Harvard

Climate Scientists: Coal-funded #Fakexpert Willie Soon was Never Credible.

Illustration by Thomas Avila for Greenpeace's Dealing in Doubt report (Cindy Baxter, 2013).

"The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless."

- NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, to the New York Times

 

Recent revelations regarding Smithsonian scientist Willie Soon's financing and coordination with fossil fuel companies for studies undermining the science of climate change has received quite a bit of attention. Our friends at the Climate Investigations Center have links to source documents, letters to the IRS and Congress, letters to journals that Soon appears to have mislead, and some of the press covering all of this.

The drama has largely outshone the main point among most scientists: Willie Soon's work is vastly discredited. For those who aren't familiar with Willie Soon's fossil fuel company contracting over the last fifteen years, there is probably a legitimate question of whether or not this guy deserves to be in his current pinch.

Frankly, he had it coming.

Scientists and science reporters have often had to waste their time addressing the interference of Soon and his cohorts, who take advantage of the public's general unfamiliarity with scientific nuance. 

But scientists too are talking about Dr. Soon's work and what it means for the troubled peer-review process that the most stringent journals usually adhere to. Here is a summary of some of the most interesting conversations in science publications about Willie Soon's #Fakexpert scandal.

First, Soon's manager at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Charles Alcock, has time and time again said that neither he nor Smithsonian support Soon's fossil-funded conclusions. From E&E Publishing's ClimateWire:

"I'd have to say that I've reached my conclusions independent of Dr. Soon's work," Alcock said. "Dr. Soon is not actively engaged in actually gathering new data. He's principally disputing the interpretation of data gathered by other people. And I think this is an area where most of the progress will be made by people who collect new [climate] data or who build new models."

Soon's industry-financed papers have been debunked by climate scientists over and over. Just last month, Soon co-authored a paper claiming to debunk decades of science using a "simple" model of long term temperature projections. Scientists worldwide noted that Soon's methodology was grossly oversimplified, ignoring key factors that scientists have warned will lead to unprecedented temperature increases in the coming decades.

The Heartland Institute, a think tank with ties to the fossil fuel industry, paid to promote this paper in Science Bulletin, a journal published by the Chinese National Academy of Sciences. Heartland has misrepresented the Chinese NAS for political purposes before, and Science Bulletin was the latest victim of Dr. Soon's serial lack of disclosure of fossil fuel funding to science journals. Science Insider - published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) - interviewed editors at science journals who appear to have been fooled by Dr. Soon's non-disclosure of his industry payments.

But Soon's work was widely disregarded before his controversial 2015 paper in Science Bulletin. The prestigious science journal Nature notes that Dr. Soon's haggard relationship with science isn't new:

The scientist has published numerous papers that go against mainstream climate science. Most famously, in 2003, Soon co-authored a paper in the journal Climate Research that questioned the standard interpretation of climate change over the past millennium and argued that recent warming is not unusual by historical standards. Subsequent controversy led to the resignation of several of the journal’s editors. In that case, the controversy revolved around scientific issues, not disclosure of funding sources. [More on this scandal in our profile of Willie Soon]

NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt for RealClimate re-starts, giving Soon the benefit of the doubt (select clips):

However, a valid question is whether the science that arose from these funds is any good? It’s certainly conceivable that Soon’s work was too radical for standard federal research programs and that these energy companies were really taking a chance on blue-sky high risk research that might have the potential to shake things up. [...]

It is most succinctly highlighted in an article Soon wrote ‘It’s the Sun, stupid’ (not sure if it was ever really published anywhere, but he did send it to his contacts at Koch Industries). Towards the end he states:

The evidence in my paper is consistent with the hypothesis that the Sun causes climatic change in the Arctic.

It invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change – and raises serious questions about the wisdom of imposing cap-and-trade or other policies that would cripple energy production and economic activity, in the name of “preventing catastrophic climate change.”

It is the leap from the first to second sentence that drives Soon’s research – the notion that if you can find enough correlations to solar forcing, the impact of CO2 must be diminished, if not obliterated altogether. But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero.

If you're feeling masochistic enough to read more from scientists into the documented gap between reality and Willie Soon's research, check older RealClimate posts on Dr. Soon here, here, and here, and this generously-detailed debunk of Soon's presentation at the latest Heartland Institute climate denial conference by ecologist Richard Telford.

