By: Zachary Shahan
If you are gardening, you have to pay attention to the plants you want to grow, but you also have to pay some attention to the weeds. We seem to be at the beginning of a true clean energy revolution, but even as we admire the nutritious, delicious-looking clean energy crops sprouting up, we have to spend a little time keeping an eye on the weeds.
Climate change and the breakthrough of clean energy technologies are linked, since climate change is a major factor spurring clean energy development and growth.
And one of the leading ways dirty energy titans of the past (and present) who do not want to lose their business or their income try to keep clean energy from growing is through continual attempts to undermine the scientific findings of some of the world’s greatest scientists.
Well, it is no surprise to find out that one of the climate skeptics’ leading scientists — probably the “independent” scientist most often used by the media to present the climate change deniers’ arguments — makes quite a bit of money working for dirty energy companies. But it took a little investigative research (not by me, I have to admit) to uncover this carefully guarded information.
One of the most ridiculous claims that you see climate deniers making repeatedly is that climate change is a big hoax that is basically just an underhanded scheme for climate scientists and Al Gore to make money. It is such a ridiculous claim, it makes me wonder if there is a single iota of discernment floating around in the minds of these climate deniers at all.
The truth is, some people’s fundamental goal in life is to make money. And some people’s fundamental goal in life is to help the world. Of course, everyone has some mixture of goals, not just one. And, perhaps, people on both sides of this issue think (or convince themselves) that these two goals can line up for them — they can help the world and make some money doing so at the same time. But the fact is, we have two competing ideas about which technologies are good for people and the planet and which are taking us down a road we don’t want to see the end of.
Thus, advocates of dirty energy (i.e. coal and oil) have a much harder time finding legitimate scientists who are on their side.
One of their key “independent” witnesses, Patrick Michaels, is one of the only climate scientists in the world who actually aligns himself with the climate skeptic crew. He does accept that climate change is happening, but he is known for downplaying the severity of the problem and the role of humans in this matter.
A recent piece by Kat Shepherd at Mother Jones (and previous work by Greenpeace), however, uncovers some dirty money growing in Patrick Michaels’ garden.
The key things that Kat found are that:
1) When the auto industry started launching lawsuits at states that adopted higher emissions standards, they planned to call Michaels to the stand to testify that emissions were not contributing to climate change in a key case in Vermont. Of course, this is his calling, so he was up for it. However, the judge requested that he make public the sources of funding for his work if he were going to testify. For some reason, this was such a big problem for him — one that he and tried to argue his way out of — that he ended up refusing to do so and could not testify as a result.
The auto industry had to dismiss him as a witness and bring in another climate skeptic scientist. Apparently, a good climate skeptic is hard to come by, because this one was actually unable to deny in court that burning fossil fuels leads to climate change. When it came to it, he admitted on the stand: “The increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is real. It is due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels.”
2) Despite Michaels’ unwillingness to reveal all of his funding sources, the court’s documents from that case did still reveal that Michaels had received funding from at least one major energy company. Then, Greenpeace picked up the ball and (using the Freedom of Information Act) was able to dig a little further into the issue. It found out the following. Michaels had earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from coal and oil companies. For one job alone, “he made $100,000 ‘from the Intermountain Rural Electric Association to fund climate denial campaigning around the time of the release of An Inconvenient Truth.’” Not bad, if you’re trying to save the world from clean energy that is.
It is hard to believe that scientists who work for legitimate, independent organizations and institutions (not solar and wind power companies) routinely get accused of tailoring their research findings to certain pre-conceived conclusions when climate skeptics’ best scientist is heavily funded by oil and coal companies.
Would genuine climate scientists really lose out if the science of climate change were more up in the air? No, there would be more research for them to do! On the other hand, climate scientists (i.e. Patrick Michaels) who get a ton of funding from coal and oil companies might be in a slightly different position if 97% of the public agreed with the 97% of climate scientists who say that there is no question climate change is happening and it is largely human-induced. His “expertise” may become useless as its roots hang in the open wind, no longer soaking up the water needed for important clean energy crops to grow.
For more info on this issue, read the “Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All” on Mother Jones.
Image Credit: Matthew G. Bisanz via Wikimedia Commons under a CC license