Alberta Boreal Forest
Climate Tar Sands

Peter Jefferson Nichols: A NY Times Columnist’s Misguided Crusade


…What people hear from [climate scientist Dr. James] Hansen today is not so much his science but his broad, unscientific views on, say, the evils of oil companies. — Joe Nocera, “A Scientist’s Misguided Crusade,” New York Times.

tar sands, midwest, Keystone XL pipeline
Harper government has created an elaborate strategy to promote approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that includes an outreach program targeting American journalists behind the scenes, newly released diplomatic correspondence reveals.

Writing Back at Joe Nocera’s Pro-Keystone XL Crusade in the New York Times

By Peter Jefferson Nichols

Josh Fox, the creator of the whistle-blowing documentary that made flaming faucets famous, “GasLand,” made a sequel short film called “The Sky is Pink.” In it he chronicles the difference between “investigative” journalism and “he said/she said” journalism. It is available for your viewing pleasure here.

Inspired, I’ve decided to textually mimic his process. I will respond as directly and as frequently as possible to writing that I find dangerously, willfully misleading.

Dear Joe Nocera,

On February 22, at the very end of your column titled “This War Is No Longer Invisible,” you wrote:

New York TimesIn my column on Tuesday, I described the strategy of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists as boneheaded. In writing about the effect of a carbon tax on Canada’s tar sands oil, I was pretty boneheaded myself. I said such a tax would likely make tar sands oil more viable. But, obviously, it would do the opposite; by decreasing demand for oil and making the already expensive tar sands oil even less economically appealing. What was I thinking?

Perhaps you had read my letter, in response to your erroneous text? Regardless, I want to commend you for admitting your fallibility.

But Joe, in your op-ed column entitled “A Scientist’s Misguided Crusade” on March 4, you again fumbled, hard. Writers don’t have the same excuses available to Quarterbacks, and you haven’t apologized for this, more recent mistake. And now you are a repeat offender, you’ve established an unsavory behavioral pattern.

Mainstream Media Embedded in the Tar Sands

Perhaps you are being coerced, no doubt you’ve read about Dennis Rodman’s courtesy call on Kim Jong-un. Yet, I bet that you are well aware that the tactic of sending athletes as diplomats is by no means new. In fact I bet you’ve met the Mounties’ top foreign relations operative, Tie Domi.

On March 6, The Edmonton Journal reported,

Harper government has created an elaborate strategy to promote approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that includes an outreach program targeting American journalists behind the scenes, newly released diplomatic correspondence reveals…The documents, nearly 1,000 pages of emails, were heavily redacted… (but)  revealed several attempts, over a two-week period in August 2011, to reach out to various journalists from major publications such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and an influential trade publication, E & E Daily.

hockeyWhat’s a retired hockey enforcer to do? There’s dancing, but no fighting, with the stars. Celebrity death match is, sadly, only a production in claymation. Though, Mark Wahlberg is a willing exception. That former leader of the Funky Bunch has repeatedly challenged Domi to friendly fisticuffs but has been rebuked without explanation. The Associated Press reported the Boston actor’s speculation that the unvoiced reasoning could be “boxing and hockey is pretty different, you can’t hold somebody’s shirt and punch with the other hand.” But the heavily redacted Canadian email documents leave open the possibility that Domi is overbooked. After all, fighting a man in a suit jacket is similar to fighting a man in a jersey, pull it over their head, hold it over their head, and mash your free fist into the lump behind the fabric where you think their face is.

So Joe, I ask you to either demonstrate your remorse for repeatedly biffing journalistic integrity by resigning from the Times or visit and get help now!

In case the least likely scenario is the actual scenario, in which case Occam’s razor must be duller than (insert offensive metaphor about some pop-culture icon’s genitalia or whit), I suppose I’ll go into why your recent missive missed.

Dr. James Hansen, NASA Scientist, Should Serve Which Public Interest?

