Who are theses Climate Change "Deniers"?
With virtually the entire U.S. suffering under a massive heat wave (Nebraska is seeing heat index readings of 117 degrees F.), drought-stricken Texas shipping its cattle out of state to graze, and Phoenix, Arizona just having experienced a 5,000-foot-high and 100-mile-wide dust storm the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Dust Bowl, you'd think skepticism about climate change would all but have evaporated under all this heat. But despite of the scientific consensus of 97 percent of the world's climatologists that human activity (largely through the burning of fossil fuels like coal and tar sands oil) is warming the planet and fostering extreme weather events all over the world, the climate skeptics and deniers are as vehement and vitriolic as ever. Climate change, to them, is still an "Al Gore hoax" -- a scam being foisted on a gullible public by tree-hugging, 'Big Government'-loving liberals.
So, if the overwhelming majority of international climate scientists are on board with anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming and advocating immediate steps to address the danger, who are these other guys? What are their credentials?
To answer those questions, 350.org-Nebraska researched the backgrounds of the most well-known climate skeptics claiming scientific authority and prepared the following report.
Profiles of Prominent Global Warming Skeptics
There are just a handful of alleged authorities disputing the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to global warming. As the PBS “Frontline” documentary, “Hot Politics,” reported in 2007, “many of these researchers expressing doubts about the science of global warming have financial ties to the oil, auto, electricity and coal industries. These experts appear regularly at Congressional hearings, on television, radio and in print, and at events in order to spread their message. That message varies somewhat from skeptic to skeptic but generally sows doubt about climate change, challenging the consensus of mainstream scientists. They ask whether global warming is really occurring, whether human activity is truly to blame and whether rising temperatures are such a bad thing.”
Fred Seitz (1911-2008)
A past president of the National Academy of Sciences, winner of the “National Medal of Science” for his contributions to the modern quantum theory of the solid state of matter and one of America’s most distinguished physicists of the 20th Century, Dr. Fred Seitz is the most celebrated of the climate contrarians. Dubbed by Business Week as “the granddaddy of global-warming skeptics,” Seitz nevertheless had no academic credentials in climatology nor did any of his climate writings ever appear in peer-reviewed publications.
The final three decades of his life, in fact, were riddled with controversy. From the late 1970s to the late ’80s, he served as a paid consultant for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, receiving over $585,000 for his services at the very time the tobacco industry was asserting the scientific link between smoking and cancer was still unproven. Seitz himself asserted in a 1994 article on ‘second-hand smoke’ (published by the policy institute he co-founded and chaired) that “there is no good scientific evidence that passive inhalation is truly dangerous under normal circumstances.”
By the 1990s, though, Seitz was largely shifting the focus of his efforts to climate, publishing opinion pieces dismissing the dangers of global warming and disputing that there was any scientific consensus about climate change. His 1998 endorsement of the “Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine” (OISM) petition debunking the threat posed by carbon dioxide and calling for the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, however, created such controversy as to provoke a formal backlash from the scientific community.
The format and type of the OISM petition was nearly identical to that of a publication in a National Academy of Sciences journal. In response, the NAS took what a April 22, 1998 New York Times story called “the extraordinary step of refuting the position of one [of] its former presidents,” with the NAS stressing that “the petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy.” Further, the Times story reported that of the then 15,000 signers of the petition, by the OISM’s own reckoning, only “about 2,100 were physicists, geophysicists, climatologists and meteorologists, and of those the greatest number are physicists.” A subsequent May 1, 1998, AP article disclosed that the petition at one time included the names, “Drs. ‘Frank Burns,’ ‘Honeycutt’ and ‘Pierce’ (Remember the trio from M*A*S*H?), not to mention the Spice Girl, a.k.a. Geraldine Halliwell, who was on the petition as ‘Dr. Geri Halliwel’ and again as simply ‘Dr. Halliwell.’”
