Climate Craziness of the week: Chris Mooney, climate trolls, beluga whales, NRDC and all that

Here’s another one of those things I discovered when I was looking at something else, and serendipity kicked in. This comes from comment in Chris Mooney’s Twitter feed highlighted by Tom Nelson.

In another laughable Cool Hand Luke “you gotta get your mind right essay at Mother Jones, Mooney complains that “emotions come faster than the “rational” thoughts” when it comes  to climate blogs. He writes:

In the context of the psychological theory of motivated reasoning, this makes a great deal of sense. Based on pretty indisputable observations about how the brain works, the theory notes that people feel first, and think second. The emotions come faster than the “rational” thoughts—and also shape the retrieval of those thoughts from memory. Therefore, if reading insults activates one’s emotions, the “thinking” process may be more likely to be defensive in nature, and focused on preserving one’s identity and preexisting beliefs.

I about fell out of my chair laughing when I saw this ad image that went with his story: 

The advertisement for the National Resources Defense council has two images:


Photoshopped for emotional effect much? Here’s the other ad:


Research for the Beluga whale population reveals this from the NOAA fisheries office of protected resources:

Population Trends

In the U.S., there are 5 distinct stocks of beluga whales–all in Alaska:

  • Cook Inlet
  • Bristol Bay
  • Eastern Bering Sea
  • Eastern Chukchi Sea
  • Beaufort Sea

Of those, the Cook Inlet is the only endangered population. It is the most isolated stock; genetic samples suggest these whales have been isolated for several thousand years. The Cook Inlet stock has been severely reduced in numbers over the last several decades. NMFS estimates this population numbered as many as 1,300 in the late 1970s. The current estimate is about 325 beluga whales in the Cook Inlet.

“Of those, the Cook Inlet is the only endangered population.” That’s a pretty glaring lie of omission, don’t you think? Here’s a thought; maybe they just moved to a different location. After all, whales have been known to migrate vast distances. Their range (from NOAA) seems to indicate they aren’t static:

Beluga Whale range map

Beluga Whale Range Map

But wait there’s more! At the link the ad goes to at NRDC we see these images:


On the link upper right, Stop Big Oil’s Attack on Whales campaign page » we are directed to a page which shows this image of the whale sans the stop sign:


Note the background for the whale image and how the water and sand/gravel looks. Some image research reveals the image to be part of a series taken by photographer Flip Nicklin. On the presentation page at Animals and Earth, we see this image from the series along with the caption:


And here’s the one NRDC used:


Since NRDC doesn’t credit Nicklin in their advertisements, I sure hope they have permission to use the photos.

So, not only does NRDC not tell the reader that only one population has any notable changes, that the 284 Belugas remain is a false number not representative of the whole global population, perhaps only the Cook Inlet population, the photo they use isn’t even FROM Cook Inlet.

Rational readers might find all that a bit incongruous, perhaps even false advertising.

In another hilarious twist of irony, there’s this ad on the story by Chris Mooney at Mother Jones.


I have to wonder if I give them $5 will they bar Chris Mooney from writing junk stories about emotions and science and take NRDC advertisements off their web site? Inquiring minds want to know.


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Hi Anthony. I think flase should be false. Otherwise a very telling article.
REPLY: Fixed thx

Willis Eschenbach

I’ve seen a pod of beluga whales swim by on the Nushagak River in Alaska, they go upriver following the salmon. They are awesome creatures. The Cook Inlet group is a long ways south and a long ways in miles from the other belugas. It’s quite possibly always been a small isolated outlying group. I do love that the picture they use is not of the Cook Inlet whales, as usual they lie by indirection.
Finally, this has nothing to do at all with oil exploration or drilling.


‘Motivated reasoning’ is the latest projection from the Borg. I’m surprised it took MoonPie this long to get the memo.

A whale of a story for a whale of a prediction. Of course, since it’s a white whale it’s a white lie and therefore justified.
The question is how many Jonahs will swallow it?
The real issue being exploited here, beyond emotion, is the lack of awareness for most people of the extent of natural fluctuation in populations. An issue I discussed here:


I’m sure this is going to have a big impact on Putin’s push to explore oil resources in the Russian Arctic, which represernts most of the Arctic waters. Never mind, this is about making a buck from people that don’t know much to begin with and are not really interested in facts. It amounts to mining dollars from personality types.


