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!