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Michigan State: students highlight Willie Soon's oil and coal-funded climate denial career

  • Posted on: 8 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Image from a USA Today article detailing Willie Soon's at events to confuse the public over climate science.

Written by Rachna Pannu. This event was covered in the Michigan State News by Simon Schuster, whose interview with Dr. Willie Soon confirms CFACT paid for Soon to attend these events.

Dr. Willie Soon, a well-known climate change denier, was invited by the MSU Campus Conservatives at Michigan State University to talk about climate change.  The event was sanctioned by CFACT, an obscure but vocal group among climate science deniers. We at MSU Greenpeace saw this as a great opportunity to have some of our members attend and question the reasons and methods with which he chooses to deny what 98% of climate scientists have agreed to be true
 
The bulk of Dr. Soon’s talk involved aggressively targeting published or well-known supporters of climate change prevention, including professors, Al Gore, and federal, national and international organizations. He went through the data, attempting to discredit it with conflicting data from other studies and experiments. However, this aspect of his talk left me with more questions than answers, especially since he is a known recipient of oil and coal money.
 

Willie Soon’s fossil fuel-funded career

 
Willie Soon spent a good amount of the talk repeatedly defending himself as an independent scientist simply seeking to learn the truth before anyone had even questioned his motives and his expertise. He ranted that people question his funding and his intentions, but he is just an objective man trying to get to the truth of climate change. He also used this opportunity to criticize the current scientific model of publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, claiming that it was a buddy-buddy system and peer-reviewing did not affect the validity of the article.
 
Essentially, Dr. Soon was warding off the holes in his credentials before anyone had questioned them because his doctorate is in astrophysics, which is not even related to the Earth’s climate, and has only been able to publish one article on climate science in a peer-reviewed journal. Even that article was hotly debated by the editors, who wrote a negative response and resigned from their positions in outrage. And Willie Soon's funding? It comes from fossil fuel companie--like ExxonMobil and Southern Company--totaling over $1 million in the last decade.
 

Questionable Climate ‘Science’ 

 
Willie Soon pulled up a graph showing the temperature range over a series of years in the 2000’s and asked rhetorically whether anyone could see an increase in the temperatures over time. Yes, I could, but I would rather like to question the validity of using a period of less than 10 years to examine the change in the Earth’s temperature over time. In another example, he showed a graph that analyzed both the variance in amplitude and shift in time for the predictions of temperatures by many different model used by scientists. The models were dispersed around the central point of zero difference in amplitude and zero shift in time, but he simply stated that the image showed errors in all of the models and stated that none of them were in the lower left corner. Why they should be in a region of less amplitude and a negative shift in time in relation to the actual temperature patterns baffles me.  
 
Members of MSU Greenpeace questioned Soon about his articles on climate science, and he became aggressive and very defensive, stating that peer-review did not signify greater accuracy (peer-review is crucial to ensuring the highest conduct in scientific research). When a member of The State News, the MSU student newspaper, asked why with about 13,900 published articles on the verity of climate change and only twenty-something that argue the reverse he felt that climate change did not exist, Dr. Soon again became frustrated. Soon referred to a quote from Albert Einstein, saying that it only takes one person to disprove what everyone agrees upon. Read coverage of this event from the State News here.
 
There was no way to have an effective discourse about climate change with Dr. Willie Soon because he refused to accept the very basic premises of our current scientific standards that peer-review ensures accuracy of the published articles and that a large consensus by educated individuals who have done their own research into a matter indicates the verity of the hypothesis. In addition, some of the data and sources he provided seemed either not applicable or reputable as we are taught is critical to reliable scientific research. 
 

Dr. Soon adds Ocean Acidification Denial to his Growing list of Specialties

 
Separate from Willie Soon’s questionable assertions about global temperature trends were his assertions used to dismiss ocean acidification, a serious problem that is linked with increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (caused by companies funding Dr. Soon, like ExxonMobil and Southern Company). Soon's sources were shaky--data cited from a BlogSpot website, for instance, not exactly a credentialed scientific institution. He disputed a report by a marine biologist that claims increasing CO2 content of the ocean results in weakening of the shells of marine organisms by interfering with their ability to use calcium carbonate in their shells. 
 
