Memo to Alcoa, Kodak, IBM, Nike, Toyota et al.: Luddite U.S. Chamber of Commerce seeks “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” on global warming

Onion Scopes small

Who ever could have imagined that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would publicly — and proudly — equate climate science with evolution and their denial with a belief in creationism?  Time now for the the major businesses on the Chamber’s board to speak up since many of them publicly claim to support strong climate action (see here).  It might also be time for advocates to start boycotting those brand-name companies if they don’t act swiftly to stop

First, however, the mind-boggling L. A. Times story:

The nation’s largest business lobby wants to put the science of global warming on trial.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” — complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

“It would be evolution versus creationism,” said William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. “It would be the science of climate change on trial.”

The goal of the chamber, which represents 3 million large and small businesses, is to fend off potential emissions regulations by undercutting the scientific consensus over climate change. If the EPA denies the request, as expected, the chamber plans to take the fight to federal court.

What’s the next step for the Chamber — calling for a law banning the teaching of climate science comparable to the 1925 Tennessee law banning the teaching of human evolution that was the basis for the Scopes trial?

You probably thought that the crafty global warming deniers — especially the corporate ones who represent businesses with lots of customers — had gotten together in a room and decided to focus on the economics of the bill or on China’s and India’s intransigence, while keeping their flat-earth views to themselves for fear of not being taken seriously, for fear of being seen as far outside the mainstream.

How wrong you were.  Apparently global warming denial is the new creationism.  The funny thing is, most creationists themselves realized a while back how transparently untenable their public arguments were, so even they have created the media- and moderate-friendly term “intelligent design.”  The Chamber’s head is so stuck in the ground that they actually think it makes sense to analogize their desire to put climate science on trial with the famous Scopes Monkey case, which ultimately “caused millions of Americans to ridicule religious-based opposition to the theory of evolution.”

For the record, the Scopes case was over the 1925 Butler Act:

which made it unlawful, in any state-funded educational establishment in Tennessee, “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

This is what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the 21st century wants to associate itself with.  Apparently climate science denial isn’t Luddite enough for them in 2009.  Now they want to join the Anti-Evolution League.

[Note to self:  “Hell & The High School” — could be a good name for a textbook on global warming or perhaps a Disney musical….], the more sophisticated conservative deniers accept the science of evolution, such as Charles Krauthammer “” who wrote in “Phony Theory, False Conflict,” that “Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological “theory” whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge “” in this case, evolution “” they are to be filled by God.”  And yet he is a hard-core climate science denier (see, for instance, Krauthammer’s strange denier talk points, Part 1: Newton’s laws were “overthrown”).  Similarly, another hard core climate science denier, George Will, also believes in evolution “” he actually called it “a fact.”

The LAT story continues:

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said the agency based its proposed finding that global warming is a danger to public health “on the soundest peer-reviewed science available, which overwhelmingly indicates that climate change presents a threat to human health and welfare.”

Environmentalists say the chamber’s strategy is an attempt to sow political discord by challenging settled science — and note that in the famed 1925 Scopes trial, which pitted lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in a courtroom battle over a Tennessee science teacher accused of teaching evolution illegally, the scientists won in the end.

The chamber proposal “brings to mind for me the Salem witch trials, based on myth,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist for the environmental group Union of Concerned Scientists. “In this case, it would be ignoring decades of publicly accessible evidence.”

… the chamber will tell the EPA in a filing today that a trial-style public hearing, which is allowed under the law but nearly unprecedented on this scale, is the only way to “make a fully informed, transparent decision with scientific integrity based on the actual record of the science.”

Most climate scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions, caused by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities, are warming the planet. Using computer models and historical temperature data, those scientists predict the warming will accelerate unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced.

