Environment

Newsweek Hides Global Warming Denier's Financial Ties to Big Oil

A recent Newsweek op-ed by global warming denier Richard Lindzen claims the meteorologist has no industry ties, but his bio is as misleading as his writing.
So Newsweek is running an opinion piece about global warming titled: "Why So Gloomy?" The piece is authored by Richard Lindzen, a well-known meteorologist, and his thesis about the potential melt-down of our climate can be boiled down to this: Don't worry, be happy!

At the bottom of the article, is this brief biographical sketch of the author:
Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government. He receives no funding from any energy companies.
Sounds like he's on the up-and-up, no? After all, the guy's not one of those scientists who denies global warming and then cashes nice checks from a bunch of big energy firms, right? Maybe those wing-nuts are right when they deny that there's a scientific consensus about human activities contributing to global warming. Hmmm.

Oh, but wait. That name … Lindzen … sure does sound familiar.

Yes! From that excellent investigative piece in Harper's on the funding behind the climate skepticism "industry" …
In the last year and a half, one of the leading oil industry public relations outlets, the Global Climate Coalition, has spent more than a million dollars to downplay the threat of climate change…
For the most part the industry has relied on a small band of skeptics--Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Dr. Pat Michaels, Dr. Robert Balling, Dr. Sherwood Idso, and Dr. S. Fred Singer, among others--who have proven extraordinarily adept at draining the issue of all sense of crisis.
Lindzen, for his part, charges oil and coal interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services; his 1991 trip to testify before a Senate committee was paid for by Western Fuels, and a speech he wrote, entitled "Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus," was underwritten by OPEC.
His research may be funded entirely by the government, but Lindzen himself -- his kids' college tuition, his mortgage payments -- have at least in part been funded by Big Oil and Big Coal, including OPEC for crying out loud!

But wait, it gets worse. The positions advocated by Richard Lindzen, the paid-by-OPEC opinion writer commenting in Newsweek -- he's also written op-eds for a number of other publications including the Wall Street Journal -- appear to be the diametric opposite of those held by Richard Lindzen, the serious meteorologist, when he's writing peer-reviewed scientific texts.

Specifically, Lindzen co-authored the 2001 National Academy of Science's report on climate change. It concluded that despite some scientific "uncertainties," there is "agreement that the observed warming is real and particularly strong within the past 20 years."
Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.
The report predicts: "increases in rainfall rates and increased susceptibility of semi-arid regions to drought."
Global warming could well have serious adverse societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century, especially if globally-averaged temperature increases approach the upper end of the IPCC projections. Even in the more conservative scenarios, the models project temperatures and sea levels that continue to increase well beyond the end of this century, suggesting that assessments that examine only the next 100 years may well underestimate the magnitude of the eventual impacts.
The NAS study endorsed "The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations," saying it "accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue."

Here's some highlights of what the IPCC report Lindzman endorsed considered to be "virtually certain" outcomes of global warming (they list other potential outcomes that were only "very likely," but I'm not including them here):

  • The troposphere warms, stratosphere cools, and near surface temperature warms.
  • As the climate warms, Northern Hemisphere snow cover and sea-ice extent decrease.
  • The globally averaged mean water vapour, evaporation and precipitation increase.
  • Most tropical areas have increased mean precipitation, most of the sub-tropical areas have decreased mean precipitation, and in the high latitudes the mean precipitation increases.
  • Intensity of rainfall events increases.
  • There is a general drying of the mid-continental areas during summer (decreases in soil moisture). This is ascribed to a combination of increased temperature and potential evaporation that is not balanced by increases in precipitation.
  • A majority of models show a mean El Niño-like response in the tropical Pacific, with the central and eastern equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures warming more than the western equatorial Pacific, with a corresponding mean eastward shift of precipitation.
  • Available studies indicate enhanced interannual variability of northern summer monsoon precipitation.
  • Most models show weakening of the Northern Hemisphere thermohaline circulation (THC), which contributes to a reduction in the surface warming in the northern North Atlantic. Even in models where the THC weakens, there is still a warming over Europe due to increased greenhouse gases.


  • In other words, Richard Lindzen the meteorogist is part of the very scientific consensus on global warming that Richard Lindzen the opinion writer has called into question.

    Whether Newsweek's editors were duped by Lindzen's admittedly impressive credentials or not is irrelevant -- this info took me about 18 seconds on Google to unearth. There's no excuse for that stuff about how his research is all government-funded in that bio -- it simply buries the rather clear appearance of a conflict-of-interest.

    That's common, and really bad for democracy. I, for one, am sick of it. If you are too then tell Newsweek that if they're going to run opinion pieces by industry-funded shills, they need to disclose those shills' financial interests.

    Newsweek
    251 W. 57th St.
    New York, NY 10019
    Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.
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