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IAPE Directors Blog

X-Archived Blog (2011-2016)

This is the archived blog of former Director Alyssa Bernstein (2011-2016)

As of the end of the Spring semester of 2015, the Institute's Director, Alyssa Bernstein, is on hiatus, focusing more of her time and attention on research and writing. Therefore this website gets updated only occasionally and partially. The most recent blog post is immediately below (older ones appear further below). Due to a software glitch, the font size of some items below is disproportionately large.

Manmade Earthquakes in the USA Due to Fracking and Injection Wells
National Public Radio recently broadcast information about a new study by the US Geological Survey: a map of earthquakes in the USA that are caused by the activities of the fossil fuel industry, in particular fracking for natural gas and injection wells for underground disposal of the immense quantities of liquid toxic waste generated by fracking. The link to an article on the NPR website dated March 29, 2016, is here. The link to the report on the USGS website is here. Earthquakes induced by fracking and injection wells have occurred in Ohio in recent years. For more information, go to the "News" and "Other Resources" items on this website's menu, at left.

Media Ethics and the 2016 US Presidential Campaigns
According to some people, since US media companies are businesses operating in a capitalist economy, they should give highest priority to the goal of making profits by serving their customers' desires, regardless of what their customers want; according to others, since US media companies are operating in a democratic country and can influence politics, they should prioritize the public interest and avoid undermining (or assisting others in undermining) the democratic character of this society and its political institutions. What priorities do US media companies seem to have now? Here are some relevant excerpts and links:

"[Ohio Governor] John Kasich calls out Donald Trump's '$1.8 billion worth of free media'"

"The media's $2 billion gift to Trump":

"A Bernie Blackout?"

Major TV channels ignore Bernie Sanders:

This Media Coverage Chart Shows Why Hillary Clinton Should Be Thankful for the Citizens United Decision

"Trump Calls ‘Press Conference,’ Takes No Questions And Calls Media ‘Disgusting’": http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2016/03/15/3760701/donald-trump-slams-media/

Donald Trump: We're going to 'open up' libel laws

Trump's attacks on the media:

Climate Change Obstructionism and Media Ethics
"For decades, the media has soft-peddled both the urgency and science surrounding climate change. As we gear up for a month of climate negotiations, responsible news media, advocates and academics must forgo the temptation to indulge in contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake." (December 03, 2015)
Quoted from: "Do-Nothing Brigade: A Sneaky New Rhetoric Is Holding Back Progress on Climate Change", by Levi Tillemann, published December 03, 2015, in Quartz (http://qz.com/563283/a-sneaky-new-rhetoric-is-holding-back-progress-on-…)
The opinion essay quoted above refers to Bjorn Lomborg, a visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School and self-styled “skeptical environmentalist”. An opinion essay by Lomborg ("COP21 climate talks: Wasting trillions on carbon curbs is immoral") was published in the Financial Times of London on November 30, 2015. I then wrote the following letter to the editor of the Financial Times; the editor thanked me but declined to publish it.

Lomborg, Morality, and Investment
To the Editor:
Bjorn Lomborg argues that it is morally wrong for governments to invest in efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, while billions of people lack basic necessities (FT, December 2d, 2015). He is not arguing that it is in general wrong to invest money at all when it could be spent on providing for people's current vital needs. (One obvious flaw in such reasoning would be that providing for vital necessities requires investment.) The relevant question is not whether but how to invest. He advocates increased investment in green energy research and development. Yet he does not criticize fossil-fuel consumption subsidies, which amounted to $548 billion worldwide in 2013 (IEA data). According to Lomborg's calculation, if the EU, Mexico, U.S. and China carry out their Paris COP pledges, this will diminish the world economy by $730 billion a year by 2030. Worldwide elimination of fossil-fuel subsidies now would compensate for this. It is noteworthy that Lomborg opposes public-sector investments in climate-change mitigation and adaptation efforts, which aim at improving near-future conditions for humanity (including not only the children and grandchildren of the present generation but also many millions now alive), but does not similarly criticize public-sector investments with other aims, e.g., the USA's NASA, which now plans eventually to colonize Mars (the USA has spent a total of more than $500 billion on its NASA program over the past half-century); nor does he critically analyze national military budgets. Also noteworthy is that Lomborg does not focus his critical attention on objectionable private-sector investments and use his fame to bring attention to them, despite being a business school professor arguing that morality requires working to diminish global poverty and suffering.