“The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable,” said a recent letter to world leaders by the heads of the top science agencies in 13 of the world’s largest countries, including the head of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

And since the Chamber seems painfully unaware of … well, everything, it is probably worth pointing out that we actually had a major trial of the science (see “Hansen vs. Christy.”  In the Vermont case on the state’s effort to embrace California’s tailpipe GHG emissions standards, the car companies brought in famed denier/delayer John Christy, Director of the Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville, as an expert witness to rebut the country’s top climate scientist (see here).   The judge found:

There is widespread acceptance of the basic premises that underlie Hansen’s testimony. Plaintiffs’ own expert, Dr. Christy, agrees with the IPCC’s assessment that in the light of new evidence and taking into account remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last fifty years is likely to have been due to the increase in GHG concentrations. Tr. vol. 14-A, 145:18-148:7 (Christy, May 4, 2007). Christy agrees that the increase in carbon dioxide is real and primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels, which changes the radiated balance of the atmosphere and has an impact on the planet’s surface temperature toward a warming rate. Id. at 168:11-169:10.

Christy also agreed that climate is a nonlinear system, that is, that its responses to forcings may be disproportionate, and rapid changes would be more difficult for human beings and other species to adapt to than more gradual changes. Id. at 175:2-174:11. He further agreed with Hansen that the regulation’s effect on radiative forcing will be proportional to the amount of emissions reductions, and that any level of emissions reductions will have at least some effect on the radiative forcing of the climate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has become nothing more than an Echo Chamber of Horrors, repeating whatever nonsense the fossil fuel industry or global warming deniers comes up with.  Perhaps a better term for them is “monkey see, monkey do” — no offense to monkeys, though, many species of which are likely to be wiped out if we keep listening to the deniers.

Again, it’s time for the Chamber’s Board Members — full list here — to declare whether they are evolved members of humanity or dedicated to our self-destruction.  Here are some of the members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce board who claim to “Support economy-wide reductions in CO2 emissions and/or federal cap-and-trade legislation” (see here):

  • Alcoa
  • Caterpillar Inc.
  • Deere & Company
  • Dow Chemical Company
  • Duke Energy
  • Eastman Kodak
  • Entergy
  • Fox Entertainment Group
  • IBM
  • Lockheed
  • Nike Inc.
  • PNM Resources
  • Rolls Royce North America Inc.
  • Siemens Corporation
  • Toyota Motor North America Inc.
  • Xerox

24 Responses to Memo to Alcoa, Kodak, IBM, Nike, Toyota et al.: Luddite U.S. Chamber of Commerce seeks “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” on global warming

  1. gmo says:

    From a certain perspective the “no peak oil” thinking is understandable. There is always some ridiculous delaying/denying tactic against addressing climate change (like a pointless show trial) that can be pulled out of wherever, so there must also always be more cheap oil to be pulled out of wherever. Right?

    It took me a while to realize this story was from the LA Times and not The Onion.

  2. Justin says:

    Is this August Fool’s Day?

  3. Peter Sergienko says:

    Pun intended, this is the natural evolution of the denier/delayer argument in action. First there was no warming at all. Then there was warming but humans were not causing it. Now there may be very slight anthropogenic warming, but on balance it will probably be good for us and what can we really know about the future anyway?

    More seriously, this looks like an effort to put climate models and predictions of future warming and associated consequences on trial. I assume this column is in the humor section because the Chamber’s spokesperson’s comparison of this action to the Scopes trial is wrong on so many levels. The Scopes comment notwithstanding, the real challenge to EPA’s findings will probably be a complex cost/benefit argument against the conclusion of endangerment focusing on favorable time horizons (to the extent any can be supported) and the predictive ability of climate models over time. The Chamber’s legal team will presumably try to discredit the scientific community’s “faith” in models of long-term outcomes and devote little or no time and effort arguing that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emisions do not cause warming.

  4. alexy says:

    This could be a “no lose” proposition for the Chamber depending on how they spin it.

    Yes, they will annoy “the enviros”, so what. Will the enviros actually boycott or take other aggressive and effective action? Doubtful.

    If they win, even in part…well, they win.

    If they lose, they can claim to have performed a public service.

    In the mean time, they gain time and publicity.

    As long as there are no repercussions for their actions, well why not do it?

    You might consider facilitating a communication / boycott campaign. Of course doing so will likely result in claims of attempting to silence inquiry through intimidation.

