American climate skeptic Soon funded by oil, coal firms A man walks past a coal plant amidst a dust storm in Lingwu, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region March 29, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Willie Soon, a U.S. climate change skeptic who has also discounted the health risks of mercury emissions from coal, has received more than $1 million in funding in recent years from large energy companies and an oil industry group, according to Greenpeace.
Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has also gotten funding from scientific sources including NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But starting early in the last decade, Soon began receiving more funding from the energy companies, Greenpeace reported.
Last year, the foundation of Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of privately held Koch Industries, gave Soon $65,000 to study how variations in the Sun are related to climate change.
Koch is co-owned by David Koch, founder of Americans for Prosperity, a group aligned with the Tea Party movement, which opposes new air pollution regulations.
Beginning in 2002, Soon’s funding mostly came from oil companies, including Southern Co, one of the largest coal burners in the United States, and the American Petroleum Institute, according to documents uncovered in a Freedom of Information Act request by Greenpeace and seen by Reuters.
“A campaign of climate change denial has been waged for over twenty years by Big Oil and Big Coal,” said Kert Davies, a research director at Greenpeace US.
“Scientists like Dr. Soon who take fossil fuel money and pretend to be independent scientists are pawns.”
Soon was criticized by many climate scientists for a 2003 paper he co-wrote, concluding that 20th century warming was not unusual compared to that of centuries past. About 5 percent of the study’s funding, or $53,000, came from the API, they said.
Soon, who says global warming is mostly caused by changes in the Sun, not emissions from burning oil, gas and coal, has written some peer-reviewed studies on global climate change.
More recently, he has written non-peer reviewed papers. In 2007 he co-wrote a paper that concluded polar bears are not threatened by human-caused climate change, which was also funded partially by grants from the oil industry.
While corporate funding of science is not new, the focus on the ethics of such aid is growing as state and federal science grants are reduced amid budget cuts.