"Too much ice is really bad for polar bears," climate skeptic Willie Soon said in a 2008 speech titled, "Endangering the Polar Bear: How Environmentalists Kill."
Soon later cited the talk as a "deliverable" in return for a research grant from Southern Company Services, one of the largest U.S. coal companies. Under the same grant the contrarian scientist also published two papers questioning whether climate change was dangerous for polar bears and whether the Arctic was warming, without disclosing the fossil fuel companies that funded his work.
The polar bear theories advanced by Soon in these and other works have been discredited by scientists worldwide. Even so, the ideas have sowed confusion about the fate of an iconic species that biologists expect to experience widespread devastation as climate change worsens.
"It plants doubt in the minds of people because of the complex nature of the science," said Juscelino Colares, a professor of law and associate director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland. "That's all the industry needs is doubt to delay action."
Soon works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. The center houses the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which employs Soon. The polar bear papers were among 11 he published in research journals that failed to disclose Southern Co.'s funding, according to documents made public Saturday. All the papers question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.
The information comes from a trove of public emails and documents obtained by Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests. They were released by the Climate Investigations Center, a watchdog group that tracks the activities of companies and organizations that fight climate action.
Munroe Falls became the nation's latest community to lose a protracted legal battle over local control of oil-and-gas drilling, as the result of a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling.
But there's a silver lining: Buried in the 31-page court decision is guidance for Munroe Falls and other Ohio towns trying to flex some muscle over the industry in the future.
On Tuesday, Feb. 17, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Munroe Falls lacks the authority to regulate permitting, location and spacing of oil-and-gas wells and related development.
Siding with Beck Energy Corporation, a company that has pursued drilling in this northeastern Ohio town of around 5,000 people, the court decision says that "sole and exclusive authority" falls to the state.
At first glance, the decision appears a major win for the oil-and-gas industry, which has challenged several towns over local control of fracking, from New Mexico to New York.
Industry trade groups such as the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and American Petroleum Institute have hailed the decision in recent days.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith Lanzinger sharply disagreed with the ruling. She wrote in her dissent: "There is no need for the state to act as the thousand-pound gorilla, gobbling up exclusive authority over the oil and gas industry, leaving not even a banana peel of home rule for municipalities." Home rule is a town’s ability to self-govern, within limits set by the state.
The Smithsonian has opened an investigation into the ethical conduct of Willie Soon, one of its part time scientists and a climate-change skeptic who is facing scrutiny for failing to properly disclose his work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
The Smithsonian probe follows disclosures this weekend—through the release of public documents—that Soon failed to divulge industry funding for 11 studies that were published in nine scientific journals.
"The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon's failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research," according to a statement released by Smithsonian.
A watchdog group alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.