Disinformation Over Data with Amy Westervelt and Emily Atkin

In this episode, part of our season long exploration of climate data, Jacquelyn Gill discusses the long history of fossil fuel industry-perpetuated climate disinformation with investigative journalists Amy Westervelt and Emily Atkin, and how they use data to hold these companies accountable.

Show Notes

You can find both Amy and Emily on Twitter:

Amy Westervelt: @amywestervelt
Emily Atkin: @emorwee

Check out Amy’s podcast Drilled and her website Drilled News, as well as Emily’s newsletter Heated for the latest on holding fossil fuel companies accountable.

Merchants of Doubt, from Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran, is one of the most comprehensive histories available for how industries have weaponized the language of science against smoking, environmental protection, and climate change. You can read the book and watch the documentary based on the book.

#ExxonKnew is the latest project from Oreskes, that extensively documents how Exxon knew about the disastrous effects of climate change for years and still actively pushed against regulations that would have lessened its impacts.

For more on Exxon using cartoon characters, see this article from Amy in Heated.

This article from Drilled News goes in depth on Ivy Lee.

An archived version of the Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change can be found here, since it is no longer available on the main EPA website.

Please consider becoming a patron to help us pay our producer, Justin Schell, our transcriber, Joe Stormer, and our social media coordinator, Katherine Peinhardt, who are all working as volunteers. Your support helps us not only to stay sustainable, but also to grow.

https://www.patreon.com/warmregards

Find Warm Regards on the web and on social media:
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A full transcript of the episode is below.

Jacquelyn
When we were first planning this season, I asked my partner, “If we do a season all about climate data, what would you want to know?” Now, as some context here, he’s a writer, an English professor, and a graphic designer, but he’s also married to me, so I expected questions about the newest climate models, or which IPCC scenario was most likely. Instead, he turned to me and asked, “alright, if we have so much data about climate change, why don’t more people believe in it?”

He’s not wrong. While public belief in climate change has been increasing in recent years, it’s still lagging behind the science. You may have heard that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are warming the planet. The first study identifying this consensus came out sixteen years ago, but as recently as a 2016 Pew survey, only 27% of respondents said that they think that “almost all scientists say climate change is human-caused.”

That’s a pretty big disconnect between what scientists know, and what the rest of the public believes. And this isn’t because scientists aren’t getting the word out. Way back on June 23, 1988, NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified at a US congressional hearing that he could say, with 99% confidence, that a recent sharp increase in global temperatures was the result of human activity. This basic message hasn’t changed in the thirty years since — we know a lot more about the details, but the overall message has stayed the same. And yet in the US, public belief has lagged behind this fact, for decades.

And that’s because for a long time now, the fossil fuel industry has been propped up by well-organized, well funded disinformation campaigns that have actively worked to undermine and delay climate action. One of the groups behind these efforts is the Heartland Institute, which has been around since 1984. You might recognize the name — it’s a conservative think tank that worked with Phillip Morris to discredit the health risks of secondhand smoke and to lobby against smoking bans. These days, they’re largely known for holding conferences of climate deniers, the most recent of which was in 2019 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. They call these meetings the “international conferences on climate change.” If that sounds a lot like the IPCC, that’s by design — one of their goals is to make it harder for non-experts to find trustworthy information.

I remember the day when I got my first mail from the Heartland Institute. I was one of 350,000 educators in the US who received a book and accompanying DVD, entitled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming. I headed straight to the recycle bin with my copy, feeling a weird mix of emotions. On the one hand, I felt like I had made it in a weird way — like Sherlock Holmes getting his first note from Moriarty. The game was afoot. I was also amused that somebody, somewhere, apparently thought I might pop a DVD into my laptop, grab a sandwich, and just toss out everything I knew about earth science, basic physics, and you know, history.

I was also really, really pissed off. At that point, I’d left a trail of grant rejections behind me, and we had crowd-funded several of my students’ projects. Crowdfunding sounds glamorous, but it’s like the academic equivalent of passing the hat. At my university, we were in the middle of a battle to keep lab facilities from being shut down due to budget cuts, or to make sure technicians were replaced when they retired. And here was the Heartland Institute, sending me glossy propaganda. Clearly, they had money to burn.

