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Student-faculty report alleges delay tactics from local environmental group

Community group Green Oceans denies claims of using climate delay tactics to oppose offshore wind developments

An April study released by Brown’s Climate & Development Lab argues that Rhode Island climate group Green Oceans employs climate delay tactics in their opposition to local offshore wind projects. The report, “Discourses of Climate Delay in the Campaign Against Offshore Wind: A Case Study from Rhode Island,” alleges that the group used logical fallacies and misleading strategies such as citing fake experts to attempt to impede the growth of renewable energy initiatives in the Ocean State.

The paper, created by the “student-faculty think tank” housed in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, cites Green Oceans as an example of a community group propagating false information and borrowing “arguments from national climate disinformation organizations” and fossil fuel-funded think tanks that “disguise” themselves as “pro-environmental.”

Green Oceans described the paper as “full of inaccuracies and misleading statements” and denied having any ties to the fossil fuel industry in a statement to The Herald sent in late April. They subsequently framed the report as an “attempt to invalidate local concerns” and  “leveraging the clout of the University to censure the members and work of Green Oceans.”

Activists, climate scientists and government organizations have noted that offshore wind is a crucial source of energy as the country seeks to transition towards renewables. Green Oceans, on its website, claims that offshore wind will not have an impact on climate change, infringe upon ocean views and harm ocean life. Those claims have been refuted by academic studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, though another study has noted the importance of continued research on the industry’s environmental impacts while describing offshore wind as a “credible source of clean and renewable energy.”


“What is most troubling about the report is its one-sided attack on the notion that anyone might credibly voice concerns about the industrialization of the coastal ocean," the group wrote in a statement to The Herald. Green Oceans lists three team members on its website: Lisa Quattrocki Knight, a psychiatrist, Bill Thompson, an artist and Charlotte Du Hamel, a teacher.

The group also wrote that a “representative” met with IBES Director Kim Cobb in April— though Cobb disputed that the individual with whom she met was a representative of the group. Both Cobb and Green Oceans declined to name the representative. 

The same individual met with Cobb and Professor of Environmental Studies, Environment and Society and Sociology J. Timmons Roberts, who oversaw the CDL report, in May.

While Cobb described the April meeting as "mostly listening" on her side, the May meeting focused on the prospect of “co-designing” an event for the fall semester focused on offshore wind that would be “inclusive of community voices and perspectives,” according to Roberts and Cobb.

“I thought (the event) was a great idea,” said Roberts. “Brown can be a site where we talk to and learn from each other, understand each other's positions and bring the science together with concerns of communities.”

“There are vast opportunities in advancing climate solutions” at the local, federal, state and international scale, Cobb said, noting that those opportunities come as climate activists are thinking “about including community voices and perspectives in the work that we do.”

When asked if sentiments expressed in their April statement to The Herald had changed given the May meeting and prospective upcoming event, Green Oceans wrote in an email they had no intention to add to or change their earlier statements.

Likewise, Roberts and undergraduate students who worked on the report emphasized the integrity and importance of the original CDL paper, which they hope will bring attention to “the benefits and importance of offshore wind.” 

"I'll stand by the work of my students and my own work given what we knew, and even what I know at this point," Roberts said.

"I stand behind the scholarship of Timmons Roberts and the Climate Development Lab," Cobb added. "On the other hand, it's not in my position as a director to explicitly endorse it."


The April report was a collaborative effort between undergraduate students from the CDL, led by Roberts, and Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a coalition comprising labor, environmental, and social justice organizations in Rhode Island.

Green Oceans popped up on the CDL’s radar due to the “speculative” and “sensationalized” claims the group was making about plans for offshore wind developments in Little Compton, according to Roberts. The proposed development, Revolution Wind, a 704-megawatt farm, was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior last week after a lengthy review process.

Starting in February, the lab started analyzing the group’s work and formulating the report alongside experts from Climate Jobs RI, according to Roberts. For privacy reasons, the students from CDL opted to remain anonymous authors of the report, a decision that Green Oceans criticized as “sidestep(ing) accountability.”

After first noting the presence of Green Oceans, the CDL team attended a Little Compton educational event on offshore wind held by state Rep. Michelle McGaw (D-Portsmouth), a regional democratic representative, in March. 

