Turns out ExxonMobil, one of the world’s worst climate polluters, has known about the dangers of climate change since 1981. Yet the oil giant continues to be a major funder of climate change denial today. The new evidence comes from reports and emails written by Lenny Bernstein, ExxonMobil’s top climate scientist, who worked for Exxon for 30 years. The documents, which speak directly about the dangers of global warming from CO2 emissions were released by The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a report called “The Climate Deception Dossier." Exxon has spent well over $30 million attacking climate change science since Bernstein’s first warning. As Suzanne Goldenberg wrote in the Guardian:
Exxon, unlike other companies and the public at large in the early 1980s, was already aware of climate change – and the prospect of regulations to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to Bernstein’s account. National Academy of Science describing a consensus on climate change from the 1970s.
While we have known that Exxon was responsible for opposing climate change solutions and funding climate denial, now we know they knew the truth 27 years ago. Much like big tobacco did with the link between cigarettes and cancer, Exxon leadership has denied the harm the company has done long after the scientific evidence was clear. Incredibly, Exxon continues to play down their roll in climate change denial. In an interview with the Guardian, Exxon Spokesperson Richard Keil:
“rejected the idea that Exxon had funded groups promoting climate denial. “I am here to talk to you about the present,” he said. “We have been factoring the likelihood of some kind of carbon tax into our business planning since 2007. We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.”
Earlier this year, Greenpeace revealed that Exxon, along with other fossil fuel corporations like Southern Company, funded a notorious climate change denier named Willie Soon. In fact Exxon continued to fund Soon’s roundly debunked research well after the company promised Congress they would stop funding confusion on climate change in 2007. Exxon spent over $1 million on climate denial groups in 2014 alone.
Which part of Obama's State of the Union was written by the oil industry?
a) “America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades”
b) “natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
c) fracking for oil and gas can be "sustainable"
d) all of the above
The answer is literally, "all of the above."
During his State of The Union speech, President Obama said:
"The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades."
The phrase “all of the above,” which the president used in his 2012 State of the Union address as well, is the creation of the oil industry’s most powerful lobbying and public relations arm, the American Petroleum Institute (API). According to the New York Times, the phrase was introduced in 2000 by API to advocate for oil drilling. API’s position at the time was “that an effective national energy policy must, at a minimum, allow for all of the above.” API, proud of the hegemony of their ideas, actually predicted the president would champion the pro-fossil fuel message in this most recent State of the Union address, the day before the speech was given.
After The American Petroleum Institute debuted the phrase in 2000, it was quickly picked up by republicans with wells to drill. John Mccain made it a central part of his 2008 campaign for president. Republicans in the house and senate used it to promote offshore drilling. The former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, now under federal indictment for corruption, listed the phrase on his campaign website.
ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in world history, continues to use the phrase in advertisements today, like this ad from ExxonMobil:
This isn't just etymological trivia. The use of oil industry talking points by the president indicates how ingrained and powerful the fossil fuel industry is in the U.S’s energy conversation.
It also casts a revealing light on other pro-fossil energy comments made by President Obama in the speech, like promoting “Energy Independence.” The idea is, if we allow oil and gas corporations to exploit our land and water to extract fossil fuels, it will benefit the average citizen by lowering energy prices and reducing dependence of “foreign” energy supplies. This is completely false, as Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil will tell you. The oil industry wants to sell it's product on an open market, to the highest bidder, no matter who that is. Currently there are plans for 25 Liquified Natural Gas export terminals in the US, and the American Petroleum Institute is spending millions of dollars to undo a decades old law that prohibits the export of crude oil. As more oil and gas is drilled from American soil and water, more gas and oil will be exported. We will continue to import oil and other goods from around the world, regardless of how much drilling happens in the U.S.
Another energy myth promoted by the Obama administration and the fossil fuel industry is natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewable energy.
