Heidelberg Appeal

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Heidelberg Appeal document [1] was released by a group of climate-change deniers at the United Nations Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3-14 1992. It was intended to counter the well-publicized claims by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which, since 1988, had been saying that global warming was real. IPCC was moving to introduce the Framework Convention on Climate Change at Rio.

This summit was a serious threat to air-polluting industries because it was attended for the first time by large numbers of non-scientists, and most importantly, by key politicians. It therefore had the potential to be crucial in terms of future regulations.

At the time of Rio, the Appeal had been signed by 492 scientists, some of them Nobel Prize winners, and it was circulated to counter the IPCC's proposals for action.[citation needed] The media interpreted it as stating (or implying) that popular scientific conclusions (i.e. global warming) were not necessarily the result of good science, and that many climate scientists didn't believe the evidence supported the global warming claim.

The Heidelberg Appeal was extended by the tobacco industry through conferences and press-released created by the International Center for a Scientific Ecology in Paris.

Junk-science

In this respect, the Appeal can be seen as an extension of the "junk-science" vs "sound science" arguments that were being actively and effectively promoted by the tobacco and chemical industries at this time. It was intended to suggest that climate science wasn't settled and that any regulation of energy use or pollution-creation was premature.

The Heidelberg Appeal project was a side-issue to the main attack on the Rio summit, however. The thrust in mobilizing skepticism came from the National Association of Manufacturers who hired public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to create the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) which was supported by fifty oil, gas, coal, and automobile and chemical manufacturing companies and their trade associations. The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) later came into this coalition later, at the time of the Kyoto meeting over climate.

At the time of Rio, and for a year or two after, the Heidelberg Appeal was highly effective propaganda within the scientific media because it seemed to confirm the claims of global-warming deniers that evidence was being suppressed by the liberal activists. It maintained the pretense that global warming was an evenly-balanced scientific dispute supported on both sides by legitimate scientists. This inference of "balance" constituted the initial fraud.[citation needed]

The Scam

The Heidelberg Appeal was, in fact, a scam perpetrated by the asbestos and tobacco industries in support of the GCC. [2] It was later funded and controlled by a coalition which included coal, oil and energy interests, so the two denial strands merged. The Appeal document and the conferences which gave it life were organized by S. Fred Singer and his Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)[3] with the aid of French journalist Michel Salomon who later joined SEPP officially.[citation needed] [See "The Big Con" section below for links.]

The document itself was promoted in the USA through Philip Morris's then-private public relations firm, APCO & Associates and a few of their associated newsletter operations. They also organized a seminar promoting various aspects of the associated scientific claims which was "co-sponsored" by SEPP and the George Mason University's International Institute (funded by Philip Morris). [4] This was closely linked to one of tobacco's key economic lobbyists, Robert D. Tollison, and his Center for Study of Public Choice.{[fact}}

In turn, the success of this deception led Philip Morris to pay APCO & Associates to create "The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition", (TASSC) with ex-Governor Garrey Curuthers as the nominal head.{fact}} It was actually run by APCO employee Steve Milloy from the backroom which also housed his Junkscience.com web operation. Milloy later became TASSC's Director.[citation needed]

TASSC's success in the USA led the tobacco industry to create a European version of TASSC [5] which eventually became the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF) run by Roger Bate through the right-wing Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA).[citation needed]

The tobacco industry planned to create a new, seemingly independent organization which "fit in" in part with the aims and goals of the Heidelberg Appeal, that that would help augment additional sound-science/junk-science projects of the tobacco industry and their coalitions.[6]

See International Center for Scientific Ecology also re: ongoing program.