The total number of signatories on the OISM “Global Warming Petition Project” has nearly doubled since 1998, but its scientific credibility has sunk lower than ever. While the web page of the petition boasts that “31,487 American scientists have signed this petition, including 9,029 with PhDs,” a 2001 analysis by Scientific American found few of the signatories were climatologists or even scientists, and of those who were, many misunderstood the petition’s actual position.
Seitz’s 1998 ‘open letter’ accompanying the petition warned that the “United States is very close to adopting” the Kyoto Protocol, which, he alleged, “would ration the use of energy and of technologies that depend upon coal, oil, and natural gas.” Trading on his scientific celebrity, he dismissed the concern over increased carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, stating, “there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful.” A June 5, 2000, Business Week story, however, was to provide an alternative—and less scientifically inspired—interpretation of Seitz’s interest in opposing the climate pact. For 28 years, the story stated, “Seitz was also a paid director and shareholder of Ogden Corp., an operator of coal-burning power plants that stands to lose financially should the Kyoto Protocol become law.” The magazine reported that Seitz “sold most of his 11,500 shares” of Ogden in 1999—the year immediately following the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the climate agreement.
His business ties to carbon-based fuels, it turns out, extended to the oil industry as well. As PBS’s “Frontline” documented in 2006, two years before his death at 96, “Among the several skeptical organizations with which Dr. Seitz has been affiliated, he has been Chairman Emeritus of the “George C. Marshall Institute,” which received $630,000 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2005, according to ExxonSecrets.org and a review of Exxon’s financial documents. Seitz also served on the “Board of Academic and Scientific Advisors for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow,” which received $472,000 from Exxon from 1998 to 2005, according to the same sources.
Up until his death, Seitz defended his acceptance of money from the oil and tobacco industries, stating that the money did not influence his science. While critics might be ‘skeptical’ of such a claim, Fred Seitz alone knew for sure. What we know for a fact did not influence his science, however, were the conclusions of 97 percent of the world’s publishing climate scientists, whose peer-reviewed research—vetted by qualified colleagues in the specialized field of climatology—forms the international scientific consensus on the dangers of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming.
S. Fred Singer, Ph.D.
Yet another retired physicist with ties to the Big Tobacco and Big Oil, Fred Singer has proven to be nearly as controversial a figure in climatological circles as his contrarian colleague, Fred Seitz. Singer, with a long and distinguished career inside both academia and government, is the only other scientific luminary (besides Seitz) in the ranks of the global warming skeptics. Armed with a background in both electrical engineering and atmospheric physics, he was an early proponent of rocketry and space exploration and actually developed the first satellite instruments measuring ozone and cosmic radiation. In the early 1960s, he served as one of the first administrators with the newly created “U.S. National Weather Satellite Center,” and his resume includes a stint as a deputy assistant administrator with the original EPA, as well as academic appointments directing environmental studies programs at the University of Virginia and University of Miami.
Impressive as these credentials are, however, Singer’s scientific expertise never extended to the field of climatology. In fact, beginning in the mid-’80s, his professional stature even in his chosen disciplines went into eclipse, as he took to publishing his doubts about the links between second-hand smoke and lung cancer and between UV rays and skin cancer in non-academic outlets. During a 1995 congressional hearing, U.S. Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Michigan) publicly questioned Singer’s professional credibility, noting that while he touted himself as an accomplished scientist, he had been unable to publish in the peer-reviewed literature, other than one technical comment, for at least 15 years—a charge Singer did not refute. Finally, as was the case with Fred Seitz, Singer’s financial ties to the tobacco and oil industries have compromised his claims of scientific independence and objectivity.