Cook Inlet has been active, so maybe the belugas were in fact driven away?
“Apache has leased approximately 850,000 acres onshore, in tidal areas and offshore in the Cook Inlet Basin, an underexplored oil and gas producing region that was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Modern 3-D seismic will enable Apache to gain accurate imaging of the subsurface of the region and identify the most promising locations for exploratory drilling.
About 1.4 billion barrels of oil was discovered in Cook Inlet in the early stage of its development. After Prudhoe Bay was discovered, industry activity in the region dropped off substantially. While only a handful of fields have been discovered in Cook Inlet, the field size distribution strongly suggests at least another 1.3 to 1.4 billion barrels of oil yet to be discovered in the basin.
Apache’s Cook Inlet 3-D seismic program employs the industry’s first true cable-free wireless seismic technology in order to limit disturbance of communities, wildlife and the environment in the Cook Inlet area. Apache has worked with contractors, stakeholders and government agencies to minimize the impact on Cook Inlet Beluga whales and other marine mammals including killer whales, harbor porpoises, Steller sea lions and harbor seals.”

Robert M

I live in Alaska, and I can see part of Cook Inlet from my house. (Yes, I really can. :-)) The Endangered Beluga in question manage to strand themselves quite often chasing Hooligan (Smelt) in the Turnagain Arm section of Cook Inlet. Over the past 10 years or so, the sand (Mud) bars in Turnagain Arm have become quite extensive, much larger then in the past. I have wondered if the Good Friday quake changed the way the silt from glacial runoff plugs up the channels in the region. Turnagain Arm has one of the largest bore tides in the world, you would not believe the difference between low tide and high tide.
I think that what the government is seeing is a natural result of Turnagain Arm becoming choked with sediments due to subsidence from the 64 quake. The immediate region subsided around 10 feet. (Look up the city of Portage) This has caused the Beluga population to move to greener pastures as it were… In other words. The decline in LOCAL Beluga population is natural, and has nothing to do with human activities. (IMHO)


Too much sea ice, a problem for belugas


NIcklin has been doing whale photos for many decades, including at least some published in a National Geographic series, probably dating back to the early 70s. I do recall that he was generally, um, in favor of “saving whales”.

Has anyone asked Mother Jones if they would ban Mooney? Just wondering if there are any Don Quixote’s around.

David Larsen

And the sun melted the last glaciar in North America from SE Wisconsin back above the arctic circle.


Sadly, no amount of detailing inaccuracies will make much of a difference with those that are emotionally attached to “saving the environment”. Somewhere along the way they developed a sense of guilt and need to counter it with mindless actions to make them feel better. (i.e. look at me, I’m saving the whales!)


Actually, I totally agree with Mooney on motivated reasoning. It’s a pretty prevalent factor on all sides of the climate debate, but I think he’s also quite guilty of it. I know his irritatingly smug condescension and insulting characterizations of skeptics turn me off.
On a separate note, here’s a great quote from Richard Feynman that summarizes how I think about the AGW debate: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

My emotions came faster than the rational, dignified and politically correct part of my noggin, when I read this latest episode of dishonest, money-grubbing, pseudo-environmentalism. The emotion past so swiftly I wasn’t able to jot down the words, however it had something to do with white Moby Dicks.

Mac the Knife

Based on pretty indisputable observations about how the brain works, …..
Not only are the brain observations indisputable…. but they are visually appealing!
That’s a ‘pretty’ damning statement….


The howling irony is that Mooney describes himself so well in this simplistic essay. We all know case after case of CAGW true believers being unable to accept contrary evidence. Why so?
He neglects to think that some people reject “facts” because the source is suspicious, not because they are stubborn. Doesn’t matter which side you’re on. Mooney could present a correct fact such as the idea that emotional reaction takes precedence over reasoning and many of us here would reject it because of Mooney’s behavioral history that’s been well-documented by Anthony. Yet Daniel Kahneman (,_Fast_and_Slow) explains that this actually is what goes on in our minds. The point is that our thinking is more complex than Mooney asserts. Both proponents and skeptics would do well to let the emotional response subside so reasonable judgement can kick in.

Notice that first they claim there ain’t much wildlife still left,then they describe the oil testing
environment as “full of wildlife.” The fact that they do not claim any demonstrative harm means there probably is none. This is their way of panhandling. Instead of asking for a few bucks to help a down and out fellow, they have latched on to the idea of substituting poor, suffering animals
who are being driven to extinction, accompanied by an irrelevant picture of beached whales. Now, exactly how does one sue these people for misrepresentation and obtaining contributions by fraud and lies? Suggestion – send this writeup to Bill O’Reilly or the science guy over at Fox..

Alan Bates

Reply to mwhite:
Save the belugas – shoot a polar bear …


A stranded whale by any other name is bear food.