Reaction to Heidelberg

A number of corporate-funded think-tanks took up the Heidelberg Appeal and promoted it as an attack on global warming science. This push was led by S. Fred Singer's SEPP organization and its associated Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, and also by a number of think-tanks and policy institutes associated with the Global Climate Coalition and its ideological friends.[citation needed]

As late as 2003, the right-wing backlash organization, the National Center for Public Policy (NCPP) was still publicizing distorted claims being made by Michael Catanzaro, a staff member of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that: [1]

The appeal warns industrialized nations that no compelling scientific consensus exists to justify mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

A few months after the Rio Earth Summit, on November 10 1992, a publication headed "Warning to Humanity" was released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) carrying the signatures of 1,700 scientists who believed global warming had the potential to cause real problems. [2] [7] This was designed to counter the Heidelberg document.

The "Warning" is a rather simplistic document, but it needed to be since it was intended as a press release and scientific illiteracy was assumed to be the norm among journalists. However, in contrast to the Heidelberg Appeal, it dealt with specific climate claims which were testable hypotheses, under the headings: The Atmosphere, Water Resources, Oceans, Soil, Forests, Living Species and Population. It also explicitly states that "human beings and the natural world are on a collision course [involving] ozone depletion, global climate change, air pollution, groundwater depletion, deforestation, overfishing, and species extinction."

Both the "Warning to Humanity" document, and the "Heidelberg Appeal" were signed by highly credible scientists who strongly believed in the statements being made. The initial signers of both documents also provided their qualifications, disciplines, and affiliations, so at this level, there was no deception. It is also worth noting that about 40% of the scientists who signed the "Heidelberg Appeal" also had their signatures on the "Warning" document -- apparently supporting opposite sides simultaneously.

In fact, the two groups and the two documents were not in dispute. The fraud comes from the way in which the Heidelberg document was used by the climate deniers to manufacture the impression of a dispute about global climate change. This fraudulent usage was fed to the media, which exaggerated and sensationalized the idea, as if thousands of climate scientists were at odds over the facts of global warming. In general they were not; only a small group of deniers were at odds with the mainstream, and they weren't even the bulk of the Heidelberg signers.[citation needed]

This left the lay public in a fog of indecision. It is this indecisiveness that gave the professional climate-change deniers influence over the media quite disproportionate to their numbers. The press and broadcasters sensationalized claims of a dispute, and then they reacted by rationalizing their exaggeration as providing "media balance" -- without really investigating whether it was evidence or commercial interests which were being balanced.[citation needed]

Drafting the document

The document was originally written by Michel Salomon, a Paris-based freelance science writer, who was at that time the Editorial Director of a small science journal called "Projections Quarterly."[citation needed] (Note: his name has been mis-spelled Salmon, Solmon, Solomon, Salamon, etc. and he sometimes anglicizes his first name to Michael)[citation needed]

When you ignore the rhetorical flourishes he added, you find that:

  • no sensible scientist would dispute the scientific statements in the document.
  • no sensible politician would blindly accept the claims that scientists always presented the "best scientific evidence" in all matters of public interest.
  • scientists often have big egos.
  • scientists, like other people, are very often influenced by their own best (commercial) interests and ideologies.

The Heidelberg Appeal was, in fact, a scientific "motherhood" statement. It merely demanded that political policy on public safety and health matters be based on the best scientific evidence available.

The Appeal was released along with a SEPP-crafted press release which carried an attack on the current climate change doctrines. These claims were outside the compass of the Appeal itself, yet the press treated the two documents as a whole.

For instance, the press release apparently says (as per later reports) that the signers: [3]

"share the objectives of the Earth Summit [but advised] the authorities in charge of our planet's destiny against decisions which are supported by pseudo-scientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.

So the joint Press Release and Heidelberg Appeal then carried the implication that:

  • political decisions (ie. the Rio Statements) were often being made for reasons involving irrational fears which are not well-grounded in the accepted science.

“We stress that many essential human activities are carried out either by manipulating hazardous substances or in their proximity, and that progress and development have always involved increasing control over hostile forces, to the benefit of mankind. We therefore consider that scientific ecology is no more than an extension of this continual progress toward the improved life of future generations.