I’d known for a while that the opposition to climate action was well-funded and well-organized. But it really struck home as I threw that book into the recycle bin. I had been holding, in my hands, a small piece of the resources that they were willing to commit to fight climate action. They must have known that the vast majority of these copies would end up in the trash. And they did it anyway.

This episode is all about how climate data have often taken a back seat, because of lies, spin, and propaganda. A lot of what we know about these efforts is thanks to the hard work of investigative journalists, activists, historians of science, and others who have shed light on these disinformation campaigns, and why they’ve been so effective at delaying action on climate change. If you want to learn more, we’ve got links in our show notes to books, podcasts and other resources for you to check out. And as a quick note, when we recorded the conversation for today’s show, Ramesh was off on a secret mission, but he’ll be back for our next episode, when we talk about how scientists and others can fight back against these kinds of efforts. I should also note that this episode does contain some salty language.

Welcome to Warm Regards. I’m Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine. I’m excited to introduce Amy Westervelt and Emily Atkin, two investigative journalists who have played a big role in holding the fossil fuel industry accountable. Amy, Emily, welcome to the show. Can you tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you work on?

AmySure! I’m Amy Westervelt, and I’m a climate journalist and podcaster. I do the podcast Drilled, and I also have a podcast network called Critical Frequency. And then I also have a website called Drilled News and then also write for various other outlets.

Emily
I’m Emily Atken, I do what Amy does except less of it. I am also a climate reporter and I guess a podcaster now. I just started a podcast called Heated, which is named after my newsletter, which is called Heated. And both are about climate change, but yeah, just climate journalist, that’s it.

Jacquelyn
Thanks to work by you and others, we now know that there’s a long history of deliberate efforts to undermine the science of climate change, with the ultimate goal of preventing climate action. Emily, can you talk to us a bit about who is exactly behind these disinformation campaigns, and what their ultimate goals are?

Emily
When you ask who is behind disinformation about climate science, well, I think that if you go back to the late 80s, when scientists started sounding the alarm on climate change, you see a large amount of evidence showing that Republicans and Democrats both took the issue seriously. And as soon as scientists started to sound the alarm, they started working together to do something about it. And then all of a sudden, a couple years later, or even, you know, maybe a year later, something changed. And that happened right after this group of oil and automobile companies formed this coalition, the Global Climate Coalition. They realized that doing something about climate change meant putting regulations on oil, gas, and coal. And so they’re like, well, we don’t want that because that’s going to be bad for business. So they started to put together a strategy to stop that. And their strategy was to spread misinformation, to start casting doubt on the science. They couldn’t just do that on their own. They’re oil companies, they’re not PR companies. They hire PR companies to craft that strategy. PR companies are happy to get paid by some of the richest people on earth. They don’t care about the morality of the strategy. And the strategy just so happens to be play up uncertainty, use the language of science against itself to make it sound like there’s more doubt than there really is. And you see pretty soon after that coalition was formed that Republicans stop being good faith players and start spreading misinformation. And that’s sort of, that’s where it’s gone from there. That’s, that’s sort of how it’s always been. PR firms, fossil fuel companies, and companies with business interests that rely on fossil fuels, spreading disinformation to keep power concentrated in the hands of people who will work for them politically and keep there being no climate regulations so that they can keep making money.

Amy
Right. There was this like very key thing too with, with Exxon Mobil in particular and what the documents show is that they really went from thinking, “Hey, if there’s going to be regulation on this, we should have a seat at the table cause then we’ll be able to influence regulation in our favor” to “crush all regulation.” And yeah, what Emily’s saying about really weaponizing the language of science against itself, it’s been such an effective strategy and they’ve done it for years. Like, you still see it where they’re like, well the models are uncertain and it leverages a lack of scientific literacy in the public too, right? Because if you like read scientific studies, you know that no scientist ever says anything’s 100% certain. But most of the public doesn’t know that. So it’s very easy for them to highlight, “oh, “there’s only X percent certainty that this model is exactly how it will play out in the future.”