Gene Selkov

Another circumstance to note here is that it’s not that difficult to find a stranded beluga, compared to other whales. Belugas like to wallow in the sand and gravel and it is part of their hygiene. That is, by the way, why they are called belugas (“whities”) — they never have a complete set of skin layers on them. With a habit like this, I would rather wonder how they manage not to get stranded more often.

Mumbles McGuirk

So we only care about WHITE whales and WHITE bears. I guess whales of color will just have to fend for themselves. … Umm … I guess they already do.


And while we are around the Arctic here is another threatened species laughing in the face of Arctic meltdown. It’s worse than we thought.

9 January, 2013
This afternoon I came across some startling information. There are now 22,600-32,000 polar bears worldwide, when tallied by nation. This is a big change from the 20,000-25,000 that has been touted as the global polar bear population since 2005.
According to a dynamic summary report on the home page of theIUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group website called State of the Polar Bear, there are now 22,600-32,000 polar bears worldwide, when tallied by nation.

From here:

Here are the numbers, by nation, listed in the State of the Polar Bear summary report (see map below):
Canada 13,300-17,500
USA 1,200-1,800
Russia 2,700-4,800
Norway 1,900-3,600
(Denmark) 3,5000-4,400
Total 22,600-32,000

Doug Huffman

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has his details on fast system-1 intuition and system-2 error-filled rational thought. Kahneman and Amos Tversky collaborated with N. N. Taleb on Black Swans and randomness.

lowercase fred

Resourceguy 11:24: “It amounts to mining dollars from personality types.”


Oh what the heck let’s go to the south pole and find another ‘threated’ species.

Apr. 13, 2012
A new study using satellite mapping technology reveals there are twice as many emperor penguins in Antarctica than previously thought.

An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (4): e33751

Louis Hooffstetter

How apropos


Doug Huffman says:
January 10, 2013 at 12:22 pm
“Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has his details on fast system-1 intuition and system-2 error-filled rational thought. Kahneman and Amos Tversky collaborated with N. N. Taleb on Black Swans and randomness.”
Do the Black Swans get stranded often? I hear they’re pretty rare. Damn Big Oil.


I was amused when I saw Whales as a topic here today… the FRONT PAGE lead item in today’s Calgary Herald (the “mainstream” newspaper) is about a dozen Orcas (Killer Whales) trapped in ice. They’ll die, said the article. They need to be rescued, and natives in the area are weeping.
As I read in, I realized this was actually a politically motivated hit piece on the current Conservative Government. Apparently they’ve reduced funding for the only agency that could have saved these poor whales, now there are no ice breakers around to help out.
The whales don’t seem to mind, two more articles at have appeared explaining that the whales swam away. Crisis: averted by activists being concerned!

Peter Miller

And lest we forget, mankind’s prosperity depends 100% on the following:
“If it can’t be grown, it’s gotta be mined.”

So Mr Mooney believes that people’s views on climate science are heavily influenced by genetic programmed for attempted survival, not necessarily accuracy. Presumably that also applies to his views on the subject? If not, why not?

seismic airguns in sensitive, wildlife-filled waters

Followed the link

Even at great distances, this excruciatingly loud noise can drive whales to abandon their habitat, fall silent and stop eating. At close range, it can deafen, injure and even kill.
Pierce Brosnan, Actor and NRDC Member

Oh, you mean like the piercing noise in save-the-whales, Star Trek IV movie. Eh .. you got some actual evidence for that, Pierce? Or is it just assumption.
BTW: environmentalists in Hong Kong were concerned about the effect of noise on a rare species of dolphin from the construction of Tsing Ma bridge (which is kind of silly as HK is already one of the busiest harbours in the world). So the contractors installed an air bubble curtain to block the spread of noise. It dampened the noise, scientists wrote papers, everybody was happy. But the dolphins most of all.
What these papers and the environmentalists don’t tell you (I heard it directly from someone working on the project, so no link and only anecdotal) was that the dolphins liked the bubbles. They approached the curtain and appeared to play in it as if it were a jacuzzi.
The noise of piling or quarrying would annoy anyone, whales and dolphins included, especially if it were close by. But people (and probably cetaceans, for all anyone knows) just learn to deal with it, till the noise goes away.

john robertson

Mooney a dripping mass of projection.
I read some of the comments on his article.
Mutual Admiration Society?