You hold up the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released by the State Department on Friday, March 1 as being something more than a draft, and a rough one, that is open to public comment for 45 days. Then you slip into an odd assault on Dr. James Hansen who, in the spirit of Earth First! Never Forgives and Never Forgets, is no longer is willing to communicate with you personally after your first op-ed blunder and who composed a letter sent out en-masse responding to the State Department’s attempt to bury the E.I.S. with the rest of the Friday afternoon news.

Keystone XL, climate change, tar sands
Dr. James Hansen, NASA climate scientist: “The public must demand that the government begin serving the public’s interest, not the fossil fuel industry’s interest.”

You quote the good doctor, “The public must demand that the government begin serving the public’s interest, not the fossil fuel industry’s interest.”

Now I quote you (the hyperlinks for the next two paragraphs are yours as well):

 “As a private citizen, Hansen, 71, has the same First Amendment rights as everyone else. He can publicly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline if he so chooses, just as he can be as politically active as he wants to be in the anti-Keystone movement, and even be arrested during protests, something he managed to do recently in front of the White House.

But the blast e-mail didn’t come from James Hansen, private citizen. It specifically identified Hansen as the head of the Goddard Institute, and went on to describe him as someone who “has drawn attention to the danger of passing climate tipping points, producing irreversible climate impacts that would yield a different planet from the one on which civilization developed.” All of which made me wonder whether such apocalyptic pronouncements were the sort of statements a government scientist should be making — and whether they were really helping the cause of reversing climate change.

You then finish making what turns out to be a classic shit sandwich, criticism-compliment-criticism. Praising Hansen’s accomplishments as a scientist. Then questioning the veracity of his assertions (citing a 5 year old letter as evidence of an ongoing debate and ignoring the absence of peer reviewed articles challenging the Scientist cum-activist).

The Wrong, and the Incorrect

To conclude you embark on some irritating and obvious conjecture that not even a judge from Jim Crow era Arkansas would entertain. And once again hold up a Carbon Tax as a worthwhile pursuit, hard to believe in when you consider Trans-national trade agreements, while rejecting the fight against KXL as foolhardy. In doing so you write some things that are flat out wrong and some that deliberately misleading.

First the wrong, “the oil we import from Venezuela is dirtier than that from the tar sands.” Ever heard tell of the Orinoco River?  No? Well, the oil we import from Venezuela is in no small part derived from tar sands. The only reason for it being dirtier is its having to be shipped further, unless of course we are naive enough to believe Chavez was a Stalin reincarnate, and the only people who stand to gain from switching to Canadian syn-crude away from the South-American are the Gulf Coast Refinery owning Koch Bros.

Alberta Boreal Forest

Now the misleading, “Even in the unlikely event the pipeline is stopped, the tar sands oil will still be extracted and shipped.” Well yes, and no. You see yes it is already being shipped to U.S. markets. But there it must compete with the standard barer, Western Texas Crude. It isn’t much of a competition. The stuff from Texas goes for $91.60 a barrel, according to, and the stuff from Alberta goes for $44.92 a barrel. And the if the price of a barrel of tar sands derived crude dips below 30 bucks it’s no longer profitable, as things stand now. Yet if this pipe is rejected, that seems almost inevitable, considering the glut of shale oil being released by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, another evil for another letter. So ultimately the Western Canadian Tar Sands need an international port and the U.S. seems more likely to offer it than a route through their own country, be it headed to the Atlantic or Pacific.

Now to wrap up my own epistolary slap, I think one of impervious integrity, that State Department Environmental Impact Statement Draft? I trust it less than Manti Te’o …“Critical Part of Keystone Report Done by Firms with Deep Oil Industry Ties.”



Be well, do better and avoid those Canadian Diplomats,



P.S. Support the Tar Sands Blockade!

P.P.S. Get those comments in on the shoddy Keystone State Department Report.

P.P.P.S. Did you read this? Editorial from the NY Times condemning the pipe. “A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem.”

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