"Climate Change and Choosing Where to Invest" (The New York Times, 04 December 2015)

ExxonMobil and Climate Change: The Way Forward
by Alyssa R. Bernstein (posted November 3d, 2015)
Now that Exxon's decades-long misinformation campaign about climate change has been exposed, Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have called for an official investigation by the Department of Justice. ExxonMobil's reaction has been to dispute the allegations and criticize the investigative reporters. But the company could voluntarily take an action that would both significantly repair its public image and help negotiators to achieve a climate treaty in Paris: it could donate a significant sum of money to the Green Climate Fund.
This fund has been set up by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as one of the main mechanisms for multilateral financing of climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Since ExxonMobil is so wealthy, possibly its CEO could make a comparatively large donation to the fund without causing significant negative impact on the company's financial situation and without a shareholder vote. (Do shareholders have to vote on all expenditures for lobbying or contributions to political action committees? Did they vote on the expenditures for the climate-change misinformation campaign?) Otherwise the corporation could make a smaller donation, explain why its donation cannot (for legal or other reasons) be larger, and campaign for other private organizations and individuals to make donations to the GCF.
A major obstacle to achievement of a treaty is the disagreement about provision of assistance to the countries that will suffer most from the consequences of climate change. Developed countries pledged in 2009 to arrange financing of $100bn per year by 2020, but according to an analysis by the World Resources Institute published in October, 2015, $14 billion per year is now lacking. Some commentators (for example, Professor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago and his co-authors) have argued that poor countries and their advocates should weaken their demands because they are preventing achievement of a treaty. But the poor are not mainly responsible for causing the climate crisis; certain corporations are.
A recent analysis traces to 90 companies 63% of total industrial carbon dioxide and methane emissions into the atmosphere since 1854 (half of which dates to 1986), and traces 18.7% of total emissions to seven companies including ExxonMobil (Climatic Change, January, 2014). Among these seven, ExxonMobil stands out because of its climate-change misinformation campaign and other efforts to impede establishment of emissions-reducing laws and policies. For this reason among others, there are grounds for demanding that it contribute to payments to the populations hit hardest by climate change. ExxonMobil may be able to head off such demands if it now donates voluntarily and generously to the GCF.
Former Exxon CEO Lee R. Raymond said in 1997 that "the most pressing environmental problems of the developing nations are related to poverty, not global climate change." The two problems are now closely related. As Oxfam states on its website, climate change hits poor communities hardest, despite the fact that "the carbon footprint of the world’s one billion poorest people represents just 3 percent of the global total." If current CEO Rex Tillerson agrees with Raymond about poverty or agrees with Ken Cohen, his company's spokesperson (who has more than once written on the company's website that "the risks of climate change are real and the risks warrant action"), then he should quickly do everything he can to ensure achievement of a climate treaty. ExxonMobil would thereby set a worthy example for the other high-emitting companies, and would benefit not only its shareholders but also the rest of humanity.

What can business learn from how Exxon handled its climate change research? (26 October 2015, America Knows How: Better Business, Better Climate)

A missing report on ExxonMobil and climate change (02 November 2015, National Public Radio)

VW says it will cover extra CO2 and fuel usage taxes paid by EU drivers (06 November 2015, The Guardian)

Response by ExxonMobil spokesperson Ken Cohen (06 November 2015, Climate Change Dispatch: Because the debate is NOT over)
Older blog postings appear below, under the line of asterisks ("*****").

This website went online in September of 2014. It includes archives of the IAPE's activities of the past quarter-century, as well as announcements of upcoming activities of the IAPE and other relevant upcoming events at Ohio University or in southeast Ohio. Most of its pages will gradually change. The Director, who composes and posts its contents, will try to update it regularly while giving priority to her teaching, research, publishing, and other academic duties.

The "Resources", "News and Information," and "Other Institutes and Centers" items on the menu to the left will lead you to excellent sources of information and informed opinions.

