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Three Senators Launch Investigation of Climate Deniers’ Funding

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Leadership & Transparency
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The climate change debate has been a rancorous one for the past 20 years, even though there really is not much debate: as much as 97 percent of all scientists publishing research related to climate change believe there is a human connection to global warming. Nevertheless, it is that remaining three percent that receives a lot of press attention, and in part why poll after poll reveals Americans are fairly split on whether they believe climate change is caused by human activity. A recent New York Times article, however, indicates more of the public believes more action needs to be taken to mitigate climate change risks. To that end, three United States Senators are investigating the ties between “climate deniers” and any funding they may receive from energy companies and trade associations.

Last week, Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) authored 100 letters to businesses and organizations to inquire whether they are funding scientific studies that could be confusing the American public while skirting action to reduce carbon emissions. Their requests for information follow on the heels of documents Greenpeace released suggesting one leading climate scientist has accepted over US$ 1 million from entities including ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers.

Willie Soon, a researcher for the Smithsonian Institution who has testified about climate change in Congress, has been accused by Greenpeace for accepting money from the fossil fuel industry while publishing scientific research that cast doubts on the risks climate change poses in the coming decades. An email trail Greenpeace has posted describes research papers as “deliverables” and using linguistic gymnastics to define monetary gifts as “grants.” Mr. Soon also failed to disclose the funding that supported his research, which is not only violates the spirit of academic research but could also run afoul of federal laws related to the influence of congressional legislation.

In the wake of the controversy over Soon’s work, Senators Markey, Boxer and Whitehouse have requested a laundry list of information from the American Petroleum Institute and other foundations and fossil fuel companies: lists of funded research efforts; individual recipients; and the institutions with which they are affiliated and copies of grants and contracts.

Meanwhile a U.S. Representative is conducting a similar investigation on the other side of Capitol Hill. Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has sent letters to seven universities requesting records related to its researchers who have also questioned the ties between human activity and climate change. Whether these investigations succeed in gleaning more information, however, remains to be seen. A Republican-controlled Congress good enough at creating its own problems, such as are-we-or-not keeping Speaker John Boehner, will not let any investigation go further than the aforementioned Senators’ desks.

The political climate in Washington, D.C. is already beyond toxic, and even sympathetic observers such as Think Progress have cautioned Grijalva against turning the investigation into a “witch hunt.” Then again, to organizations such as Greenpeace, politicians aligned with fossil fuel interests and the small minority of researchers who have questioned climate change have conducted an effective smear campaign of their own. The saga is a reminder of the tobacco companies a generation ago, who supported fake science claiming smoking had no link to cancer when real doctors and medical researchers had proven otherwise.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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