Park-and-chide: "The media-philanthropy-university complex"

Many people have been asking the question, "who blew up the 'bridge to the future'?" Tompkins County-based people are largely the answer.  At AEI:

An anti-fracking philanthropist has turned environmentalists into precautionary conservatives. How did this happen?
 

Environmentalists are not playing it straight on natural gas. Until recently, they have been amongst its most aggressive promoters, even coining the phrase “bridge to the future”...

...Now, many activists call natural gas a “bridge to nowhere,” as Earth Island Journal recently headlined. Inexpensive comparatively clean natural gas is portrayed as a Trojan horse that will bring “water contamination, air pollution, global warming, and fractured communities.” The morphing of natural gas from ‘a necessary alternative to dirtier energy’ to ‘worse than oil and coal’ happened, metaphorically, almost overnight. What’s behind this seismic turnaround?...

...There are two factors, one widely reported and the other ignored: (1) advances in gas exploration and extraction fracking technology; and (2) a below-the-radar outpouring of funding by connected, wealthy anti-shale gas antagonists—and one activist philanthropy in particular, the Park Foundation headquartered at the epicenter of the US shale gas boom in Ithaca, New York. It’s also the home of Cornell University, which has become the academic face of the anti-shale gas movement...
 

...sober environmentalists such as the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council continue to reject the simplistic demonization of shale gas. “At the EDF, we don’t pick fuels. We are realists; we recognize that fossil fuels will be around for a while,” says senior policy advisor Scott Anderson, noting that most states have considerable experience in regulating well construction and operation. “If wells are constructed right and operated right, hydraulic fracturing will not cause a problem.“

But hardcore opponents say there should be no middle ground: the environment is forever so only a total ban is acceptable. Consequently, scientists who consider trade offs face vitriolic criticisms. Much as the far right demands fealty on hot button issues such as no taxes or anti-unionism, enviroromantics are determined to turn opposition to shale gas into the ideological litmus test of our time....
 
...How did we get to this state where strident environmentalists and campaigning journalists define the debate while mainstream scientists and sober minded NGOs are ignored?... 
 
The media-philanthropy-university complex
 
What if wealthy donors are deploying their money to manipulate public opinion and support research whose conclusions often conflict with science? That in a nutshell is the media rationale for scrutinizing public relations efforts by Big Business. 
 
Journalists should be truth vultures. Expose the puppeteers. But the corrupting power of money and the ego enhancing romance of influence have no ideological limits. That’s the story unfolding in New York’s Tompkins County in the middle of the vast Marcellus shale formation. In this case, however, the key actors are not industry apologists but ‘white as snow’ philanthropists, NGOs and journalists. 
 
Over the last two years, Cornell University has emerged as the locus of academic study challenging the benefits of shale gas drilling. Research by a select group of scholars—oddly, none is considered experts in this field, even at Cornell—has been ballyhooed around the world, with the New York Times, consciously or unconsciously, playing the leading role of megaphone. 
 
In April 2011, the Times helped transform Cornell professor Robert Howarth into the ideological rock star of anti-shale gas activism. It ran a report and blog promoting a short article Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea had just published in Climatic Change Letters, a journal that had never before addressed the shale gas phenomenon. The authors claimed that shale gas generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the production and use of coal....
 
“There is a lot of money invested in shale gas development,” Howarth told me. Our research is threatening that, which makes it political.”
 
If the debate has become sharply contentious, Howarth is at least partly responsible. He often describes himself in ways that create the impression he has been researching fossil fuel issues his entire career. “I’ve worked on the water quality effects of oil and gas development for 35 years off and on,” he said recently. His training is in oceanography, with his primary concentration in marine science, particularly coastal marine ecosystems. Until his published letter, he had never published any university level research into natural gas, let alone shale gas. 
 
Howarth and his wife, Roxanne Marino, a biochemist at Cornell and partner at his lab, are well-known long-time environmental activists and outspoken opponents of developing shale gas reserves. Just months before the release of his letter, Howarth appeared in a YouTube video wearing an anti-fracking button at an anti-natural gas rally outside an Environmental Protection Agency meeting in Binghamton, NY, saying, “All this talk that it’s a clean fuel, as some say, is not based on any scientific analysis.” He continues to passionately and publicly lobby against shale gas.
 
Marino is the town supervisor in Ulysses, a small town in Tompkins County. For more than a year, often with Howarth at her side, she oversaw the implementation of an anti-fracking law through the local town council. “Industrial-scale hydraulic fracturing as proposed in the shale formations of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier is a land, water, and chemical-intensive activity that poses unacceptable risks to human health and safety and environmental degradation,” Marino is quoted as saying, months before the publication of Howarth’s article.
 
...Each time the [New York] Times and anti-shale activists cite [Howarth's] letter, they make a make a point of mentioning that it was peer reviewed. But that’s misleading. It did not undergo classic double blind review...
 