Jacquelyn
There were a lot of important players involved in these marketing efforts through the years. Folks might be familiar with the roots of some of these campaigns in Big Tobacco’s efforts to downplay the risks of smoking, and that goes as far back as the 50’s. Amy, in season three of Drilled, you go back even further than that, to the turn of the 20th century, and a guy named Ivy Lee. Can you tell a little bit about him and what his role was?

Amy
Yes, actually I was, so, I, I didn’t know this, that like the, he was the very first publicist, his name was Ivy Ledbetter Lee and he started working for Standard Oil in 1914. The whole entire industry of corporate PR really came about to deal with labor. There were labor strikes and there were journalists that were being very pesky in pointing out how badly corporations were behaving and that’s sort of the context that Ivy Lee comes about in. And he opens a PR firm and he starts working for coal companies and railroad companies and then the Rockefellers and Standard Oil are having some bad PR problems at that point in time because of their whole, you know, antitrust thing, but also because they’re really in favor of like violent suppression of labor strikes. So he starts working for them and that becomes sort of a lifelong assignment for him. And he, at one point, ends up going over to Germany to consult with one of their one of their customers, which is a giant German chemical manufacturer. And I mean, in the course of this ends up providing like PR advice to Hitler and Goebbels! I don’t think people understand like how long the oil industry in particular has been kind of developing the tactics that it uses now. And Ivy Lee’s the guy who came, who actually created the American Petroleum Institute. During World War I, he helped to pull together a group of all of the oil companies. And their whole purpose was just to make sure that there was like fuel getting to the front and all of that stuff. And Ivy Lee, was kind of like, “Hey, if we can do this during wartime, like imagine how much we could get done if we coordinated for various things that are just like good for the industry.” So, yeah, they’ve been around forever.

Jacquelyn
What really strikes me is just how insidious some of these efforts were — Amy, I was surprised to read your work about how Exxon targets kids using popular cartoon characters. It’s like these companies were laying the groundwork for the social license to burn fossil fuels from a really young age — even depicting fossil fuels as a totally normalized, even essential part of our daily lives.

Amy
The thing that fascinates me the most about their targeting of kids is not even so much the stuff that they try to do with shifting how people understand the science as it is with the sort of social studies and economics kind of aspect where it’s like, you know, I don’t know, like in these little comic books that they did, for example, I wrote about in Heated, it’s like they’re not talking about climate change or science or anything like that. They’re just sort of planting the idea that like, anything other than fossil fuel energy is like non-economic and also technically unfeasible. And then like I found this old series that Phillips Petroleum commissioned. And it’s narrated by William Shatner, it’s like the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen. But it’s like the whole point is to teach high school students about how the American economy works. And it’s really, it’s super, super subtle, but it’s very much like hammering the point that, you know, you can never consider any decision that doesn’t put economic impacts first. And it’s sort of like constantly centering the oil industry as like sort of the center of the economy and like, it sounds silly and like, okay, whatever cares about these one-off examples. But like this Phillips series that came out, it was like mid 70s to late 70s, more than half of American high school students got that as part of their economics curriculum. So then I’m like, shit man, like a lot of the people that are in charge right now and like have the power to make decisions about big things, this is like how they learned about economics. It’s not only that, but still I mean . . .

Emily
And do you think that the fossil fuel industry didn’t know that that was exactly, that was going to be the exact outcome of investing so much in educational materials? They’ve known the risks about climate activism and about people knowing about climate change and what that would mean for their business for decades. They invested so much time, energy, and money into buying social license to operate, which is such an important term. And it’s what the PR does. It’s what the educational materials starting from a very young age do. They buy social license to operate in the minds of us from when we’re very young so that when we’re growing up, we’re just taught, well of course we have the fossil fuel industry. It’s necessary for our survival and everything that we have that’s good is because of them and climate change isn’t even that real, and I’ve learned that in school since I was a small child because the fossil fuel industry paid for that. Like they have created and fostered a society that will think in the way that they want to. And that’s not just something, you know, Amy and I are just pulling out of our asses. That’s from their own documents that have leaked and been released.

