should be added to Mount Rushmore, and Franklin Roosevelt was the overwhelming favorite.  Almost two-thirds of respondents chose him. The next highest vote-getters, Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, were supported by only 5 percent of respondents.
Who were the worst presidents? James Buchanan was the lowest ranked, and was joined at the bottom by Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and William Harrison. Presidents with shortened terms tend to fare worse, on average, as in other rankings.
The views of these scholars differed from the views of Americans in some interesting ways. For example, in 2010, a plurality of respondents would have put John F. Kennedy on Mount Rushmore, followed by Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt. The Kennedy mystique looms larger in the public mind than for most scholars.
Indeed, when asked about which presidents were most overrated and underrated, our survey found Kennedy to be the most overrated, followed by Reagan and Andrew Jackson.
The most underrated? Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush and Truman. All of these underrated presidents, to some degree, were consensus-builders. They also all managed international conflicts, something that most of the top 10 great presidents did.
How does Barack Obama fare? Scholars had a mixed view of him. Obama ranks 18th overall and, among the modern presidents (those since FDR), he is in the middle of the pack. He ranks behind not only Clinton and Eisenhower but also Reagan, Johnson, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush.  Obama ranks ahead of Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush (who was ranked 35 overall).
Perhaps because of the era in which he governs, Obama was considered the second most polarizing president (after George W. Bush). Of the 19 presidents dating to Teddy Roosevelt, Obama was rated 13th in terms of legislative skill, 11th for diplomatic skill and 10th for integrity and military skill. Consistent with this, only 2 percent of respondents suggested adding Obama to Mount Rushmore.
One caveat that comes with presidential rankings is that even scholars appear to be influenced by ideology. Consistent with other research, we found predictable ideological differences in views of Obama and George W. Bush.
Of course, it is too early to fully assess Obama or even Bush. History is always shaping and reshaping the legacy of former presidents. As in the case of Eisenhower and Clinton, presidential legacies can improve with time. This seems especially likely when presidents serve more than one term, preside over economic prosperity, and effectively handle international conflict.
For Obama in particular, the next two years may therefore prove crucial in determining whether his legacy will put him among the nation’s better presidents.

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Obama to announce new executive action on guns

By Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak, CNN


(CNN)President Barack Obama is expected to announce in the coming days a new executive action with the goal of expanding background checks on gun sales, people familiar with White House planning said.
Described as "imminent," the set of executive actions would fulfill a promise by the President to take further unilateral steps the White House says could help curb gun deaths.
    Plans for the action are not yet complete, and those familiar with the process warn that unforeseen circumstances could delay an announcement. But gun control advocates are expecting the new actions to be revealed next week, ahead of Obama's annual State of the Union address, set for January 12.
    The White House wouldn't comment directly on the exact timing or content of Obama's executive orders. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said that the President expected a set of recommendations on unilateral action to arrive at the beginning of the year.
    He said Obama was "expressing urgency" for a list of steps he can take on his own after high-profile incidents of gun violence at the end of this year.
    "It is complicated. That's why it's taken some time for our policy folks, our lawyers, and our expects to work through this and see what's possible," Schultz said.
    A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association said the group had no comment The group previously told CNN that Obama's "gun control agenda was rejected by Congress. Now, he is doing what he always does when he doesn't get his way, defying the will of the people and using executive action."
    The group said at the time that Obama had his "wish list of gun control," in California but "it didn't prevent the San Bernardino attack."
    "The fact is, the President's gun control agenda will only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to exercise their right to self-defense," NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.
    Gun control advocates and White House officials say the focus remains on the so-called "gun show loophole," which allows certain sellers of guns -- at gun shows and elsewhere -- to avoid conducting background checks before making sales.
    Months after the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre that claimed 26 victims, the then-Democratic majority Senate rejected a similar proposal.
    Congress would still need to act in order to make background checks fully universal. But advocates and administration lawyers have struck upon a provision in the law that could allow for Obama to expand the background check requirement to additional sellers.
    Federal law currently requires all individuals "engaged in the business" of selling guns to obtain a license and conduct background checks on buyers. But others who only make occasional sales or are selling firearms from a personal collection are exempted from the background check requirement.
    Gun control advocates say Obama could take action himself by issuing a regulation that provides expanded guidance on who falls under the "in the business" standard.
    One group, the Michael Bloomberg-helmed Everytown for Gun Safety, has provided recommendations to the White House that include creating a test for assessing who must become licensed to continue selling guns. Factors would include volume and speed of sales, and whether or not the seller relies on advertising to sell guns.
    The group also recommended Obama define a gun in a "personal collection" as having been in the seller's possession for at least a year.
    Before leaving for his winter vacation in Hawaii, Obama met with Bloomberg at the White House to discuss gun control.
    Aside from the background check provision, people familiar with Obama's plans say his new gun control announcement will include new funding for government agencies to better enforce existing gun laws.

    The Bible's Apparent Promise Of Armageddon Is Conservative Xtianity's Excuse To Do Nothing

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    Alan: People who selfishly obssess over their own personal salvation look out on "the prophecy of Armageddon" and immediately assume Consuming Conflagration is baked in the cake.

    Why bother with attempts to improve the Social Contract or Body Politic if it's all destined to blow up in our faces -- and "by the look of it, sooner rather than later."

    The presumption of terrestrial Armageddon instills egotistical determination to make sure that "I" have made my subjective, completely personal peace with God... and "there's an end to it."

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    Islamist jihad arises from a similar impulse to consider The End Time an excuse to ignore history and to destroy the "detritus" of civilization, thus making straight the way for "kingdom come."

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    Those who are obsessed with personal salvation assurance - a very powerful motivator for people who believe in Eternal Damnation's traditional torments -- use Armageddon as an excuse to channel all pscyhological, social and devotional energy into the private project of personal salvation and -- by extension -- salvation for family and friends.

    In effect, fixation with personal salvation is narrow -- and narrowing -- tribalism at its worst.

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    Seinfeld And Obama Drive A '63 Corvette For Coffee At The White House

    Alan: My 18 year old Danny says Obama's next job will be Chief Justice or stand-up comedian.
    He would be brilliant at either.

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    President Obama and Jerry Seinfeld drove a classic 1963 Corvette Stingray around the White House grounds for the comedian's online show.
    President Obama and Jerry Seinfeld drove a classic 1963 Corvette Stingray around the White House grounds for the comedian's online show. 
    They chat, they joke, they drive a classic 1963 Corvette. When President Obama appears on Jerry Seinfeld's online show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, their conversation topics range from nothing to the sanity of world leaders and the merits of profanity.
    Much of the talk also centers on what it's like for a guy to live in the Oval Office, the White House and a position of extreme power. A recurring theme: how a regular person adjusts to both the privilege and the stress that come with the presidency.
    "Bad stuff, or stupid stuff, is happening constantly, right?" Obama says. "Every day. So you have to be able to just make fun of a lot of that, like: 'That was even dumber and more annoying than usual.' That's when cursing is really useful."
    When Seinfeld asks Obama, "How many world leaders do you think are just completely out of their mind?" the president answers, "A pretty sizable percent."
    The pair were never allowed to leave the White House complex, although Obama did take a turn driving the Stingray — which bore a bumper sticker reading, "My other car is a 5 ton bulletproof limousine."

    You can watch the episode here.

    Alan: Watch this clip 'til the very end, a process that unfortunately makes you endure an obnoxious automobile ad. But take heart! There's even more to come! In addition to Obama's comedic "tag-line," the follow-up episode of "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" offers superb repartee between Seinfeld and Stephen Colbert.
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