Josh C

Grew up in the area, over 30 years, the upper Inlet is really silty. I sport fished it, commercial fished it, worked on the oil refineries and the platforms. And worked doing the discharge metering for the return water (for a local instrumentation company.)
All the discharge from the platforms is cleaned, tested, and far cleaner then the water it is going into. I know what was put in, I helped spec it. The platforms have almost no impact, except to open holes in the ice for them to breath through. The ice can get 6-10ft thick in a cold snap, and there won’t be places to get air for square miles. The platforms break that up.
I really don’t have an appropriate comment as to the total fail that ad is.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

68% of those contributing to save these whales are worried given the connection to the Beluga Caviar supply.
57% (of the 100%) are wondering if Big Fisheries are somehow complicit,
34% are worried this may impact prices and/or available supply.
(Note there is an overlap that is ashamed their selfish desires for tasty caviar are hurting these noble creatures, and will be extra generous with their donations. Of course they are blameless and had no idea this was going on, as their suppliers had assured them the caviar was humanely harvested from free-range non-endangered stock.)

@kadaka – LOL – And what percent realize that Beluga Caviar does not come from whales? No caviar does.

Aynsley Kellow

DirkH: ‘Do the Black Swans get stranded often? I hear they’re pretty rare.’
Black swans are in abundance here in Australia – we have nothing but black!
NIce post, Anthony. But it’s OK to make things up in a good cause. Virtuous corruption.

The pix point out that the whales are beached at low tide . Is there any indication that they are not just sunning themselves ? Gene Selkov says they like to get out on the gravel .How long are they going to be exposed ? Maybe it’s worth it to them .

Gene Selkov

Not that they really like to get out of the water, but they seek coarse sand and clean gravel that can only be found on sand banks and in river mouths. Away from the surf or vigourous river currents, the sand is quickly silted up. I presume it is hard for them to avoid getting beached once in a while if they are so attracted to shallow waters, so either it is not a problem for them, or a trade-off. They also fish in the rivers and can get trapped there when the water goes low. I’d say going upriver must be more perilous for them than having a short rest at low tide.


The ‘You can trust NRDC!’ claim looks a bit doubtful. Perhaps time for Charity Navigator do a reassessment…

Keith Sketchley

Big sea creatures getting stranded is not a rare occurrence.
Shores are not always uniform slopes. Tides vary. Since they often flock together there’s a high risk that more than one will get trapped at the same time. If they follow a school of fish or otherwise like to feed close to shore there is risk (for example, one type of small whale type creature deliberately washes fish into shallows then somehow/sometimes eats them – best to do that on a rising tide)
Sometimes they get trapped by ice shifts in the Arctic.
Good thing humans are around to help them, many times. (Sometimes all they need is covering to reduce the effect of the sun (as they are air breathing creatures).)

Keith Sketchley

Sunning themselves is worth checking, but not likely in those pictures.
I have watched seals on the wet coast keeping themselves out of the water as long as possible, by arching their body as the tide rises over the rocks they were on.

Robert M

kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
January 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm
Please, PLEASE tell me you forgot the /sarc tag… I beg of you!

As with most things here in AK, we are able to screw things up just by doing what we do on a daily basis. But to really turn it into a disaster takes help from the feds.
Belugas have been hunted in Cook Inlet for as long as there have been people up here. Whaling is now controlled by NOAA. Sometime in the mid-1990s, they decided that they could really open up whaling by the natives and did so for a couple years which crashed the estimated population from around 1200 to less than 500. It was a great time for the whaling natives, as we ended up with people from across the state in the Inlet getting free meat an muktuk. Some of it was sold on the highways out of vehicles. Someone in NOAA finally figured out that they had taken too many whales and stopped the gross whaling. Since then, the whaling captains have only taken a couple every year.
Estimated numbers continued down to around 300. Local greens got involved and forced a listing as endangered as a vehicle to shut down oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet where it has been going on since the 1950s with no ill effect.
Whale numbers have rebounded a little, but there is a running argument between the feds / greens and local whaling captains who claim the numbers of whales are being deliberately undercounted while the beginning population was deliberately inflated. Cook Inlet is nasty silty gray water, so a real census is difficult at best. We also have several pods of killer whales in the Inlet and they feed on beluga. It is not uncommon to see several tens of whales stranded on the mudflats near Girdwood having beached themselves at low tide to escape orca. I have seen over 50 a time or two. They refloat and escape when the tide rises.
Beluga eat salmon, so their presence at various places in Cook Inlet are a good sign for local fishermen chasing salmon themselves.
This is not a development caused problem. This is and was entirely caused by mismanagement of beluga whaling in Cook Inlet by native whaling. And we now get to deal with a critical habitat where we can’t kill the things that are snacking on the beluga either (orca). Cheers –


He’s right of course – I used to believe in the pseudoscience because of an emotional response.
When my brain actually kicked in I realised I no longer believe a word of their snake oil.


