The green blogs were buzzing last week with news of a new bombshell report that affirms the role of human activity in global warming. Studies affirming climate science are nothing new to say the least, but this one was produced through the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST), under the auspices of well known climate skeptic Richard A. Muller. The kicker is that BEST is partly funded by the Koch brothers, who have become notorious for their financial support of the “climate change denial machine.”
Hence the bombshell, and with it a lesson in the perils of corporate funding for scientific research. But is it really a bombshell? Take a closer look at some of the Koch brothers’ energy investments and pair that with another BEST funder, and it’s clear that the new study works in favor of the Koch interests, not against them.
The Koch brothers and natural gas
First off, it’s important to note that not all fossil fuels are due for a quick and brutal end once the so-called climate “skeptic” movement is neutralized.
Fossil fuels will continue to feature prominently in the U.S. energy landscape during a transitional period to low-carbon energy, and proponents of natural gas have positioned this particular fuel to play a key role in the transition, based on the idea that it is “cleaner” than other fossil fuels.
It’s also worth noting that natural gas is not necessarily deserving of this advantage, at least not when it is obtained through fracking. Fracking is a highly controversial drilling method that involves pumping a toxic chemical brine underground. It has been linked to water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, and even earthquakes.
Be that as it may, Koch Industries is heavily involved in natural gas, as detailed in an article last spring by Lee Fang in the Republic Report. Its recent activities in the natural gas industry focus on services for fracking operations including pipelines, storage, processing, and supplies.
BEST, Novim and natural gas
That pretty much explains why the new report from BEST is not such bad news for the Koch brothers after all.
In fact, the report is not such bad news for the natural gas industry as a whole, judging by another major funder behind BEST, a non-profit organization called Novim.
According to its website, Novim initiated and sponsored BEST in line with its stated mission, which is “to provide clear scientific options to the most urgent problems facing mankind.” Novim’s mission also focuses on cost/benefit analyses, and it claims to report its findings “without advocacy or agenda.”
That’s all well and good, but Novim’s news page currently leads off with an Associated Press article asserting that evidence of water contamination and public health impacts from gas drilling is “sketchy and inconclusive.”
Other featured articles include a New York Times piece touting increased natural gas production (with a veiled reference to new fracking technology) as a critical factor in carbon emissions management, and a love letter to fracking in the form of a Yale study review published in Forbes.
Aside from BEST, Novim is also involved in at least one other research project with implications for the natural gas industry, an analysis of methane leakage from natural gas drilling. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and critics argue that the leakage effectively neutralizes the low-carbon advantage that natural gas is supposed to have over other fossil fuels.
He who laughs last, laughs BEST…
As for the methodology behind BEST, some critics are already lining up to shoot it down but according to a recent article in The Guardian, others are having themselves a bit of a chuckle over it. For all the media firestorm surrounding BEST, so far it pretty much confirms conclusions about global warming that had already achieved general acceptance back in the 1990’s.
At any rate, regardless of the science it’s a win-win for the Koch brothers. Either the critics are right and BEST contributes little or nothing to the body of climate science, or it is a valid study that happens to support Koch Industries’ investments in the natural gas industry.
Who’s laughing now?