Amy
Right. This is the thing that I see like really underpinning a lot of the conversations about climate policy too. It’s like even people who think that we need to act urgently on climate change, like a large number of people will say that we have to include the fossil fuel industry in those conversations. And that in order to get a real solution that works, that you have to have everybody at the table and blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, are you fucking kidding me? Like they have routinely flipped that table over and like flipped us all off and stormed out. You know, like, it’s just ridiculous to me to think that, that yeah, they still do have, I mean, you know, the strategy worked. They still do have an enormous amount of social license to do whatever they want.

Emily
They’ve demonstrated over and over that they’ve never demonstrated that they are willing to do anything that’s not in the number one business interest of their companies.

Jacquelyn
There’s a lot to unpack here, but what I’m taking from all of this is that these companies are incredibly well organized, and they’ve had a big hand in controlling the conversation. But also, with all these resources at their disposal, they’re able to be really strategic, and change their tactics really quickly in response to environmentalists. How is this changing the playing field? What are the challenges for activists?

Emily
Shell has gamed out different scenarios for how the future could look in terms of climate activism. And they gamed out exactly what has been happening now with the rise of an activist like Greta to get people on the streets and to start turning the public’s attention against fossil fuel companies. And that there’d be lawsuits similar to big tobacco lawsuits. And that they would have to buy social license to operate, you know, that that would be like, they’ve been preparing for this for years and we’re all like, what?

Amy
That report that Emily is talking about it was in 1998. So like that’s how much of a jump they had.

Jacquelyn
And while all this is happening, there’s been this common refrain within the climate movement, which is that we have to stop preaching to the choir, and focus more on converting people. Except, it sounds like maybe the choir needs some practice, because we don’t know the lyrics as well as we should.

Emily
The choir doesn’t know shit, I’m really sorry to say that, but like the one thing I learned from starting the newsletter, which is exclusively read by people who care about climate change and a couple of Shell corporate PR people, just giving them information about the history of oil industry, PR and, and misinformation. Those people are learning so much that they didn’t know before. I get so many emails from people who are like, “Oh my God.” And that information makes them more confident in talking about climate change at the kitchen table with their climate denier uncle or just like their dad who doesn’t care about climate change really. That’s actually scientifically shown that the best way to promote action on climate change is simply to talk about climate change. But people who care about climate change haven’t known enough to talk about it confidently. It’s just teaching the choir what the words to the songs are because they didn’t know for a long time.

Jacquelyn
Right — before we can even get to the complex harmonies, we need to learn how to read music. It’s like climate activists are the glee club made up of plucky misfits from the underfunded rural high school going up against the team from the rich suburbs at the state championships. They’ve been training for this for their entire lives. We can’t take them on without a lot of practice.

[music]

Jacquelyn
There’s evidence that the fossil fuel industry has realized that their usual playbook just isn’t going to work anymore. They were able to significantly delay climate action, but now the cat’s out of the bag — they can’t just keep attacking the credibility of the science of climate change. But they haven’t just given up. So, Emily, how has the fossil fuel industry shifted the way that they engage in this disinformation work? What sorts of things should we be looking out for now?

Emily
Well, the fossil fuel industry also accepts the science of climate change, you guys. You won’t find an oil company that’s willing to cast, publicly cast doubt on the science of climate change. What you’ll find now is that they’re trying to say that they’re part of the solution. And that that solution is in natural gas, which, you know, they claim is a “cleaner” fossil fuel. And that it’s in the investments that they’re making in carbon capture and in other algae biofuels, if you’re Exxon. And that they’re leading the way in working on the solution and that’s why you see the large ad campaigns, PR campaigns, going back to Amy’s point about PR, from the American Petroleum Institute called “Energy for Progress,” which mimics progressive branding. It has the same branding of our most progressive institutions. Its logo kind of looks like a NASA logo. And it shows people really happy, working together, working for clean air and basically when the reality is that listen, if we’re going to solve climate change, we have to rapidly ramp down the burning and production of fossil fuels, which they’re not doing. They’re just trying to say let’s use this other fossil fuel, which is still a fossil fuel, which is shown to, when there’s big leaks of methane, have as big a climate impact as burning coal. And then making a very, very small investment in a technology that does not exist. And then spending just as much money on that investment in publicizing that investment to, again, buy social license to operate.

