Compelling Energy Journalism

Political Graft Shrouds Climate Debate

By Ken Silverstein • February 25, 2012 • Filed in: Uncategorized

Academics are not lobbyists. Or are they? The Heartland Papers are teaching us that the field of science is awash in cash — money that is being supplied by vested interests that are trying influence public policy, and even the school curriculum.

People of goodwill often disagree passionately about scientific hypotheses and subsequent conclusions. It’s true for any policy debate and it’s true when it comes to understanding climate science, which is at issue here. But this type of honest dialogue has been hijacked and obfuscated by those with a financial stake in its outcome. Indeed, the political hacks have infiltrated the debate and are wielding huge sums to either buy off or to bully those who would disagree.

The Heartland Papers are revealing in that the group expects to raise $7.7 million this year to fund a variety of causes, including a campaign to debunk the thinking that the earth’s warming is a man-made phenomenon and caused by the burning of excessive fossil fuels. Where’s it getting the money? Less certain. But it’s no secret that the oil and coal companies are funding similar efforts.

Others, meanwhile, are noting that those behind the creation of the green energy economy are donating big dollars to get their technologies into the market by creating a “false alarm” that the earth’s temperature is rising at a dangerously rapid rate.

Science should trump politics. To that end, the National Academy of Sciences released a survey in 2010 asking 1,372 highly acclaimed climatologists whether climate change is caused by the burning of excessive fossil fuels or whether it is naturally occurring. More than 97 percent of them fingered the human factor.

Are they all bought? If not, the next question then becomes whether the effects of climate change will come gradually or whether are they are perilously close?

Given the harsh economic realities, the most practical option is for global leaders to take prudent steps — much like buying an insurance policy to protect oneself against floods or earthquakes. Betting wrong won’t break the bank. But if the “unthinkable” is to occur, you are prepared.

It’s the middle ground but it is better than the all-out brawl we are witnessing. These interest groups are sneaky. In the case of Heartland, it has been bankrolling scientists who have remained mum until now as to whom exactly is supporting them. Consider Craig Idso and Fred Singer, who have been on Heartland’s payroll: Idso gets $11,600 a month while Singer gets more than $5,000 a month, all on top of their day-jobs. Who else pays them? Are they scientists or lobbyists?

“Our current budget includes funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist (global warming) message,” says a Heartland document.

Another one of Heartland’s pursuits is to fund a fellow named David Wojick, who has a doctorate in philosophy and is now a consultant for the coal industry. His job is to ensure that both sides of the global warming debate are taught in the public schools. But what makes this argument specious is that Heartland had been preparing to secretively give $200,000 to the cause. Is Wojick’s motivation to broaden the minds of students or to extend the economic lives of coal and oil?

Some of the graft is shrouded and some of it has to be publicly declared: The Center for Responsive Politics is reporting that the coal industry gives 73 percent of its money to Republicans while giving the rest to sympathetic Democrats. Oil and gas interests, meantime, give 75 percent to Republicans. Is it a coincidence that the two parties have taken opposing views on global warming?

What the Heartland Papers are teaching us is that these groups intentionally mix science and politics and then try to hide the fact that they are funding people who masquerade as being intellectually independent. The same statement can and should be made about where the other side gets its money and to whom it pays. The issue is one of transparency and revealing exactly who is being paid what and by whom so that the public can determine if their views are for sale or whether they are true-believers.

Public policy debate is healthy. Politicizing the field of science is not. Even if one accepts that global warming is less than “urgent,” slamming the door and hoping for the best is untenable. The proper tack is not to drown out or demonize the other’s position. It is, instead, to listen carefully to what their solutions are — and to incorporate a practical path forward that heads off a potential problem in a cost-effective manner.

Hopefully all sides will heed the message, especially the Heartland Institute.

 

This article is available online at:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2012/02/24/political-graft-shrouds-climate-debate/

 

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