Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

U.S. Think Tank Offering Cash to Dispute U.N. Climate Panel

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

LONDON (AFP) - A right-wing American think tank is offering 10,000 dollars (7,700 euros) to scientists and economists to dispute a climate change report set to be released by the UN's top scientific panel, media reported.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which receives funding from oil giant ExxonMobil according to the Guardian, sent letters to scientists in the United States, Britain and elsewhere offering the payments in exchange for articles emphasising the shortcoming of the UN's report.

AEI also reportedly offered additional payments, and to reimburse travel expenses.

The report, due to be released Friday in Paris by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), is likely to give a bleak assessment of the damage to the future of the environment.

It is the culmination of four days of debate between more then 500 scientists at a closed-door meeting in Paris, who have been poring over the first review of the scientific evidence for global warming in six years.

AEI's letters characterize the IPCC report as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and request articles that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs," The Guardian said.

Kenneth Green, the AEI visiting scholar who sent the letters, confirmed to The Guardian that the thinktank had approached scientists and analysts to pen essays that would be compiled into an independent review of the IPCC's report.

"Right now, the whole debate is polarized," Green was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

"One group says that anyone with any doubts whatsoever are deniers and the other group is saying that anyone who wants to take action is alarmist. We don't think that approach has a lot of utility for intelligent policy."

Of course, lying doesn't have a lot of utility for intelligent policy, either.

Here's the original article. It's so short I just posted the whole thing. (And how ironic his name is "Green!") This move is hardly surprising, nor an isolated incident. Conservative think tanks (almost all are conservative) are normally a bit more subtle, and have actually fired some "scholars" who have shilled in columns for direct corporate pay and a specific quid pro quo. However, all conservative think tank "scholars" do get paid indirectly by large corporations anyway, through massive general donations to their think tank. While nominally that does give some independence to the think tank, in actual practice very few conservative think tanks ever criticize their funders, let alone any corporation (unless perhaps it was to go green or something). The primary purpose of conservative think tanks is to make respectable the indefensible. In many cases, conservative think tank "scholars" could never hack it in academia, because they can't form coherent, compelling arguments based on empirical facts and actual research. AEI and Heritage are probably the worst of the lot, although Hoover is currently giving them a run for their money (in more ways than one!), thanks to the hate-mongering pseudo-scholarship of Dinesh D'Souza (a more detailed post on him is in the works).

I've been meaning to do a post on conservative think tanks for some time as part of a brief series, but this story is an important catch. This move is not an aberration. It is the purest expression of the conservative think tank's purpose. Man-made climate change is a scientific fact. There is no "debate" about it in the scientific community, and there's hasn't been for some time. The evidence on climate change is so overwhelming, so unimpeachable, and knowledge of the issue is finally becoming so mainstream, that the corporations that oppose the dissemination of this information must resort to outright bribery to try to swat it down. The American public good is not helped by AEI. The world populace is not helped by AEI. The climate sure as hell isn't helped by AEI. Considering that compliance with CAFE standards is not unduly expensive and can actually lead to increased profits (and some sort of compliance is likely inevitable), AEI's bribe doesn't even really help industry, ultimately. This move only helps, in the short run, some of AEI's benefactors. (That's not to mention the key roles AEI and Heritage played in selling the war on Iraq.)

One of the central lies in the manufacture of "experts" by conservative think tanks is that these are smart and disinterested people engaging in honest research, exploration and discussion. They are definitely not disinterested (and rarely smart, for that matter!), and news programs should not treat them as such. They are paid shills who accept money to purposefully mislead the public. As Al Gore quotes in An Inconvenient Truth, Upton Sinclair observed, ""It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

There's a serious exploration and discussion to be had for many issues in America and the larger world. However, we should never forget that, with only a handful of exceptions, conservative think tank "scholars" are not part of those honest and important endeavors.

Update: Here's The Guardian article, with a few key excerpts (emphasis mine):

Climate scientists described the move yesterday as an attempt to cast doubt over the "overwhelming scientific evidence" on global warming. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

"The IPCC process is probably the most thorough and open review undertaken in any discipline. This undermines the confidence of the public in the scientific community and the ability of governments to take on sound scientific advice," he said.


Lord Rees of Ludlow, the president of the Royal Society, Britain's most prestigious scientific institute, said: "The IPCC is the world's leading authority on climate change and its latest report will provide a comprehensive picture of the latest scientific understanding on the issue. It is expected to stress, more convincingly than ever before, that our planet is already warming due to human actions, and that 'business as usual' would lead to unacceptable risks, underscoring the urgent need for concerted international action to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. However, yet again, there will be a vocal minority with their own agendas who will try to suggest otherwise."

Ben Stewart of Greenpeace said: "The AEI is more than just a thinktank, it functions as the Bush administration's intellectual Cosa Nostra. They are White House surrogates in the last throes of their campaign of climate change denial. They lost on the science; they lost on the moral case for action. All they've got left is a suitcase full of cash."

On Monday, another Exxon-funded organisation based in Canada will launch a review in London which casts doubt on the IPCC report. Among its authors are Tad Murty, a former scientist who believes human activity makes no contribution to global warming. Confirmed VIPs attending include Nigel Lawson and David Bellamy, who believes there is no link between burning fossil fuels and global warming.

I would prefer "confused VIPs Nigel Lawson and David Bellamy," but that "intellectual Cosa Nostra" line is a keeper!

(NOTE: I posted thison Friday, 2/2/07 over at Blue Herald. Blogger's upgrade has just become mandatory, and that delayed me cross-posting. Google owning Blogger will doubtlessly help blog searches, but here's hoping they good a good job with everything.)

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