Will Charles Koch follow his skeptic scientist’s “total turnaround” on global warming?

  • Posted on: 30 July 2012
  • By: Aliya Haq

Charles Koch funded Richard Muller's climate research and analysis. Now will he accept Muller's conclusions that global warming is caused by humans?

Long-time climate skeptic Richard Muller, UC Berkeley physics professor, has completed his “total turnaround” and now believes that humans are “almost entirely the cause” of global warming. Since the vast majority of climate scientists reached this conclusion decades ago, Muller’s temperature study is noteworthy mostly because the oil-billionaire Charles Koch, climate-denier extraordinaire, provided the lion's share of research funding. Not even Koch oil money could prevent Richard Muller from accepting the evidence that climate change is happening and humans are causing it. Now, since Charles Koch paid for Muller’s work, will Koch listen to Muller’s findings?

In his July 28 New York Times op-ed, Muller states:

"Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."

Muller goes on to say:

“It appears likely that essentially all of [the global temperature] increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases. These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming.”

Greenpeace Radio’s James Turner interviewed Richard Muller on November 22, 2011. Muller said he believes his work will resonate with open-minded people and he implies that his major funder, Charles Koch, is one of those “open-minded” people:

  • “As people study what we did, we will bring over the open-minded people…Over the coming months as people begin to appreciate how carefully we did our work that they will come to agree that global warming is real.” (min 4:15)
  • “We seek refuge in science. People attack us on all sides.  In the end, science is that realm of knowledge in which ultimately all people agree.  As people get to study our papers, a lot of this political contentiousness will go away.” (min 7:00)
  • “I did talk to Charles Koch. He emphasized from the beginning that he was concerned about valid issues in the science. He wanted us to straighten out those issues. He didn’t know what answer we would get. He just wanted it to be put on a solid, firm foundation. That’s what we’ve done.” (min 9:40)

In response to Muller’s op-ed, Charles Koch Foundation spokeswoman Tonya Mullins wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times:

"Our grants are designed to promote independent research; as such, recipients hold full control over their findings...In this support, we strive to benefit society by promoting discovery and informing public policy."

Will Charles Koch continue funding of Richard Muller’s work, now that Muller has discredited the Koch climate-denier position? Will Muller’s conclusions change Koch’s position on climate policy? It is not encouraging to see that other climate deniers remain unconvinced, such as the blogger Anthony Watts.

Not only does Watts disagree with Richard Muller’s new revelations, but in a panicked and desperate attempt to bury Muller’s story, he pre-released his own study of temperature data, claiming that estimates of global temperature increases are exaggerated. Based on current media coverage of the converted-skeptic story, it appears that Watts is sadly losing this media battle: a quick Google News search of the last four days shows Watts with only 240 news results, compared to over 3200 news results about Muller. I suppose “climate-denier blogger digs in his heels” doesn’t make much of a story.

The scientific peer-review process for Muller's study has not yet been completed. The response to Muller’s media coverage from other climate scientists has ranged from warm reception to mild exasperation. Michael Mann responded on his Facebook page:

“I applaud Muller and his colleagues for acting as any good scientists would, following where their analyses led them, without regard for the possible political repercussions.”

Ken Caldeira, Stanford climate scientist, said to Climate Progress:

“I am glad that Muller et al have taken a look at the data and have come to essentially the same conclusion that nearly everyone else had come to more than a decade ago.”

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