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Thursday, October 8, 2015

#ExxonKnew in great depth and detail about the danger of CO2 emissions, for decades, deciding not to develop the Natuna oil field in Indonesian

Exxon's Business Ambition Collided with Climate Change Under a Distant Sea

Throughout the 1980s, the company struggled to solve the carbon problem of one of the biggest gas fields in the world out of concern for climate impacts.

by Neela Banerjee and Lisa Song, InsideClimate News, October 8, 2015

After Exxon got the rights to develop the Natuna gas field, company researchers determined that the project site was contaminated with much more carbon dioxide than normal. This picture is from one of the companys documents exploring how to address the carbon dioxide issue.

In 1980, as Exxon Corp. set out to develop one of the world's largest deposits of natural gas, it found itself facing an unfamiliar risk: the project would emit immense amounts of carbon dioxide, adding to the looming threat of climate change.

The problem cropped up shortly after Exxon signed a contract with the Indonesian state oil company to exploit the Natuna gas field in the South China Sea—big enough to supply the blossoming markets of Japan, Taiwan and Korea with liquefied natural gas into the 21st century.

Assessing the environmental impacts, Exxon Research and Engineering quickly identified Natunas greenhouse gas problem. The reservoir was contaminated with much more carbon dioxide than normal. It would have to be disposed of somehow—and simply venting it into the air could have serious consequences, Exxons experts warned.

Exxons dawning realization that carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect posed a danger to the world collided with the company's fossil fuel ambitions.

They were being farsighted, recalled John L. Woodward, who wrote an internal report in 1981 on Natunas climate implications.

They werent sure when CO2 controls would be required and how it would affect the economics of the project.

Since 1978, long before the general public grew aware of the climate crisis, Exxon had worked at the cutting edge of emerging climate science. At first, Exxon’s internal studies had described climate change as an important but somewhat distant problem. Now, sooner than expected, climate considerations were affecting strategic business decisions. Natuna was one example; another was Exxon’s proposed leap into synthetic fuels.

Releasing Natunas carbon pollution would make it the world's largest point source emitter of CO2 and raises concern for the possible incremental impact of Natuna on the COgreenhouse problem, declared an October 1984 report from Exxons top climate modeler, Brian Flannery, and his boss Andrew Callegari.

Documents and other evidence uncovered by InsideClimate News also show that Exxon calculated that Natunas emissions would have twice the climate impact of coal. The company spent years researching possible remedies, but found them all too costly or ineffective, ICNs eight-month investigation found.

Exxon managers saw the problem as both technically vexing and environmentally fraught. Not only was there carbon dioxide to be dealt with, it was mixed with toxic, flammable hydrogen sulfide, a contributor to acid rain.

I think we generally agree that we are seeking a method of disposing of the off gases in a manner which will minimize the risk of environmental damage, wrote Exxons manager of environmental affairs Alvin M. Natkin in an October 1983 letter to Natuna project executive Richard L. Preston.  We must also have the data which will be convincing not only to ourselves but also to the international environmental community that the method selected is environmentally sound.

The company consulted with leading scientists, including NASAs pioneering expert James E. Hansen, to understand the effect on atmospheric COconcentrations if the gas from Natuna were released. It sent staff to facilities at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, to simulate the diffusion of the gas into ocean water. Over the years, Exxon scientists developed mathematical models to assess the options.

Because the project was so complex and expensive, the Natuna staff presented regular updates, including details of the CO2 issue, to Exxons board of directors, whose members were drawn almost entirely from the company's upper management.

Some Exxon directors accepted the emerging climate consensus. Others were less sure of the science, but agreed that as popular attention to global warming mounted, releasing Natuna’s greenhouse gases into the air could turn into a public relations debacle, former employees said.

Either way, directors repeatedly told project staff Natuna could not proceed unless the CO2 was handled in a cost-effective way that did not harm the atmosphere.

Their concerns kept getting stronger, said a former employee with knowledge of the project, who asked for anonymity because the issue remains sensitive even years later. Their attitude went from, 'Maybe we have to remove the CO2, to, as the years went by, their saying, 'This project cannot go ahead unless we remove the CO2. 