Don’t you have the equivalent of our Advertising Standards Authority over there? Here adverts must be “Legal, decent, honest & truthful”. Complaints against those that are not are often upheld with advertisers being fined and forced to withdraw misleading adverts. This covers all media including online.
If that had appeared on a UK publication I’d have fired off a complaint just to be vexatious.


Fascinating educational thread about Beluga whales. Thanks, Anthony and commenters, especially those with local knowledge. Is there nowhere in the world that WUWT doesn’t reach? It sure must keep Anthony and his guest posters on their toes. 🙂
Anyway, from what people have said, it’s not surprising that they are not a numerous species. All that wallowing around in the shallows is pretty risky, especially if there are predators like orcas around.

I guess that’s what’s “wrong” with me. I have slow emotions. I’ll end up thinking and thinking and puzzling something out… and only after I’ve got a handle on it does an emotional state form. After all, how can I know to choose between anger, pity, fear, whatever; unless I’ve figured out if they are attacking me, just damn fools, or raving idiots with real power? Takes time to work that kind of thing out, so I’m usually just “contemplative / aware” until I reach an end point of understanding.
Don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just a “centered and processing data stream” emotion pended state. Maybe that is it’s own emotion. “Pended”. One some folks lack…
Oddly, in Karate class we spent a fair amount of time learning that state. Some folks had a hard time with it. “Be an empty vessel” (Karate is ’empty hand’ and also metaphorically the empty vessel…) For me it just seemed natural. Didn’t see what the big deal was.
In Aikido we had even more emphasis on the whole idea. “You chose not to fight. Let your opponents energy fight with himself.” and “Be centered and at peace.” “Return your opponents energy and un-centeredness to them. Do not let it disturb you.” (Many Aikido movements blend with the energy flow from an opponent and lets it flow back into the attacker, causing them to fly off a ways 😉 It’s really fun 😉 😉 It’s the one that looks like folks in big black culottes doing a turning dance… then someone goes flying…)
It is hard to explain how you can have a fist or foot headed right at your face and be completely emotionally unengaged, but that is the state; and I’ve been in it. There’s an odd experience (that I first really had at 7th colored belt, Purple in my dojo) when you are just an observer as your body engages with your opponent. Being “of no mind” as the lower brain levels decide to block, or kick, or catch a kick. Very peaceful, in a strange kind of way.
Perhaps if we bought the warmers all a membership in a nice eastern philosophy dojo somewhere they would learn to not emote first and think later. To realize that they can be at peace and not subject to emotional pleas and ‘tear jerk’ fear campaigns.
I think I need to revisit the “empty vessel” philosophy again…

Gunga Din

johanna says:
January 10, 2013 at 2:11 pm
… All that wallowing around in the shallows is pretty risky, especially if there are predators like orcas around.
I saw a headline today about some orcas that were stranded under some ice but now appear to be in the clear. I didn’t actually read the details to see how too much ice was somehow our fault.
Polar bears have (or will have) too little ice. Orcas have too much. What’s a Mother Gaia to do?

David J

How can the whales be stranded at low tide? Sea levels are rising, aren’t they? /sarc

Tim Ball: ‘How many Jonahs will swallow it’
Hmm, thought he WAS swallowed! The story of Jonah is very instructive in the context. Worth a read. What is very apposite is that when (after his being swallowed event) he finally tells Ninevites to change their ways – they do! This really riles ol’ Jonah – who wanted to see their destruction and was hoping for a ringside seat. In the early days of the green movement, on the whole industry genuinely began to clean up when asked to. As Patrick Moore remarked, “If people do what you ask, it’s pretty hard to carry on being confrontational” – but they did, so he left.

David J

“So we only care about WHITE whales and WHITE bears. I guess whales of color will just have to fend for themselves. … Umm … I guess they already do.”
And don’t forget “black” carbon is evil.
These guys sound awfully racist, especially when you consider what proposed energy policies will do to third world countries.
/sarc, sort of anyway.


Roscoe, I hear you about the snake oil… but in this case it’s Whale Oil… great for lamps as I understand it. Good thing our civilization came up with better solutions, whether that’s electricity or kerosene from those evil fossil fuels.
When it comes to beggars, it’s ALWAYS about emotions. From street level to boardrooms, begging is begging and it USED to be considered an embarrassing situation to be in. Now it’s a standard method to raise funds for lefty causes.
Why? Well, the same things that makes someone a lefty makes someone gullible enough to finance things like NRDC, Greenpeace, WWF, and so, so many more. They scour the world for images that jolt emotions, images of animals in distress or starving children, and as these ads demonstrate, if they can’t find a suitably emotional image they just make one up.
Yet another thing the Internet should be opening people’s eyes to, but currently they are using the Internet to advance their cause.