Barbara Freese

• Environmental attorney & policy analyst

• Author of 'Industrial-Strength Denial' & 'Coal: A Human History'

Barbara Freese is the author of Industrial-Strength Denial: Eight Stories of Corporations Defending the Indefensible, from the Slave Trade to Climate Change, a deeply-researched book through eight campaigns of denial waged by industries defending the slave trade, radium consumption, unsafe cars, leaded gasoline, ozone-destroying chemicals, tobacco, the investment products that caused the financial crisis, and the fossil fuels destabilizing our climate.

Barbara is also the author of Coal: A Human History, selected as a New York Times Notable Book and recently released in an updated edition. This critically-acclaimed book tells the story of how coal has transformed the world over the centuries, describes the drama swirling around coal use today, and explains why coal represents such a profound threat to the global climate.

Freese is also an environmental attorney, policy analyst and speaker who has for several years been deeply involved in energy and climate issues, with a particular focus on coal. She has fought to block the construction of new coal plants and to enact climate protection laws at the state and federal level, and she co-authored multiple reports on coal use when she was a senior policy advocate on the staff of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She has also taught about fossil fuels and climate, including as a policymaker in residence at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. In the mid-1990s, when she was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Minnesota, Freese litigated the science of climate change against the coal industry, confronting first-hand the science denial that would later become so prominent in the U.S.

Barbara has a J.D. from NYU School of Law and a B.A. from the University of Minnesota.

Speech topics

The High-Stakes Battles Over Coal and Climate and How They Affect the Future

Battles are being fought over the future of coal – in the U.S. and around the world -- and their outcome will have a profound effect on the global climate. A new Administration has pledged to undo federal climate laws and pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement in a bid to revive the shrinking U.S. coal industry. At the same time, as the world mobilizes in response to global warming, there are strong economic, political, technological and social trends that will keep pushing the world away from coal.

In this talk, author and attorney Barbara Freese explains today’s coal and climate battles, including: how the recent coal rush turned into a coal crash; how bipartisan climate action was replaced by partisan climate denial; how the development of so-called “clean coal” technology has stalled while renewable technologies have soared; how a new generation of climate activists are working to keep coal underground; how investors are increasingly concerned about the so-called “carbon bubble” propping up the stock prices of fossil fuel companies; and how surprising drops in China’s coal use are fueling optimism among those fighting climate change.


Industrial-Strength Denial: Eight Stories of Corporations Defending the Indefensible, from the Slave Trade to Climate Change

Barbara Freese, an environmental attorney, confronted corporate denial years ago when cross-examining coal industry witnesses who were disputing the science of climate change.

Coal: A Human History

In this remarkable book, Barbara Freese takes us on a rich historical journey that begins hundreds of millions of years ago and spans the globe.

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