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A Guide To Willie Soon's Climate Research Funded by Fossil Fuel Companies

Without exception, the papers question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.

Feb 23, 2015

A watchdog group called the Climate Investigations Center alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by Willlie Soon, a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.

The letters grew out of the release Saturday of public records showing that Soon failed to disclose industry funding in 11 studies published by those journals.

Read: Documents Reveal Fossil Fuel Fingerprints on Contrarian Climate Research

Soon's 11 papers show a spectrum of perspectives, from full-fledged denial of human-caused global warming to articles that downplay the role of climate change in ecological impacts. Many of the studies argue that changes in solar activity are responsible for rising global temperatures. Without exception, they question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.

Summaries of the 11 studies are listed in the chart and detailed further below: 

Documents Reveal Fossil Fuel Fingerprints on Contrarian Climate Research

Scientist Willie Soon calls his papers 'deliverables' to fossil fuel executives, and grants a big coal utility pre-publication review and anonymity.

Feb 21, 2015

After finishing a study contending that solar activity is increasing global warming, scientist Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reported his news to a utility company that was a major funder of his work.

"I have a big super-duper paper soon to be accepted on how the sun affects the climate system," Soon wrote in a 2009 email to Robert Gehri, a research specialist with Southern Company Services, a mega utility company in the southeastern U.S. that generates power largely from coal.

Soon, one of few skeptics in the climate science community, described the paper that was published in the journal Physical Geography as "fairly significant scientifically in that this is the first successful formulation of a sun-climate connection." He was writing a follow-up note to Gehri, whose company has provided more than $400,000 from 2006 through 2015 to fund Soon’s research—and part of his salary.

The emails and related documents were obtained by Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests. They were made public today by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, an environmental watchdog organization based in Virginia.

The communications show that Soon called his peer-reviewed research papers "deliverables" in return for funding from fossil fuel companies. In addition, the documents reveal that Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the coal utility company the right to review his scientific papers and make suggestions before they were published. Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian also pledged not to disclose Southern’s role as a funder without permission.

Although the emails don’t show a response from Gehri, an industry executive with a long track record of working behind the scenes to downplay the significance of global warming, they do show Soon sharing a collegial familiarity with industry executives, media skeptics and organizations dedicated to undermining prevailing climate science.

The theory advanced by Soon that the sun is a contributor to recent climate change has been widely discredited by scientists worldwide as well as by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading international body on climate science. Nevertheless, the theory has stoked long-simmering public confusion about the sun’s role in global warming that continues to this day.

For decades, the industry has latched on to controversial findings like those advanced by Soon and a small group of contrarian scientists to create the impression that researchers are divided about the cause of climate change. It has pumped millions of dollars into research projects to cast doubt on mainstream climate science showing that the primary driver of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels.

The trove of documents released today offers one of the starkest glimpses yet into the workings of this strategy of peddling scientific doubt. Scientists, academics and policymakers say the strategy has helped the industry in delaying or thwarting decisive steps toward curbing global warming.

Yellowstone: Rupture Probe Is Stalled, But Pipeline Restart Plan Moving Forward

The spill has renewed concerns about the safety of oil pipelines that cross rivers and other bodies of water in more than 18,000 places nationwide.

Feb 20, 2015

The investigation into last month's oil pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River will be stalled until at least next fall because the most critical piece of evidence—the failed segment of pipe—can't be safely retrieved from the river until after snow-melt flooding is over, according to the pipeline's owner.

The 193-mile Poplar Pipeline, meanwhile, could be repaired and re-opened as soon as March 31, according to Bill Salvin, spokesman for Bridger Pipeline LLC, which owns the ruptured oil line.

The company is preparing to install a replacement pipe segment that would cross the Yellowstone deeper below the riverbed, though it wasn’t immediately clear what the depth would be. The Poplar was eight feet under the river in late 2011, but at the time of the spill, river forces had eroded away all of that cover in places.

The Poplar breach has renewed concerns about the safety of oil pipelines that cross rivers and other bodies of water in more than 18,000 places nationwide. Many of them are buried just a few feet below the water—and it's increasingly clear that pipelines should be installed much deeper. 

Is 'Net-Zero' Carbon Goal to Rescue the Climate Plausible?

Scientists and policy experts say the time has come to phase out carbon emissions entirely; Shell, Exxon and BP call it an unrealistic idea.

Feb 20, 2015

The most striking recent development to emerge from UN climate negotiations is the growing consensus that within a generation the whole world will have to stop spewing carbon dioxide into the air from energy use.

This means that within the lifetimes of today's toddlers we would entirely eliminate CO2 emissions, unless they are offset by subtractions. (Carbon dioxide could be subtracted naturally, for example, by growing more trees.)

In shorthand, the new goal is "net zero"—and the sooner the better. Climate hawks say it should be met as early as 2050. Others see a few more decades of wiggle room, but they too emphasize the need for rapid action.

Are these ambitious targets at all plausible?

6 More Feet of Sea Level Rise Possible This Century, NYC Climate Panel Warns

New hyperlocal projections also see temperatures rising as much 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit and 76 days when mercury tops 90 degrees.

Feb 18, 2015

New York City could experience 6 more feet of sea level rise by 2100 as a result of human-driven climate change, which could frequently plunge more than 90 square miles of the five boroughs under water, according to a Feb. 17 report by a group of New York-based scientists.

Temperatures in the city could increase by as much as 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2080s, with the number of days above 90 degrees jumping from 18 today to 76 by that decade, the scientists found. Storms as intense as Hurricane Sandy, which caused more than $50 billion in damage to the city in 2012, could hit the region more often as ocean waters continue to warm. The authors wrote that they couldn't project how winter storms may change.

The report, part of a biennial series, again "demonstrates how severely climate change will affect New York," said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a climate scientist at Columbia University and NASA. She is co-chair of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which issued the report. "There will be higher temperatures, more heat waves and heavy precipitation."

This year's study is the first to provide projections to 2100. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened the panel Rosenzweig helps lead in 2008 to help set New York's sustainability and climate action agenda. It became an official part of city government in 2012 and is required to update climate projections about every two years. The group is made up of scientists from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, Hunter College, Princeton University and other academic institutions.

Coal States Building Wall of Red Tape to Resist EPA's Clean Power Plan

A secretive pro-industry think tank's model legislation helps coal-friendly lawmakers move to undercut federal action.

Feb 17, 2015

State legislatures in coal-dependent parts of the country are taking action to delay complying with the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Since the 2015 legislative session convened last month, at least a dozen states have introduced bills that effectively increase bureaucratic red tape and stall states from submitting compliance plans to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And, in some cases, the bills grant legislatures the power to veto their states' carbon emission reduction plans.

Three states­­––Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania––have already enacted such laws.

The bills introduced in West Virginia, Minnesota and Montana, for instance, require that state plans be submitted to the legislature for approval before they go to the EPA. In Colorado, legislators want the state utility commission to sign off on the plan before it goes to Washington.

The maneuvering has quickly spread well beyond the borders of coal-rich states. In Nebraska, Arizona and South Dakota, lawmakers are trying to require that their states' environmental agencies prepare a preliminary report detailing the plans' impact on the economy. 

"The overall strategy is to find ways to choke the state plan with red tape one way or the other," said Aliya Haq, a director in the climate-and-clear-air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "These bills are all misguided in that they ironically limit the state's options," she said.

States Drag Their Feet on Congressman's Frack Waste Investigation

Cartwright finds responses from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia too little and too late.

Feb 17, 2015

A Pennsylvania congressman wanted to know how his state and two neighboring states oversee the disposal of the often toxic waste generated by fracking oil-and-gas wells.

Now, Matthew Cartwright has some answers, and he finds them late–and lacking.

Cartwright, a Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, launched the investigation in his state last October. A month later, he expanded his inquiry to Ohio and West Virginia. 

Responses from two states failed to provide substantive, detailed information to the congressman while one state has ignored the request.

Among the issues Cartwright raised:

  • How each state inspects oil-and-gas waste facilities.

  • What information the states require to pinpoint what's in the waste.

  • An explanation of the process for handling complaints regarding fracking waste disposal.

Answers to those questions are important for both residents and the environment in regions that are disposing of huge quantities of fracking waste, Cartwright said in an email interview.

"States continually argue that this is a state's issue and they can best handle it," Cartwright said. "We are simply asking states to please provide a little more insight into how they handle this issue and more importantly, how they enforce their own regulations.

Draft Treaty Aims for Fossil-Free Future With Many Pages, Few Answers

Dozens of competing ideas crowd the 86-page text, with sequences of options, and clauses nesting within clauses, like so many Russian dolls.

Feb 13, 2015

During a week of United Nations climate negotiations in Geneva, the draft of a new treaty got longer and more complex, rather than shorter and simpler as leaders had planned. That may nonetheless represent progress, according to participants and environmentalists.

Divestment Push Has More Small Investors Wanting Fossil-Free Portfolios

Highly publicized divestment campaigns targeting big-money investors have also motivated individuals 'to match up their money with their values.'

Feb 13, 2015

The other day, Leslie Samuelrich got a call from a financial adviser looking for investments that matched his clients' wishes. "I have two sisters who came in that inherited money from their dad,"  the adviser told her. "And they both absolutely do not want any of their money in fracking companies."

Other callers just say "I want to invest fossil fuel free," said Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital Management, a 20-year-old company with two diversified mutual funds that exclude fossil fuel companies. "Those are the words they're using, so the divestment movement has resonated with people."

The increased business for Samuelrich and others offering fossil-free investments is a secondary benefit of the fast-growing divestment movement that has members hanging giant banners and staging protests, street theater, sit-ins and other actions as part of the first Global Divestment Day on Friday.

Hundreds of divestment campaigns are underway around the world, with most of them targeting big-money investors such as university endowments and pension funds. Some are targeting banks and governments that support harmful fossil fuel projects. Today, they are all trying to make themselves heard, from Alaska to Florida, and in Toronto, Sydney, Australia and many other major cities.

Their message is this: Climate change is an urgent and moral matter. Having investments in oil, natural gas and coal companies is a de facto endorsement of the companies' push for more supplies and their efforts to derail efforts to tackle climate change. The groups want investors to stop adding fossil fuel stocks and bonds to their portfolios, and to sell off existing fossil fuel holdings over a five-year period.

Such highly publicized campaigns may be aimed at mega-money managers, but combined with other climate change initiatives, they have helped convince a growing wave of smaller players and individuals to rethink their investments too.

Droughts Will Hammer U.S. West as 21st Century Unfolds

Human-caused global warming will create conditions more severe than any in past 1,000 years, new research shows.

Feb 12, 2015

As harsh as the current long-running California drought has been, conditions in the American West will substantially worsen in coming years, according to new research.

Later this century, the American Southwest and Central Plains are likely to experience catastrophic drought worse than any in the last millennium, according to research published today by scientists from NASA, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Cornell University. The hotter and dryer conditions will be "driven primarily" by human-caused climate change and could be so severe that communities will struggle to adapt, the study finds.

Eugene Wahl, a paleoclimatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Co., called the results "stunning."