The truth is that gas is primarily comprised of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Some scientists believe that methane could be up to 105 times as destabilizing to the global climate as carbon dioxide. When fully burned, gas releases less CO2 than coal or oil, but currently huge amounts of methane are escaping unburned into the atmosphere. An increase in spending on gas infrastructure, like pipelines, Liquified Natural Gas export terminals, or vehicle refueling stations, is not a bridge to renewable energy. It is the same old fossil fuel infrastructure that poses serious threats to the earth’s climate and local environments. The U.S doesn’t need more spending on fossil fuels, it needs a real commitment to renewable energy, efficiency, and cutting carbon pollution.
Gas Pipeline Construction in Bradford County, Pennsylvania
This means that Congressman Stewart now has dominion over the EPA, climate change research, and "all activities related to climate." According to the House Science Committees website (of which Stewart's subcommitee is a part), the chair of the Environment subcommittee oversees:
"all matters relating to environmental research; Environmental Protection Agency research and development; environmental standards; climate change research and development; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including all activities related to weather, weather services, climate, the atmosphere, marine fisheries, and oceanic research;…"
Unfortunately for the EPA, NOAA, and anyone worried about climate change, Chris Stewart is a climate science denier. Mr. Stewart believes there is "insufficient science" to determine if climate change is caused by humans. He believes this in spite of the fact that the EPA, NOAA, and all experts in the field (which he now oversees), disagrees with him.
For the record, Chris Stewart has no advanced degrees in science. However, before running for congress he was owner and CEO of Shipley Group, a company that trains government workers on environmental issues. Shipley Group actually runs a training on climate change science, and according to the Shipley Group website "Upon completion of the workshop, participants will be able to understand basic climate change science." Clearly Mr. Stewart has never taken his company's training.
Ties to Fossil Fuels
Though Stewart seems to ignore climate change science (while his company profits by teaching it), he does not ignore the fossil fuel industry. In fact he is quite sympathetic to the plight of oil and gas companies. His campaign website claims:
"I am the CEO of a company that works extensively with independent energy producers. I understand how difficult it is to get a drilling permit on federal lands. It is painfully slow, incoherently arbitrary, and always expensive."
"The fact that fossil energy and mining are viewed by political "elites" with disfavor, a view driven by acolytes of radical environmentalism, has resulted in damaging laws and regulation and general neglect"
Unsurprisingly, the fossil fuel industry does not ignore Chris Stewart either. One of Stewart's books (which were published and praised by Glenn Beck), is recommended reading at Koch Industries. Stewart received the maximum possible campaign contribution from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries during his last campaign. He also received considerable support from several Koch and Exxon funded SuperPACs. All told, he received more funding from dirty energy companies and their superPACs than any other single source.
If you're an executive at a big oil company watching as ExxonMobil is finally exposed for studying climate change, covering up the science and spreading misinformation, you're probably worried now that state attorneys general are knocking on Exxon's door.
Charles and David Koch must be worried, anyway. Their foundations gave more than $21 million to the people and groups that signed a recent, full page New York Times advertisement that defends ExxonMobil's longstanding efforts to ruin the public's understanding of climate change science.
Here are the numbers:
For comparison, Exxon itself spent half as much on the same people and groups, $10.1 million; money that the front groups spent on tactics like ... a $100,000-or-so full page ad buy in the New York Times! (More info at Climate Investigations Center from my former colleague, Kert Davies.)
The ringleader group behind the letter, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), is of particular interest. Exxon dumped CEI for its unsupportable climate stance back in 2006, a crushing blow for the aggressive beltway front group that continued to humiliate CEI staff for years.
But it appears that CEI is loyal to the cause of climate denial, despite being abandoned by Exxon a decade ago. Other financiers, like the Koch family and several coal and oil companies may explain why the denial campaign was sustained.
Traceable funds only represent a portion of the Koch family’s contributions to CEI. At CEI’s annual fundraising events, Koch Industries’ lobbying subsidiary has been listed as a sponsor. Full-disclosure tax filings published by PR Watch revealed that Koch Industries directly paid Americans for Prosperity, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and other organizations.