The most important thing for oil companies right now is just buying enough PR so that in the majority of the public’s minds, they’re still necessary, we still need them. And they are an immovable part of our lives. And as long as they have that license, if climate activists move the goalposts, they will move them as well to meet that and just keep it in the minds of all of us that like they’re working on it, they’re doing a good job. Even if they’re not. Even if the evidence shows that they’re not doing shit, they’ll spend millions, hundreds of millions of dollars telling us that they are, and they’ll do a really good job convincing us. And not just the regular public, journalists, people with power to who are supposed to be the ones that call bullshit on stuff like this will be fooled because they’ve been fooled time and time again. That’s why we’ve had such a problem with journalists and media coverage of climate change is because journalists just like they get fooled by the fossil fuel industry. They don’t understand the power that, that, how they’re trying to be manipulated. And honestly, that’s been the most effective argument that I’ve made to other journalists to get them to cover climate change differently. I think Amy and I both have been, have been surprised at how successful we’ve been just challenging other journalists and being like, “do you realize that you’re being taken advantage of by a powerful industry and that your Journalism professor would be so disappointed in you?” And then some journalists were like, “Oh, crap.”

Jacquelyn
Yeah, that’s what got us decades of “fair and balanced,” both sides,” 50/50 climate reporting. Amy, what about you?

Amy
I have a good anecdotal story on that where like I did an interview with one of the E&E news outlets. And I mean, like within 10 minutes of it going online, the reporter got an email from a guy at a consulting group called FTI Consulting. And this, this relates to your question too, Jacquelyn, because there’s, there’s now this whole batch of like shady consulting firms that do the oil companies’ dirty work for them. Because actually it’s now bad, it’s kind of bad PR for PR firms to do work for the oil companies. So they’ve had to get like more creative with the firms that they use. And one of them is this group called FT Consulting. They run a bunch of fake energy blogs for various trade associations, which there again, or like another layer, they’re not transparent at all about who their members are, but we know that it’s all the big oil majors that are part of these oil trade associations too. But anyway, so this FTI guy called her up and was like, “Oh, you know, I can’t believe that you would interview Amy Westervelt. She’s not a journalist, she’s an activist” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and whatever. And so then she forwarded me his email with some questions that he thought she should have asked me. And so I saw the guy’s name And I recognized it from one of these fake energy blogs and I was like, “Oh, well, like, this guy is on Exxon’s payroll.” I’m like, you should know that, you know? And, and she was like, well, you know, he called my boss and like, you know, I might get fired over this. And they’re yelling at my boss now that, because I tweeted about this guy that, you know, he’s claiming that you doxxed him and it’s dangerous for his safety and blah, blah. I was like, yeah, cause they got caught. They’re freaking out because they got busted. And if they were really concerned about this guy’s safety, they would be calling me to take down whatever information I supposedly shared about him and not calling your boss and trying to get you fired. Like that’s the extent to which they’ll go to try to control the narrative in every possible way that they can. They have now had to say officially that they believe in climate science and put up climate change pages on their websites, but they’re still pulling all the same shit. They just have to hide it behind like two other organizations

Jacquelyn
There’s also a sort of bait-and-switch happening, too. I’m sure you’re familiar with Americans for Carbon Dividends, but some of our listeners might not be. It’s this Republican-led lobbying effort in favor of a carbon tax, which on the surface sounds great, right? You put a price on carbon, which companies then have to pay, and the idea is that it’s a disincentive for polluters, because it costs them money. Under the dividend model that carbon tax money would be shared among Americans — almost like a weird universal basic income. And Exxon in particular has been really into this idea, which on the surface sounds great. But buried in these agreements is that Exxon would be completely shielded from any lawsuits. So it would be immune from litigation in the same way that the gun industry is now. So when you see something like this, it sounds great on the surface, and you might be thinking, “Wow, fossil fuel companies are trying to rehabilitate themselves! They’ve owned up to what they’ve done,” but no, it’s still a completely calculated move on every level.