In 1984, Lee Raymond joined Exxon's board of directors. A senior vice-president, Raymonds responsibilities included overseeing Exxon Research and Engineering, which conducted the Natuna studies. In the summer of 1985, ER&E prepared documents for Raymond about a study that examined disposing Natunas CO2 into the ocean, an Exxon memo shows.

Eventually, Raymond would rise to become chairman and chief executive, and to lead a public campaign discrediting the scientific consensus on climate change and fighting measures to control greenhouse gas emissions.

In the meantime, Exxon, now known as ExxonMobil, appears to have kept its years of climate-related deliberations about Natuna mostly to itself. Exxon only began to disclose climate risks to its shareholders years after it first weighed Natunas risks, federal filings show.

ExxonMobil declined to answer specific questions for this article. In July, when ICN questioned him for an earlier article about Natuna, spokesman Richard Keil said, It is company policy not to comment on potential commercial operations.

The Carbon Footprint

First discovered by the Italian oil company Agip in the early 1970s, the Natuna gas field lies about 700 miles north of Jakarta and holds about 46 trillion cubic feet of recoverable methane, or natural gas. But the undersea formation also contains 154 trillion cubic feet of other gases, mostly CO2.

To liquefy Natunas methane for shipping, it must be supercooled. At those low temperatures, the carbon dioxide would freeze into dry ice and clog equipment, so it had to be removed. The question was where to put it.

The Indonesian government and the state-run oil company had no issue with releasing the CO2 into the air, former Exxon staff said. But awareness of carbon dioxide's impact on global temperatures had been seeping through Exxon, from its rank-and-file engineers to its board of directors.

Within Exxon in those days, there were probably two to three believers in global warming for every denier or those who emphasized the uncertainty, said another former Exxon Research executive, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

Among the key people searching for a solution was Gilbert Gervasi, the Natuna project manager, who worked in Houston under executive Richard Preston for Esso Eastern, the unit that oversaw projects in East Asia. Gervasi spearheaded the effort from the early to mid-1980s to figure out how big Natunas carbon footprint would be and what to do about it.

In a February 3, 1981, letter to Gene Northington at Research and Engineering, Gervasi challenged a rough calculation that Northington had made of the CO2 emissions from producing Natunas gas and burning it as fuel. Northingtons math showed Natunas total CO2 emissions would be “no higher than what would be emitted by burning an equivalent amount of coal, Gervasi wrote.

After conducting what he described as “more rigorous” calculations, Gervasi concluded “that the total release of CO2 from producing Natuna gas and burning of the LNG manufactured from the gas would be almost twice that emitted by burning an equivalent amount of coal.”

Six months later, Research and Engineering sent Gervasi a report, entitled Possible Climate Modification Effects of Releasing Carbon Dioxide to the Atmosphere from the Natuna LNG Project. It commissioned assessments of Natuna by seven eminent atmospheric scientists, including the climatologists Helmut Landsberg of University of Maryland and NASAs Hansen.

The report, written by John Woodward, a high level engineer at Exxon Research, presented a mixed message. Natuna would constitute a small fraction of worldwide CO2 budget, it found. But it also found that emissions are nonetheless substantial by several comparisons.

Disposal Options

Woodward examined the option of flaring the CO2 after it had been stripped from the natural gas.

Although not combustible, the CO2 had to be flared rather than simply vented because it was mixed with hydrogen sulfide, which is often burned to convert it to safer compounds. But flaring would not eliminate Natuna’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Next, Woodward looked at releasing the CO2 into seawater around Natuna, a process known as sparging. The gas from the Natuna well would be piped to a nearby platform where the valuable methane would be separated from the waste COand the toxic hydrogen sulfide. Those unwanted gases, in turn, would then be sent from the platform to a pipe about 300 feet below on the ocean floor.  The pipe would be arranged in a circle 6 miles in diameter and the gas would be bubbled out of perforations every 6 to 10 feet, like aerating an aquarium.

Woodward said that in 1982 he visited the oceanography department at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia to use their equipment to collect data for sparging models. Dalhousie had a tank about 40 feet high and 10 feet wide, filled with ocean water. Researchers released CO2 at the bottom of the tank, and Woodward measured the size and quantity of the bubbles at various depths as they rose to the surface to understand how the gas dissipated.