PR Watch discovered another revelation in the full-disclosure tax documents that were leaked. Apparently, David Koch likes to cut CEI $100,000 checks straight from his own coffers. David Koch’s money was not sent through his nonprofit foundation, which would have had to report the grants to CEI.
This incomplete patchwork of previously-undisclosed funds from Koch Industries and David Koch adds $3,124,834 to the accounting on groups that co-signed the CEI ad. This raises the question: who else is just cutting a direct check to the climate deniers?
And then there’s the "Dark Money ATM" sister groups, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. The DonorsTrust franchise is run by CEI’s former president, Lawson Bader, who helps donors -- including Koch -- anonymize tens of millions of dollars that go to dozens of front groups each year. DonorsTrust & Capital Fund have funneled millions of dark money dollars to CEI.
But that's still not the end of the financial trail. Other mechanisms used by Charles Koch and his army of donor friends include Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a dark money umbrella group that has hidden hundreds of millions of dollars in politically-charged cash, shuffled between various trusts, nonprofits, and limited liability corporations.
For the deep history, check out Kert Davies' post for the Climate Investigations Center, which spurred my own interest in the sponsors of the recent New York Times ad. Kert details the crucial history of some of the letter’s signatories, the role they have served in the climate denial machine over the years and the exact documents that inform his understanding.
I have reproduced Kert’s ExxonSecrets map (below) of the players involved, as it helps show how a small group of people funded by a few oil and coal companies can cast a shadow that is deceptively deep. The tobacco industry crafted this deceptive model, and fossil fuel companies have innovated it since. It helps that the same people doing tobacco science denial moved on to climate science denial.
One of those tobacco denial alumni, lawyer Steve Milloy, himself an aggressive defender of ExxonMobil, knows that a small group of people can have an outsized impact with enough funding -- even in the face of 97-99 percent of the world’s climate scientists. Milloy once said, “There’s really only about 25 of us doing this. A core group of skeptics. It’s a ragtag bunch, very Continental Army.”
This indicates that folks like Milloy aren’t just deceiving the public, but themselves. If I was taking Charles Koch’s money to attack science, I too would probably have to constantly remind myself of my American heroics.
Mr. Koch is as awkward as ever in his half-hearted attempts to understand climate change science (you'd think a MIT alumnus would get it), he has been wary of climate laws and regulations for a long time.
That's probably why he has rained cash on the organizations that stage the fight, groups that have given room for a top U.S. CEO, with a background in chemical engineering, to demonstrate such scientific ignorance. Since 1997, the Kochs have spent more than $88 million in *traceable* dollars into the network of groups that attack climate science, the scientists doing the research, the potential policy solutions and the champions of those policies.
As for Lisa Nelson, she is on the board of a Libertarian think tank that promotes solutions to climate change. The Niskanen Center was named after the late co-founder of Charles Koch's Cato Institute, whose recent death led to an attempted coup of the organization by the Koch brothers. Some of Niskanen's staff are former Cato executives, who now support a carbon tax, perhaps the most viable policy solution to global warming. This has caused a rift between the Libertarian purists and the Koch network's hacks-for-hire, like Pat Michaels, the disgraced climatologist at Cato.
Since Ms. Nelson has taken the helm of ALEC, she has lost over a dozen corporate members. Some of those companies--Google, SAP, and Shell--even condemned ALEC specifically for peddling doubt over climate change in their statements explaining why they have abandoned the lobbying group.
[UPDATE: Since publishing, ALEC was abandoned by American Electric Power (AEP), a major U.S. coal-burning utility that has even lent staff to help govern ALEC's anti-environment task force. AEP states that ALEC's interference with the US Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan is the reason they are leaving. AEP remains a member of the utility trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, itself a member of ALEC.]