Telford isn't the only scientist baffled by Soon's awkward presentations. University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank details his "depressing" encounter with Willie Soon, at an event and a personal encounter, from NPR:

When it was announced that Soon was giving a talk at the University of Rochester, I knew it would be interesting. I was more than willing to hear what the man had to say. The whole point of being a scientist is, after all, to try to leave your preconceptions at the door and let the work speak for itself. I also wanted to understand Soon's own thinking about the role he was playing as a public skeptic.

On all counts I was disappointed.

Taken as nothing more than a scientific talk, Dr. Soon's presentation was, in my opinion, pretty bad. I watch a lot of these things. It's part of my job. If Soon had been giving a Ph.D defense, he would have been skewered. I was left without a clear line of argument or clear justifications for his claims. More importantly, for a topic this contentious there was insufficient discussion of the voluminous and highly detailed response critics have offered to his claims that solar activity accounts for most observed climate variability. Many of my colleagues listening to the talk said they felt the same way. I came away thinking, "Is that the best they have?"

The presentation that Prof. Adam Frank found depressing was focused on Soon's long-since-discredited thesis that the Sun, not industrial pollution, is responsible for climate change. Citing peer-reviewed material on Skeptical Science, science reporter Chris Mooney re-examines how Soon's primary argument is debunked, for the Washington Post: 

[T]he idea that the sun is currently driving climate change is strongly rejected by the world’s leading authority on climate science, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found in its latest (2013) report that “There is high confidence that changes in total solar irradiance have not contributed to the increase in global mean surface temperature over the period 1986 to 2008, based on direct satellite measurements of total solar irradiance.”

The IPCC “basically says that global warming is not caused by the sun,” says Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The strongest evidence for this is the record of satellite measurements of solar output since the late 1970s that show no increasing trend in solar output during a period of rapid global warming.” [...]

recent scientific review article on climate and the sun similarly notes “the lack of detection of an underlying irradiance trend in the past three decades,” and concludes, in rather strong terms, that:

Claims that the Sun has caused as much as 70% of the recent global warming … presents fundamental puzzles. It requires that the Sun’s brightness increased more in the past century than at any time in the past millennium, including over the past 30 years, contrary to the direct space-based observations. And it requires, as well, that Earth’s climate be insensitive to well-measured increases in greenhouse gases at the same time that it is excessively sensitive to poorly known solar brightness changes. Both scenarios are far less plausible than the simple attribution of most (90%) industrial global warming to anthropogenic effects, rather than to the Sun.

So in sum: It’s not that the sun can’t influence climate. It can, and it does. And climate scientists have accordingly been studying the influence of the sun for many years.

Discover Magazine has a similar rundown of Soon's debunked "it's the sun" thesis, based on a video of a presentation Soon gave to a Koch-funded student group.

Even Koch-funded scientist Richard Muller has abandoned Soon's solar theories in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, as Brad Friedman reminds us, in a study that Charles Koch Foundation itself helped finance (oops).

While most scientists may agree that Soon's work is nothing to bat an eyelash at, Soon's corporate funders aren't trying to influence scientists - they're trying to influence policymakers, and the people who vote for them. The Scientist quotes Harvard's Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, a book documenting corporate manipulation of science that is now being released as a critically-acclaimed movie (trailer here):

Though the vast majority of climate scientists agree that the Earth’s climate is changing as a result of human activities that increase the amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, researchers like Soon foment debate by publishing alternate hypotheses or denials. “The whole doubt-mongering strategy relies on creating the impression of scientific debate,” Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard, told the Times. “Willie Soon is playing a role in a certain kind of political theater.”

And the implications for this? Jay Michaelson at the Daily Beast has a brilliant summary of why these climate deniers matter, when their work is so discredited and marginalized in the scientific community:

Yet unlike 9/11 trutherism, and Obama-is-a-Muslim trutherism, the Climate Truther campaign has an air of respectability, a unanimous adherence among Republican presidential candidates. How is that possible?

The answer is money. Lots of money. Billions of dollars, in fact, spent to create an entire industry of scientists, publicists, think tanks, and legislative organizations.
 