In the end, the hydrogen sulfide released with the COstymied the sparging idea, Woodward said. Exxon worried that a toxic plume might kill fish and result in bad press.

Back to Square One

The Natuna project staff and Research and Engineering specialists probed for answers through the 1980s, sometimes revisiting the approaches that Woodward had examined.

In October 1983, Gervasi sent a letter and background paper on Natuna to about a dozen staff and executives from different branches of the corporation to develop a study program which over the next 1-2 years will put Exxon in a position to reach a final decision on the environmental aspects of the project.

The background paper laid out options to dispose of the CO2, none of them optimal.  Releasing the waste gases into the air remained the simplest, cheapest method. However, this raises environmental questions concerning the 'greenhouse effect of the CO2, the paper said.

Gervasi’s paper said the only effective way to dispose of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide without harming the atmosphere or ocean would involve injecting the gases underground into the Natuna formation itself or a nearby reservoir.  But that option appeared prohibitively expensive.

Thwarted by cost or environmental impact, Exxon returned to mathematical models over the next two years to home in on a suitable approach.

By February 1984, Exxon Research began modelling once more the feasibility of sparging. 
The scientists found that the ocean would release the CO2 into the atmosphere, probably in 10 years or sooner. Further, increased CO2 would raise the acidity of the ocean water, damaging the local environment. Our conclusion is that atmospheric discharge is preferable to seawater sparging, Flannery and others concluded.

Study after study returned Exxon back to square one with Natuna: it held the rights to an enormously promising field but was unable to develop it because it was unwilling to pump so much COinto the air.

The scientists' conclusions were reflected in papers prepared for a 1985 meeting with Lee Raymond on Exxon Researchs activities.

Their synopsis said: We modeled the sub-sea disposal of CO2 in the shallow basin near the Natuna site and found that retention in the sea is only about a decade, as opposed to 1000 years if the CO2 is disposed in the deep ocean. We recommend that the sub-sea sparging of CO2 not be implemented since it offers little advantage over direct atmospheric release.

By the late 1980s, Exxon started to explore pumping the COback into the Natuna formation, the safest option but probably the priciest.

The company found a cost-effective method to dispose of half of Natunas CO2 underground, but calculated that the rest of the CO2 would still be the equivalent of half of Canadas annual greenhouse gas emissions, said Roger Witherspoon, a former Program Officer in Corporate Contributions in the Public Affairs department.

Company officials asked Witherspoon to find a way to plant 100,000 trees annually to offset Natunas remaining CO2 emissions. The total acreage would eventually equal the size of Connecticut, Witherspoon said.

As Witherspoon researched the options starting around 1993, Exxon had embarked on a public campaign casting doubt on climate science as a basis for strong policy actions. Internally, the attitude was different.

It was that greenhouse gas buildup could pose a threat to our business, said Witherspoon, a longtime journalist who worked at Exxon's Texas headquarters from 1990 to 1995. You didnt want climate change caused by oil and gas. So the responsible thing to do was offset any greenhouse gases you were putting into the atmosphere.

Witherspoon said Exxon started his tree planting plan, but he does not know how long it lasted.

Exxon continued to investigate possibilities for responsibly disposing of Natunas CO2. The project remains dormant, but Exxon never gave up. After an on-and-off relationship with Indonesia, the company still holds the license, which is up for renewal next summer.

Coming soon, Part VI: Exxon embarks on a public campaign of climate denial that would last for decades.

Check out Part IPart II, Part III and Part V of the series.

California pension funds to drop coal-mining companies

Kevin de León

by Chris Megerian, The Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2015

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed legislation forcing California’s pension systems, the two largest public funds in the country, to divest from coal companies.

The measure, SB 185 by state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), requires the funds to sell their holdings in companies that derive at least half of their revenue from mining coal used to generate electricity.
The deadline for divestment is July 1, 2017, and new investments will be prohibited.
The new law will affect $58 million held by the California Public Employees' Retirement System and $6.7 million in the California State Teachers Retirement System, a tiny fraction of their overall investments. The funds are responsible for providing benefits to more than 2.5 million current and retired employees.