When linked to asbestos, it makes good scientific sense; when associated with the Rio Earth Summit, it was ridiculous. And, at the same time, the PR Release/Appeal combination also takes a back-handed swipe at:

  • the activist/popularist principle: "that the squeeky wheel gets the grease" -- suggesting that activists are just hysterical doomsayers or back-to-nature Neanderthals:

“We contend that a Natural State, sometimes idealized by movements with a tendency to look towards the past, does not exist and has probably never existed since man’s first appearance in the biosphere, insofar as humanity has always progressed by increasingly harnessing Nature to its needs and not the reverse.

  • that billion-dollar public health/safety programs are often little more than popularist attempts to dampen public concerns -- many don't have real health benefits.

We do however forewarn the authorities in charge of our planet’s destiny against decisions which are supported by pseudo-scientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.

The Heidelberg Conference

We have no reliable information about who funded the original conference, or why. However it was apparently a small selected group (about 40-50) of scientists from various countries who meet at the Heidelberg Cancer Research Center on 14 April 1992 for a one-day symposium.

According to Salomon, global warming claims were the primary concern of the conference, but this is contradicted by attendees at a later conference who got the distinct impression that the first conference was about the handling of hazardous materials. Since the proceedings or the attendance list have never been published, we are left in the dark about what really went on.

It is also par for the course in these matters that Peter Lee, a tobacco scientist who was the keynote speaker at the second conference, also managed to boost the numbers and change the date. He says that: [4]

"In June 1992, 300 scientists, including more than 50 Nobel Prizewinners, met bafore the Rio Summit. As a result they signed what is known as the Heidelberg Appeal...."

The only direct account we have from an attendee at the initial conference, comes from Michel Salomon, himself, who says: [5]

On April 14, 1992, therefore, we brought together at Heidelberg about fifty well-known scientists, including Nobel Prize winners Rita Levi [a neurologist [6]] and Manfred Eigen [a biochemist [7]], as well as medical practitioners, sociologists, moralists and members of the editorial staff of Projections.

They came from a range of disciplines, from numerous European countries, including the former Soviet Union, and had divergent views on many questions.

This doesn't sound like a conference of scientists concerned primarily with climate change claims; it looks like a meeting of people concerned with the lowering of scientific standards. So it's ironic that a conference to improve standards was one of the more successful in lowering them even further. Salomon continues:

The Heidelberg meeting was lively and fruitful. Experts in CFCs, dioxins, radiation and asbestos summarized the latest epidemiological and other research on the impact of these substances on health, and their conclusions were discussed by the members of the meeting.

That's a hell of a lot of complex chemical and biological science to discuss in a one-day meeting and still reach a world-changing conclusion at the end -- especially with such a mixed group of medical practitioners, sociologists and moralists. Normally two moralists can't find agreement over anything inside a decade.

Salomon claims that global warming was the key question that the participants wanted to discuss, which is contrary to (heresay) evidence of some of those involved: [8]

But the question of the coming Earth Summit preoccupied the participants too much for them to stop at purely technical discussions. We were therefore not overly surprised when numerous voices were raised wanting the group to discuss Rio and to adopt a definite position on the matter. We had rather anticipated this reaction. An initial text which we had passed round friends in Paris had already attracted about fifty signatures. We presented it at Heidelberg. It was discussed paragraph by paragraph, word by word. The Heidelberg declaration in its present version was the result of those discussions.

It is also claimed that, at the end of the conference, it had 46 signatures.[citation needed]

Another of Michel Salomon's articles says the meeting was a

small multidisciplinary group, including scientists, drawn from various nationalities, [who] met in April 1992 in Heidelberg, prior to the Rio Summit, to review the overall issues and to develop a more positive approach to future scientific action and research.[citation needed]

His claims that this was specifically to do with Rio are now quite firm.

Salomon and his associates at SEPP then circulated the Appeal through the scientific community where it was signed by many hundreds more, including some scientists who signed it at the Rio conference. By the time it was presented to the media outside the main conference, it carried 425 signatures, many from prominent scientists. Thousands more supposedly signed over the following year (the peak claim is 4000 with 75 Nobel Laureats).