With only a few exceptions, Howarth’s paper has been widely criticized by scientists across the ideological spectrum. The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory reviewed the same data, concluding that natural gas, even from shale, results in far less emissions than coal. But that study did not make it into the NYT.
 
In August, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, in a study partly funded by the Sierra Club, concluded that shale gas has significantly less impact on global warming than coal, a direct rebuke of the Cornell study. “We don’t think they [Howath et al] are using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased. And the comparison they make at the end [that the development of shale gas generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the production and use of oil or coal], my biggest problem, is wrong,” wrote lead researcher Paula Jaramillo.
 
That same month, independent researchers from the University of Maryland also published a peer-reviewed response to the Howarth study, again to no notice in the popular media. “[A]rguments that shale gas is more polluting than coal are largely unjustified,” they concluded.
 
The article was received skeptically even by liberal experts at EDF and the NRDC, but their comments got little play. As the Worldwatch Institute wrote, “Despite differences in methodology and coverage, all of the recent studies except Howarth et al. estimate that life-cycle emissions from natural gas-fired generation are significantly less than those from coal-fired generation”...
 
...Howarth’s colleagues at Cornell, Lawrence Cathles, Larry Brown and Andrew Hunter, with years of expertise in this area, have written a stinging response accepted for publication in January’s Climatic Change Letters. They characterised it as “seriously flawed,” more ideology than science, noting, “the assumptions used by Howarth et al are inappropriate and … their data, which the authors themselves characterise as ‘limited,’ do not support their conclusions”...
 
...Much of the anti-fracking research at Cornell, including Howarth’s modest burst of scholarship, is possible because of the generous support of the Park family of Ithaca, through its well-endowed trust, the Park Foundation (emphasis mine--tvm). Its president, Adelaide Park Gomer, and her daughter, Alicia Park Wittink, are openly antagonistic of natural gas development. And they’ve found ideological soul mates at Cornell and at dozens of influential NGOs, from Friends of the Earth to the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) that receive contributions from Park.
 
The foundation funded the totemic video of the anti-shale gas movement, Gasland, the cinematically engaging but scientifically questionable documentary that made the rounds at Sundance, Berlin, Tokyo and Cannes, jumpstarting the backlash against shale gas. Park has sponsored anti-shale gas shareholder resolutions at the annual meetings of Chevron, ExxonMobil and Ultra Petroleum in alliance with the NGO, As You Sow, which Park also supports and which reliably churns out anti-shale gas propaganda.
 
...Gomer, a vocal shale gas opponent, has signed several anti-fracking petitions, this one in September 2010:
 
Hydrofracking will turn our area into an industrial site. It will ruin the ambience, the beauty of the region. But, moreover it will poison our aquifers. We can live without gas, but we cannot live without water. As a cancer survivor, I am especially concerned about the health repercussions! It is obvious that the 600+, as yet undivulged, chemicals that are used to extract the gas will not promote long healthy lives.
 
Gomer is also on the board of trustees of Ithaca College, which to an even greater extent than Cornell depends upon the largesse of the Park family. Its leading voice is biologist Sandra Steingraber, who, like the foundation, believes shale gas should be the litmus issue for progressives. “I have come to believe that extracting natural gas from shale using the newish technique called hydrofracking is the environmental issue of our time,” she wrote. 
 
The Park foundation lists assets of $320 million, guaranteeing that its views will be well represented. In 2010, it contributed $19m to various causes, more than $3.5m to seed dozens of anti-shale gas projects. 
 
Mother Jones, Earth Island Institute and Yes! Magazine among numerous media organisations have exclusively carried articles sharply critical of shale gas. They each received sizable donations from Park in 2010, $144,000 to Mother Jones.
 
Park also funded a widely circulated YouTube video on “Fracking Hell?” produced by Link Media’s Earth Focus. It also donated $50,000 to support distribution of the the influential Public Media radio program in the US hosted by Dick Gordon that regularly pilloried shale gas."
 
Curious about the recent sudden explosion in “grassroots” uprisings opposing shale gas? Southern Environmental Law Center received $125,000; Food and Water Watch banked $150,000; Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund operating in 110 municipalities got $35,000. The list goes on and on.
 
Park has injected millions of dollars into anti-shale gas education campaigns across the country, including $158,000 donated to Ithaca College for the development of “training kits” to ensure that children are exposed to only one side of this issue. It even funds the Green Guerrillas Youth Media Tech Collective, a group of teenage minorities getting job training in exchange for making an anti-fracking movie.
 
Park also provided $100,000 to seed a separate anti-Marcellus project at Cornell’s Department of City and Regional Planning, resulting in a paper and webinar contending that the benefits of shale drilling is overstated and will ultimately lead to an economic collapse in the region. The department has produced 13 “working papers” and “policy briefs” with the kind of narrow ideological conclusions one expects from an industry-funded “research center” generating propaganda for hire. Yet another Park-funded project is the anti-shale gas Cornell Cooperative Extension Natural Gas Resource Center, which has created an “Online Toolkit for Municipal Officials and Community Leaders” to develop expertise in battles against shale gas development.
 