Amy
Yes, they’ve been trying to get this liability loophole forever. And the only other industries that have it are guns and nuclear. Of course a carbon tax that Exxon supports comes with a liability loophole. Although the Americans for Carbon Dividends has said that they’ve removed that from their proposal. Now it’s completely going to be worked back in as it makes its way through committee. Like they just basically bungled it and put it in too early and reporters caught it and like, you know, but the idea that like, that’s the end of that, that proposal is like, yeah, no way. We’re going to definitely see it again. That’s why I’m just like why do you keep trying to negotiate with these guys? They’re not going to put themselves out of business and like the idea, like even the carbon capture and algae stuff, it’s like less than 2% of their capital spend goes to anything other than fossil fuel production. You know, like, it’s just, it’s just bullshit.

[music]

Justin Schell
Hey everyone, this is Justin Schell, the producer for Warm Regards. As we explore the often unexpected stories behind climate data this season, we’re also sharing data stories from you, our listeners. This episode, we’re featuring a story from a science teacher who uses a wide variety of data to help her students better understand climate change.

Danielle Gianelos
Hello, my name is Danielle Gianelos. I’m an eighth grade science teacher from Howell Middle School South in Howell, New Jersey. Looking at climate change data is one of the integral parts of our unit on climate change and how humans might have impact climate change. We teach the students to use a strategy called the “I-Squared” strategy, where they identify patterns or trends in the data, and then they interpret that data. So we start our unit by looking at two separate graphs. The first graph is a carbon dioxide in the atmosphere graph from the years 1900 to 2000. And then the second graph that we look at is a temperature graph. And this is a temperature change in degrees Fahrenheit, again from the year 1900 to the year 2000.

And both of these graphs come from the United States EPA, A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change. And what we have the students do is look at each graph separately. So they look at both graphs and they just start by just looking at what they notice on the graph, very basic. And then we have them compare the two graphs. So we look to see are there any cause and effect relationships that they can see in the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? We have them also look to see if there’s any, maybe historical events that might’ve happened around times when there was a rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? And the kids have a lot of background knowledge, they’re able to look at things like the Industrial Revolution, and they’re able to really make these connections from their social studies classes. And then they look at the temperature graph and what they notice is that the trend is the same in both graphs. So that gets them really thinking before we begin this unit and really dive deeper into data.

Later on in the unit, we actually give data and different types of graphs related to things like coral bleaching. We look at populations of polar bears. We look at populations of different types of penguin species in Antarctica. We also look at carbon dioxide levels versus volcanic activities so that they can rule out maybe natural causes of climate change. They look at temperature versus solar activity. They look at other heat trapping gas levels in the atmosphere. We look at carbon emission sources in the industrial age. We look at US greenhouse emissions and sinks by economic sector. So many different things that the students look at. And then by the end of the unit, the children are asked to create a claim, evidence, reasoning, argument, using this data. So the students have to basically pick a side. Do they think that this rise in temperature over the past hundred years is caused by man-made causes or is it caused by natural causes? And what they do is they have to go back into all the data that we looked at and they have to pick their top three most convincing data points.

Schell
Inspired by Danielle’s data story and want to share yours with us? We’d love to hear it. You can leave us a voicemail by calling 586–930–5286 or record yourself and email it to us at ourwarmregards@gmail.com.

Jacquelyn
Before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you about climate data, which is the theme of our show this season. I’d love to hear a little bit from the two of you, as journalists, about how you interact with climate data or climate science broadly? As investigative journalists, you both come at the climate crisis from this angle of accountability for corporations that have played such an oversized role in fossil fuel emissions but also in delaying action on climate change. But what about the science of climate change? What role does data play in your work, if any?