It also spawned similar scientific Appeals -- especially an infamous one promoted by Fred Seitz (a tobacco consultant to R.J. Reynolds, and a board member of SEPP) called the Oregon Petition which was far more specific in its climate denial. This petition was so non-selective in its choice of "scientists" that it carried the signatures of Donald Duck and Elvis Presley more than once (perhaps added by radical environmentalists), and thousands of people who's only link with climate science was watching TV weather reports. Later there was an even more specific climate-denial/attacking document called the Leipzig Petition.

The Rio context

The context in which the Heidelberg Appeal was presented was more important than what the document actually said.

Given that Rio was the world's largest UN scientific conference discussing a subject that few journalist understood, and the Appeal was released in a press-conference discussing climate change disputes -- the document was understandably interpreted by the media as a specific scientific attack on claims that global warming existed at all.

But the document makes no explicit reference to climate change at all, and the most pertinent and outspoken paragraphs are designed for credibility and newsworthiness, rather than criticism:

We draw everybody's attention to the absolute necessity of helping poor countries attain a level of sustainable development which matches that of the rest of the planet, protecting them from troubles and dangers stemming from developed nations, and avoiding their entanglement in a web of unrealistic obligations which would compromise both their independence and their dignity.[citation needed]

This statement, of course, is carefully crafted so that it can be interpreted many different ways. The promoters of unfettered free-enterprise saw over-regulation is much more of a threat to poor countries than global warming. The document continues with a scientific claim to determine political directions:

"But we herewith demand that this stock-taking, monitoring and preservation be founded on scientific criteria and not on irrational pre-conceptions."

This was effective; one commentator says that it was "a quiet call for reason."[citation needed] So this innocuous document, colored by a clever journalist for mass-media consumption, became hot stuff in the context of the Rio Summit. Yet it was little more than a basic scientific motherhood statement. It only masqueraded at Rio as a global warming document.

In fact, the main issues discussed at the conference in Heidelberg when the Appeal document was crafted appears to have been the disposal of halogenated hydrocarbons (mainly CFCs), and the removal of asbestos insulation from school buildings. Both questions dealt with hazard mitigation on removal from the environment.

Asbestos Removal

In the early 1990s the dangers of asbestos were well known. The period when the asbestos industry and the tobacco makers were at each other's throats, blaming each other for the skyrocketing rates of lung cancer were over (See Matt Swetonic). Asbestos and tobacco were now allies, fighting the common battle to limit product liability suits. They were also both increasingly involved in even wider and better-funded coalitions with other poisoners and polluters -- the chemical manufacturers; food companies with colouring and preservative problems; smog producers like the oil, coal, energy companies; pharmaceuticals, etc. [8]

With asbestos insulation, the major argument at this time was whether to meticulously remove all asbestos fibre insulation from schools, offices, homes etc. where it had been very widely used. The removal process stirred up dust which comprised the finest of the fibers. (These were the most dangerous, and impossible to filter out.) Many good scientist thought removal was madness.

The alternative was to leave the insulation "in situ" (in place) and seal the fine fibers in place by the application of resinous liquids, which would then set and make the fibers safe. Scientists who supported this equally-valid view, saw the activists' removal demands as "irrational, emotional, and financially wasteful". Many of them also believed that asbestos could be harnessed for good in the community now that science understood the problems.

In fact the fibers were carcinogenic because they were the polar-opposite of toxic. The serious damage was done by the smallest fibers -- those below the threshold where normal face mask-filter would remove them. Asbestos is, in fact, one of the least chemically-active (least "toxic") substances known -- the problem is that the body doesn't reject them, as it would some more reactive substance. The microscopic fibers can penetrate and physically damages the microscopic strands of DNA in cells, and it is this direct damage which produces the mutations that cause cancer. The smaller the fiber, the more dangerous it is likely to be -- and it only takes one in the wrong place to trigger a cancer.

Neither side in this debate never understood the other. The dispute was compounded by the fact that most vocal anti-asbestos activists viewed the fibers in terms of "toxicity" (like a pesticide), and they could not understand why anyone would want to leave such a toxic material in place. They therefore assumed that any scientist holding a contrary view was corrupt. This raised the temperature of the debate, and the scientists reacted by viewing most activists as raving lunatics.