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Gathering more information on the group, the undergraduate team dissected “handouts, white papers and presentations” from Green Oceans. They drew on two frameworks to analyze Green Ocean’s rhetoric: “Discourses of climate delay,” a paper that “organizes discourses of climate delay into overarching categories”, and FLICC, an acronym that “outlines techniques of science misinformation,” according to the report.

Based on their analysis, the team identified that Green Oceans' arguments fall under the category of "climate delay" and that the group employs misinformation tactics such as “cherry-picking” data, using fake experts, relying on logical fallacies and spreading conspiracy theories.

“We find that Green Oceans’ arguments fall within the climate delay categories… outlined by” Discourses of Climate Delay, the report reads. “We identify repeated Cherry-Picking of data… observe a significant reliance on Fake Experts… we also find that Green Oceans’ frequently incorporates Logical Fallacies and Conspiracy Theories in their arguments,” the report reads.

Giving an example of the group’s tactics, Patrick Crowley, co-chair of Climate Jobs R.I. and secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, highlighted the use of a common logical fallacy — “post hoc ergo propter hoc — or “after this, therefore because of this.”

“(Green Oceans) is using the argument that certain species of whale have been dying in the ocean at a rapid more rapid rate after we put in offshore wind turbines,” Crowley explained, “They state, therefore, the offshore wind turbines caused those whales to die. That's a logical fallacy.” 

According to Roberts, “there's no evidence to support that connection,” a statement that NOAA has affirmed.

“(It is) a very strategic way to attack offshore wind because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” he explained. The tactic “could very well slow or stop the deployment of offshore wind.”

“Many claims made by the group are highly speculative and unsupported by rigorous evidence,” he added in an email to The Herald, “The concerns of the group have been many, and many of them are so far-fetched, that it became rather clear that they simply want to stop the development of offshore wind off their coast by any means necessary, and were not interested in evidence.”

While the report offers a local case study of “climate misinformation groups,” it also broadly highlights local opposition to renewable energy projects across the world. According to the report and Roberts, Green Oceans' behavior is similar to that in documented cases in Cape Cod, Nantucket and Delaware where local community groups have used language from "national climate disinformation organizations" such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Caesar Rodney Institute to delay clean energy developments.

Green Oceans, though, has remained adamant about their detachment from the fossil fuel industry, writing to The Herald that the group consists “solely of concerned citizens from the small towns located closest to the offshore wind installation.”

Roberts emphasized the importance of acknowledging the risk posed by groups that have established connections to the fossil fuel industry: “It's important to understand this broader context in understanding our response,” he said.

Regardless of funding and intent, Roberts, and Crowley both emphasized the harmful impact of delay efforts on the country's clean energy transition and the unique effect such efforts have on Rhode Island.

Rhode Island boasts over 400 miles of coastline with an offshore wind energy potential of 25.6 gigawatts, as reported by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2010. Moreover, the Ocean State’s coastline ratio, strong winds, and governmental support make Rhode Island an ideal and crucial case for offshore wind developments, according to Roberts and Crowley. 

Rhode Island has recently implemented plans to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 via the 2021 Act on Climate and transition to 100% of its electricity needs being met by renewable energy by 2033 via Executive Order 20-01. According to Roberts and other experts, offshore wind is a critical piece of meeting those goals.

"Offshore wind has risen to the top in all the studies. It's the one thing we have and we need it now,” Roberts said. “A lot of the proposals that have been put forth, including by Green Oceans, are alternatives that are not to scale and are not available now. I consider them not realistic according to the science we have.” Green Oceans has previously pointed towards nuclear fusion as an alternative, though the technology is far from a point of viability at scale, Marketplace previously reported.

And although Revolution Wind has been approved, Roberts noted the project will likely face additional lawsuits and obstacles.

“One of my frustrations is that (increasing opposition efforts) have all come up at this late stage,” he stated. “Offshore wind has been planned since 2010. There was a lot of effort to reach out to communities on the coast and fishing groups … and input stages along the way. So it's frustrating to me to see (opposition) when the state really needs to get this stuff done.”

“I recognize that feeling of when you think something terrible is gonna happen. You feel like you need to do all you can to raise people's awareness. I have a sort of genuine sympathy,” said Roberts. “I think a lot of it is not going to be as bad as (Green Oceans) is presenting.”

Maya Davis

Maya is a staff writer for The Brown Daily Herald covering science and research, metro and university news. She previously reported health news for WebMD and Medscape, and is pursuing degrees in Biology and International Affairs. 

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