Emily
I’m less interested in data, numbers, science about how bad the climate crisis is getting, that’s just not my space anymore. It used to be for sure, when I first started climate reporting, I was very focused on reporting on the minutiae of how the climate crisis was worsening. In what ways, what was it going to do, how was it going to affect X or X or this or all that. It didn’t interest me enough. And, for me, it didn’t interest my audience enough. So now I use, when I report on science, I report on published research that shows the strength of the science or, breadth of the manipulation that’s been happening by the fossil fuel industry. You know, when Amy and I talk about all these things that the fossil fuel industry has done, these are, it’s not just our research that shows that it’s the research of scientists that show that published in peer review journals. And you know, Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran from Harvard publish great research about how, about how Exxon in particular spreads disinformation. You know, they’ve got the charts, they’ve got the numbers, they’ve got all that stuff. I did a newsletter late last year, in December, think, about a paper showing that, that evaluated climate models back to the 70s and showed climate models have almost always been pretty much correct. they’ve, that since the 70s, scientists have been predicting climate change really well. And the reason I wanted to use that data and show that data was specifically to counter misinformation that the fossil fuel industry and Republicans have been putting out there for many years, which is that climate models run hot, which is that we can’t trust the science. We can’t trust the data because so often doesn’t predict it right. And I’m like, well, look at this data that shows it does, sweetheart. And I just add that little kick at the end for fun. I think, you know, there’s different ways to use data. You don’t just have to use data to show how bad things are getting. You can use data to show how bad people are lying.

Amy
I like to use the, the charts and graphs from the old Exxon scientists to to show like how accurate they were and their predictions in the 70s. Even when, you know, like when James Hansen had, is sort of like famous, you know, moment the thing that he said, that the fingerprint of the human fingerprint of, of global warming is clear. a lot of people at the time said that he was putting far too much faith in the models, you know, and, and maybe like, from the scientific community standpoint, it was too early to be that conclusive about it. But it’s proven to be correct. You know, it’s been proven out. And if anything, what we find now, and this is kind of like the data that I like to share too, is that like a lot of the stuff that we are getting now is that, that the models were more conservative than what’s happening now, than what’s predicted to happen in the next, you know, 20 years or whatever. I also think actually I’ve been using on the sort of, on the like nerdy data side, I have been very interested in the new, all the new technology around methane emissions and like, the things that show just how much methane and volatile organic compounds are, getting out of natural gas pipelines, but also that are being secretly vented out. There’s this idea that like, it’s just a few leaks here and there. but like, you know, I just talked to this woman this week who goes around Texas in the Permian Basin and uses this equipment to, look at, how much, how many emissions are actually coming out of, of different refineries there. And she was like, “Oh yeah, they’re like, not even lighting their flares.” So they’re just rippin’ methane, into, into the atmosphere right now. And like, there’s no regulations because they were right on that day one of the coronavirus to like, you know, get regulatory relief. So yeah, I do think like showing the, the way that like, the way that the, the sort of current data on emissions really disproves any of the sort of advertising that these guys do on like how much they’re so committed to doing something about climate change is helpful.

Jacquelyn
I think it’s really powerful how both of you are using data not necessarily to convince the public that climate change is real, or that we should care, but to hold these companies accountable for their part, their role in this problem. Because climate scientists have been incredibly frustrated by the fact that we have this information, and yet convincing people it’s real, or that we should do something about it, has just lagged behind the science for decades. And that’s not because people can’t understand basic science, or that don’t trust scientists.

Amy
Yeah, that their data will be used in like anti-corruption stories? But it’s cool that like, we can do that. I don’t want to speak for you Emily, but I, I think we both appreciate that we have that data available. It’d be like, uh uh, actually no.

Emily
Yeah, you know, people still do trust scientists. They don’t trust journalists that much unfortunately, so it really helps to be able to just say, “Hey, it’s not me saying this. This is, the scientists. It’s research. It’s published. It proves that this person is lying.“ And my favorite question to ask scientists, when I’m asking them about their research, I’ll be like, “so does this mean that climate deniers are lying?” And they usually get really, like they get all, because scientists don’t like to get political a lot. So they’ll be like, “well, you know, I wouldn’t put it in that many words,” but I’ll say it, don’t worry.

Jacquelyn
You can ask me that question anytime. Emily, Amy, thank you so much for joining us today and I’m super pissed off. So, thanks for that.

Warm Regards is produced by Justin Schell. Joe Stormer creates our transcripts, and Katherine Peinhardt is our social media maven. Music for this episode comes from Blue Dot Sessions.

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