Smooth operator? Nope. Just a sad old coal guy :-(

May 14, 2007 at 11:11 am | Posted in Climate change, Communication, Global warming, Newspapers | 2 Comments

This is a good example of a local newspaper providing a story on a climate change denialist in Athens, Ohio (not Athens, Greece, with which I am more familiar … but this story outline holds promise.)

The easy classification of debunkers as extremists, right and left, sets the scene, with center stage set for reality checks: a couple of references to RealClimate and local experts to verify facts. The show concludes with a personal call to action.

Pretty good model, huh?

Area coal operator throws cold water on climate-change threat
By Jim Phillips
Athens NEWS Senior Writer

What does Belmont County coal operator Robert Murray have in common with novelist Michael Crichton and left-wing firebrand Alexander Cockburn?

They all say it’s a lot of hooey that humans cause global warming.

Crichton, famous for blockbusters like “Jurassic Park,” has advanced his view in a thriller, “State of Fear,” and in mordant lectures with titles like “Environmentalism as Religion” and “Aliens Cause Global Warming.”

Cockburn, a pugnacious radical journalist, recently dropped a flaming stink bomb in The Nation, with a column that compared the fuss over climate change to medieval hysterics over the approaching year 1000. “Then, as now, the doomsters identified human sinfulness as the propulsive factor in the planet’s rapid downward slide,” he wrote.

Here in Ohio, the debunking banner is held aloft by Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corporation and owner of the Ohio Valley Coal Co. He is perhaps best known in Athens from Ohio Valley’s long fight with environmentalists over its plans to mine under Dysart Woods, an old-growth forest in Belmont County. He also proposed a longwall coal mine in Dover Township in the late ’80s that aroused a wild debate in the local media before he dropped the plans due to “market conditions.”

Recently, Murray has been making news with his campaign to spread what he sees as the truth on global warming.

Namely, that it may not even be happening. But if it is, man-made carbon emissions aren’t causing it.

“There is no scientific consensus,” Murray insisted Monday. “There are many scientists who would say that global warming is not happening. And actually most of the scientists, or at least a larger majority, will say that it’s not caused by man-made activity; it is caused by interaction of the sun and the earth.”

Murray appears to rely on assertions widely embraced by global-warming debunkers: That rising global temperatures (caused by normal, cyclical processes) are driving up carbon dioxide, not the other way around; and that there’s no solid evidence to show that increased atmospheric CO2 comes from human activity.

Both claims have been refuted, according to, a Web site run by climate scientists. On the question of where the extra CO2 comes from, for example, the site notes that the isotopic composition of the gas is a “smoking gun” that clearly links it to fossil fuels.

And while the CO2 increase does seem to lag behind temperature increase, points out that this finding was predicted by scientists years ago, and in no way disproves that CO2 helps drive warming. Rather, gas concentration and heat mutually amplify each other.

The two “go very much hand in hand, with the temperature continuing to rise as the CO2 goes up,” the site states. It concludes that while scientists can’t say all the warming is caused by rising CO2, and the relation between the two isn’t mathematically simple, “we do know that explaining the magnitude of global temperature change requires including CO2 (as a factor)… We cannot explain the temperature observations without CO2.”

Ohio University chemical engineering professor Kevin Crist, who studies global warming, was blunt when asked about Murray’s position.

“There is no doubt that global warming is occurring,” he said. “And there’s really no doubt that it’s going to be disastrous if we don’t make changes in the next 20 to 30 years.” As for Murray’s claim that man-made carbon emissions aren’t a major factor, the professor said, “That’s not even arguable any more… The argument is, what do we need to do, and how fast do we need to do it?”

Murray took his message to Congress in March, when he testified before the House subcommittee on energy and mineral resources. He urged legislators to abandon plans to cap carbon emissions, which he said would have disastrous impacts on the coal industry and the U.S. economy.

“The unfolding debate over atmospheric warming in the Congress, the news media, and by the pundits has been skewed and totally one-sided, in that they have been preoccupied with possible, speculative environmental disasters of climate change,” he told the committee. “However, few are giving adequate attention to the destruction that we will definitely see for American working people from all of the climate change proposals that have been introduced in the House and Senate to date.”

Clearly, Murray’s concerns regarding climate change issue are as much economic as scientific.

“It’s not just an environmental issue to me. It’s a human issue,” he confirmed Monday. “It’s all about jobs. Elites who push for emissions caps, he argued, don’t think about how this will hurt working people.

“The people of Athens County who pack a lunch and wear a hard hat — they have no relation to these people at all,” he charged.

Murray said the misleading story on global warming is being spread by “the global goofiness of Albert Gore” with support from “the Hollywood crowd.” Perhaps more important in his view, though, is that rivals to coal – companies pushing natural gas, nuclear, and other fuels – stand to gain from tighter restrictions on Murray’s industry.

“They want to put caps on the emissions of carbon dioxide, which in turn will negate the use of coal,” he said. “These companies all want to either get an advantage over the other one, or they have a product to sell.”

The dispute has a regional aspect, he said, with legislators who support emissions caps coming largely from the coasts. Ohio’s energy supply is “88 percent coal-fired, and we’ve got a target on our backs,” Murray warned.

In addition to wiping out jobs, Murray predicted, restrictions on coal-fired plants will drive electric rates to four or five times current levels.

Crist acknowledged that the United States probably can’t give up coal as a fuel – especially with foreign oil supplies increasingly uncertain. However, he said, we must keep its carbon out of the air.

“If you look at the things that emit carbon by (how much) energy (they produce), coal is by far the biggest. If we’re going to continue to use coal in the future, we’ve got to sequester the carbon,” he said. “We do have a lot of coal. There really is nothing else that can take its place… But we’ve got to use it cleanly, and we’ve got to use less of it.”

He also stressed that it’s wrong to view “big bad industry” as the villain. The real problem is our overall energy consumption, for construction, transportation, heating and cooling, and manufacturing.

“It’s us. We have to stop using so much energy,” he said. “We’ve got to make drastic changes in the next 20 to 30 years.” ��



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  1. Maybe when Murray loses his coal-mining job he can get a job building seawalls.

  2. That’s a good idea. All I could imagine for him was a job selling mints!

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