In 1990, with funding from Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, he established the “Science and Environmental Policy Project” (SEPP) to lobby against preventive measures intended to curb global warming. It wasn’t long before fossil fuel interests began funneling money his way. Singer denied receiving funding from the oil industry in a 2006 interview with PBS’s Frontline for its “Hot Politics” documentary, though he acknowledged being a paid consultant for several oil companies (including ARCO, ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Sun Oil and Unocal). According to a review of Exxon’s own financial documents and ExxonSecrets.org, however, Singer’s SEPP has received multiple grants from ExxonMobil, as have many of the other libertarian and free market organizations with which Singer works, such as “Frontiers of Freedom,” the “Cato Institute” and the “National Center for Policy Analysis.” In a March 2001 Nation article, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan reported that, “The most widely quoted skeptic, S. Fred Singer, denied receiving oil industry money in a February 1, 2001 letter to The Washington Post. But in 1998 ExxonMobil gave $10,000 to Singer’s institute, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, and $65,000 to the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which shared building space with SEPP.”
By the mid-’90s, Singer and SEPP had already demonstrated their public relations value to the fossil fuel industry. With the Clinton/Gore Administration actively engaged in negotiations on an agreement to limit carbon emissions, Singer drafted and circulated the so-called “Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change.” The declaration alleged that the scientific premises upon which the Kyoto Protocol rested were “based solely on unproven scientific theories, imperfect computer models—and the unsupported assumption that catastrophic global warming follows from an increase in greenhouse gases, requiring immediate action.” It went on to state: “[C]ontrary to the conventional wisdom—there does not exist today a general scientific consensus about the importance of greenhouse warming from rising levels of carbon dioxide. In fact, most climate specialists now agree that actual observations from both weather satellites and balloon-borne radiosondes show no current warming whatsoever… ”
Released the month before negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol were finalized, the declaration (like Fred Seitz’s Oregon Petition) generated media and political buzz far beyond its modest means. Although the declaration begins, “As independent scientists concerned with atmospheric and climate problems, we... ”, questions about the scientific background of the roughly 100 signatories (and the degree to which they could be deemed to be independent) surfaced immediately. Singer and his supporters generally portrayed (and still portray) the signers as climate scientists, although the current signers also include 25 television weather reporters. A Danish Broadcasting Company journalist attempted to contact the declaration’s original 33 European signers and found that four of them could not be located, 12 denied ever having signed, and some had not even heard of the Leipzig Declaration. Included among the confirmed signers were a medical doctor, a nuclear scientist and an entomologist. Under public pressure, Singer subsequently deleted some—but not all—of the discredited signatures. Once those whose credentials were inflated, irrelevant, false or unverifiable were removed, however, only 20 of the names on the list could be said to have had any scientific connection with the study of climate change (and some of those names were known to have obtained grants from the fossil fuel industry, including the German coal industry and the government of Kuwait). And of those 20, only one individual appeared to be actually doing climate research.
An August 13, 2007 Newsweek cover story on climate change deniers further detailed how far Singer had strayed from his roots as a principled scientist:
In April 1998 a dozen people from the denial machine—including the [George C.] Marshall Institute, Fred Singer’s group and Exxon—met at the American Petroleum Institute’s Washington headquarters. They proposed a $5 million campaign, according to a leaked eight-page memo, to convince the public that the science of global warming is riddled with controversy and uncertainty. The plan was to train up to 20 “respected climate scientists” on media—and public—outreach with the aim of “raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom’” and, in particular, “the Kyoto treaty’s scientific underpinnings” so that elected officials “will seek to prevent progress toward implementation.” The plan, once exposed in the press, “was never implemented as policy,” says Marshall’s William O’Keefe, who was then at API.
In naming Fred Singer to his list of the top 17 “Climate Killers… who are derailing efforts to curb global warming,” Rolling Stone Magazine journalist Tim Dickinson, in the January 2010 issue, scripted the epitaph to the professional reputation of this once remarkable American scientist:
A former mouthpiece for the tobacco industry, the 85-year-old Singer is the granddaddy of fake ‘science’ designed to debunk global warming. The retired physicist—who also tried to downplay the danger of the hole in the ozone layer—is still wheeled out as an authority by big polluters determined to kill climate legislation. For years, Singer steadfastly denied that the world is heating up: Citing satellite data that has since been discredited, he even made the unhinged claim that ‘the climate has been cooling just slightly.’ Last year, Singer served as a lead author of “Climate Change Reconsidered”—an 880-page report by the right-wing Heartland Institute that was laughably presented as a counterweight to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s scientific authority on global warming. Singer concludes that the unchecked growth of climate-cooking pollution is “unequivocally good news.” Why? Because “rising CO2 levels increase plant growth and make plants more resistant to drought and pests.” Small wonder that Heartland’s climate work has long been funded by the likes of Exxon and reactionary energy barons like Charles Koch and Richard Mellon Scaife [of Gulf Oil].
