Turns Out Fossil Fuel Companies Funded This Famous Climate Change Denying Scientist

Written by Jolene Latimer

There are only a handful of scientists who deny that greenhouse gas emissions are harmful to humanity, and their assertions are continually cited by the public and politicians who would prefer to maintain the status quo when it comes to emissions laws. One of the most prominent of these scientists is Wei-Hock Soon from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has been adamantly proclaiming  that changes in the sun’s energy are causing events that almost everyone else thinks can be explained by man-made emissions.

He’s somewhat of a superstar in the climate change denying universe, often appearing on talk shows and testifying at conferences and before lawmakers.

But new evidence released by Greenpeace last week suggests his research is not as purely third-party as some would like to believe. Just released documents show at least $1.2 million in funding that he’s accepted from fossil fuel companies, funding that he’s never been upfront about.

The conflict of interest represents a grave transgression on Dr. Soon’s part, deeply violating scientific ethics and the values of the peer-reviewed journals his work was published in.

Many are drawing parallels between this situation and that of tobacco companies in the 60s who used suspicious scientific methods to create the appearance of doubt, keeping people in the dark about stark realities in order to continue increasing their profits. Recent lawsuits have revealed tobacco company executives knew all along that their products were harmful, but intentionally concealed these facts from the public.

The author of “Merchants of Doubt,” Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University, told The New York Times this act hinges on “creating the impression of scientific debate,” in order to “fear-monger.”

Though Dr. Soon’s ties to the fossil fuel industry were previously known, the extent of them was not. The monetary influence on specific scientific papers has been revealed by the recently released documents

According to The New York Times, Dr. Soon viewed these papers as “deliverables” for the companies that were funding his work. A testimony he made to Congress about the non-existence of climate change was also referred to with such an adjective.

His biggest sponsor, the Southern Company dished out $400,000. The Southern Company is one of the largest utility holding companies in the United States and is actively involved in many coal-burning plants

Dr. Soon’s work is criticized for environmentalists not just because there’s been a long-lived cloud of suspicion around his funding sources but also because he has little formal education in climate science and uses dated data to make questionable correlations to prove his thesis that humans are not the cause of climate change.

Even the Smithsonian, who employs Dr. Soon through the joint venture created with The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has tried to distance itself from Dr. Soon’s findings, admitting that there is a consensus surrounding the man made effects on climate change within the scientific community.

This post originally appeared on RYOT.

Photo Credit: Snip View

179 comments

Margaret G.
Margaret G.3 years ago

Here's another example of what I believe is a bought scientist.

While my step son was getting his doctorate in meteorology in the 90's at Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colorado he pooh-poohed the idea of human caused climate change. After he got his doctorate and a job, his story changed.

I believe that the reason was that Colorado State had a world famous expert in hurricanes. This man pooh-poohed human caused climate change, My guess is that the meteorology department and students went along with him. Within the past five years I learned that this man gets funding from the fossil fuel industry.

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Pat A.
P A3 years ago

So sorry I could only give Brian F one star - he makes some extremely good points.

Very good article - no surprise that big oil's chief apologist was paid to say what he said (1.2 million in funding that he kept quiet about).

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 years ago

For those interesting in hearing straight from the horse's mouth:

http://www.cfact.org/2015/03/02/dr-willie-soon-stands-up-to-climate-witch-hunt/?utm_source=CFACT Updates&utm_campaign=ca9622b0aa-Dr_Soon_responds3_2_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a28eaedb56-ca9622b0aa-270066341#

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 years ago

Brian F.,
Methan is methane, regardless of its source. It you consider it a pollutant, than all producers therefore must be considered polluters. Pollution is created through all industrial processes. Switching from one to another, whill not removed that caveat. There are subtle differences between the gases produced.. Natural gas is straight hydrocarbon, while biogas is partially oxidized and contains some hydrogen sulfide, making it less efficient.

I wonder how you obtain some of your figures. For instance, from where did you pluck 300 million years? The decomposition of organic matter into gas takes a relatively short time, whether on the surface, underground, or deep in the ocean. Indeed, animals convert it on a daily basis. The formation of pockets of natural gas within the Earth is poorly understood, even by geologists. I have seen numbers ranging from hundreds of years to millions. But they are just guesses.

If solar could indeed supply one hundreds times our needs, then why haven't we transformed? I suspect something fishy in the numbers. Otherwise, why would we not migrate over to a power supply using a mere one percent of the energy today?

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Brian F.
Brian F3 years ago

Dan B Of course the natural gas companies would use only water to save money if they could, but they have to use poisonous chemicals to separate the natural gas. Water alone will not separate the natural gas. These chemicals are highly toxic, and can poison our water. In addition a lot of methane and pollution is created at the fracking site, so throw in earthquakes, and natural gas is unacceptable New York state banned it. Thank God. We don't need it. Solar power alone could provide 100 times our electricity needs. Throw in wind, and geothermal power, and we have no need for dirty polluting natural gas.

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Brian F.
Brian F3 years ago

Dan B

That is not true. Biogas comes from digested & decaying waste plant & animal produce. This is constantly being produced. It is a natural spin off from the process of digestion & decay. All we have to do to benefit from it is to harvest it by putting it into containers. While there's life, there will be biogas. Most people produce about 10 litres of it per day in their own digestive systems. Compare this to gas that's synthesised from carbon sources in the ground. Once that source is gone, it's gone. It won't be renewed, well not for a few million years anyway.

Biogas is produced from cow-dung, food waste, and other animal and plant wastes. The wastes that remains after producing gas can also use as organic fertilizer.so it is considered as a renewable energy.

Natural gas (methane) is a fossil fuel and it takes 300 million years to form, from animals that died millions of years ago, so it is not a renewable energy, and it pollutes the planet.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 years ago

Brian F.
Natural gas and biogas are the same - methane, can be generated in similar processes. So yes, both are renewable.

Don't you think toxic poisonous is somewhat redundant? I think this scare is largely overblown. Do you really believe this companies would pump thousands of gallons of expensive chemicals into the ground, when a cheap option (water) is readily available?

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Brian F.
Brian F3 years ago

Dan Sweden gets a lot of their energy from biogas from food waste, and farms. They have a train that runs on biogas, and many of their busses run on biogas. We have over 2000 farms in the US, and thousands of closed landfills that can produce methane for biogas. So I think biogas would be a good option for development. It's clean, renewable, and carbon neutral, so it doesn't contribute to climate change.

But solar, wind, and geothermal still need to be developed, and we need to get rid of dirty coal plants, natural gas fracking operations, and all oil drilling operations. I realize this can't happen overnight, but it can happen over time, as we transition into clean renewable energy.

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Brian F.
Brian F3 years ago

Dan B Actually bio gas from landfills, farms, and food waste is considered renewable energy because it comes from naturally decomposing bacteria. Food waste in landfills releases 23 times the amount of methane into our atmosphere as other forms of pollution. Also landfills should not flare off methane, but instead capture the methane to make biogas or electricity. This is why we should keep all food waste out of landfills and put it in anaerobic digesters, which allow bacteria, in the absence of oxygen, to convert the food waste to biogas, which can be used for electricity or to power big rig trucks. One company called Clean Fuels is already doing this, and sells biogas to truck stops for big rig trucks.

Natural gas from fracking has taken millions of years to form. Extracting this, and pumping this into our atmosphere, contributes to Global Warming. Also the fracking process involves pumping toxic poisonous chemicals to separate the gas. These chemicals are extremely dangerous to our drinking water. So fracking is unacceptable.

So I am all for biogas which we can get from food waste, farms, and closed landfills, because it is carbon neutral, and would harm our environment if it is released into the atmosphere. However natural gas is still a dirty fossil fuel, and although cleaner than dirty coal, is not acceptable.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 years ago

Brian F.,
Yes, based on their incubation times, coal and oil can be considered finite. However, natural gas is not, as it is produced by all living organisms - many landfills are powered by the natural gas that is produce through decomposition.

I am all for reducing pollution and eliminatin habitat destruction. This is a completely different issue from our climate. While many disasters have been exacerbated by man's activities, too many are quick to blame global warming, while neglecting our practices of altering the landscape. We all to often look for a scapegoat on which to blame our ills. I can get behind some of these actions, which have proven consequences, as opposed to the contentious global warming.

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