Academics on the Take: Mounting Evidence of Fossil Fuel-Funded Climate Denial

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Greenpeace revealed today the results of an undercover investigation showing how fossil fuel companies secretly pay academics from leading U.S. universities “to write research that sows doubt about climate science and promotes the companies’ commercial interests,” reported Lawrence Carter and Meave McClenaghan on EnergyDesk Greenpeace on Tuesday.

Reporters from Greenpeace U.K. posing as representatives from coal and oil companies approached professors from Princeton and Penn State, asking them to author papers promoting the benefits of carbon dioxide and the use of coal in developing countries. The professors told the reporters they’d write the papers with no need to disclose the source of the funding.

This new revelation fits “squarely within the pattern” prompting the New York attorney general to launch an investigation stemming from recent reports from InsideClimate that “Exxon knew” for decades, from its own internal research, of the consequences of continued burning of fossil fuels on the climate.

The tip of the iceberg

“We are encountering more and more evidence of the fossil fuel companies, coal companies, and oil and gas companies literally paying people money to sow doubt about climate,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told GlobalWarmingisReal and TriplePundit on Tuesday at the COP21 climate conference in Paris.

“And this is despite the fact that their own scientists, in many cases, have told them that global warming is real, that it can’t be refuted. In fact, some of their own scientists themselves have refuted some of the contrarian scientists that these companies are funding.”

“We really need a broader investigation. Not just of ExxonMobil, but many of these other companies. It’s not allowed,” Kimmel continued, “that you can sell a product and then deliberately mislead people about the harm associated with it. That’s fraud”

Praising the work of Greenpeace for its investigation, Kimmel added that it is still a haphazard approach.

“We need a systematic investigation to uncover all the information so we know fully what we’re dealing with,” Kimmel said. “This may be the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know.”

Within his skill-set

Among the things we do know is how sociologist Frank Clemente, a professor at Penn State, said it was “within his skill-set” when asked if he could produce a paper countering research linking pollution from fossil fuels to millions of premature deaths annually. Clemente said he could be quoted using his Penn State professorship for attribution, and he set his price list at $15,000 for an eight- to 10-page report and $6,000 for a newspaper op-ed. When asked about funding disclosure, Clemente reportedly said, “There is no requirement to declare source funding in the U.S.”

Not surprisingly, according to the Greenpeace report, Peabody Energy uses Clemente’s services on a regular basis.

Another academic for hire is Professor William Happer of Princeton University. For $250 an hour, Happer will promote the “benefits of CO2.”

Happer was paid $8,000 by Peabody Energy in return for testimony in a key Minnesota state hearing on the impacts of CO2 on climate. Happer, a physicist and not a climate scientist, was also slated to appear as a “star witness” in senate hearing on Tuesday, called by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Eroding trust

Kimmel said the continuing disclosure of the ways in which fossil fuel companies have knowingly and purposefully misled the public “will have an effect.”

“It will impact the social license of these companies to operate and be influential in the public sphere,” Kimmel told us. “And I think with more of this evidence coming out people will call for them to be held accountable.”

Image credit: Flickr/Kevin Dooley

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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