Ms. Nelson has inherited a big problem. After decades of helping companies lie to legislators about climate change, the companies themselves and many of their front groups will no longer deny that humans are responsible for unnatural climate variability. But ALEC legislators have not received the memo, and if you ask them about climate change, they sound woefully uninformed. Almost as if they were paid to.
This week, Inside Climate News has published some new revelations about one of the world’s biggest oil companies: that scientists working for Exxon knew about climate change as early as 1977.
Exxon’s own scientists conducted an extensive research program on climate change and "The Greenhouse Effect", running complex CO2 monitoring experiments and publishing peer-reviewed papers, because the company was deeply interested in this emerging threat to its core business, oil, and ultimately the company's survival. There is now no doubt that Exxon has known about the science and the risks of global warming for decades.
The news will perhaps be of great interest to those lawyers who successfully prosecuted the tobacco industry, which hid its knowledge of the science around tobacco’s addiction, and the impact of second hand smoke.
Because, despite having this breadth of knowledge within its walls, and for many years after these climate science programs were run at Exxon, the company has spent years and millings of dollars funding climate deniers and think tanks who attack the scientific consensus, spreading doubt and uncertainty. Greenpeace has collected data on Exxon's campaign of climate denial for decades. Our ExxonSecrets project and database now shows that has spent nearly $31 million since 1998 funding think tanks and campaigns against the climate science consensus and climate policy progress.
For decades, Mobil ran a weekly “advertorial” or "op-ad" on the opinion pages of the New York Times and other papers, ads that continued after Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999. The story of how Mobil managed to secure advertising space on the editorial page of the New York Times and why they did so is another story.
We at PolluterWatch have collected an archive of these ads from the 1970's to 2004. In light of the recent revelations about the company’s early understanding of the issue, they’re worth re-examining. The ads on global warming in particular set out the history of the companies’ campaign against both climate action and the science.
THE MOBIL ADS
In the lead up to the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, Mobil, a prominent member of the Global Climate Coalition, was leading the charge on the “it’s not global” message calling for developing countries to be included in emissions reduction targets.
On December 2, 1999, the first of the newly-merged ExxonMobil company ads appeared in the New York Times, announcing the merger:
And just one week later, on December 9, 1999, the merged ExxonMobil picked up the decades-long New York Times ad campaign with an ad titled: “Tomorrow’s energy needs”, emphasizing of course the plentiful global supply of fossil fuels, ExxonMobil’s preferred energy source. ExxonMobil is still running this argument today, using outdated, business as usual IEA scenarios to emphasize its point, and ignoring any of the IEA's “new policy” scenarios. Interestingly, the new revelations by Inside Climate News show that in the 1970s, Exxon was thinking well beyond oil for a spell, doing advanced research in solar power for example.
The Chairman and CEO of the merged giant ExxonMobil was Lee Raymond, who had worked for Exxon since the 1960s. Raymond in fact chaired the American Petroleum Institute’s climate change committee, and twice chaired the API itself. Raymond was a hardened climate science denier, and his views were strongly reflected in a new turn in the company’s ads. Whereas Mobil had called for more research, and put the blame on developing countries, ExxonMobil embraced those arguments, but turned to outright denial.
On March 16, 2000, ExxonMobil’s ads continued the onslaught against the Kyoto Protocol and climate science with “Do no harm” that argued a similar line to the “coal will solve poverty” pitch we hear from Peabody Energy today:
“…for most nations the Kyoto Protocol would require extensive diversion of human and financial resources away from more immediate and pressing needs in health care, education, infrastructure, and, yes, the environment—all critical to the well-being of future generations.”
ExxonMobil went on to advocate a “strong focus on scientific understanding” around climate change and proposed policies “that have the potential to make significant longer-term reductions in emissions, if they are needed.”
The ad finished with this: “Although it is hard to predict what the weather is going to be this weekend, we know with certainty that climate change policies, unless properly formulated, will restrict life itself.”
