Background briefing, April 2014
Craig Idso: “Climate change is good for you”
This week the Heartland Institute will release another chapter of its NIPCC, the “not the IPCC” document that will tell you the opposite of the main message that’s been coming from the prestigious IPCC, namely that climate change is a threat to security, food and mankind and especially a threat to the world's poor, along with ecosystems worldwide including coral reefs, polar regions, and the wildlife and myriad of creatures these ecosystems support.
Heartland Institute on the other hand, in its NIPCC “Climate Change Reconsidered II: the Biological Impacts” document, will say that climate change is good for the world, will have a net benefit for both plants and human health. This is the latest line run by right wing think tanks like Heartland, the coal industry’s ACCCE coalition, Peabody Coal, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and echoed across the blogosphere by climate deniers.
This set of messaging and all 'reports' to back this line, all appear to be coming from one organization, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, and specifically from its chairman and former president, Craig Idso, one of the NIPCC’s lead authors, who has been arguing the same “C02 is beneficial” line for nearly 20 years, along with his father, Sherwood Idso.
The Center's claimed mission is to “separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change.” Its main publication is CO2 Science, a weekly magazine that features articles questioning the science verifying man-made climate change and its impacts.
In 2012, leaked documents from the Heartland Institute revealed that they were paying Craig Idso $11,600 a month for his NIPCC work. We do not know how much Idso has been paid since that time, or prior.
The organization’s total funding peaked in 2009 at $1.5 million a year. Funders have included ExxonMobil (total, $100,000 since 1998), Donors Trust, Sarah Scaife Foundation and a number of other right wing funders. See Conservative Transparency for a recent (but not full) breakdown. The Center's IRS 990’s are here at Citizen Audit.
Publications produced by Craig Idso, with members of C02Science,org:
- In 2011 he and Sherwood wrote a book entitled “The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment”.
- Idso has produced a series of video documentaries espousing his theory of C02’s beneficial effect on plant life.
- Keith and Sherwood Idso wrote a paper in 1992 about how C02 benefits plant life, referenced in the NIPCC’s Summary for Policymakers.
After founding the organisation, Idso got his PhD in geography at Arizona State University under the tutelage of one of the very early climate deniers employed by the fossil fuel industry, Robert C Balling Jr.
Idso, the Greening Earth Society and the Western Fuels Association
Robert Balling, Idso's mentor, was one of the leading scientists paid by the Greening Earth Society, the climate science-denying front group created by the Western Fuels Association, one of the first and earliest coal industry groups funding the denial of climate change. But the coal industry's line was not 'climate denial' but 'climate change is good for you'. The Western Fuels Association is a cooperative of utilities and power companies supplying coal from the Powder River Basin in the western U.S.
Robert Balling was one of the seven scientists deployed by Western Fuels in the 1990s to challenge the prevailing consensus in climate science. Other names included some who are still on the core climate denial team today: Willie Soon and Patrick Michaels.
It was the Greening Earth Society for which Craig and Keith Idso penned a paper in 1995: “The Greening of the American West: The Atmosphere’s Rising CO2 Concentration Is Stimulating Woody Plant Growth in the U.S. Forests, Grasslands, and Deserts.”
Idso, Fred Palmer and Peabody Coal
From its inception, the Chair and CEO of the Western Fuels Association and the Greening Earth Society was Fred Palmer, who was also a registered lobbyist for the Western Fuels Association, a coalition of utility and coal companies.
Palmer is now the Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Peabody Energy (Peabody Coal). (Guardian backgrounder 2011), and was in the media in 2010 leading the charge for “green coal.” He chaired the World Coal Association from 2010 to 2012. Peabody is behind the recent climate denial hub "Advanced Energy for Life" campaign, working with Burson Marsteller as revealed by Climate Investigations Center.
From 2001-2002, Craig Idso served as Director of Environmental Science at Peabody Energy in St. Louis, MO. This was to set up the long relationship with the company that continues to this day.
Idso and ACCCE Tout the Social Benefits of Carbon
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is an industry group promoting coal, of which Peabody coal is a key corporate member.
There is a major fight heating up at the State and Federal level on how we set what the government calls the Social Cost of Carbon, a metric calculated by the Government on the harm carbon (C02) does the economy, to our health and to the planet. These social costs range from the medical bills and lost workdays (when a mother has to take her asthmatic child to the hospital), all the way to the impact of sea level rise on coastal communities.
In 2013, the EPA recalculated the social cost of carbon and increased the figure to $35 per metric ton, up from $21.
ACCCE and Peabody Coal retaliated by questioning why the Obama EPA didn’t included analysis of the benefits of CO2, enhancing agriculture, for instance.
As part of this argument, ACCCE released a report in January, entitled "The Social Costs of Carbon. No, the Social Benefits of Carbon" claiming the government is vastly underestimating the social benefits of coal as well as the benefits from the carbon dioxide pollution produced by burning that coal, including enhancing photosynthesis and agricultural productivity. DeSmogBlog has more details.
Footnotes of the report reveal ACCCE commissioned Craig Idso to undertake a study that appears to be a rehash of the work he has done for 20 years. Idso's contracted study, titled “The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide,” which makes up a large part of Chapter III of the ACCCE "Social Benefits" report.
Idso and ALEC
Idso’s “benefits of C02” was also a topic at the 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council Annual meeting. According to Sourcewatch, he spoke at a workshop of state legislators that was to be titled "Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2." The title was later changed to "Benefit Analysis of CO2".
ALEC has also used that same “CO2 is beneficial” line in submissions to the EPA.
Idso told the audience that we “should let CO2 rise unrestricted, without government intervention”, a very different recommendation than that emanating from the IPCC and the vast majority of the world's climate scientists.