De León pitched the measure as a way to emphasize more secure, environmentally friendly investments.
“Coal is a losing bet for California retirees and it’s also incredibly harmful to our health and the health of our environment," he said in a statement.
The University of California has already taken similar steps. Last month, it sold off its $200 million in investments in coal and oil sands companies.

Please sign readers -- demand that AG Loretta Lynch launch a RICO investigation of ExxonMobil

Please sign, readers.  We've been waiting for this for a long, long time.  The scientists who were courageous enough to sign the letter asking for a RICO investigation are now being attacked by Exxon's stooges in Congress.  Now is the time to be involved, even if it's only a signature:

Thank you for signing the petition calling on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch a RICO investigation of ExxonMobil's climate deception. 

With your help, we've already been mentioned by Daily KosCrooks and LiarsInside Climate News, and The Guardian

Prominent climate scientists and climate activists have signed, and Credo Action has joined forces with us.

Now the fossil-funded GOP is fighting back. 

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the climate denier running the House Science Committee, has launched an investigation - not of Exxon Mobil and its decades-long warfare against climate science -- but of one of the climate scientists who called for a RICO investigation of the fossil fuel industry

This act of intimidation was spurred by operatives at CFACT and CEI -- two organizations that are part of the Exxon denial network, as is Rep. Smith, who has received at least $630,597 in campaign contributions from the oil & gas industry, $24,320 from ExxonMobil.

We're getting notice, but it's critical that we get 5,000 signatures before we deliver the petition to AG Lynch. 

If we get signatures from enough states, we can even reach out to state Attorneys General to act.

With your help, we can reach our goal! 

Can you please share this link with five of your friends right now:

Thank you for taking a stand against Exxon's decades of deliberate climate destruction.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Joe Romm: Yes, the Pope supports a carbon price. Economists just ‘misinterpreted the Encyclical’

by Joe Romm, Climate Progress, October 7, 2015
The Pope’s climate encyclical does not oppose carbon pricing. Quite the reverse, as we will see.
Leading climate economists who support putting a price on carbon, including William Nordhaus and Robert Stavins, have criticized the Pope for supposedly opposing or ignoring carbon taxes and/or carbon pricing.
I have long thought that some people were misreading and overemphasizing one paragraph in the encyclical at the expense of others that are clearly supportive of carbon pricing. This week I was able to get some insight from economist and longtime Vatican observer, Anthony Annett, a 15-year veteran of the International Monetary Fund who is a climate change and sustainable development advisor at Columbia’s Earth Institute and Religions for Peace.
Annett worked with the Vatican in the run-up to the encyclical. In April, he helped organize a Vatican event on climate change co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. And he co-authored detailed remarks on business and market insights and implications of the Encyclical delivered at the Vatican press conference for the encyclical, named Laudato Si’.
“My view is that Nordhaus misinterpreted the encyclical,” Annett told me. “First, the Pope is criticizing the potential abuse of carbon credits, not ruling them out completely. Second, the Pope says nothing explicitly about carbon taxes. And later on he says that business must bear the full social cost of its activity — which really implies putting a price on carbon.”
Before focusing on the source of the misinterpretation, let me first underscore the central point that Pope Francis implicitly — indeed, it’s almost explicit — calls for pricing carbon. Paragraph 167 of the encyclical explains that the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio echoes the 1972 Stockholm Declaration and “enshrined international cooperation to care for the ecosystem of the entire earth, the obligation of those who cause pollution to assume its costs, and the duty to assess the environmental impact of given projects and works.”
Polluters pay. They are obligated to assume the costs of polluting. To ensure there is no ambiguity about what he is saying, the pope repeats and expands the message a little later.
“As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment,” explains the Pope in paragraph 195. He is explicitly critiquing the way businesses are driven to pursue “maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations.” The Pope immediately continues, “as long as the clearing of a forest increases production, no one calculates the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution.”
The Pope then directly spells out a fairly explicit call for putting a price on carbon equal to its “social costs”:
In a word, businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved. Yet only when “the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations,” can those actions be considered ethical.
In short, ethics requires the full social costs of actions that destroy a livable climate must be made clear to all and “fully borne by those who incur them.” Again, that seems like a fairly unambiguous endorsement for carbon pricing and for establishing a social cost of carbon. The Pope is quoting his predecessor, Benedict, from a 2009 Encyclical Letter, which underscores the fact that this is not a new (or controversial) position from the Vatican.
A man looks at a copy of Pope Francis' encyclical on sale at the Vatican bookshop, in Rome, Thursday, June 18, 2015.
A man looks at a copy of Pope Francis’ encyclical on sale at the Vatican bookshop, in Rome, Thursday, June 18, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ANDREW MEDICHINI

