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Did Exxon Just Admit It's Still Funding Climate Deniers?
NewsHour host Judy Woodruff pressed Cohen about an accusation New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made during a taped interview that aired just before Cohen's segment. Schneiderman—who had announced the week before that he was investigating ExxonMobil over whether it had misled the public and shareholders about climate change risks—had charged that ExxonMobil funds climate change denier organizations to malign mainstream climate science.
"Has Exxon been funding these organizations?" she asked.
"Well, the answer is yes," Cohen replied. "And I will let those organizations respond for themselves."
Putting aside the fact that no one from any of the denier groups was on the program, Cohen's admission is noteworthy because technically "has been funding"—which, grammatically speaking, is in the present perfect progressive tense—describes an action that began in the past and continues in the present.
To avoid any doubt, it would have been helpful if Woodruff had used the present tense—as Schneiderman did—and had asked if ExxonMobil is funding these groups. Ambiguous or not, Cohen's statement still calls into question recent assertions by Richard Keil, ExxonMobil's senior public affairs adviser, that the company is no longer funding them. And second, it would appear to contradict a claim the company had stopped funding denier groups that Cohen himself made eight years ago.
In any case, as I spelled out in a July blog post, no matter how Cohen or Keil answer the funding question, it's an indisputable fact that ExxonMobil has been—and still is—a leading sponsor of think tanks, advocacy groups, trade associations and contrarian scientists that peddle lies about climate science and the viability of renewable energy. Only the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries, have spent more on the climate disinformation network.
Equally interesting was Cohen's attempt to dismiss the funding question. In so many words, he told Woodruff that although ExxonMobil may have financed climate science denier groups, the groups are ultimately responsible for their anti-science message, not ExxonMobil.
That response may well signal that ExxonMobil plans to use this legal tactic to counter the charge that it financed a massive climate change disinformation campaign. It would certainly make sense for the company to plant seeds of doubt about its responsibility. After all, hasn't its modus operandi all along been to emphasize uncertainty?
The NewsHour interview with Cohen came on the heels of a string of public relations disasters for ExxonMobil. The first came in July, when the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report documenting that ExxonMobil and five other top carbon polluters—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, coal giant Peabody Energy and Royal Dutch Shell—were fully aware of the reality of climate change for decades but spent tens of millions of dollars to promote contrarian arguments they knew to be false. UCS also uncovered evidence that Exxon had been factoring climate change into its oil and gas extraction plans as early as 1981—much earlier than anyone had realized and years before there was much public awareness of the problem.
Since then, two news organizations have published a series of articles that fill out the details of what Exxon scientists knew and when they knew it. Both InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times dug up evidence from company archives and interviews with former employees showing that Exxon, a leader in climate research in the 1970s and 1980s, became one of the most ardent climate science deniers, rejecting the warnings of its own scientists that the consequences of global warming could be catastrophic.
Partly due to these revelations, several members of Congress, Democratic presidential candidates, and more than 60 leading environmental, science and social justice groups (including UCS) have called for the Justice Department to investigate ExxonMobil for deliberately deceiving the public, much in the same way the tobacco industry lied about the link between smoking and disease. And then, on November 4, Schneiderman launched his criminal investigation to determine, as he told PBS NewsHour, whether Exxon was "using the best science and the most competent [climate] models for their own purposes, but then telling the public, the regulators and shareholders that no competent models existed." If that's the case, he said, the company could be guilty of fraud.
Cohen and other ExxonMobil officials, including CEO Rex Tillerson and the aforementioned Richard Keil, hit back with a flurry of press releases, newspaper columns, TV and radio interviews, and tweets. Right out of the box, they attacked the credibility of InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, calling them "activists" and mischaracterizing their reporting.
"Activists deliberately cherry-picked statements attributed to various company employees to wrongly suggest definitive conclusions were reached decades ago by company researchers," Cohen said in an October 21 press release, for example. "These activists took those statements out of context and ignored other readily available statements demonstrating that our researchers recognized the developing nature of climate science at the time, which, in fact, mirrored global understanding."
In fact, both news organizations did report there were differences of opinion among Exxon scientists early on. As InsideClimate News put it, company researchers "acknowledged the uncertainties surrounding many aspects of climate science." By the early 1980s, however, internal documents show that company scientists had concluded that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could have catastrophic consequences within the first half of the 21st century if fossil fuel emissions weren't significantly reduced. It was later in that decade when the company turned a deaf ear to what its scientists were saying, presumably because it feared heightened awareness about climate change could lead to government controls on carbon emissions.
The turning point came in 1988. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the same year the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and NASA scientist James Hansen famously warned Congress that global warming had already begun, Exxon's public affairs director defined the "Exxon Position" in a draft memo titled "The Greenhouse Effect." Acknowledging the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is driving global warming, the memo recommended that the company "emphasize the uncertainty."