A week later, on March 23, 2000, ExxonMobil’s ad, “Unsettled science” focused on a 1996 study on temperature and climate in the Sargasso sea. At the company AGM in May that year Lee Raymond gave a presentation arguing the study showed how past temperatures appeared warmer than today, long before people began burning fossil fuels.
"So the issue isn't only: is the earth warming, but why is it warming," Raymond told the meeting.
In a letter in response to ExxonMobil’s use of his work, the author of the study, Dr Lloyd Keigwin, wrote:
"I believe ExxonMobil has been misleading in its use of the Sargasso Sea data. There's really no way these results bear on the question of human induced climate warming…I think the sad thing is the a company with the resources of ExxonMobil is exploiting the data for political purposes."
ExxonMobil then moved to a touch of greenwashing, a prominent feature of many of its Op Ads. In “The Promise of Technology” the company emphasized its push to explore new technology, especially it project on hydrogen/petroleum cars, research that kept a focus on cars at least in part powered by Exxon’s climate-changing product, which hasn’t produced any results, and which has since been surpassed by the development of electric cars. Yet it still managed to keep a question mark over the science of climate change with this line: “Climate change may pose legitimate long term risks.”
“Regarding climate change policy, the unrealistic and economically damaging Kyoto process needs to be rethought....Alternative energy sources such as solar or wind will not become significant until well after 2020.”
(Note: in 2014, renewable sources of energy accounted for about 10% of total U.S. energy consumption and 13% of electricity generation.1 Globally, in 2013 renewables accounted for almost 22% of global electricity generation, a 5% increase from 2012, according to the IEA).
On 28 March, 2001, EPA head Christine Tod Whitman announced the US would not implement the Kyoto Protocol. Just over a week later, on April 10, 2001 ExxonMobil’s ad lauded the decision: Moving Past Kyoto… slammed the Protocol, saying it was “too much too soon,” “tried to force technological change”, “failed to include developing countries” and was “fatally politicized.”
The ad’s companion the following week “…to a sounder climate policy” called for more research on climate change, an argument became the central plank of the Bush administration’s climate change policy.
In June 2001, President Bush gave his famous Rose Garden speech on climate change, saying, in very similar words to Exxon’s, that Kyoto was “fatally flawed in fundamental ways” and then set out the same argument as Exxon – and Mobil – had been running since the mid-90’s: that big developing countries such as China and India were not part of Kyoto therefore it wouldn’t work. This remains the mantra of recalcitrant developed country nations today.
In August 2001, Exxon’s ad “Sifting and winnowing”, while not directly mentioning climate change, argued that technological advances in energy were not progressing fast, and that the government should not give subsidies to new technologies – they had to stand on their own two feet.
“..it’s important that business and government leaders not pretend that we know enough to force our energy future to conform to some predetermined vision. Nor should some sources be subsidized, thereby masking their true costs and true consumer preferences.”
“It is our view that better scientific understanding of climate change, human influence on it, and the associated risks and possible consequences are needed.”
While the ad went on to emphasize what the company was doing about energy efficiency, and reluctantly accepted the problems with climate change:
“Doing nothing is neither prudent nor responsible, but the same may be said of rash action.”
January 2004: “Directions for Climate Research”Here, ExxonMobil outlines areas where it deemed more research was necessary, such as “natural climate variability, ocean currents and heat transfer, the hydrological cycle, and the ability of climate models to predict changes on a regional and local scale.”
January 2004: The “Weather and climate” ad correctly stated that weather and climate are different, but again, the ad emphasizes the range of uncertainties about climate change. The list is a litany of climate denier arguments at the time (many of which are still used today), including the influence of the sun (led by the Smithsonian Institute’s "Willie" Wei Hock Soon, whose work was being funded by ExxonMobil at the time).