Richard S. Lindzen, Ph.D.
“Of all the skeptics,” the Washington Post wrote in 2006, “MIT’s Richard Lindzen probably has the most credibility among mainstream scientists, who acknowledge that he’s doing serious research on the subject.” A professor of meteorology and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Lindzen has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles on climatology on topics relating to monsoons, how heat and water move around the world, the ice ages and the effects of seasonal changes on the atmosphere. He worked on (and was vocally critical of) the “Second Assessment of Climate Change” released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1995—the same year he also signed Fred Singer’s “Leipzig Declaration.” Lindzen has frequently testified before Congress about his climate skepticism, and in a string of op-eds—particularly in the Wall Street Journal—has belittled the scientific case for global warming.
Although he has repeatedly claimed that his funding comes exclusively from government sources, journalist Ross Gelbspan revealed in a 1995 Harper’s Magazine article that Lindzen “charges oil and coal interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services; his 1991 trip to testify before a Senate committee was paid for by Western Fuels, and a speech he wrote, entitled ‘Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,’ was underwritten by OPEC.”
PBS’s Frontline reported in 2007 that Lindzen is “a member of the Advisory Council of the ‘Annapolis Center for Science Based Public Policy,’ which has received large amounts of funding from ExxonMobil and smaller amounts from Daimler Chrysler, according to a review Exxon’s own financial documents and 990s from Daimler Chrysler’s Foundation. He has also been a contributor to the Cato Institute (which has taken $90,000 from Exxon since 1998, according to the website Exxonsecrets.org and a review Exxon financial documents),” as well as to the George C. Marshall Institute founded by Fred Seitz.
Over the past decade, Lindzen has in addition become ever more closely associated with the libertarian “Heartland Institute,” which in the past has billed itself as “the marketing arm of the free-market movement.” A March 4, 2008 New York Times article described the institute as “a Chicago group whose anti-regulatory philosophy has long been embraced by, and financially supported by, various industries and conservative donors”—including tobacco giant Philip Morris, ExxonMobil (which provided $676,500 in funding between 1998-2006), and Tea Party underwriters David and Charles Koch, whose Koch Industries is now the largest privately held energy company in the U.S.
Since 2008, the Institute has hosted an annual “International Conference on Climate Change,” at which Lindzen has served as a keynote speaker. Nineteen of the sponsoring organizations for the 2010 conference—which included Fred Seitz’s George C. Marshall Institute and Fred Singer’s SEPP, as well as the Heartland Institute—had received a total of $40 million between 1985-2008 from just three oil interests: ExxonMobil, Koch Foundations and Scaife Family Foundations (Sources: U.S. 990 Tax forms, ExxonSecrets, SourceWatch, MediaMatters Transparency). Reporting on the first conference in 2008, the British newspaper, The Independent stated that the institute’s receipt of donations from both ExxonMobil and Philip Morris indicates “a direct link has emerged between anti-global warming skeptics funded by the oil industry and the opponents of the scientific evidence showing that passive smoking can damage people’s health.”
While acknowledging his formidable credentials in the climate debate, critics are also quick to point out Lindzen’s contrarian personality. (He even disputes the research linking smoking to lung cancer.) Vanity Fair, in its May 2007 issue, chose Lindzen to share the title of “false counselor” in its list of leading “environmental sinners.” As two of his climatology colleagues—NASA climatologist and climate modeler Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University and a lead author on the Inter-govern-mental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—noted on the climatologist-run website RealClimate.org, “For a time, Lindzen set himself apart” [from contrarians like Seitz and Singer]: “his scientific challenges were often thoughtful and his hypotheses interesting, if one-sided—he never met a negative feedback he didn’t like. Sadly,” they concluded, “it has become clear that those days are gone.”
