The Heat Is Online

Industry funding of the "greenhouse skeptics"

The fossil fuel lobby's campaign to confuse the public and policy makers about climate change has made extensive use of a small number of "greenhouse skeptics" -- scientists who are skeptical about climate change. There are, perhaps, a dozen visible "skeptics" compared to more than 2,000 scientists reporting to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The use of this tiny group of "skeptics" became clear in the spring of 1995 when they were forced to disclose for the first time under oath how much funding they had received from industry sources. The disclosures came during a utility hearing in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Prior to that hearing, Dr. Pat Michaels had acknowledged in an e-mail correspondence that he had received about $16,000 in industry funding. In fact, it turned out that he had received more than 10 times that amount from industry sources -- funding he had never publicly disclosed. In addition to funding both his publications, Western Fuels also provided a $63,000 grant for Michaels' research. Another $49,000 came from the German Coal Mining Association. A smaller grant of $15,000 came from the Edison Electric Institute. Michaels also listed a grant of $40,000 from the western mining company, Cyprus Minerals. For much of the 1990s, Cyprus Minerals was the largest single funder of the anti-environmental Wise Use Movement in the western part of the U.S.

From 1991 to 1995, Dr. Robert Balling received about $300,000 from Cyprus Minerals, the British Coal Corporation, the German Coal Mining Association and OPEC. In his collaborations with Dr. Sherwood Idso, Balling has received about $50,000 in research funding from Cyprus Minerals, as well as a separate grant of $4,900 from Kenneth Barr, at the time CEO of Cyprus. The German Coal Mining Association has provided about $80,000 in funding for Balling's work. The British Coal Corporation has kicked in another $75,000. Balling also received a grant of $48,000 from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science as well as unspecified consulting fees from the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. Balling's 1992 book, The Heated Debate, was subsequently translated into Arabic and distributed to the governments of OPEC. The funding for this edition of his book was provided by the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research.

Another highly visible skeptic, S. Fred Singer, acknowledged during a 1994 appearance on the television program Nightline that he had received funding from Exxon, Shell, Unocal and ARCO. He did not deny receiving funding on a number of occasions from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Singer recent acknowledged that his institute, The Science and Environment Policy Project (SEPP), is partially funded by Exxon.

Singer's defense is that his scientific position on global atmospheric issues predates that funding and has not changed because of it.

It raises an interesting question.

What would happen if the industry-funded "greenhouse skeptics" just happened to stumble on a clue that the warming of the planet is, indeed, intensifying -- and that the findings of the IPCC have validity? Would they be willing to change the direction of their research and, in the process, risk of cutting off their industry funding? Such a situation would provide a profound conflict of interest.

Fortunately for "greenhouse skeptics" such as Michaels, Balling and Singer the situation has apparently never arisen.