Scientists who are serious about scientific standards tell us that ocean acidification is having a profound impact on coral reefs (they are dying rapidly), and scientists are working to determine if more acidic oceans are impacting crustaceans, ocean animals that have shells. Dr. Soon apparently already has the answers, stating that crabs and lobster shells were not composed of significant amounts of calcium carbonate, and then he provided data that showed lobsters and crabs increasing in size after carbon dioxide was bubbled through their water. If indeed the shells of crustaceans are not mainly composed of calcium carbonate, how does an experiment showing the effect of carbon dioxide presence in the water of lobster and crabs conflict with the statement that it affects the availability of calcium carbonate? 
 

Soon’s Limited Audience

 
The only thing I can say is that I felt some relief in that he was only able to attempt to influence a half-filled classroom composed of 1/3 individuals who did not attend the university and already believed in Soon’s paranoid vision of the world and 1/3 supporters of the movement to protect our planet. There are always a few doubters, a few critics and a few conspiracy theorists that refuse to acknowledge global warming no matter how much evidence is presented to them. If we can get the majority of rational individuals to understand the changes occurring to the environment, we can create change to save our planet and make it a healthier place to live. 
 
Rachna Pannu
Senior, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology B.S. 
Lyman Briggs College
Michigan State University
 

 

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ALEC is Pushing Climate Denial to Kids in Three More States

  • Posted on: 30 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Science education is a problem in the United States. Studies consistently show the U.S. ranking poor in science education testing in industrialized countries.

Exxon, Koch Industries, Duke Energy and other profiteers of global warming inaction are not helping. Through the American Legislative Exchange Council, these companies are working to ensure that in certain states, children and young adults will be taught that certain myths are scientifically credible. Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog broke the ALEC connection:

January hasn't even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" - which mandates a "balanced" teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year. 

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four states, an undeniable form of "big government" this "free market" organization decries in its own literature.

Each of the three new bills were sponsored by paying ALEC-member legislators - the Arizona bill was exclusively co-sponsored by six ALEC politicians.

The three states considering ALEC's climate denial law are already struggling to teach quality science. While Colorado scores an "average" ranking among states in science education, both Arizona and Oklahoma score "far below average," according to a 2011 ranking by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics.

Unfortunately, as this attack on science education is considered in Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona, there at least four states that already passed the ALEC bill. From DeSmogBlog last March:

First it was Louisiana, back in 2009, then Texas in 2009, South Dakota in 2010 and now Tennessee has joined the club, bringing the total to four U.S. states that have mandated climate change denial in K-12 "science" education. 

It's unfortunate that these students won't be told how much scientific literature concludes that human-induced global warming is occurring:

 

ALEC and the Heartland Institute: Selling Doubt to Students

The Heartland Institute and American Legislative Exchange Council have long been buddy-buddy on rejecting climate science. Heartland is driving much of ALEC's interference policies on climate change with support from other members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. An oil industry apologist with ties to both ALEC and Heartland named Sandy Liddy Bourne facilitated the creation of the "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act." DeSmogBlog refreshes our memories:

ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, now known as its Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, adopted this model at a time when the Task Force was headed by Sandy Liddy Bourne. Bourne, who served in this capacity from 1999-2004, would eventually ascend to the role of Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC in 2004. 

Upon leaving ALEC in 2006, Bourne become Heartland's Vice President for Policy Strategy. Today she serves as Executive Director of the American Energy Freedom Center, an outfit she co-heads with Arthur G. Randol. Randol is a longtime lobbyist and PR flack for ExxonMobil, a corporation which endowed the climate change denial machine for years.

Heartland's website still lists Bourne as one of its "experts," stating that "Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent." 

ALEC and Heartland's focus on injecting fossil fuel public relations into science curriculum is picking up where another front group left off. A disbanded organization called the Environmental Literacy Council, set up by the Koch- and Exxon-funded George C. Marshall Institute, was established to be a resource for any teachers willing to misinform their students on climate science.