    Seems to me that this was a well considered action by the Chamber.

  5. Berbalang says:

    Scopes did lose and was fined $100. The Supreme Court later overturned the decision on a technicality.

    Perhaps the deniers are hoping to have a similarly stacked court.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    It’s time to boycott ExxonMobil and also to boycott the huge private company Koch, which owns some well-known household brands (which we’ll name as time progresses). Although it will take time to spread the word and get these things going, when they do, they should become big enough to matter.

    Companies that are acting irresponsibly with respect to the climate and future, and that are supporting confusing and blatantly unscientific messages, and that are saying different things with the right and left sides of their mouths, do not deserve your business. So, don’t give it to them.

    I would also like to know whether units of General Electric are going to remain members of the API?

    General Electric, please let us know. Thank you.

    Jeff Huggins
    U.C. Berkeley, chemical engineering, class of 1981
    Eastman Kodak Scholar
    Chevron Research Corporation, 1981-1984
    Harvard Business School, class of 1986, Baker Scholar
    McKinsey and Company, 1986-1990
    The Walt Disney Company, 1994-2001
    Concerned parent and citizen

  7. Ana says:

    There is also the Supreme Court’s ruling in MA v EPA.

    The Court found that EPA’s refusal to regulate CO2 has led to “actual” and “imminent” harm to the state of Massachusetts, mainly in the form of rising sea-levels along the state’s coast. The ruling also noted that “the harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized.”

  8. Could it be that within the business community there is a schism between the deniers and acceptors? And that this is a way of forcing the issue.

    Risky for the Chamber — because it will mean they will have huge changes to face. If this is not just a PR stunt, this may be a good thing.

    Courts need to be more involved with this issue. Current lawsuit of Kivalina v. Exxon may also push the issue.

  9. This is the US Chamber being nothing if not consistent with its immoral and unsupportable “business standards.”

    There is no bigger sellout of true American values or the the future well being of Americans themselves than the “money rules over all other considerations” Chamber which has literally been wrong on every energy and environmental issue since the 1970s.

    The biggest ballwashing carbon collaborators in the USA are the members of this far right wing Republican front group.

    I wonder how their insurance industry members who have already risk accessed climate change without a trial feel about being asked to BOHICA by the lobbiests who collect their expensive dues?

    Being a US Chamber of Commerce member today is like the equivilant of having a neon bright Anti-Goodhousekeeping seal of ignorance and destruction associated with your brand.

  10. Aaron Lewis says:

    The Chamber must be thinking about an EPA under a Bush Administration.

    Considering recent reports about CO2 reducing ocean productivity, warming oceans triggering release of methane from clathrates, reports of bark beetles killing forests, and the thinning of Pine Island Glacier – And, the EPA is likely to have a long series of great teaching moments.

  11. EricG says:

    EPA should call their bluff. The Chamber will be handed their heads, and perhaps some reasonable people will be swayed. The Real Climate guys have a standing challenge to the WSJ for a debate. They can represent science, debating The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and Fred Singer. I’d pay good money to watch them go at it.

  12. Kevin says:

    I don’t get it. This could be terrific. The ruling by a solid Republican judge against “intelligent design” put an end to policy efforts to teach creationism — it was a humiliating defeat. Don’t you think a similar outcome would occur from this?

  13. Kevin says:

    Oh, am I’m talking about a real trial, with evidentiary rules and such. No “debate” with either side being able to claim whatever or use rhetorical tactics that might fool an audience.

  14. Rick says:

    Evolution vs Creation: hmmmm how bout this.

    Evolution (Natural climate change over time as a product of chance) vs Creation (intelligent beings creating climate change in a short period)

    … so we can stop using the term alarmists and start using the term creationists now?


  15. Mike D says:

    I also think that a trial, presided over by a competent judge, would be a nail in the coffin for the deniers, just like the Dover trial was for teaching intelligent design. Maybe we could even get Judge Jones again.