Willie Soon, for example, should never have been given much credence in the first place. Like nearly all of the Climate Truthers’ scientists, he is not a climate expert. He’s not even an astrophysicist, as he is often presented. As the New York Times revealed, “He is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering.”
This type of industry-funded public relations has frustrated legitimate climate scientists for a long time. Science writer Greg Laden sought comment from renowned climate scientist Michael Mann, whose work has been attacked by Soon and just about every other person in the fossil fuel rolodex. Quoting Mann:
“Willie Soon (as amply documented in my book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”) was instrumental in the early attacks on the Hockey Stick by James Inhofe and other fossil fuel industry-funded politicians. Now we know for certain that his efforts were a quid pro quo with special interests looking to discredit my work as a means of calling into question the reality and threat of climate change.” 
Most of this denial is implemented through the vast web of Koch-funded front groups in the State Policy Network, with presence nationally and in all 50 states.
 
For a look at how SPN uses science denial in the policy arena, check out Willie Soon's climate denial testimony to Kansas legislators from January, 2013. This dismissal of climate science to Kansas legislators marked the opening of a nationally-coordinated attack on Kansas' clean energy incentives by SPN members. In that case, Dr. Soon failed to disclose his payments from the nonprofit Charles Koch Foundation for his work, which he cited in the Kansas statehouse.
 
Hence our letter to the IRS, asking about potential violations of law. The Charles Koch Foundation funded most of the groups working to attack the clean energy law, Koch Industries itself was lobbying against the law, and rumor has it that Willie Soon was flown in on the dime of Americans for Prosperity, a group founded, financed and governed by the Kochs.
 
PolluterWatch has more on the history of Willie Soon, whose denial isn't limited to temperature changes, but the hazards of mercury pollution from burning coal, ocean acidification and polar bears' increasing struggle to survive as their habitats melt. I'll leave you with an image from InsideClimate News, which has done in-depth reporting on Soon:

Wille Soon's Fall from Grace: Climate Denier #Fakexpert Has Extreme Conflicts of Interest

Extra Extra! Read all about climate denial scientist Willie Soon's dirty money from petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch, coal utility Southern Company, oil giant ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies to deny the science of climate change!

The last time I bumped into Willie Soon, I asked him if there was any explanation for some of the information in our latest round of documents indicating that his employer was eager to take money from ExxonMobil:

The questions I tried asking Dr. Soon (who won't talk to me, after a few of these encounters went bad for him) are based on seemed to show that despite all the embarrassment Soon has caused his employer, the Smithsonian Institution, private communications with ExxonMobil indicate that Smithsonian was all too happy to take Exxon's money for their general operating budget.

Is that why the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics allowed Dr. Soon to conduct what essentially is a lobbying and public relations campaign for fossil fuel companies, all in their name? From the documents Greenpeace obtained, here's the Harvard-Smithsonian Center thanking Exxon:

 

To their credit, Smithsonian officials say they are doing an internal review of Dr. Soon. We'll see how that goes, but it's not encouraging to see that Soon's coworkers may have been complicit in peddling influence for ExxonMobil and the other polluters financing Dr. Soon.

For years, we at Greenpeace have been working to make public the secret paper trails that show what everyone already knows: climate science deniers - #Fakexperts - are few and far between, and most of them are paid by companies most responsible for global warming to downplay the problem.

Willie Soon's payments from Koch, Exxon, Southern Company and the American Petroleum Institute aren't news - we've known he took over $1 million from these interests since 2011. But the level of detail and the implications from this latest round of research is shocking. From the New York Times:

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work. The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.

For Greenpeace, this raises both legal and ethical questions. From The Guardian:

In letters to the Internal Revenue Service and Congress, Greenpeace said Soon may have misused the grants from the Koch foundation by trying to influence legislation.

Our executive director Annie Leonard just sent a letter to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and two letters to the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (here and here) in pursuit of answers.

Is the IRS okay with Charles Koch's nonprofit foundation funding research that appears to have directly influenced state and national politicians? Did ExxonMobil violate any Congressional rules by giving Soon a grant just two months after Soon told Congress he had no financial conflicts of interest, after telling them that climate change isn't a crisis? And Southern Company?

We will keep you posted as things unfold - keep track yourself on the Climate Investigations Center, where our former colleague Kert Davies is busy trying to answer the same questions. For disclosure - know that Kert helped start this work when he still was Greenpeace's Research Director. We have continued to partner with him on this since his amicable split from our team.