Despite the Pope’s straightforward statements in support of carbon pricing, Yale climate economist William Nordhaus just wrote an entire essay called “The Pope & the Market” in the October 8 issue of The New York Review of Books. He focused on this theme: “My major point is that the encyclical overlooks the central part that markets, particularly market-based environmental policies such as carbon pricing, must play if countries are to make substantial progress in slowing global warming.”
Similarly, Robert Stavins, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, told the New York Times in June, “I respect what the Pope says about the need for action, but this is out of step with the thinking and the work of informed policy analysts around the world, who recognize that we can do more, faster, and better with the use of market-based policy instruments — carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade systems.” On Monday, Stavins offered a lengthy defense of his position on his blog.
So what is the source of this confusion?
It is almost entirely due to paragraph 171 — set between the two endorsements of carbon pricing cited above. It states in full:
The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.
Stavins writes, “In surprisingly specific and unambiguous language, the encyclical rejects outright ‘carbon credits’ as part of a solution to the problem.” Stavins is correct that the encyclical is specific. But the term “carbon credits” — “crediti di emissione” in the Italian version — is actually quite ambiguous.
When I read it, I thought it was quite unclear exactly what the encyclical was attacking, which is why I have been trying to get some clarification.
Indeed, Stavins himself notes in his next paragraph:
If the references to “carbon credits” were intended to refer only to offset systems (such as the Clean Development Mechanism [CDM]) and not to cap-and-trade systems, then I would be much less concerned about the Pope’s complaints. However, the encyclical does not make the distinction. Indeed, I doubt that the authors of the encyclical recognize the difference, and unfortunately, readers of the encyclical will likewise lump together all carbon markets, which is what some policy makers also do, unfortunately.
Carbon credits often refer to offsets in both English and Italian. Offsets are quite problematic, since they involve letting people sell credits for emission reduction projects that might have occurred anyway. That’s why I have written so many posts critical of domestic and international offsets (especially CDM) often using the term “rip-offsets. Even in 2015, we still see headlines exposing the abuse of CDM credits, such as “Russian industry paid to increase emissions under UN carbon credits scheme.”
Given how sophisticated and detailed the analysis is in the encyclical — and given the repeated embrace of the underlying principles of carbon pricing — I thought the authors probably meant to criticize offsets and dubious CDM projects. But the ambiguity of the “carbon credits” paragraph lent itself to misinterpretation. Without further clarification from the Vatican itself, I can understand why people took that paragraph as critical of carbon trading — although I still don’t understand how one can read the encyclical and think the Pope opposes carbon pricing. I’d urge the Vatican to issue a formal statement clarifying the matter as we head toward Paris, where a great many countries will be advocating carbon trading.
As for the encyclical’s broader critique of capitalism as it is currently practiced, it seems pretty clear that we have turned the global economy into a giant Ponzi scheme that betrays our children and is doomed to collapse. And that’s without even considering issues of income inequality.
Finally, we just learned that the new Chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the former Vice Chair, Korean economist Hoesung Lee. Lee explains in this video that if he had to choose the single most important policy for addressing climate change, it would be putting a price on carbon. A few have dissed him for such a view, but the fact is that we have ignored the call to action by the IPCC and others for so long, we’ve really limited the strategies available to us.
By any reasonable analysis, a serious and rising carbon price is the sine qua non for keeping total global warming below 2 °C and averting catastrophic climate change. The plausible alternatives are far less market-friendly strategies. That’s a key reason why so many countries and governments — from the EU to China to California — embrace carbon pricing. With the support of the Pope and other key international leaders, it seems likely this crucial policy will become even more widely used in the years ahead.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Just Say #ShellNo to the Master Plan for the Northwest: Connecting the Dots on the Anacortes Oil Train Proposal