Unfortunately, Koch, Exxon and ALEC's other supporters seems less interested in maintaining a habitable planet for the upcoming generation and more interested in profiting from their ignorance.

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ALEC EXPOSED: Polluter Front Group's Dirty Secrets Revealed

  • Posted on: 18 July 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.

As revealed by The Nation and hosted by the Center for Media and Democracy’s new ALEC Exposed website, today marks a breakthrough in democratic transparency with the release of over 800 internal documents created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Who is ALEC?

Greenpeace has tracked the American Legislative Exchange Council and its role in the climate denial machine, along with the money it receives from polluters including Koch Industries and ExxonMobil to peddle doubt over established conclusions of climate scientists. Check out some of ALEC’s climate denier deeds at ExxonSecrets.


ALEC links state legislators with some of corporate America's largest and most dubious players—Exxon, Koch, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Reynolds Tobacco for example—to create model state legislation. State legislators who pay a small fee to become ALEC members are granted access to a large pool of draft bills and resolutions created by representatives of the corporate giants who finance ALEC, some of which also help govern the organization. ALEC creates a cover for state legislators who ultimately benefit from ALEC’s corporate supporters without having to disclose who pays for the corporate-handout policies they push in state houses across the country.

The Nation's John Nichols explains the ALEC agenda:

"ALEC's model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy. ALEC's priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more. In states across the country they succeeded, with stacks of new laws signed by GOP governors like Ohio's John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both ALEC alums."

ALEC's Dirty Assault on Environmental Causes

ALEC has long served corporate polluters in attacking or preempting environmental protections through state laws. A revealing article in Grist linked legislative repeals from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to ALEC's draft legislation, offering polluters like Koch Industries another avenue of attack to bolster the work of other front groups, including Americans for Prosperity's pressure on states participating in RGGI. Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves and The Nation have more details on the connection between Koch Industries and ALEC.

The over 800 internal documents revealed at ALEC Exposed brings other laws drafted by and for corporate polluters to light. Examples include:

• A 2010 resolution [PDF] resisting long-overdue EPA classification of coal ash as hazardous material. Coal ash is a leftover product from burning coal containing neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements—not the type of material that should be less regulated than household garbage (as it currently is).
 
• A 2009 resolution to dodge federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing [PDF] for natural gas by promoting state-level regulation of hydrofracking. New York Times reporting has shown state fracking regulations are notably insufficient. Currently, the private sector chairs of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force are Tom Moskitis of the American Gas Association and Martin Schultz, a lobbyist for a large firm representing dozens of corporate heavyweights including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway and oil supermajor ConocoPhillips.
 
• A 2008 resolution [PDF] to challenge the federal offshore drilling moratorium, which ignores the reality that offshore drilling won’t reduce gas prices. ALEC’s [Exxon-funded] language uses the American taxpayer as an excuse to push for more dangerous offshore drilling even as giant oil companies like Exxon take billions in taxpayer subsidies and make record profits. Currently, the private sector chair of ALEC's Civil Justice task force (which adopted the resolution) is Victor Schwartz of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a law firm representing Peabody and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
 

The range of ALEC's model legislation provides a historical record of the most aggressive efforts to combat environmental protection. A resolution from 1998 getting states to oppose the Kyoto protocol [PDF] apparently passed in ten states and was introduced or passed by one legislative chamber in another ten states, according to an ALEC speech transcript. A resolution from 2002 shows ALEC’s role in early efforts to hijack chemical security legislation. After the U.S. Senate adopted a bill (S.1602) in July, 2002 that would have conditionally required the use of safer processes at high risk chemical plants, ALEC fought back, approving a Resolution in Opposition to S. 1602 [PDF] a month later. That fall, the chemical security bill fell on its face.

More to Come...

Greenpeace is continuing to research the contents of ALEC's documents. ALEC's template environmental bills repeatedly attack clean energy, push the most dangerous and dirty fossil fuel developments and try to roll back safeguards that reduce pollution. We will continue to update you on what we find.

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