The oil and gas industry has long tried to cast doubts about climate change, just as the tobacco industry tried for years to put cigarette smoking in a good light. The infamous Koch Industries is one example of an oil company that gives great sums of money to climate change opposition groups. Greenpeace discovered two years ago that Koch Industries donated almost $48 million to climate change opposition groups from 1997 to 2008.
Besides giving money, there are other ways that corporations try to cast doubt about climate change. A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) describes five basic methods corporations use to influence the science and policy making processes:
- Corrupting the science by suppressing research, intimidating scientists, manipulating study designs, ghostwriting scientific articles and selectively publishing results that suit their interests
- Shaping public perception by exaggerating uncertainty, vilifying scientists, hiding behind front groups and feeding the media slanted news stories
- Restricting agency effectiveness by attacking the science behind agency policy, hindering the regulatory process, holding corrupt advisory panels, exploiting the revolving door between corporate and government employment, censoring scientists and withholding information from the public
- Influencing Congress by spending billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions
- Exploiting judicial pathways by expanding their influence on the judicial system and then using the courts to undermine science
Let’s look at an example of how a corporation tries to corrupt science. Dr. Willie Soon is best known, according to The Guardian, for his view that climate change is caused by solar variation and not human-induced. Although not a climate scientist but an astrophysicist, Soon has written about climate change. Last summer, Soon admitted to receiving more than $1 million in the past decade from major U.S. oil and coal companies, including ExxonMobil and (drum roll, please) Koch Industries.
Now for another example: Open Secrets lists the amount of money that major U.S. oil and gas companies gave to Congress:
- Exxon Mobil $958,373
- Oxbow Carbon & Minerals $750,250
- Koch Industries $655,400
- Chevron Corp $550,246
That’s a lot of money pumping into Congress from the very corporations who give money to climate change opposition groups.
How science can be protected from corporate influence
The UCS report lists five areas where the federal government needs to protect science from undue corporate influence:
- Protecting government scientists from retaliation and intimidation
- Making government more transparent and accountable
- Reforming the regulatory process
- Strengthening scientific advice to government
- Strengthening monitoring and enforcement
It will take more than just the government to protect science from the tentacles of companies like Koch Industries. The report also lists what corporations, nonprofits, academic institutions, scientific societies and the media need to do:
- Promote honest scientific investigation and open discussion of research results
- Refrain from actual or perceived acts of scientific misconduct
- Embrace transparency and avoid conflicts of interest
As oil and gas companies pump insane amounts of money into climate change denial campaigns, the planet and its people continues to suffer the effects of climate change. Clearly, it is time for the government and the American people to wake up to the fact that the biggest crisis this planet has ever faced is upon us. Perhaps it will take an effort as big and attention grabbing as the Occupy movement, and maybe, just maybe, that very movement is paving the way for such an effort.
Photo credits: Flickr user, Thomas Hawk