Shell Oil recently threw in the towel on the Arctic, but they haven’t walked away from their master plan to turn Puget Sound into an extreme oil throughway. With the Artic plan on ice, Shell is turning their full attention to an oil train terminal they want to build at their Anacortes, WA, refinery. This plan would bring six oil trains a week from North Dakota and Alberta, Canada, filled with toxic, explosive crude.
Shell tried to keep the proposal secret because they know that no one else wants this master plan to work. But ForestEthics and our allies fought to make sure that the project gets the scrutiny, and opposition, that it deserves — and we won. Now it’s time for citizens to speak up for safety, for climate, and for Puget Sound and Say Shell No to this dirty, dangerous oil train plan. Since they’ve pulled out of the Arctic, their proposal to move crude by rail is even more critical. 
In February a judge rejected Shell’s claim that they would not need an environmental review of the terminal. County officials might have been fooled, but we were not. The judge agreed and required a full environmental review of the plan and the comment period is now ON. The review is an important step to engage the public, hold officials accountable, and demand transparency from the oil company. But transparency, accountability and public scrutiny are the last thing that Shell wants. 
This is your chance to speak out against this dangerous project.
The 100-plus car oil trains that Shell wants to bring to Anacortes carry as much as three million gallons of explosive, toxic Bakken or tar sand crude. This is extreme oil. That means more carbon pollution, more air pollution at the refinery and everywhere along the tracks, and millions more people, wildlife, and wild places in harm's way. The nation has watched five major oil train derailments and fires in 2015 alone. Oil trains are simply too dangerous for the rails.
The Anacortes rail terminal plan would bring one mile-long oil trains through dozens of cities and towns in Washington State and across our most important waterways. Oil trains would travel from Alberta, Canada, or North Dakota to Spokane where the rail lines run right through the center of town. From there oil trains bound for Anacortes would travel through the Columbia River Valley, along the Oregon border and then north to Olympia. Then through downtown Seattle and 70 more miles north to the final destination. 821,000 Washingtonians live in the blast zone — the one mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train derailment and explosion.
The Shell Anacortes refinery itself sits on the shore of the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve next to a great blue heron rookery and seal habitat. Shell’s plan means dirty crude traveling on dangerous trains along the banks of the Columbia River and shores of Puget Sound, then more dangerous barge and tanker ship traffic through Puget Sound.
With your help we can force Shell to account for the threat to public safety, drinking water, and wilderness that oil trains bring. We will stop the Anacortes oil train proposal. We will stop Shell’s Master Plan in its tracks.

Richard Black, ECIU: Good news: There is a point to BBC Editorial Guidelines

by Richard Black, Director, Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, October 6, 2015

Good news in the post today: a letter from BBC Audience Services ‘fessing up on the appalling Radio Four programme "What’s the Point of the Met Office," broadcast on 5 August.
The BBC guidelines emerge stronger; we know what the point is now. Image: Alexander Svensson, Creative Commons license
In case you missed it, this is the series in which Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, the doyen of Fleet Street diarists, casts a ‘critical but amicable eye across institutions at the heart of British life.’
I’ve listened to a few episodes, and I reckon that overall the description stands up – Letts is unfailingly whimsical, provocative and yes, amicable. But through intention or cock-up, the eye he turned on the Met Office owed rather more to Sauron than to Swift.
Parliamentary interviewees were selected from the sparse ranks of climate sceptics and then given an easy ride, mistruths were recited as Gospel, other sceptical voices were given false credibility as they were introduced, and mistakes were attributed to the Met Office which it didn’t make. Balance was there none.
I started counting the number of Editorial Guidelines that the programme broke, but gave up after I reached seven. And for the first (and, I hope, the last) time since leaving the BBC, I submitted a complaint through the former channels, in addition to asking publicly "What’s the Point of the BBC Editorial Guidelines?"