Please note: The mailbox associated with the appliedethics@ohio.edu address is not yet accessible to IAPE personnel, so please do not send mail to that address until this notice gets updated. We apologize for any inconvenience. Time-sensitive or important messages concerning IAPE may be sent to the Director: bernstei@ohio.edu.
The IAPE is mentioned in:
(A) a July 8, 2015 press release by the Union of Concerned Scientists, "Former Exxon Employee Says Company Considered Climate Risks as Early as 1981"
(B) a July 8, 2015 news article, "Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years"
(C) news reports on the same topic published in July of 2015 around the world (England, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, etc.)
(D) a November 6th, 2015 article in the New York Times: "A range of opinions on climate change at ExxonMobil"
"Climate Change and Justice: A Non-Welfarist Treaty Negotiation Framework", an article by IAPE Director Alyssa R. Bernstein, has been published in the journal Ethics, Policy, and Environment, 18:2 (a special issue on the climate change negotiations).
The call for papers for this special issue stated: "Ethics, Policy, and Environment is seeking manuscripts that provide sophisticated and informed normative analyses of issues under consideration in Lima as negotiators press toward a new international agreement. The special issue ... will be a forum for the latest, most cutting edge scholarship...." See: http://philevents.org/event/show/16182 -- also see: http://www.tandfonline.com.
Quoted from an article in The New York Times (June 15, 2015) about Professor Naomi Oreskes:

"Following Dr. Oreskes’s cue, researchers have in recent years developed a cottage industry of counting scientific papers and polling scientists. The results typically show that about 97 percent of working climate scientists accept that global warming is happening, that humans are largely responsible, and that the situation poses long-term risks, though the severity of those risks is not entirely clear. That wave of evidence has prompted many national news organizations to stop portraying the field as split evenly between scientists who are convinced and unconvinced."

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway are the authors of the non-fiction book about climate change, Merchants of Doubt (2010), which inspired a recent movie with the same title.
On November 11, 2014, the chief economics commentator at the Financial Times of London published a column saying that the claim that man-made climate change is a hoax makes no sense, since it is the claim that thousands of scientists around the world collaborated to create a highly complicated lie that would surely be exposed, and published it in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for many years, in order to advance their careers, which don't earn them very much money anyway. See: "An unethical bet in the climate casino" at http://www.ft.com/intl/comment/columnists/martin-wolf.
Re: Professor Judith A. Curry, who on November 10, 2014 gave a public lecture at Ohio University, "The Current State of the Climate Debate", which was sponsored by the privately funded George Washington Forum on American Ideas, Politics and Institutions:

Prof. Curry used to accept the authority of the IPCC, but then became a "harsh IPCC critic" and a "darling of climate skeptics". The foregoing quotes are from a blog posted on www. discovermagazine.com, which includes the following quotes from a 2010 interview with her.

"When the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report was published in 2007, I joined the consensus in supporting this document as authoritative; I was convinced by the rigors of the process, etc etc. While I didn't personally agree with everything in the document (still nagging concerns about the treatment of uncertainty), I bought into the meme of "don't trust what one scientist says, listen to the IPCC". During 2008 and 2009, I became increasingly concerned by the lack of "policy neutrality" by people involved in the IPCC and policies that didn't make sense to me.... When I first saw the climategate emails, I knew these were real, they confirmed concerns and suspicions that I already had.... [A]fter reading those emails, the IPCC lost the moral high ground in my opinion. Not to say that the IPCC science was wrong, but I no longer felt obligated in substituting the IPCC for my own personal judgment. .... People really find it hard to believe that I don't have a policy agenda about climate change/energy.... Yes, I want clean green energy, economic development and "world peace". I have no idea how much climate change should be weighted in these kinds of policy decisions. I lack the knowledge, wisdom and hubris to think that anything I say or do should be of any consequence to climate/carbon/energy policy."


Note that she says: "Not to say that the IPCC science was wrong...." Note also that she says that she has no policy agenda.

According to an article in the magazine Scientific American about climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry (at http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101101/full/news.2010.577.html): "By frankly acknowledging mistakes and encouraging her colleagues to treat skeptics with respect, [Dr. Curry] hopes to bring about a meeting of the minds. .... [F]iguring out how to shape the public debate is a matter of survival. If people and governments are going to take serious action, it pretty much has to be now, because any delay will make efforts to stave off major climate change much more expensive and difficult to achieve. .... Is Curry making things worse or better?" This article concludes: "In a sense, the two competing storylines about Judith Curry --- peacemaker or dupe? --- are both true."