This article was co-authored with Matt Kasper.
Willie Soon, a prominent climate denier, received over $1.2 million from fossil fuel companies and foundations for research denying human-caused climate change according to documents released by the Climate Investigations Center and Greenpeace this weekend. The documents reveal that Soon described his work as “deliverables” for his funders when writing journal articles or testimony before the U.S. Congress, in a serious breach of ethics rules for academic researchers.
According to reports, Willie Soon has received funding from Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute, and DonorsTrust (an organization that serves as a conduit for money from the Koch’s and prominent conservative donors to organizations).
Southern Company has been funding Willie Soon, an astrophysicist and climate change denier at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics through one of its subsidiaries called Southern Company Services. The utility company has been funding Willie Soon’s research since 2006 and reports from Inside Climate News show that Southern Company is listed as the funder in 11 papers in 9 academic journals written by Soon. In total, $409,000 has come from Southern Company Services over the past decade.
According to Inside Climate News, “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.” Inside Climate News also explained, “Without exception, the papers question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.”
The research Southern Company funded relates to articles in scientific journals that accuse the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of overstating the negative environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions and explains that the sun is the contributor to recent climate change.
Most recently, Willie Soon’s paper in a Chinese journal claims the IPCC used a flawed methodology in estimating global temperature change.
According to The New York Times, “the documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.”
Southern Company is one of the largest coal-burning utility companies in the country, and the utility directly benefits from sowing doubt regarding climate change in the United States, especially due to the Environmental Protection Agency’s forthcoming Clean Power Plan regulations for existing power plants. The Koch Brothers also have substantial business interests in the coal (and utility) industry.
As a result of this revelation between Southern Company and Willie Soon, Senator Edward Markey announced he will be investigating what other utility companies, along with oil and coal companies, have also been funding climate change deniers to publish studies.
Greenpeace has documented since 2011 the amount of funding Soon was receiving funding from Southern Company. But the recently revealed documents show that Willie Soon was emailing Southern Company his “deliverables” – or in other words, what Southern Company wanted Soon to publish.
“The reports cover a wide range of climate-denial perspectives. Many of the studies postulate that changes in solar activity are responsible for global temperature trends, such as the 2009 paper that Willie Soon boasted about to Southern Co.
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is a joint venture between Harvard University and the Smithsonian, and is one of the largest astrophysical institutions in the world. Willie Soon is not an astrophysicist nor is he a climate scientists – he has a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering.