"Most Credible" Climate Skeptic Revealed to Receive Funding from Big Polluters


Photo via Read the Hook
Charges that climate scientists are "out to line their pockets" get bandied about with such preposterous frequency, that when I stumbled upon this investigative report into one of the leading climate skeptics and his income, a post became necessary. The man in question is Patrick Michaels, one of the few actual climate scientists who calls himself a member of the skeptic camp. For this reason, he's often touted as the 'most credible' skeptic, especially in comparison to the slightly loony likes of Lord Monkton that dominate the field. As such, he's often quoted in the mainstream media to represent the skeptic camp. But just how credible, how clean, is he?Kat Shepherd looks into that very question in a recent piece (the whole thing is well worth reading). The thrust of the piece can be summed up with the following: "Even as he's bashed the IPCC for its lack of transparency, he refuses to come clean about the sources of his funding. It turns out the climate skeptics' most credible expert isn't so credible after all."

Which cuts to the heart of the issue at stake here. Michaels believes that the earth is indeed warming, but not as fast as the consensus claims. He's a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank (which has itself been found to received funding from the likes of Exxon), has a number of respectable credentials in the scientific field, and has been a favorite expert witness for polluting industries like the auto industry to call up to testify on their behalf.

And that's where the trouble started. The auto industry had launched a series of lawsuits at states that had adopted tougher emissions standards around 2007. It planned on calling Michaels to the stand to testify that auto emissions weren't contributing to climate change, and he was all for it. But when the judges demanded that he make public the sources of funding for his work, he refused.

Shepherd documents the odd occurrence:

Michaels had never made a list of his clients public, and he refused to do so now, arguing that it was a confidential matter. The judge disagreed, and ruled that Michaels' clients were a "viable area of cross examination." "I understand that maybe it's a little embarrassing," said Judge William K. Sessions III. "[But] it's not highly confidential information."

In a rare move, the auto dealers pulled Michaels off their witness list. In an affidavit [PDF], Michaels stated that New Hope [Michaels' environmental consulting firm] was his primary source of income, and being forced to reveal its clients would "imperil my livelihood.

Then, in a weird switch, the auto industry dismissed him as a witness and replaced him (with another 'skeptic' climate scientist, it should be noted, who nonetheless said that it couldn't be denied that burning fossil fuels contributed to climate change, and helped uphold the emissions standards).

But the point is, the auto industry didn't want Michaels' sources of funding made public, so they could use him as a witness in the future, perhaps with more lenient judges. The assumption being, there's a major, and perhaps ethically dubious conflict of interest there. Sure enough, the court's affidavit revealed he received money from at least one large energy company--and then Greenpeace obtained a curriculum vitae via the Freedom of Information act, and it was revealed that he had earned literally hundreds of thousands of dollars from coal and oil companies. In just one gig, 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."

In other words, there's a very big incentive there for Michaels to keep on being skeptical in his work. Now, I don't know how much money climate change deniers imagine climate scientists are making "perpetrating their hoaxes" from academic and governmental institutions--but it's nowhere near what you can make shilling for the oil and coal companies. I hope this helps illustrate that the idea that the big money isn't in doing sound climate scientists--it's in preserving the status quo.

Read Kate Shepherd's piece in full over at Mother Jones.

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Tags: Carbon Emissions | Global Climate Change | United States

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