The parallels between climate change deniers and those skeptics who argued that tobacco was not a health hazard are becoming more apparent every day. The tobacco industry spent huge sums of money to conduct their own ‘research’ and used the pronouncements of friendly scientists whom they had funded to argue that whether smoking was dangerous was an open question that was still unresolved, that the jury was out, and hence no action should be taken until further research was done, with that horizon constantly receding.
That the climate change skeptics were following that same playbook has been obvious for some time but yesterday comes further evidence of that in the revelation that a leading scientific skeptic had been getting money from the energy industry for years, all the while claiming that his work was independent of any pressure group. He did not disclose his sources of funding in his papers as he is obliged to do. As Tom Yulsman writes:
If documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act by the environmental group Greenpeace are accurate, [Willie] Soon has been on the payroll of large corporate donors who have a lot to gain by blocking measures to reduce humankind’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases implicated in global warming.
Soon’s angle was that it was the Sun’s activity that was causing global warning and that climate scientists were ignoring this factor. This was wrong in that other scientists had looked at the Sun’s influence and found that its contribution was negligible. As Yulsman says:
For the record, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has assessed both natural and human-caused drivers of climate change, including the Sun. In the argot of climate science, these contributions are measured in terms of “radiative forcing,” or RF. A positive radiative forcing leads to surface warming, whereas a negative RF has the opposite effect.
What has the IPCC found? Between the dawn of the industrial era in 1750 and 2011, the major greenhouse gases we’ve added to the atmosphere during that period have increased radiative forcing by 3.00 watts per meter squared (with a range of uncertainty of 2.22 – 3.78). By comparison, changes in the amount of energy reaching us from the Sun have caused an increase in radiative forcing of just 0.05 watts per meter squared (with uncertainty ranging from 0.00 to 0.10). That’s a tiny fraction of the influence coming from greenhouse gases.
The IPCC also points out that between 1986 and 2008, the radiative forcing from the Sun actually declined — even as large amounts of heat continued to buildup up in the Earth’s climate system.
These released documents also reveal his communications with his corporate benefactors that suggest a quid pro quo. Soon had some affiliation with the Harvard-Smithsonian institution, though he was not on their payroll, and he got his salary from grant money provided by the Koch brothers and other petroleum energy sources opposed to the climate change scientific consensus.
This case also raises troubling questions about how carefully the Harvard-Smithsonian guards against people trading in on its prestigious name. They would not be the only major research and educational institution to allow big corporate interests to buy their way into getting their own people on the payroll and thus lending a veneer of credibility to what are essentially hired guns, further threatening the increasingly threadbare credibility that academics have for being objective analysts.