'Unfortunate and uncharacteristic'

Mine wasn’t the only complaint, and this morning’s reply was very welcome:
The Met Office's climate modelling work has made it a political football. Image: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Creative Commons license
“Radio 4 does not consider that the programme met our required standards of accuracy or impartiality in its coverage of climate change science. We apologise for that failure.
“We have carried out an independent examination of the programme’s production processes. We are confident that the programme came about through an unusual combination of circumstances which we are in the process of rectifying to avoid any repeated problems.
“This was an unfortunate and, we believe, uncharacteristic lapse. We would like to assure you that we remain committed to covering all aspects of the subject in the most accurate and responsible way possible.”
Welcome words – especially at a time when campaigning forces are gathering on both sides of the climate fissure as the potentially seminal UN summit in Paris approaches.
Off-topic, own goal
Over time I’m hoping that the ‘unusual combination of circumstances’ to which the BBC letter refers will become clear. But here’s my bet on what happened, and it begins with a parallel.
Over the last decade or so it’s progressively become more difficult for scientists denying man-made climate change to publish papers in proper climate science journals, simply because of a lack of quality in such papers.
One tactic that the small cabal of climate-denying scientists has adopted is to publish in off-topic journals, where the peer-review process will be less informed.
An example is the 2011 paper on the role of clouds published in Remote Sensing journal, which led to the editor’s resignation.
My bet is that a ‘guiding mind’ within the small rank of politically- and journalistically-connected climate sceptics in the UK saw a similar opportunity to broadcast a one-eyed demolition of climate science in an off-topic programme.
With the best will in the world, editors and producers of ‘amicable’ output are less attuned to the minefield of climate change politics than those working on news and current affairs - especially unaware, one would guess, that climate sceptics have attempted to make a political football of the Met Office for years precisely because of its role in compiling one of the central records of global temperature change.
As with those papers in off-topic journals, "What’s the Point of the Met Office" generated a fair degree of cheering in climate-sceptic circles, but ultimately I think it has been an own goal for its backers.
Prof Steve Jones outlined principles of reporting science in 2011 in a report that the BBC accepted. Image: Isabelle, Creative Commons Licence
The BBC’s initial reaction was to defend the programme on the grounds that it is a ‘personal view.’ But even personal view programmes have to be rooted in evidence – and the positions taken by interviewees such as maverick weather forecaster Piers Corbyn and MPs Graham Stringer and Peter Lilley were anything but whimsical.
Once complaints reached the requisite level, however, the corporation reacted rigorously, and will doubtless make producers and presenters aware of the potential for them to be taken for a ride in a one-eyed, unbalanced chariot.
In addition to the apology, the programme's iPlayer page has been amended to reflect the fact that Messrs Stringer & Lilley recently joined the Board of Trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), foremost in the UK's 'brown movement'  a fact, I gather, that was revealed to the world after the programme was recorded but before it was broadcast.
One thing the BBC could easily do is to make its internal seminars on reporting science (which were introduced after the 2011 BBC Trust Review of accuracy and impartiality in science coverage) mandatory for all journalists and programme-makers. Managers missed a trick in not doing so back then, and can and should revisit that careless decision.
As a supplement, why not make the Review itself mandatory reading for all editors? It’s not that long, and Prof Steve Jones, the author, made it highly readable; it has much that’s wise to say about reporting all kinds of science, not just climate change science.
Give that "What's the Point of..." didn't just challenge but completely trash both the Editorial Guidelines and the Steve Jones review, might the BBC Trust – the ultimate guardian – look at how on Earth it happened? Might Radio Four consider broadcasting a corrective and an apology at 9 a.m. one Wednesday morning, for all those listeners who don’t look at the World Wide Web?
Winners and losers
If the BBC wins by making itself stronger and showing that its public accountability mechanisms work, who loses out in this affair?
I would say that Quentin Letts loses. Was he aware of what a pup he was being sold? I’ve never met him, but he clearly has a first-rate brain and doesn't seem the kind of chap who would take kindly to being used as a convenient conduit for garbage.
More importantly, the dwindling cabal of politically-active climate sceptics also, I would argue, lose. If they wanted their own BBC programme, as my former colleague Roger Harrabin suggested in a tweet shortly after broadcast, was this it? Really? Both the programme itself and the fallout will surely make it harder for them to have another.
Rooted in rhetorical power rather than factual rigour, grossly error-strewn, demonstrably one-eyed… what’s the point of presenting your case at all, if that’s the case you present?
[Richard, the point is that they will always try to spread their garbage, and they will keep trying as long as the money continues to flow to them.]