The Heidelberg Conference, was a seminar of about forty asbestos scientists and removal experts, together with about nine scientific PR/lobbyists/administrators who ran the conference. There is no evidence that the scientists were corrupt, although one worked as a full-time consultant to Johns Manville. They met to discuss what could be done to make governments listen to their "leave in-situ" case, and it is believed that Johns Manville Asbestos paid for the travel and accommodation. However, with a couple of notable exceptions, most of the scientists were probably independent academics.

They agreed that complete removal was impossible, and that partial removal was potentially dangerous because the finest and most damaging fibers would be left behind floating free in the environment. And from their viewpoint, the Appeal was legitimately designed to make this point.

When this background to the conference is understood, the thinking behind some of the phrases in the Appeal document becomes apparent. What started out as a direct statement on asbestos, was generalised into a broader appeal about scientific determination, and then coloured up by a Roccocco journalist to attract attention. This is not the normal dry, carefully worded, statement of a normal scientific conference:

We fully subscribe to the objectives of a scientific ecology for a universe whose resources must be taken stock of, monitored and preserved. We are, however, worried at the dawn of the twenty-first century, at the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development. The greatest evils which stalk our Earth are ignorance and oppression, and not Science, Technology and Industry whose instruments, when adequately managed, are indispensable tools of a future shaped by Humanity, by itself and for itself, overcoming major problems like overpopulation, starvation and worldwide diseases.

[citation needed]


The Big Con

This way, a vague motherhood statement on asbestos removal was converted in only a few months into an attack on global warming. can also be discerned in this later quote by the same author, Michel Salomon ... superbly cloaked in the requisite scientific "reasonableness" to make it acceptable to the layperson: [9]

The more or less apocalyptic scenarios evoked in the preparatory work for the Rio conference are not the kind of certitudes which can be used as a basis for political decisions likely to entail major upheavals and heavy expenditure on a global scale. It is neither reasonable nor prudent for major political decisions to be based on presumptions which, in the current state of knowledge, are still only hypotheses, although they must certainly be examined and even taken into account.

This begs the question, of course, but it was used, few years after the Rio Summit in a TASSC promotional document. TASSC, we now know, was designed to amplify the doubt-raising success of the Heidelberg Appeal project.

See ICSE for details as to how the Heidelberg Appeal document was used.

References

  1. Author unknown. Heidelberg Appeal to Heads of States and Governments Report. April 14, 1992. Philip Morris Bates No. 2028385655
  2. Wirz G, Philip Morris SUBJECT: The Heidelberg Appeal Memorandum to Meeting Participants. March 23, 1993. Bates No. 2025498346
  3. Cohen N, Hockaday T, APCO Associates Thoughts on TASSC Europe Memorandum to M. Winokur. March 25, 1994. * pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2025493149/3156
  4. International Institute of George Mason University D.C.Scientific Integrity in the Public Policy Process Semi-Final Program 930524 - 930525 The Madison Hotel 15th and M Streets, NW Washington, D.C. Pamphlet/Agenda. May 25, 1993. Philip Morris Bates No. 2502284041/4042
  5. Cohen N, Hockaday T, Apco Associates Thoughts On TASSC Europe Memorandum. March 25, 1994. Philip Morris Bates No. 2024233595/3602
  6. Burson-Marsteller Assessment Project Scientists for Sound Public Policy Scientific research proposal. March, 1994. Philip Morris Bates No. 2028363069/3076
  7. Schunkmann M, St. Louis Post-DispatchScientists Ripped as Alarmists in Ecology Warning News article. November, 21, 1992. Bates No. 2074144034
  8. Contrary information about the conference emphasis comes from a telephone interview by Australian journalist Stewart Fist with a participant at the second Heidelberg (Paris) conference, where the first meeting was discussed.
  9. Projections Quarterly, Autumn-Winter 1992