After you read the Times, check out more on the story...just about everywhere.  The Boston Globe writes that Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) plans on opening an investigation on climate science deniers. InsideClimate News notes how Soon has been part of a game plan detailed by the American Petroleum Institute in a leaked memo from 1998. Gawker, Discover Magazine, and STGIST have more. Gizmodo wins for the most brazen headline. Willie Soon NY Times A1 2015 Willie S

Exxon- and Koch-funded scientist Willie Soon confronted at University of Wisconsin over discredited climate research

Written by Hannah Noll.

I was just getting out of class last Tuesday when Dan Cannon, Greenpeace Student Network Coordinator, called to inform me that Dr. Willie Soon was coming to University of Wisconsin-Madison the following night to “challenge the Global Warming status quo.” I attend school an hour away, but I just couldn’t allow myself to pass this opportunity up. I had prior knowledge that there are climate deniers that are funded from Big Coal and Big Oil, but what I learned about Willie Soon's funding, motives, works published, and past (and present) controversies shocked me.

“Harvard Astrophysicist Dr. Willie Soon,” as listed on the fossil-fuel funded Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow’s event notification, consistently misrepresents himself to seem credible. Dr. Soon is not employed by Harvard University as suggested by CFACT Campus, but he uses the affiliation with the university to his advantage. He works for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Though located on Harvard’s campus, the group is not officially associated with the University, and Harvard University has distanced itself from Soon. He is an astrophysicist by training, but has no formal education on climate science.
 
His self-misrepresentation alone wouldn’t be jaw-dropping, but when paired with information about Willie Soon’s funding, it is clear that something fishy is going on here. The last grant he received from a funder with no ties to dirty energy interests was in 2002 (a grant that carried through to 2006). Since then, he has been entirely funded by fossil fuel interests. Dr. Soon has received over $1 million in coal, oil and gas funding for his work, including funding from Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Texaco (now Chevron), and the Koch Brothers. Greenpeace Freedom Of Information Act inquiries to Smithsonian Institute reveal that in 2011 and 2012, Dr. Soon received nearly $115,000 from Donors Trust. He has been caught directly coordinating with lobbyists from ExxonMobil to undermine the United Nation’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report before it was even released. IPCC is the global research authority on climate change. 
 

Recounting the day’s events:

When the time came to leave Milwaukee for CFACT's event in Madison, Lynda Mouledoux and I probably had over 100 different species of butterflies in our stomachs. I’m just a college student, but this was my chance to demand accountability from someone meddling with important science in order to hold the world back from addressing climate change. After his presentation, he held a question and answer session. I came prepared to ask critical questions. During the questioning, something must’ve gotten under his skin and caused an aggressive and defensive posture that launched phrases like “childish,” “extremely rude,” “wrong,” and “if you had a bit of intelligence”  Not once did I use a personal attack on him; I was simply asking him about factual details of his career and those funding it.
 
My ask was "You have received over one million dollars in funds from coal and oil interests. The last grant you received from a funder with no ties to the energy industry was in 2002. That's over a decade ago. So Dr. Soon, why should we trust someone without credentials in climate science whose work is only funded by coal and oil interests?”  Watch the video below to see his reaction to this question.
 
 
Dr. Soon made an interesting claim, emphasis added:
"I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything, but I have enough knowledge about climate science and climate system to be able to write scientific papers and go to meetings and talk about monsoon systems and talk about any other things that you want to discuss about climate science issues. I'm as qualified as anybody that you know on this planet on this topic"
But Soon certainly appears to claim that he’s an expert on things outside of his expertise. His lack of climate science credentials aside, perhaps the $290,000 he has received from coal-burning utility Southern Company explains why he abruptly appeared in a 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing mercury pollution from coal plants. The op-ed, titled "The Myth of Killer Mercury," ends with the following description:
Mr. Soon, a natural scientist at Harvard, is an expert on mercury and public health issues.
...except Soon doesn’t work for Harvard and carries no formal expertise on “mercury and public health issues.” Co-authoring that article was Paul Driessen, another known fossil fuel shill from the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT)--the parent organization to the campus group hosting Soon’s discussion on climate science.
 
We’re living in a time where corporations and junk science are crippling the effectiveness of our own government to serve us. According to Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, “ExxonMobil made more money each of the last three years than any company in the history of money.” Corporations put profits over people and destroy the earth to please shareholders. I refuse to accept this, so I will continue to perform Non-violent Direct Action in order to do my best to change the status quo.
This blog was written by Hannah Noll. Hannah is a sophomore at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Campus Coordinator with the Greenpeace Student Network, and a Greenpeace Semester alumna.
 
Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.
 

Climate Denial University? The Heartland Institute's Toxic Presence in Higher Education

PolluterWatch: Greenpeace Investigates Heartland Institute Leaked Documents -- click to see investigation and ongoing updates.

As Greenpeace questions universities about payments to faculty members from the Heartland Institute for its campaign to discredit climate science, we have made some interesting discoveries. Our newest letter is to the University of Missouri concerning professor Anthony Lupo, who leads the schools Global Climate Change Group and is slated to receive a total $18,000 from the Heartland Institute from 2011-2012 as a consultant for "Climate Change Reconsidered" reports. As you would expect from a Heartland Institute project, these reports are designed to confuse the scientific conclusions of 97% of climate researchers around the world.

While credible climate scientists and institutions have understood global warming for decades now, Anthony Lupo's position on climate has fluctuated significantly. A thorough article in the Kansas City Pitch back in 2008 revealed the following evolution of Dr. Lupo's public statements on global warming:

  • In 1998, Tony Lupo boasted that climate skeptics outnumbered the consensus view that global warming is happening and caused by people, proclaiming, "there is no scientific consensus whether global warming is a fact and is occurring." This is despite the fact that in 1995 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." Dr. Lupo has participated in the IPCC as a reviewer, one of the few scientists involved who rejects the IPCC's research conclusions.
  • In 2000, Dr. Lupo cited an influential oceanographer calling for more study on global warming in "recent statements"...after the oceanographer had been dead for nine years.
  • In 2005, Dr. Lupo contradicted his previous op-ed statements and told the Kansas City Star that "the climate is warming" but that the warming was not "unprecedented."

  • In 2007, Dr. Lupo said that because of increasing global surface temperatures, "Columbia's [Missouri] probably become a more ideal place to live." This notion is consistent with that of industry apologist Craig Idso, who coordinates the work of Heartland's Climate Change Reconsidered reports.

Our new letter to Mizzou quotes Dr. Lupo this year telling the Columbia Daily Tribune that he still doubts humans are the primary cause of global warming, contrasting the explicit climate statements of scientific institutions he is affiliated with, such as the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorology Society. Anthony Lupo's work for the Heartland Institute even flipped a long-time climate skeptic columnist at the Daily Tribune, who publicly explained why the scandal convinced him that global warming is indeed occurring.

Questions posed to other schools have unearthed more potentially scandalous activity. First and foremost, we want to know why the Heartland Institute has Michigan Technological University (MTU) professor David Watkins listed in their budget. When we wrote to MTU asking if Watkins had disclosed his Heartland payments, they were shocked at the association. Turns out, Watkins is neither a climate skeptic nor a Heartland Institute contractor, something the Heartland Institute has not explained.

As Michigan Tech made it clear they want nothing to do with Heartland's junk science, Harvard University again confirmed that career climate denier and Heartland contractor Willie Soon has no formal affiliation with the school beyond office space on their campus. This hasn't stopped Willie from claiming he's a "natural scientist at Harvard" while dismissing the dangers of mercury pollution in the Wall Street Journal. Last year Greenpeace revealed that Willie Soon is exclusively funded by fossil fuel interests like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Southern Company, a major contributor to mercury air pollution from its coal plants.

Moving southwest, a meeting with Greenpeace student activist Erica Kris prompted an "investigation" at Arizona State University (ASU), although there was no third party involved to prevent bias. ASU's longtime climate skeptic Robert C. Balling continues to reject conclusive scientific evidence that humans are the primary cause of global warming and was listed as a recipient of prospective payments in Heartland's leaked budget for work on their "Climate Change Reconsidered" reports. According to Arizona State Vice President for Academic Personel Mark Searle, who conducted the review of Dr. Balling's disclosure forms to the school, Balling isn't going to review Heartland's latest climate denial report:

"With respect to any consulting work with the Heartland Institute, other than the previously reported $1000 honorarium Dr. Balling received for giving a speech some years ago, he has not received any compensation from them. The purported budget from the Heartland Institute was prospective and was not a commitment and Dr. Balling told me he has not engaged in any such activity."

Historically, Dr. Balling has taken plenty of money from fossil fuel interests, which brings in funding not only to Balling's predetermined "research," but hundreds of thousands of dollars in overhead payments to Arizona State University (see Balling's 1997 testimony to the Minnesota News Council). Balling teamed up with oil industry scientist Pat Michaels at the Exxon- and Koch-funded Cato Institute to write three books that have served as faux counter-arguments to settled science. Two of those books were published by Cato, while The Heated Debate was published by the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), another cog in the climate denial machine. Balling claimed to know "nothing" about the Pacific Research Institute even though PRI and published his book promoting global warming doubt:

"I know nothing of their history. I'm aware that they have been a conservative public policy group. But I did not investigate who these people were that asked me to prepare a book for them." --From Ozone Action's Ties that Bind [PDF]

Dr. Balling has reluctantly owned up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossil fuel funding as well as direct research support from Exxon [PDF] and the Kuwaiti government [PDF] to downplay global warming. As part of an extremely small group of PR scientists for hire, both Michaels and Balling worked for the Western Fuels coal coalition and its fraudulent Greening Earth Society project, led at the time by Peabody coal lobbyist Fred Palmer.

Given his history as an oil and coal industry consultant who ignores 97% of working climate scientists worldwide, why doesn't Arizona State consider it a problem for Dr. Balling to promote his political positions as if they were factual? What about his role in ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, of which climate change research and mitigation is listed as a top priority? What about his attempts to directly influence policy based on scientific misinformation? ASU's Office of Research Integrity and Assurance lists "Objectivity in Research" among its responsibilities to "support for the responsible conduct of research." Freedom of expression does not equate to freedom to repeatedly misrepresent scientific fact on behalf of industry policy groups like Cato, Pacific Research and Heartland.

Although Heartland's reputation has become increasingly toxic, most recently indicated by General Motors announcing it would stop sending money to Heartland, they haven't given up. Perhaps Heartland President Joseph Bast would be lost in a world where he's not paid to promote tobacco products, deny global warming, and force junk science into classrooms.

You can continue to follow Greenpeace's Investigation of Heartland Institute Leaked Documents on PolluterWatch.

Dr. Willie Soon: a Career Fueled by Koch, Big Oil and Coal

Willie Soon has taken $1 million from dirty industry to push junk climate science. (Photo Credit)

Written by Cindy Baxter and Kert Davies, crossposted from Greenpeace USA.

When climate denier and astrophysicist Dr. Willie Soon wrote a controversial paper in 2003 that attempted to challenge the historical temperature records, we all raised eyebrows at revelations that the American Petroleum Institute funded it. 

When he co-wrote a (non-peer reviewed) paper in 2007  arguing that Arctic warming wasn't happening and polar bears were not threatened by the effects of it, we found that ExxonMobil and the billionaire Koch brothers had paid for it.
   
So we went digging and came up with more – a whole lot more, released today in the new case study: Dr. Willie Soon, a Career Fueled by Big Oil and Coal. Not only did Big Oil punt hundreds of thousands of dollars to Soon, but Big Coal as well – specifically, the Southern Company, one of the largest coal burning electric utilities in the U.S. and in the world.
 
Could this be why Soon (an astrophysicist) has been recently writing op-eds on how mercury is harmless and the mercury emissions from coal are minimal, with a byline saying that he has a strong expertise in mercury and public health.

Southern Company says no in this morning's Reuters story.

Soon has been relying on the fossil fuel industry for most of his career.  Documents obtained from his employer, the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory (SAO), show that he has received no new funding from conventional, university sources since 2002.  

Since then, it’s been all about the Southern Company, a Koch brothers' foundation, ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute – totalling over $1 million since 2001.  Together with his colleague at the SAO, Sallie Baliunas, they brought in $1,153,000 since 2001 and only $842,000 from conventional sources. 

Were these companies working together?   The API started funding Soon's work as far back as 1994 (he only graduated in 1991).  The API was later joined by the Mobil Foundation, then by the electricity industry’s research arm, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  The U.S. electricity sector is dominated by coal. 

In 1998, the API, ExxonMobil and the Southern Company sat round a table with other oil companies and think tanks they plotted and funded a Global Climate Science  Communications Plan  to undermine the climate science and support for the Kyoto Protocol that had just been agreed.   "Victory will be achieved when... average citizens 'understand' (recognize) uncertainties in climate science"... read the plan. "Uncertainty" was also their objective for the media.  The detail funding sources from corporate purses going to think tanks and front groups who will coach scientists with messages counter to the rising consensus on the global warming crisis.  Even though this 'scandal' was front page news at the New York Times, our assumption is they did it anyway.

So when they saw that Willie Soon was writing papers to try to show that it was the sun, not the increase in carbon dioxide, that was causing warming in the Arctic, did they then get together to ensure he got the funding for his work?   Did they consider Soon (and Baliunas) a good investment for their corporations?

In around 2003, Soon saw that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was beginning work on its next summary of climate science, the Fourth Assessment (AR4).  Another document obtained by Greenpeace was a letter to colleagues  hatching a plan to undermine the outcomes of the report, focusing on Working Group 1 (the science).  "… I hope we can start discussing among ourselves to see what we can do to weaken the fourth assessment report..."  he wrote.   

The letter was addressed to a range of climate deniers, but also to two people we can't find in our database of denier "scientists".   The only names we can find that match two of the addressees – "Walt" and "Randy" – were the two Exxon staffers who had been at the centre of funding the denial campaign. Indeed, Randy Randol was the Exxon man sitting at the table plotting with the others in 1998. 

Willie Soon has been embraced by the denial industry.  This week will see him speak, again, at the Heartland Institute's annual "Denialpalooza".  The "sponsors" of that meeting and organizations the speakers work for have received millions in funding from ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, the Scaife Foundation and other corporate, 'free-market' and anti-government, anti-regulation funders.  (more on that soon)

Meanwhile, Exxon has cut funding to a large number of climate deniers.  Late yesterday, Exxon released its latest "Worldwide Giving Report", over a month overdue.  It reveals that more career climate deniers have been dismissed by their major funder, ExxonMobil Foundation.  What was a peak Exxon funding level of $3.5Million per year to these mouthpieces of climate denial, is now below $1M per year.  Exxon IS still funding deniers like Heritage Foundation and American Legislative Exchange Council,  but major deniers like the Annapolis Center, Atlas Foundation and others have now apparently been cut, as of 2010.  

Funding to Dr. Soon at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory has also been cut according to responses from Exxon in news reports:

Mother Jones: "Did ExxonMobil Break Its Promise To Stop Funding Climate Change Deniers?"  by Kate Sheppard
Reuters: “US climate skeptic Soon funded by oil, coal firms”  by Tim Gardner 
ClimateWire (subscription): Power companies fund anti-climate research on 'solar variability' by Evan Lehmann

Peabody Punked, Still "Proud" of Dirty Electricity

Photo Credit: Business Insider

A website campaign known as "Coal Cares" was launched on behalf of Peabody Energy today, offering to distribute free flashy inhalers to children living within 200 miles of a U.S. coal plant.

According to a statement released shortly afterward by Peabody, "The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal."

Sadly, Peabody's reputation doesn't reflect a willingness to own up to its ongoing peddling of coal, which causes death and illness from extraction to combustion. However, they are known for being Newsweek's most environmentally destructive company, their massive Black Mesa strip mining operation and persistent global warming science denial through mouthpieces like Fred Palmer and fronts like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Peabody's statement continues [emphasis added], "Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity," except of course for at least 13,000 people in the U.S. coal prematurely kills each year from air pollution alone, let alone the impacts of strip mining, rail transport, mercury contamination, and other phases of coal's life cycle. Check out the conclusions of Dr. Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, for the True Cost of Coal.


While Peabody's statement pledges to be a "global leader" in scrubbing its inherently dirty operations, their money does not appear to be where their mouth is. Since the beginning of 2011, Peabody has already spent almost $2,000,000 on federal lobbying on numerous dirty legislative deeds, such as attacking the Clean Air Act, preventing pollution regulation of coal operations, promoting false Carbon Capture and Storage solutions, which the American Physical Society just declared to be prohibitively costly. Prior to 2011, Peabody spent over $20 million on similar efforts from 2008-2010, on top of almost $400,000 to federal politicians and their leadership PACs in the same time frame.

More about the Peabody prank can be found on the website of the Yes Men, who have taken credit for the actions that Peabody should actually commit to. Too bad for the asthmatic children whose parents do have to take economic responsibility for the coal industry.

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