  16. dhogaza says:

    Right on cue, “Inherit the Wind” will be broadcast on the “THIS” network this evening …

  17. Jeff Huggins says:

    Words From Alcoa On Sustainability and Ethics

    “You cannot be considered an ethical company if you do not follow sustainability principles. Nor can you apply sustainability concepts if you do not have a strong foundation of ethical principles. The two are intrinsically intertwined …”

    – Perry Minnis, Global Director, Ethics & Compliance, Alcoa

    I saw Mr. Minnis give a great talk at an Energy and Ethics conference a year or so ago. He seemed very sincere. The brochure to that conference includes this quote (above) from him.

    And indeed, it’s a very insightful and correct quote. I use it, often, as one of many illustrations of my own view of morality/ethics, which strongly supports this point in a way that’s grounded in a robust combination of science and moral reasoning.

    If the Global Director of Ethics & Compliance for Alcoa feels this way, then how does that square with Alcoa’s membership in the Chamber of Commerce, if the Chamber of Commerce is fighting against effective climate legislation?

    These are the sorts of questions that need to be asked, and pressed.



  18. ecostew says:

    The rule-making will document responses to submitted comments & US CoC will regret this nonsense.

  19. JoshKaplowitz says:

    1/3 of me loves the publicity that something like this could bring to the issue. 1/3 of me worries that the mere staging of the event gives the deniers unwarranted legitimacy. And the 1/3 of me that makes my living as a lawyer thinks this would set a horrible precedent for the EPA.

  20. BBHY says:


    I hereby pledge to never, ever, buy any gasoline from Exxon-Mobil for my electric car!

  21. Mike#22 says:

    (#8) “Could it be that within the business community there is a schism between the deniers and acceptors? And that this is a way of forcing the issue.”

    A slim chance, but this would explain this bizarre move by the USCC.

    Or perhaps they are just ignorant of the science, and have been getting their facts from Fox. From the NYT: “They don’t have the science to support the endangerment finding,” Bill Kovacs, the chamber’s vice president for environment, regulatory and government affairs, said in an interview. “We can’t just take their word for it.”

    Either way, the impacts/costs of global warming in this century are staggering (see A detailed inventory, attested to by the experts, and carried across all the media in a show trial, would drive a stake thru the denier/delayers.

  22. Dano says:

    U.S. Chamber Sowing Confusion with ‘Scopes Trial’ Gambit

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s demand for a “Scopes monkey trial” of
    climate change science is a crass attempt to exploit religious beliefs
    in order to stall actions necessary to protect the country from carbon
    pollution, Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national
    grassroots organization, said today.

    “By rubbing the raw nerve of religious belief, the chamber is
    transparently trying to sow confusion and polarize the public over
    climate change. The chamber is putting the health, economy, and
    security of our country at risk, in pursuit of a narrow, selfish, and
    shortsighted agenda,” said Jim DiPeso, REP’s vice president for policy
    and communications.

    “The Scopes trial is a false comparison. Regardless of what one
    believes about the earth’s origins, the facts about the global carbon
    cycle do not change. Excess carbon is stored away in coal and oil
    deposits. By burning large quantities of coal and oil, we release that
    excess carbon back into the atmosphere, upsetting the natural
    balance,” said David Jenkins, REP’s vice president for government and
    political affairs. “The chamber’s efforts are both imprudent and

    “People from all walks of life, including clerical leaders and people
    who attend regular services in many religious denominations, believe
    that we have an obligation to be good stewards of the earth. There is
    more than enough evidence to warrant taking sensible measures now to
    reduce carbon pollution and stabilize the climate,” Jenkins added.

    “Using cleaner energy sources will deliver many spin-off benefits –
    new jobs in energy technology industries, and lessening of our
    country’s dangerous dependence on oil and the national security risks
    that come with oil dependence,” DiPeso said.

    “We call on the chamber to immediately stop its cynical attempt to pit
    science against religion, halt its delaying tactics, and work
    constructively with responsible business leaders to frame balanced
    climate legislation that will protect our country,” Jenkins said.



  23. bobun says:

    I would also like to know whether units of General Electric are going to remain members of the API?