“In the face of natural variability and complexity, the consequences of change in any single factor, for example greenhouse gas emissions, cannot readily be isolated, and prediction becomes difficult... Scientific uncertainties continue to limit our ability to make objective, quantitative determinations regarding the human role in recent climate change, or the degree and consequence of future change.”
We don’t have any more of these ads after 2004. But they continue today.
In 2005, Lee Raymond retired as CEO and Chairman of ExxonMobil. During his time in this role, the company had funded climate denying think tanks to the tune of $18,593,923, with the highest year of giving that year, in 2005, at $3.47 million. Science writer Chris Mooney outlined some of that funding in Mother Jones.
The following year, with new CEO Rex Tillerson at the helm, ExxonMobil began dropping its funding of some of these groups, saying in its May 2008 annual report that it was would no longer fund groups “whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."
Indeed it did drop some of that funding, and it fell back to around $800,000 in 2013, but rose again to $1.8m in 2014, after a $1m grant to the Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
ExxonMobil’s paying of climate denial campaigns may have waned since Raymond’s term, but Tillerson is still campaigning against the solutions. At the company’s AGM in May 2015, he repeated his view that renewables are not economic, saying "we choose not to lose money on purpose."
But he also repeated the same mantras seen over the decades: that the models weren’t very good, and that it would be difficult for the world to meet aggressive emission reduction targets. Technology, he said, can help deal with rising sea levels or changing weather patterns "that may or may not be induced by climate change."
The "conservative group" is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a lobbyists' policy factory, where corporations vote as equals on "model bills" with state legislators.
The Post notes that ALEC takes issue with the label "climate change denier," after the group's work doing just that led to the departures of major corporate supporters. Two organizations got letters from ALEC's lawyers, insinuating there would be legal action taken for accurately describing ALEC's legacy of denying climate change.
If you want to see how ALEC's own member politicians, lobbyists, and materials deny the science of climate change, check out ALECClimateChangeDenial.org. It's in their own words, so they may have to send a Cease and Desist letter to themselves.
For the record, Greenpeace's feelings are a bit hurt we too didn't get a warning. Did you not see our years of work to expose ALEC's climate change denial?
ALEC may have ignored us, but ALEC's member corporations haven't. Companies ranging from Google to BP to eBay to Northrop Grumman have recently dumped ALEC. Google's chairman said ALEC is "literally lying" about climate change in a surprise announcement to abandon the lobbying group on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show.
This isn't the first time ALEC got turned away at the dance. In the past, ALEC has faced mass corporate defections for its role in spreading lethal Stand Your Ground gun laws across the country and for disenfranchising legitimate voters with "Voter ID" legislation. Over 100 companies have ditched ALEC.
Together, lobbyists and lawmakers create fill-in-the-blank laws to hide chemicals used in fracking (for ExxonMobil), attack renewable energy incentives in the name of "Electricity Freedom" (for The Heartland Institute's corporate clients), and create red tape around the President's plan to reduce carbon pollution from coal plants (for polluters represented by the Edison Electric Institute), and many many more examples of promoting fossil fuels, attacking clean energy competition and denying the science of climate change.
ALEC may be nervous with the attention its operations are getting. ALEC's own lawyers have written about their precarious relationship with IRS tax law, acknowledging they would need to spin off a sister organization and register some staff as lobbyists in order to avoid potential action from the IRS that could affect ALEC's tax-exempt status. For ALEC's member corporations, that's a big deal - it's unclear what liabilities they would face if ALEC's nonprofit status was revoked.
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]
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.” [...]
A 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:
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.
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.
Leaked American Legislative Exchange Council documents published by The Guardian recently offered a glimpse into ALEC's financial troubles, spurred by its role in peddling corporate laws through statehouses around the country. ALEC's controversial work has caused its member companies to abandon it, such as pushing the National Rifle Association's Stand Your Ground laws, efforts to undermine clean energy incentives and delay climate change regulations, and breaking workers unions.