Of course, philanthropists of any ideological stripe have a right to support any cause of their choosing. But big money raises conflict of interest issues, no different than the potential for corruption posed when industries fund lobbying against policies they find objectionable. Journals and researchers that receive funds should be disclosing conflicts and the media should be reporting about them. But that’s not happening...
 
...anti-shale gas advocacy groups are forging unlikely alliances. Their new allies include the Russians and the Iranians who thought they were going to corner the gas market in the coming decades, and factions of the oil, coal and even the nuclear industry, whose higher cost models may be as vulnerable to competition from natural gas as alternative energy. 
 
The most intriguing question lying ahead is whether politics—the forces lining up against unconventional sources of natural gas—will trump the science. The key is how reporters and university researchers who the public depends upon for a fair accounting of the consequences of innovation handle their responsibilities.
 
The signs are not promising. Not too long after the Times public editor blasted his own reporter, Ian Urbina, for questionable reporting, Urbina was invited to Cornell to discuss his anti-fracking reporting. The event was billed as the “Kops Freedom of the Press” forum. 
 
Robert Howarth was there. No journalist or scientist with long-standing established credentials in this research area—almost none of whom would have agreed with Urbina’s or Howarth’s perspective—were invited to participate in this celebration of academic ‘dialogue’ and journalistic ‘integrity’.
 
I was at Urbina's presentation.  All the usual suspects, including Walter Hang and Babs Lifton, were there. No one like, say, Terry Engelder, was there.
 
Absolutely, positively, read Jon Entine's entire article.
 
 

Comments

Comment: 
It's such a blessing to have the Park Foundation here in our community. Ithaca would be a lot worse off without it. It helps teenagers get job training and exposure to the arts; it helps community service organizations that do a great deal for the elderly, young children and people who are struggling (and in this economy, there are more and more people struggling). It supports investigative journalism in education, so that we don't end up with journalists who are corrupted by commercial interests, which seems to be your main problem. Let's hear about YOUR ties to the gas industry. Do you have a gas lease on your property, or a relative who does? Why are you SO pro-drilling? You must have something to gain from it. And so you are desperately attempting to discredit the Park Foundation. But you will not succeed. Park has a stellar reputation because of all it supports -- many, many important programs that help protect the environment and improve education. What are YOU doing to help prevent air pollution? Fracked states are seeing higher asthma and breast cancer rates. What are YOU doing to help people become more educated about the SCIENCE of fracking? We know from first-hand contact with some of the victims in fracked states that it is BAD NEWS. In NY, we refuse to risk aquifer contamination. We love our state and will not allow it to become like PA, or TX, CO, or WY. In closing, I'd like to respectfully suggest that you consider making your blog piece MUCH shorter. It rings of a rant, and shows desperation. OF COURSE a Foundation that supports a clean environment is going to support the people who share that view. That is their prerogative. It's THEIR money, not yours. Philanthropists always make their own choices based on their priorities. You seem to have a problem with this. And one more thing: Ian Urbina is a highly respected journalist who simply told the truth. His series on drilling was widely acclaimed. His credibility is NOT in question. Try to calm down, and open your mind. People want to end fossil fuels NOW. The process of burning coal and gas and oil is warming the planet at an alarming rate, causing climate instability. Scientists from around the world agree that if we don't do something within the next few years to change this direction, we'll reach a point of no return, where the ocean becomes a heat sink. Do you really not care if humanity doesn't endure one more century? If you care about the survival of the human race, you'd join the millions of us around the world who are trying to hasten the END of our addiction to fossil fuels.

Comment: 
It seems you're the one ranting Lisa. We merely pointed out the facts and off you go into one long rant that starts on a positive note about the good work the Foundation does with respect to scholarships (which we don't deny) and ends in the traditional doom and gloom of an apocalyptic Luddite. I also notice you're computer savvy and, therefore, typed what you had to say on a product made from fossil fuels. No doubt you also drive, heat your home and use hundreds of other fossil fuel products daily. Meanwhile, I'm sure you favor solar which depends upon rare earth minerals to make the batteries, minerals mined at great expense to Chinese lives, but that's out of sight and out of mind for you. And, by the way, if you think Urbina is credible talk to Arthur Brisbane, the NYT ombudsman. The Times couldn't be wrong, could it?

Comment: 
For the person touting the Park Foundation and doting on environmental factors, I do wonder if that person has ever bothered to think about economic issues? Perhaps, like the Park Foundation, they are economically well fixed and don't have to worry about living on a fixed income as I do. I like my environment but I also believe poor people should have jobs, good jobs. The environmentalists seem so caught up in their own program, they forget other values must co-exist also. As for ending "addiction" to fossil fuels, I hope the person suggesting we abandon them has taken "the pledge" I wrote about earlier on oneofnine and now lives off the grid and without using any fossil fuels at all. I doubt it though.