Author of two best-selling books—The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001) and Cool It!: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (2007)—and “famous” (in the words of the UK Guardian) “for attacking climate scientists, campaigners, the media and others for exaggerating the rate of global warming and its effects on humans,” Bjorn Lomborg has been the darling of the contrarian lobby. The Heartland Institute, for instance, claimed the Danish professor of statistics as one its “experts,” even though none of Lomborg’s work has ever appeared in peer-reviewed climatological publications.
So it created quite a stir in August 2010 when the Guardian broke the news that “the world’s most high-profile climate change skeptic” announced that not only was climate change human-caused, “If we care about the environment and about leaving this planet and its inhabitants with the best possible future, we actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.”
In point of fact, Lomborg had always acknowledged the human role in global warming. A line from his 2001 Skeptical Environmentalist flatly states: “This chapter accepts the reality of man-made global warming.” And in 2009 he told Esquire, “It is a very good thing that President Obama accepts that global warming is real and man-made; his predecessor’s reluctance or inability to recognize the issue was an embarrassment.” Instead, it was always Lomborg’s dismissal of the danger and the need for urgency that attracted the adulation of skeptics and raised the ire of the vast majority of climate researchers. From the moment he stepped into the international limelight ten years ago, critics have highlighted his lack of scientific credentials, charging him with cherry-picking data, shoddy scholarship and intellectual irresponsibility. The chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change himself (Rajendra Pachauri, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore) publicly took Lomborg to task in 2004 over his assertion that much of the world’s population would benefit from global warming.
With the publication of his latest book, however, Smart Solutions to Climate Change: Comparing Costs and Benefits, Lomborg’s differences with the scientific consensus over the urgency for mitigation and adaptation have largely been laid to rest. Stating that “climate change is undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today” and “a challenge that humanity must confront,” he now advocates institution of a global carbon tax and an expenditure of $100 billion a year to “essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century.”
There are of course other less notable figures in the skeptic community. Climatologist Patrick Michaels has the academic credentials, but as White House Science and Technology Advisor John Holdren stated to a Senate committee in 2003, he “lacks Richard Lindzen’s scientific stature… [having] published little if anything of distinction in the professional literature, being noted rather for his shrill op-ed pieces and indiscriminate denunciations of virtually every finding of mainstream climate science.” A signatory of the Leipzig Declaration and Cato Institute expert, Michaels publishes the “World Climate Report,” a newsletter and blog funded by the Western Fuels Association. He openly acknowledged in a recent CNN interview that 40 percent of his funding comes from the petroleum industry.
Others, such as John Coleman, who built a career as a television weather reporter and was an original founder of the “Weather Channel,” have generated a lot of publicity with their virulent denials of global warming. (In 2008 on Fox News, he publicly pledged to sue Al Gore for fraud over the “scam” of global warming.) Coleman, however, has no academic background in climate science—his sole collegiate credential being a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Illinois in 1957. Nor do flamboyant conservative political commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (who regularly call global warming a ‘scam’ and a ‘hoax’) have any scientific expertise on the subject. In fact, both Limbaugh and Beck are college dropouts who only attended college for one year.
For climate information from actual climate scientists, RealClimate.org (administered by Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann) provides timely reports and analysis of the growing threat posed by human-caused global warming. ClimateProgress.org is administered by nationally recognized energy and climate policy expert Joe Romm, who in 2009 was named one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment.” Journalist Mark Hertsgaard’s just-released book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth (2011), also chronicles the latest climate science while offering an accessible introduction to the gravity of this looming crisis.
Prepared by 350.org - Nebraska P.O. Box 6418, Omaha, NE 68106 402-453-0776