Soros-backed report linking Valdez spill to climate change ‘ridiculous’
A report blaming the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in part on global warming has generated more ridicule than alarm, renewing scrutiny over the role of liberal foundations in keeping the fading #ExxonKnew social media campaign alive.
The article, “The role a melting glacier played in Exxon’s biggest disaster,” earned a few hat tips from the environmental movement after appearing Thursday in the Los Angeles Times, but the taunting from climate-catastrophe challengers has been merciless.
“Blindingly stupid,” “climate change fan fiction,” “irrelevant” and “ridiculous” were among the insults hurled at the report, written by students from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Energy and Environmental Reporting Project.
“Anyone who has ever followed the story knows that the only ice responsible for the Exxon Valdez spill would be the ice cooling the captain’s many cocktails that night,” said Katie Brown of Energy in Depth, which is funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “But for antiExxon campaigners, no alternate theories (or should we say alternative facts?) are too outrageous to publish.”
Not lost on critics were the project’s funders: left-of-center philanthropies, including those backed by the Rockefeller family and billionaire George Soros, that have made no secret of their support for climate advocacy and antipathy toward the fossil fuel industry.
A disclosure at the end of the article said that the foundations “have no involvement in or influence over the articles produced by project fellows in collaboration with the Los Angeles Times,” but not everyone was buying it.
“The Los Angeles Times is really ramping up the fake news factor with this Rockefeller- and Soros-funded ‘article’ seeking to blame global warming for the 1989 Exxon Valdez,” said Marc Morano, publisher of the skeptics’ website Climate Depot.
The story suggested that Exxon should have known that the Columbia Glacier had become unstable as a result of global warming, increasing the risk of iceberg hazards, before the Exxon Valdez crashed into Alaska’s Bligh Reef after swerving to avoid an iceberg.
“What was triggering the glacier to drop icebergs at such a ferocious and ultimately disastrous pace was unclear at the time,” said the article. “But some scientists, even then, were beginning to look at climate change’s role.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a leader of the #ExxonKnew campaign, retweeted the article, calling the Exxon Valdez disaster an “early product of @ExxonMobil’s well-documented legacy actively peddling #climate denial.”
How was Exxon to “know”? The article said scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey raised the possibility in 1975 and 1978 of climate-driven iceberg hazards.
Then again, there was hardly a consensus: Energy in Depth reported that USGS studies released in 1977 and 1980 said the behavior of iceberg-calving glaciers “is apparently not directly related to climatic variations.”
Roy W. Spencer, meteorologist and principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, was also dubious, calling it “quite a stretch to blame the disaster on human-caused global warming.”
“Glaciers naturally flow to the ocean and calve. As long as it snows on them, gravity makes them flow to the ocean — no global warming required,” Mr. Spencer said in an email. “Even if calving increased in the 1980s, the warming in Alaska that abruptly started around 1980 was due to a shift in a natural climate cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), not the result of a slow warming trend due to humans.”
By the article’s logic, “anyone can blame basically anything that happens to them on climate change. Did you avoid a puddle when you hit that telephone pole? Sue Exxon!” quipped conservative columnist David Harsanyi of The Federalist.
Hillary Manning, Los Angeles Times communications director, had no comment on the criticism but noted the newspaper had been transparent on the project’s funders, which include the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations.