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.
Perhaps you heard the good news - the world's largest public relations firm, Edelman, just spun off an advertising subsidiary so that it could show a commitment to not aiding the denial of climate change science. The Guardian explains how API's contracts with Edelman were so massive--tens of millions of dollars--that it was up to 10% of the PR giant's income.
For years, Edelman has managed multi-million dollar contracts with the American Petroleum Institute (API), using its Blue Advertising subsidiary to help API run commercials selling fantasies to people: that oil and gas are our only viable, plentiful, "AMERICAN" sources of energy.
In the saga that led Edelman to dump the lobbyists at API, Greenpeace had a small role to play: we infiltrated a commercial shoot, run by Edelman's Blue advertising arm for API. The commercials were to be called "Vote 4 Energy," casting the illusion of mass popular demand for more oil and gas drilling (and more pollution, more climate change, and more government giveaways to prop it all up).
After being dressed up in a button-down, plaid orange shirt--I'm not sure what look they had in mind for me--I was put in front of the camera and told to repeat lines back. This despite the casting call for "REAL PEOPLE not Actors!" Huh.
Instead of telling them "I Vote" for oil and gas, I ran off script and demanded a prioritization of clean energy, not continued pandering to oil lobbyists at API. As I was ushered off set, the person I appealed to for a clean energy future was Robert McKernan, president of Blue Advertising, the company that Edelman is ditching. He was the last person I saw before being booted out of the studio rooms, and as we locked eyes, I appealed directly to him: "we need clean sources of energy, like wind and solar." Here's a transcribed recording of that on-set disruption:
Shockingly, API and Edelman didn't stop the commercial shoot there and reinvent it into an appeal for clean energy (yes, that's sarcasm). And as Edelman and API moved forward with the commercial, Greenpeace got another idea.
On the day that API's commercials debuted, Greenpeace created and released a fake Vote4Energy commercial, mocking their bizarre message with parody oil executives dismissing clean energy and using empty patriotic jargon: "I vote for prosperous American liberty jobs for Freedom."
We crashed API's launch event for Vote4Energy, rolling out an astroturf mat for politicians and lobbyists to make their entrance, framed by oil company logos. Online, we buried their actual website with our spoof material and drove more traffic to our fake commercial. Some journalists actually linked to our silly video in their stories about API's Vote4Energy campaign.
This was in January, 2012. Since then, big things have happened at Edelman.
Edelman's Make-Or-Break Moment
Fast forward to last fall, 2014: Edelman suffered a months-long PR crisis--the last thing a PR firm wants--over its representation of API and other climate science denial organizations. Edelman's chairman, Richard Edelman, hastily put out a statement affirming his company's commitment to climate change.
Mr. Edelman was personally urging the press that he cared about the issue, and fired a top executive who was uncooperative with the Climate Investigations Center, which was surveying PR firms on their climate change policies. It was awkward.
The mess was intensified by another round of documents showing Edelman was helping TransCanada--the operator of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline--with campaign planning to subvert local activism in Canada against TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. After the plan was leaked, TransCanada dumped Edelman.
It seems that Big Oil is starting to be a Big Headache for Big PR. Of course, there are still plenty of public relations firms with little to no moral standard out there, unrecognized by the public, for Big Oil to pay for dirty PR.
But for the world's largest firm to take some meaningful steps to throw in the towel on climate denial - that indicates a precedent for an industry that most activists wouldn't have bothered to spend time trying to change.
And it's a good thing, because climate scientists aren't getting any less distressed about our changed climate. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is getting desperate enough to officially call for "unproven technology" in attempts to mitigate the crisis. Despite the weight of the crisis, which is just getting started, coal companies, oil companies, the Koch brothers and their legion of front groups are creating layers of red tape to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the first regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants.
Perhaps there's a slick PR firm out there willing to make right of its past and do something productive for the climate, and all of us who rely upon it.
Edelman: you're up. Show us you mean it this time.
By Graham Readfern, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
A billionaire “vulture capitalist” and major backer of the US Republican Party is a major funder of the think tank of Danish climate science contrarian and fossil fuels advocate Bjørn Lomborg, DeSmogBlog has found.
New York-based hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s charitable foundation gave $200,000 to Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) in 2013, latest US tax disclosures reveal.
The grant to Lomborg’s think tank is revealed in the tax form of the Paul E. Singer Foundation covering that foundation’s activities between December 2012 and November 2013.
Singer, described as a “passionate defender of the 1%”, has emerged as a major force in the Republican party in recent years and was a key backer and influencer during Mitt Romney’s failed tilt at the Presidency.
The $200,000 grant represented almost one third of the $621,057 in donations declared by the Copenhagen Consensus Center in 2013.
A spokesperson for the think tank told DeSmogBlog that “not one dollar” of the Singer grant had been spent.
Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, is often cited on lists of the world’s most influential people. He writes extensively on climate change and energy issues with his columns appearing in many of the world’s biggest news outlets.
The CCC think tank produces reports that consistently argue that cutting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the roll-out of current renewable energy technologies should be low priorities for policy makers.
Most recently, Lomborg wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal arguing climate change was not the urgent problem that many thought.
He wrote that “the narrative that the world’s climate is changing from bad to worse is unhelpful alarmism”.
Lomborg argues the poorest countries need fossil fuels to lift themselves out of poverty – a position that gained support from the world’s richest man, Bill Gates.
At a G20 side event in Brisbane last year, Lomborg appeared at an event sponsored by the world’s largest private coal company, Peabody Energy, where he again argued that the world’s poor needed fossil fuels.
The CCC’s keystone project is the Post 2015 Consensus that is trying to influence the formulation of the next set of global development goals being discussed by the United Nations. Those goals will replace the millennium development goals.
Lomborg’s CCC think tank was registered as a not-for-profit in the US in 2008 and has attracted almost $5 million in donations since then. In 2013, the CCC paid Lomborg, its founder and president, $200,484 for his work. The previous year Lomborg was paid $775,000.
The think tank has insisted that its funders, most of which are anonymous, do not influence its research. The think tank says it does not accept funding from the fossil fuel industry.
Despite being registered in the US, Lomborg has admitted that all but one of the think tank’s seven staff are based elsewhere. The think tank’s address is aparcel service in Lowell, Massachusetts.
The discovery of support from Paul Singer comes after a DeSmogBlog investigation last year found that CCC’s early funders included conservative think tanks with links to the network of organisations funded by the Koch brothers, who have pushed millions into organisations denying climate science and blocking action to cut fossil fuel emissions.
In the 2014 US political spending cycle, data presented by OpenSecrets shows Singer spent $9.4 million influencing Republicans – the biggest disclosed individual spender on the conservative side of US politics.
Singer, whose Elliott Management hedge fund manages about $25 billion in assets, has been branded a “vulture capitalist” enterprise due to investment strategies employed by his firm that targets foreign economies in trouble.
A 2011 summary of “vulture funds” in The Guardian said Elliott Management’s “principal investment strategy” was “buying distressed debt cheaply and selling it at a profit or suing for full payment”.
Greg Palast, the author of Vulture’s Picnic, documented in The Guardian how Singer’s firm had managed to pocket $1.29 billion from the US Treasury after a “brilliantly complex” financial manoeuvre in 2009 that saw Singer lead a consortium to buy the parts supplier of General Motors and Chrysler before claiming cash from a government bailout of the struggling auto industry.
Singer, who according to Forbes is personally worth $1.8 billion, remains in conflict with the Argentinian government over debt bought by an Elliott affiliate and other investors.
As well as the generosity shown to Bjorn Lomborg’s think tank, Singer’s foundation gave $500,000 to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, where Singer is chairman of the board of trustees.
The Manhattan Institute is also known for downplaying the impacts of climate change while promoting fossil fuels.
In October 2014, Manhattan senior fellow Robert Bryce wrote a report Not Beyond Coal arguing that the future for the coal industry was bright and the fossil fuel was “essential” for addressing poverty in developing countries — a position identical to that pushed by Lomborg.
Bryce also attacks the wind industry claiming it cannot cut emissions, describing wind turbines as “climate change scarecrows”. In testimony to the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in February 2014, Bryce said wind turbines were “slaughtering wildlife” and killed 600,000 birds every year in the US.
A review of studies and data into US bird deaths has found about 600 million birds are killed annually in collisions with windows and buildings, but even this high number was only a quarter of the birds killed annually in the US by feral cats.
Another large donation from Singer’s foundation went to the Moving Picture Institute – an organisation that says it produces films that promote understanding of “individual rights, limited government, and free markets”.
The MPI helped fund the 2004 pro-mining documentary Mine Your Own Business by Irish filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.
The two would go on to make the 2009 climate science denial film Not Evil Just Wrong, which was partly funded through a grant from DonorsTrust – a fund which stockpiles cash from conservative philanthropists and that has pushed millions into organisations promoting climate science denial while fighting action to cut emissions.
Roland Mathiasson, Executive Vice President at the Copenhagen Consensus Center, told DeSmogBlog: “Not one dollar of this grant has been spent. It's for a potential future project, pending support from a broad range of political perspectives to underline the non-political nature of the project.
“It is a project for the public conversation, so obviously there will be a lot of communication once broad support is secured, and the project is launched.”
Mathiasson declined to provide further details. DeSmogBlog attempted to contact the Paul E Singer Foundation to ask about their donation to CCC, but email requests went unanswered.
In the public relations world, there exists a subset known as crisis communications, or crisis management. This is the type of service a company like Takata may purchase to handle deaths and recalls from faulty air bags, how BP and Halliburton seek damage control after causing the worst accidental oil spill in history, or how TransCanada may hire (then fire) PR giants like Edelman to handle activist groups that are resisting development of tar sands pipelines.
Now, DeSmogBlog's Kevin Grandia (a former Greenpeace employee) reveals how one particularly un-savvy PR agent named Randal Simonetti is using Greenpeace campaigns to end deforestation in Indonesia as an excuse for companies to hire people like him to troll activists' Facebook pages and slander activists as a bunch of greedy hypocrites. Simonetti says that activists don't really care about the bad things corporations do, like "defoliating" forests. Instead, we're just a bunch of greedy treehuggers, laughing all the way to our eco-friendly
banks credit unions:
As is often the case, funding is a primary driver of any activist organization’s behavior. However, there are people within the activist organization that really do believe in the mission but dislike the strategy of attacking just to raise awareness to increase funding.
These folks are essentially whistle blowers. Primarily, they only feel safe to express those opinions through social media therefore it is essential to search the social media networks for syntax clues provided by the whistle blowers. Then, expose that information through your own media channels.
This from the guy hired to protect the profit margins of large corporations during times of public scrutiny. Never considered is the fact that rainforest destruction in Indonesia is linked to slavery at palm oil plantations, local air pollution, global climate change, and habitat loss for critically endangered tigers and orangutans.
DeSmog's Grandia sums up Mr. Simonetti's likely motivation nicely:
By assuming from the word go that the company is right and that activists are only in it for the money, Simonetti sets up a path that ends in ruin for both his client and for the environmental advocates who want to see positive change. It creates a confrontation, instead of dialogue — a log jam before either party has even had the chance to consider the other's point of view.It sets up a scenario where nobody wins.Which, I guess if you are in the business of crisis communications, is a pretty lucrative situation to find yourself in.
How Corporate Executives Imagine Protests
Most hilarious is the Tweet where Randal Simonetti's company, EFP Rotenberg, attempts to sell its bad advice with the most awkward of images. Apparently, this is what impeccably-groomed middle-aged white men think grassroots protests look like:
For those hungry for more laughs, the full Ignition Consulting / EFP Rotenberg blog can be viewed here. The Greenpeace International campaign it references was waged against chocolate giant Nestle to end its role in driving the destruction of Indonesia's Paradise Rainforest. That campaign ended in productive partnership, the way Greenpeace (and most companies) prefer to collaborate on solving important problems.
But if corporations would rather favor Ignition Consulting's conflict-mongering instead of listening to the case of activist groups seeking solutions, they have every right to waste their time and money doing so. We don't want that, nor do we recommend it.
Students at Florida State University are telling Charles Koch to stop compromising academic integrity with multimillion dollar grants that come with strings attached.
You may recall: back in 2011, two Florida State University (FSU) professors revealed that the Charles Koch Foundation was given inappropriate control over the professor hiring process in the economics department, where millions of dollars were granted from the Kansas billionaire. Three years later, the case still isn't closed on this corporate manipulation of university functions. The FSU students write:
Our university’s academic integrity has already been compromised from the influence of high-dollar donors like Koch, who managed to assume inappropriate control over our economics department’s curriculum and hiring process per an agreement signed in 2008. Three years have passed since FSU professors exposed Koch’s financial grip over our school and a committee of faculty senators formally rejected several stipulations of the agreement. Yet, it is clear that the administration refuses to act to appropriately limit outside influence on FSU’s educational operations.
A new agreement with Koch, signed by both ex-President Barron and current Interim President Garnett Stokes, still contains many provisions from the original agreement that were explicitly rejected by the faculty senators who reviewed it. Barron himself stated that the initial agreement “did provide the opportunity for outside influence” from Koch. This leads us to question whether the new agreement leaves that influence intact.
The op-ed focuses on the departure of Eric Barron, who is transitioning into the president's office at Penn State University after serving as president of Florida State University.
Why does this matter? What's the relevance of President Eric Barron's climate change credentials?
Let's start with Florida State's economics department. FSU's economics department has received much of the $3,898,657 itemized to FSU in the Charles Koch Foundation's tax filings from 2009 to 2012.
Beyond the well-documented concerns highlighted by FSU students and professors alike, FSU's Koch-funed economics department appears to host professors who are misrepresenting climate science, a field well outside of their credentialed expertise.
Ph.D economist Yoram Bauman has twice reviewed and ranked economics textbooks for how accurately they portray climate change science. Citing top climate science institutions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Bauman has repeatedly given a failing grade to a widely-used textbook authored by professors from several of the top Koch-funded schools across the country, including FSU. Three of these four authors have direct ties to FSU: one primary author is a current economics professor, one formerly taught in the FSU econ department, and one obtained his economics Ph.D at FSU.
These same four professors, who aren't climate scientists yet authored the worst economics textbooks in regard to climate science misinformation, are affiliated with numerous Koch-funded climate denial organizations. Such affiliations include the Tallahassee-based James Madison Institute, The Heartland Institute, the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and the Association for Private Enterprise Education (APEE). These professors are closely affiliated with groups created and directly overseen by the Koch brothers, like the Cato Institute in Washington, DC and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
All of these climate denial front groups are affiliated through a Koch-funded umbrella called the State Policy Network. Koch Industries' executives are well-known for dumping tens of millions of dollars into organizations that deny the science or the solutions to global climate change. Now it appears that Koch-funded professors may be an extension of the same political campaign.
Florida State University students and faculty alike have good reason to ask hard questions about Charles Koch's grants to FSU. Whether or not the Koch money caused or simply encourages such manipulated teaching doesn't matter--lying to students about science is wrong and its one of the key controversial things that KochWorld has a habit of funding.
It is directly contrary to the principles of academic freedom for Koch to walk in and fund departments that then impose a curriculum reflecting Charles Koch's business interests and political strategies. Florida State University explicitly honors the principles of academic freedom in Koch's crosshairs. FSU students Jerry Funt, Gladys Nobriga, Lissa Reed and Ralph Wilson conclude their opinion piece emphatically:
As students striving to live by the Florida State seal of Vires, Artes, and Mores — strength, skill, and character — we’d rather not surrender our character just to serve Charles Koch. Our impartiality is more valuable than his money.
With FSU's outgoing president Eric Barron taking the helm at Penn State University, a good first step would be to ensure that Charles Koch's grants to Penn State aren't affecting the presentation of climate science or other critical topics to the student body. As a climate scientist, Mr. Barron must know how much is at stake when conversations regarding climate change are polluted executives at companies like Koch Industries, which profit from oil and gas operations.
Greenpeace strives to support students who are questioning Koch's manipulation of education through high-dollar grants, especially in the realm of science.
Check out the article and comments from the students themselves!
Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.
Here's one climate change denier who really doesn't want you to think twice about his funding from Koch, coal and oil: Dr. Willie Soon, freshly profiled in today's Boston Globe. In the video above, we asked Dr. Soon about his fossil fuel funding at a climate denial event hosted by the Heritage Foundation last month--the event that wraps up Christopher Rowland's article in the Globe.
There is a bizarre sense of urgency in Dr. Soon's statements, both in our video encounter with him and in the Boston Globe article. He is a man whose profession has developed far outside of his actual expertise as an astrophysicist. After Greenpeace revealed that Willie Soon has taken over $1 million in payments from fossil fuel interests on "research" intended to undermine climate science, his credibility has evaporated. Professionals in the field of climate have been hugely critical of Dr. Soon's pre-determined "research."
Highlights from the Boston Globe:
The Boston Globe notes Willie Soon's contrarian stance against basic facts of climate change.
"Polar bears? Not threatened. Sea level? Exaggerated danger. Carbon dioxide? Great for trees. Warming planet? Caused by natural fluctuation in the sun’s energy."
Soon’s views are considered way outside the scientific mainstream, which makes him a prophet or a pariah, depending on which side you ask. Some say his work simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, that his data are cherry-picked to fit his thesis.
Dr. Soon's industry-funded interference is contextualized by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):
Outside the Beltway, the science is largely settled. Yet in the capital, government response to one of the major environmental and economic challenges facing the planet is mired in an endless cycle of conflicting claims and partisan finger-pointing.
The work of Soon, and a handful of like-minded scientists, is seen by a critics in Congress and elsewhere as a case study in how this deadlock has been engineered by energy companies and antiregulation conservatives.
“They are merchants of doubt, not factual information,’’ said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who delivers a Senate speech every week demanding stronger air-quality standards. “Their strategy isn’t to convince people that the scientists are wrong. Their strategy is simply to raise the specter that there is enough doubt that . . . you should just move onto the next issue until this gets sorted out,’’ he said. “It gives credibility to a crank point of view.’’
American Petroleum Institute falsely associates Dr. Soon with Harvard
While Dr. Soon's office is on Harvard's campus, Dr. Soon has no formal affiliation with the university and has been forced to acknowledge as much after misrepresenting the relationship as a credential for pro-coal pollution op-eds.
“You have a guy that is aligned and associated with Harvard University, one of the top universities in the United States, and the Smithsonian, also very reputable,’’ said institute spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel.
The Globe notes how Harvard requires Dr. Soon to disassociate his unqualified views from the institution's name:
Soon said he is required by the center to recite a disclaimer – saying his views are his own, and not that of Harvard-Smithsonian — each time he speaks or writes on anything outside his expertise in solar radiation. But the complexities of his relationship with Harvard-Smithsonian are often ignored by his sponsors and conference hosts eager to showcase his impressive credentials.
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s former director, Harvard astronomy professor Irwin Shapiro, said there was never any attempt to censor Soon’s views. Nor, he said, was Soon the subject of complaints or concern among the 300 scientists at the center.
“As far as I can tell,’’ said Shapiro, “no one pays any attention to him.’’
Not Credible, but Not Done Denying Either
Willie Soon continues to attend industry-funded climate denier events and detests questions that highlight the dirty energy companies funding his work: watch Dr. Soon shout at a student asking critical questions last April, at events run by the campus arm of CFACT, a well known climate denial organization.
Dr. Soon's oil- and coal-funded climate "research"
Dr. Soon's grants came from the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, Southern Company, and the American Petroleum Institute, among others, according to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from Greenpeace to the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Soon's employer. A newer entity called Donors Trust is now helping funnel money from undisclosed donors to Dr. Soon. Donors Trust and affiliate Donors Capital Fund have sent $146 million to groups that deny climate science (since 2002).
Dr. Soon's reaction to Greepeace's request for clarity on the Donors Trust grants doesn't give us much confidence that they aren't simply obscuring more donations from fossil fuel interests, rich political ideologues, or both.
Recognition must be lent here to Dr. Soon's call for an end to FOIA probing of scientists--many legitimate researchers (and their employers) have had their time and reputations wasted by industry-funded attacks from climate denial groups that work closely with the Heartland Institute, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These abusive probes do nothing to advance a constructive dialog on solutions to runaway climate change.
The key difference is this: Dr. Soon's work is a platform for The Heartland Institute and other political entities to lie and confuse the public and policymakers alike about the seriousness of global warming, funded exclusively by dirty energy interests. Thanks to the obstruction led by Dr. Soon and other people who sold out the public interest to the highest bidder, it's too late to prevent climate change. The climate is changed, and we're feeling the impact.
The question is how radically we can cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil and gas and rapidly shift to a clean economy that doesn't thrive off of the ruin of our planet. This is why it's crucial to leave the obstructionist opinions of Heartland and Dr. Soon out of true scientific conversations.
But with the IPCC 5th Assessment Report coming out the door and Heartland touring the country to undermine what real scientists are saying about climate change, it is time to stand up to the madness and show this country how bought and sold their positions are. When The Heartland Institute came to town with Willie Soon, we pressed president Joseph Bast to acknowledge their funding from Chicago billionaire Barre Seid for the climate denial work:
Look to Greenpeace and PolluterWatch in the coming weeks for ongoing accountability of those who are paid to undermine our future, and help spread the word!
Written by Cindy Baxter, crossposted from Greenpeace: Dealing in Doubt.
Who likes being lied to by people paid by the oil industry who pose as “experts” on climate change?
Did you know it’s been going on for 25 years?
In a couple of weeks, the UN’s official advisors on climate change science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will update its global assessment on the issue. Yet in the background, more attacks on the climate science are underway
For the last quarter century, the climate science denial machine, its cogs oiled by fossil fuel money, has been attacking climate science, climate scientists and every official US report on climate change, along with State and local efforts – with the aim of undermining action on climate change.
Our new report, Dealing in Doubt, sets out the history of these attacks going back to the early 90s. These are attacks based on anti-regulatory, so called “free market” ideology, not legitimate scientific debate, using a wide range of dirty tricks: from faked science, attacks on scientists, fake credentials, cherry-picking scientific conclusions: a campaign based on the old tobacco industry mantra: “doubt is our product”.
We give special attention to perhaps today’s poster child of the climate denial machine’s free market think tanks, the Heartland Institute, which is about to launch a new version of its “NIPCC” or “climate change reconsidered” report next week in Chicago.
Unlike the real IPCC, with thousands of scientists involved from around the world, the Heartland Institute’s handful of authors is paid. Several of them claim fake scientific credentials. They start with a premise of proving the overwhelming consensus on climate science wrong, whereas the real IPCC simply summarizes the best science to date on climate change.
More recently, less visible channels of funding have been revealed such as the Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, organization that that has been called the “ATM of the conservative movement”, distributing funds from those who don’t want to be publicly associated with the anti-environmental work product of organizations like the Heartland Institute.
In the last week we’ve seen new peer-reviewed science published, linking at least half of 2012’s extreme weather events to a human carbon footprint in the atmosphere and on the weather and climate.
As the scientific consensus strengthens by the day that climate change is happening now, that carbon pollution is causing it and must be regulated, the denial machine is getting increasingly shrill. But today, while they are being increasingly ignored by a majority of the public, their mouthpieces in the US House of Representatives, for instance, have increased in number.
They’re still fighting the science – and they’re still being funded, to the tune of millions of dollars each year, to do it.
Dealing in Doubt sets out a history of these attacks. We show how the tactics of the tobacco industry’s campaign for “sound science” led to the formation of front groups who, as they lost the battle to deny smoking’s health hazards and keep warning labels off of cigarettes, turned their argumentative skills to the denial of climate change science in order to slow government action.
What we don’t cover is the fact that these organizations and deniers are also working on another front, attacking solutions to climate change. They go after any form of government incentive to promote renewable energy, while cheering for coal, fracking and the Keystone pipeline.
They attack any piece of legislation the US EPA puts forward to curb pollution. Decrying President Obama’s “war on coal” is a common drumbeat of these anti-regulation groups. One key member of the denial machine, astrophysicist Willie Soon from the Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics, has portrayed himself as an “expert” on mercury and public health in order to attack legislation curbing mercury emissions from coal plants.
This recent history, as well as the prior history of denial by the tobacco companies and chemical, asbestos and other manufacturing industries, is important to remember because the fossil fuel industry has never admitted that it was misguided or wrong in its early efforts to delay the policy reaction to the climate crisis. To this day, it continues to obstruct solutions.
The individuals, organizations and corporate interests who comprise the ‘climate denial machine’ have caused harm and have slowed our response time. As a result, we will all ultimately pay a much higher cost as we deal with the impacts, both economic and ecological.
Eventually, these interests will be held accountable for their actions.
Amid concerns that Koch Industries could buy several major U.S. newspapers from Tribune Company, industrial billionaire David Koch was forced to step down as trustee of WNET, New York City's largest public TV station, after the New Yorker revealed how WNET gave Koch inappropriate influence over its programming. Mr. Koch was floating a seven-figure donation over WNET's leadership as the station aired a movie that portrayed him as a particularly greedy Manhattan resident.
Sure enough, WNET didn't wind up receiving David Koch's hefty donation.
Last Thursday, David Koch submitted his resignation at a WNET Board of Trustees meeting, and Brad Johnson at Forecast the Facts* reports that Koch's name was scrubbed from WNET's website several days prior to the resignation. Koch Industries' public relations website, KochFacts, released a preemptive response to the New Yorker article (which it has now urgently elaborated on), attempting to stifle New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer and the details of her newest piece. David Koch's resignation as a WNET Trustee, coupled with telling quotes from WNET president Neal Shapiro and other sources, makes it clear that Koch had too much influence at the decreasingly-public TV station in New York.
The article is a fascinating culmination of two portions of the ongoing legacy of the Koch brothers: their desire to influence media, which is playing out with their company's bid for the Tribune Company's eight national daily newspapers, and their attempts to intimidate journalists and silence reporting they consider unfavorable.
Jane Mayer's epic 2010 profile of the secretive billionaire brothers has left Charles and David Koch firmly positioned in the center stage of politics, and they have cursed her since. In repeated and increasingly desperate attempts to discredit Mayer and ease the impact of her reporting on Koch Industries' terrible reputation, the company posted her face on the Koch "Facts" website and wrote letters urging the American Society of Magazine Editors to stop considering Mayer's 2010 article for an award.
The Koch brothers' attacks on Ms. Mayer provide more examples of how they use their connections to manipulate media (including in Mayer's new article, which caught Koch spokesperson Melissa Cohlmia in a complete lie).
Following her 2010 expose, Koch Industries was caught trying to fabricate a scandal to take Mayer down. Using the Daily Caller, founded by Koch's billionaire political ally Foster Friess and run by Tucker Carlson, a senior fellow at the Koch-founded, Koch-funded and Koch-governed Cato Institute, the Kochs tried to get a story placed into the New York Post accusing Mayer of plagiarism. The Post dismissed the idea--and that's saying something, given the lack of integrity at Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, not to mention FOX News, the collapsed News of the World and other outlets the media mogul owns. (NOTE: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has also expressed interest in Tribune Company's L.A. Times.)
Update Oct. 2014: Daily Caller Foundation is now funded by Charles Koch Foundation, receiving $11,064 in 2012.
Click to sign Greenpeace's 32,000-strong petition to Tribune Company: Don't Sell Your Newspapers to Koch Industries!
Greenpeace remains concerned about how the Kochs have already used their media ties to promote denial of climate change science. Beyond the pressing issue of global warming, the implications of media manipulation from Koch Industries spans across issues from education to public employee unions to immigration to healthcare reform.
This is why Greenpeace is working with a growing coalition of unions, media transparency advocates, environmentalists, good government watchdogs and other organizations to oppose Tribune Company's potential sale of its newspapers to Koch Industries, as well as Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, and any other politically-charged business interest whose history indicates they would manipulate reporting at Tribune's papers for political and financial gain.
*Disclosure: Forecast the Facts is one of the groups Greenpeace is working with to oppose Koch Industries' bid for Tribune Company.
Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.
If you were the Koch brothers and you wanted to connect better with Latino and Hispanic voters, after you just dumped millions of your own cash into a presidential election that didn't go in your favor, you'd probably be annoyed if one of your favorite front groups started undermining your voter outreach.
That's exactly what's happening with the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. Heritage is having a public relations crisis after releasing a contentious report claiming that immigration reform would cost $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years, indebting taxpayers to support people who live in the U.S. illegally. The offensive kicker is that the Heritage report's freshly-resigned co-author, Jason Richwine, previously published a dissertation claiming that Hispanic and Latino immigrants have lower IQs than White people.
Here's a helpful meme for Mr. Richwine:
As Heritage Foundation is one of the billionaire Koch brothers' favorite groups to implement their political agenda--receiving more than $2.7 million from Koch-controlled foundations since 2005--this is a poor start for the Kochs' new interest in reaching Hispanic and Latino voters in the U.S.
Amid the fiasco, Heritage pulled out of Buzzfeed's forum on immigration sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. See infighting over Heritage's assumptions about how so-called "illegals" contribute to the U.S. economy from the Koch-funded Reason Foundation, of which David Koch is a trustee.
Hispanic & Latino Voter Engagement is Central to the Kochs' Refined Political Plans:
After coordinating hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama with the direct help of other billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, and Philip Anschutz, the Kochs are meticulously refining their methods of controlling U.S. politics from behind the scenes. Some of those methods already involve serious marginalization of U.S. immigrants from Latin-American countries, as I've previously written:
It’s worth noting that the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council distributed Arizona’s controversial racial profiling law, SB 1070, to states around the country so private prison companies can rake a profit off the incarceration of immigrants.
At the Kochs' most recent political strategy and fundraising meeting, the Kochs prioritized outreach to Hispanic voters, according to leaked material published by Mother Jones. Kevin Gentry, a Koch Industries employee and Koch World's central fundraiser, explained the new priority in his invitation to "several hundred of America's top business owners and CEOs" attending last month's Koch meeting:
Among other topics, in April, we'll discuss how to more effectively engage growing demographic groups, such as Hispanic and Latino voters, and how to encourage principled and effective advocates of free enterprise to run for office.
Kevin Gentry then offered mild elaboration to invitees of the Koch meeting:
Hispanic, women and youth engagement. Allies will present an approach to more effectively communicate to these growing demographics, all of which will play a critical role in advancing free enterprise.
New Heritage President Jim DeMint's History with Koch World:
It's unclear if anyone from the Heritage Foundation attended the recent Koch meeting, although Heritage's new President and former U.S. Senator James DeMint has repeatedly attended the Kochs' secretive confabs in the past. In turn, the Kochs were one of the top contributors to Jim DeMint's political piggy bank while he ran and served in the Senate (2004-2012). Sen. DeMint's campaign and leadership PACs received a total $76,000 from Koch Industries and the Koch family (see p. 21 of Greenpeace's 2011 Koch report).
Either Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation didn't heed the notes from the Kochs' latest gathering, or Heritage staff didn't realize that calling people stupid isn't the best way to sell an ideology.
On a human level, the Kochs don't get it. Even ignoring the offensive work of the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and other Koch front groups, the recent focus on Latino and Hispanic voter outreach is clearly a self-serving political tactic, where broadly-defined groups of people are used as a means to an end.
Koch Industries bid for U.S. Newspapers includes major Spanish outlets:
The Koch brothers could potentially influence U.S. Latino voters through Koch Industries' controversial bid for a pile of major U.S. newspapers owned by Tribune Company. Tribune Co's print news in Chicago and Los Angeles isn't limited to the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times; Tribune Co. owns Hoy, the nation's second largest daily U.S. newspaper published in Spanish, as well as two major weekly outlets in Florida: El Sentinel de Florida Central and El Sentinel del Sur de la Florida, published in conjunction with two Tribune daily papers written in English, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Tribune Company's widely distributed English newspapers also include the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, and the Allentown, PA's Morning Call and Hampton Road, VA's Daily Press.
While Koch Industries doesn't yet own any media, a network of Koch-friendly media has shown it is capable of spreading misinformation on key topics like climate change. Due to the high possibility of warped editorial reporting if Koch buys Tribune, ten public employee unions and groups like Free Press, FAIR, Forecast the Facts, Courage Campaign, Daily Kos, and the Center for Media and Democracy have all urged the public and owners of the Tribune Company to reject an offer from Koch Industries.
Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.
Rarely do we meet those who have made careers selling us lies. Consider the oddball doctors who took tobacco money to deny a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, or the handful of scientists who take oil and coal money to discredit global warming science, or the people who have done both.
Last week, students in Wisconsin and Michigan stepped up to such an opportunity when CFACT Campus, the student arm of a well-known cabal of fossil fuel apologists, hosted climate change denier Willie Soon at several campus events around the country.
Dr. Willie Soon is a Smithsonian Institution astrophysicist paid by Charles Koch, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and coal utility Southern Company to write papers dismissing climate change, publish op-eds saying coal pollution won't affect our health, refute the seriousness of ocean acidification, and apparently anything else he can be paid to deny. Dr. Soon has misrepresented himself by repeatedly claiming affiliation with Harvard University and using his credentials as an astrophysicist to make people believe he's a climate expert, and he shows no sign of stopping. Indeed, he told students in Madison, "I am as as qualified as anyone on the planet on this topic."
In both Madison, Wisconsin and East Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Soon was caught with his pants down. As the Michigan State News documented in its article and accompanying audio interview, Soon claims that all the scientists around the world who study and recognize the seriousness of climate change are motivated by money, yet somehow his funding from coal and oil companies for his extremely marginalized viewpoints doesn't matter.
Here is the dialog with Willie Soon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with direct links to key clips below:
1) Willie Soon insinuates ExxonMobil will no longer fund him (emphasis added):
"I have been receiving money from whoever that wants to give me money. I write my scientific proposal. I have received money from ExxonMobil, but ExxonMobil will no longer give me any money for a long time. American Petroleum Institute, anything you wish for, from Southern Company, from all these companies. I write proposal and let them judge whether they will fund me or not, always for a very small amount. If they choose to fund me, I'm happy to receive it." Click to watch (starts @ 1:52).
2) Dr. Soon stands behind his attempts to discredit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with help from ExxonMobil lobbyists:
"I was trying to bring down IPCC--is that what you imply?! [...] Let it be known that I do not like IPCC, because IPCC does not stand for science, it is corrupting science." Click to watch (starts @ 3:32).
After a question referencing emails with ExxonMobil lobbyists to undermine climate research at the United Nations before it even hit publication, Dr. Soon quickly loses his cool over his record of global warming denial, peppering the student with mild insults before owning up to his actions.
3) Dr. Soon thanks anyone who uses petroleum products or electricity from coal for supporting his work:
"I really want to thank her, because she's receiving the electricity used for her house, she's driving cars, she's doing all of these things because you are funding me. It's not an oil or coal company. They are a company that provides a service to humanity--to people who want to use electricity." Click to watch (starts @ 5:14)
Anyone looking at Southern Company's record of pollution and political interference would be skeptical about its commitment to serve humanity. Soon continues with an aggressive rant claiming that the student isn't qualified to question his fossil fuel payments until she stops driving, using electricity, and wearing nylon.
4) Willie Soon states "I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything," despite listing himself as an "expert in mercury and public health" for a discredited Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing health concerns over mercury pollution from coal plants. Soon invented similar credentials for another opinion piece in the Washington Times, before he swapped back to being a 22-year veteran of "researching the relationship of solar radiation and the Earth's climate," research Dr. Soon did on the dime of oil and coal companies.
Basically, Willie Soon is an expert in whatever problems vested industries will pay him to deny. Michigan State students note how Willie Soon now refutes research indicating adverse impacts from ocean acidification, a global crisis that is married to climate change (both problems stem from humans burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).
That's effed up. This man makes a career lying to the public, not to mention our lawmakers, about some of the most serious issues of our time. Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of 400,000 people each year and costing global GDP about $1.2 trillion, according to a report commissioned by multiple nations. 98% of actual climate scientists (a distinction Dr. Willie Soon does not earn) agree that global warming is real and primarily drive by humans burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.
Not only has Dr. Soon lied to us and our lawmakers about the seriousness of global warming--he even lied directly to Congress in 2003 about his sources of funding at a time when he was promoting his study funded by the American Petroleum Institute, the $200 million/year oil and gas lobbying group. The Guardian wrote last year:
"In 2003 Soon said at a US senate hearing that he had "not knowingly been hired by, nor employed by, nor received grants from any organisation that had taken advocacy positions with respect to the Kyoto Protocol or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."
This is why it's crucial to demand accountability of people like Willie Soon. He is a public relations tool of oil and coal companies, and as a scientist attempting to publish in fields well outside of his expertise, that oil and coal money is crucial to recognize.
Here are some of the best examples of Soon's pseudo-science paid for by Big Oil and King Coal:
- 2003: An American Petroleum Institute-funded study claiming that the earth's global temperature hasn't risen. Three editors of the publishing journal resigned in protest over low scientific standards demonstrated by publishing Soon's work.
- 2005: A paper mis-attributing arctic temperature changes to solar variability, a thoroughly debunked notion that was funded by the American Petroleum Institute (API).
- 2007: A non-peer-reviewed paper refuting concerns over global warming's impact on polar bears, funded by API and the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
- 2009: A paper building upon Soon's 2005 research attempting to claim the sun is mostly responsible for temperature changes. This work was funded by API, ExxonMobil and Southern Company.
- 2013: Soon's ongoing "research" funding is now hidden through Donors Trust, a network used by the Kochs and other secretive interests who don't want their financial influence to be traced. Donors Trust is the sole source of almost half of recent budgets for CFACT, which paid for Soon's campus tour.
Dr. Soon's work is like a joke, but not the type you'd laugh at. While he cracks these fossil-funded zingers, reputable scientists warn that humanity is running out of time to stop climate change from self-reinforcing to the point that it spirals out of human control. As quoted by the Michigan State News, young conservatives on campus had trouble taking Dr. Willie Soon's presentation seriously:
“I’m not a science major, but I think (Soon’s presentation) has got valid points, but also other scientists who disagree with him have valid points,” Sobecki said. “I’m not crazy enough to think that six billion people don’t have an effect on climate in the world we live in.”
Science majors attending the MSU event didn't agree that Soon's points were particularly valid. See this account from a MSU Greenpeace student activist on PolluterWatch for more details.