The ALEC documents revealed its "Prodical Son" project [sic], a list of 41 corporate members the legislator-lobbyist matchmaker would like to entice back into its roster. ALEC has lost about 60 corporate members since 2011, the year ALEC Exposed was launched by the Center for Media and Democracy.
But there are some private sector members that ALEC doesn't want back. 60 companies left ALEC and it's asking 41 to rejoin...so who is missing from the Prodigal Son list?
Conspicuously, both the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) are not on ALEC's secret Prodigal Son list. Not surprising, since an ALEC staffer accused residential solar rooftop owners of being "freeriders," despite how they feed extra electricity back into the grid and spare utilities the capital costs of installing those solar panels themselves.
The solar trade group SEIA left ALEC in the fall of 2012. Shortly before that, ALEC's Energy, Environment & Agriculture task force considered, but didn't ever approve, the Solar Streamline Permitting Act (see p. 18). It's pretty much what it sounds like--making it faster and easier for state governments to approve solar projects, a concept that you might assume ALEC's conservative member legislators would embrace.
But ALEC didn't pass the solar permitting model bill. At the same time, ALEC was incubating its assault on state clean energy incentives through The Heartland Institute's proposed Electricity Freedom Act, the repeal of state renewable portfolio standards, later introduced in some form in 15 states, according to ALEC.
ALEC's documents list SEIA among "Lapsed" members, with a note explaining "left because their bill did not pass the task force." SEIA was ALEC's only interest dedicated entirely to solar energy at the time, and with both SEIA and AWEA absent from ALEC's ranks, ALEC has no members predominantly focused on clean energy development.
There's ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute, the architects of the leaked 1998 master plan to publicly attack climate science and scientists, which included ALEC itself and other ALEC members like DCI Group.
Many dirty energy interests have recently sponsored ALEC's conferences, pay to participate in ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings, or both. ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is currently co-chaired by American Electric Power's Paul Loeffelman and Wyoming state Representative Thomas Lockhart.
*Koch Industries*--with business in oil and gas exploration, pipelines, refining and trading, coal and other carbon product logistics, timber and consumer paper products, commodities trading and investing, chemicals, fertilizer, ethanol, cattle and game ranching, glass, fiber optics, electronics and plenty of awkward public relations. The Charles Koch Foundation and Koch-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation both fund ALEC outside of Koch Industries' membership dues, together giving ALEC hundreds of thousands of dollars. ALEC has long depended on the Koch brothers.
Oil & Gas:
McMoRan Exploration Company
OXY USA (Occidental Petroleum)
Oil & Gas Lobby:
American Petroleum Institute (API)
American Gas Association (AGA)
America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA)
Center for Liquified Natural Gas
Cloud Peak Energy
Utilities (primarily Coal, Gas and Nuclear generation):
American Electric Power (AEP)
Arizona Public Service (APS)
*Energy Future Holdings*
MidAmerican Energy (all owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway)
Salt River Project (SRP)
Coal, Chemical & Fossil Fuel Product Shipping Railroad Co's:
Burlington Northern Santa Fe (owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway)
Genessee & Wyoming Inc.
Coal & Utility Lobby:
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE)
Edison Electric Institute (EEI)
Indiana Energy Association
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)
Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives (NRECA member)
Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)
Chemical, Agribusiness and Paper Industry Interests:
American Chemistry Council
American Plastics Council
J.R. Simplot Company
CropLife America (lobbying group for Monsanto & other agribusiness corporations)
Uranium Mining & Nuclear Technology:
State Policy Network, SPN members & SPN associate members:
Competitive Enterprise Institute (co-authors ALEC reports against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution rules)
The Heartland Institute (IL)
Goldwater Institute (AZ)
ALEC notes show that SPN members the Commonwealth Foundation (PA) and John Locke Foundation (NC) have recently lapsed but would like to rejoin ALEC's ranks. Each of these SPN groups are part of the the Koch-funded climate denial machine.
Public Relations firms with known Fossil Fuel Clients:
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