That's just what a number of key Exxon researchers did from then on, turning their backs on their previous work. As InsideClimate News characterized it, they "became vocal climate contrarians" and ridiculed IPCC findings.
ExxonMobil's Disinformation Network
In the 1990s, Exxon participated in the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), an alliance of more than 60 U.S. and British corporations and trade groups formed in 1989 to thwart international and domestic efforts to address global warming by, you guessed it, emphasizing scientific uncertainty.
By end of the decade, however, Exxon and other key GCC members began enlisting the help of a number of think tanks that had been surreptitiously assisting the tobacco industry in its fight against tighter controls on smoking. Why? To hide their fingerprints. Exxon, which quickly proved to have the deepest pockets—at least until the Koch brothers surpassed it in 2005—kicked off its spending spree on these think tanks and other nonprofit advocacy groups in 1998, a year before it merged with Mobil and Kenneth Cohen became the company's VP for public and government affairs.
In January 2007, UCS issued a report that revealed that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil had spent at least $16 million on a network of more than 40 anti-regulation think tanks and advocacy groups to launder its message. A few weeks later, when asked about the report by a Greenwire reporter, Cohen said ExxonMobil had stopped funding them.
That claim is as preposterous today as it was eight years ago. Just last year the company spent $1.9 million on 15 climate science denier groups, including the American Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Manhattan Institute and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and 10 of last year's grantees were among those cited in UCS's 2007 report. All told, Greenpeace has documented that ExxonMobil has spent $31 million since 1998 on denier groups, but there is good reason to suspect that's not even the half of it. A former highly placed ExxonMobil executive who requested anonymity told UCS that the company paid out as much as $10 million annually on what insiders called "black ops" from 1998 through 2005, significantly more than what UCS was able to pin down in its 2007 report from company tax records.
So what should we make of Cohen's apparent admission on PBS NewsHour about ExxonMobil's role in the climate-denial funding game? Well, Cohen may not be much of a grammarian, but he is top-notch lawyer who worked for 22 years in Exxon's legal department before becoming VP for public affairs. As noted above, Cohen was likely taking a new tack designed to shield ExxonMobil from blame for the climate disinformation campaign. Lawyers call it "plausible deniability." ExxonMobil may have paid denier groups for their services, the argument goes, but those groups are solely responsible for their actions.
Legally proving a quid pro quo may be difficult, but at least one prominent denier-group funder has spoken candidly about the power such funding entails. In Brian Doherty's 2007 book, Radicals for Capitalism: The Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, David Koch put it plainly. "If we're going to give a lot of money, we'll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our interest," Koch said. "And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don't agree with, we withdraw funding. We do exert that kind of control."
Cohen can trot out the "plausible deniability" line all he likes, but there is little doubt that ExxonMobil has exerted that kind of control, too.
The big question is, are ExxonMobil's actions illegal?
The Washington Post doesn't think so. It ran an editorial on Nov. 14, Exxon deserves criticism, but it didn't commit a crime. Syndicated columnist Robert J. Samuelson doesn't think so, either. A week before the Post editorial, he wrote a column maintaining that ExxonMobil is being vilified for "expressing its opinions," which deserve protection. For Samuelson, the company is exercising its constitutional right of free speech.
Attorney General Schneiderman obviously thinks they might be, hence his investigation. "In New York," he told PBS NewsHour, "we have laws against defrauding the public, defrauding consumers, defrauding shareholders." And, it goes without saying, there is no legal protection for fraud.
Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a former prosecutor, thinks they might be, too. "The revelation that Exxon knew about the link between climate change and carbon pollution as early as 1981 and yet continued to support decades-long campaign of denial described in the [July] UCS report, strengthens the parallel with the tobacco-industry conduct that led to a civil [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] verdict against tobacco," Whitehouse told The Nation in July. "Whether [the Justice Department] pursues this or not is their call, but if nothing else, the UCS report shows these are legitimate questions to ask."
Sharon Eubanks, a former Justice Department lawyer who prosecuted the racketeering case against the tobacco industry, also has called for a federal investigation. "It appears to me, based on what we know so far, that there was a concerted effort by Exxon and others to confuse the public on climate change," she said in an October 20 interview with Climate Progress. "They were actively denying the impact of human-caused carbon emissions, even when their own research showed otherwise."
In any case, absent a full investigation, it would be premature draw to any conclusions about the legality of ExxonMobil's conduct. At this point, we don't know. What we do know is, in light of the evidence uncovered by UCS, InsideClimate News, the Los Angeles Times and others, investigations of whether ExxonMobil violated any state or federal laws are undoubtedly warranted.
Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
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Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
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The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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