Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Follow the money trail to the global warming conspiracy? It leads straight to 1211 Avenue of the Americas

Oh, those greedy scientists, always out to cheat oil executives out of justly earned profits. When I was an undergrad at Harvard, I saw the “highly profitable global warming industry” firsthand, having had a Nobel Prize-winning, IPCC-reviewing, climate "expert" for a housemaster.

Every day, while earnest investment banking hopefuls toiled away at their Capital Markets midterms, I’d see my scientist housemaster driving up in his Bentley, swaggering to the lab carrying his gold-plated microscopes, crystal Petri dishes, and diamond-encrusted mass spectrometers. Some days, he’d fuel his Bunsen burners with dollar bills – just because he could. Honestly, did anyone really think research science was about the pursuit of truth, and not of power and profits? If scientists were really interested in knowledge, they would have become oil executives.

Sadly, if you’re to accept the “Climategate proves global warming is a hoax” hype, that’s exactly what you must believe: that a vast majority of the world’s climate scientists are secretly conspiring to falsify their findings in a nefarious plot to gain control over the world’s resources. It sounds absurd to reasonable people, but then you see blog comments like this:

1:57 am December 1, 2009
John wrote:

Understand there are people who cant fathom that Global Warming Climate Change was a political monster that had nothing to do with science.. Leftists, Communists, eliteists snakes that prey on our children in their quest to take over the world.. One would think the stewarts of the planet would be happy we are not all doomed? Far from it my friends they couldn’t care less.. POWER and killing Capitalism is their game..

And that's pretty much par for the course in the skeptic camp - not just for random blog commentors, but also for mainstream conservative voices. John Hindraker spares no hyperbole over at PowerLine (h/t Blogometer):

There's no question that it's a fraud, but whether the "scientists" who have been promoting the global warming hoax have committed felonies is not yet clear. They have taken countless millions of dollars in government money and used it to produce fraudulent results, which may very well violate criminal statues both here and in the U.K. And the "scientists'" destruction of data that was subject to valid Freedom of Information Act requests may have been criminal under British law; that's a subject on which I am not an expert.

I'd love to see the hoaxers behind bars, but it isn't likely to happen, if only because the government officials who would have to bring charges are their allies. Criminal liability aside, the fact is that these "scientists" nearly pulled off the greatest fraud in world history. Compared to them, hoaxers like Enron and Bernie Madoff were pikers. The global warming alarmists sought to impose trillions of dollars in losses on the world economy, while living high off the hog on taxpayer money. If Bernie Madoff gets life, what would be the appropriate sentence for Michael Mann, Phil Jones, Keith Briffa, and the others?

Really? Comparing university scientists to Bernie Madoff? Maybe it makes me an elitist to say so, but John Hindraker could use some help with his math. Madoff swindled investors out of about $65 billion - that's THREE TIMES as much as the US Federal Government spent on climate science - cumulatively - from 1993-2004. Hardly the picture of scientists "living high off the hog" to buy 24's for their Benzes with taxpayer money.

And "trillions of dollars in losses on the world economy"? Maybe John doesn't understand the difference between a "loss" and an "investment" - the latter of which by definition implies a reduction in current living standards in exchange for future gains. Reducing CO2 doesn't mean shuttering factories: it means inventing new technologies that reduce energy use and produce clean energy more cheaply. Sounds like good old-fashioned capitalism to me. In fact, McKinsey estimates that stopping global warming will cost the world only about 0.6% to 1.4% of global GDP by 2030 - or half of what we spend on insurance each year. Yes, that means "trillions" of dollars, but when you're talking about all the money produced in the world over 20 years (roughly $1.8 quadrillion), a trillion just ain't that big.

Of course, my biggest problem with the post is the arrogant conviction from a writer who's probably never taken a course in climate science. "Scientists" in quotes? "No question" that it's a fraud? Talk about a lack of skepticism - and of basic self-awareness. Like the 40% of Americans who ignore doctors' advice because of information they find on the internet, John Hindraker should read my post here on "climochondriacs" and the need for healthy respect for expert opinion.

The accusation of fraud in pursuit of financial gain is especially absurd given that if scientists were really so fast and loose with the truth, they probably wouldn't be scientists at all, since a fraudulent modeler could make so much more money building financial models for investment banks. Studies consistently show that 50-75% of mergers and acquisitions - investment banks' bread and butter - destroy value for the merged company.

How do investment banks continue to get away with selling a product that makes half of their customers worse off? Because they hire armies of analysts to massage model numbers until they show that a merger will produce gains for their clients. They don't call it a "
pitch book" for nothing. Firms that make bucks by cooking the books would seem like a natural home for money-grubbing climate modelers with a flair for treachery. And yet Michael Mann and Phil Jones remain in the dusty halls of academia modeling the interaction of heat, air, and water, foregoing the vast fortunes a dishonest modeler could make on Wall Street.

So it's especially ironic when one of the most widely-cited sources bemoaning the "fortunes" raked in by climate scientists is a publication with the words "Wall Street" in its name. This op-ed exposes the £764,055 "haul" taken in by CRU researcher Tim Osborn between 2001 and 2007. Of course, on a per year basis, that "haul" is just 23% the average 2009 salary at Goldman Sachs, and most of it goes to pay for research, not salary.

Or what about the $55 million in funding for "environmental research" Michael Mann helps to "pull in" each year for Penn State? Well first off, there's a bait-and-switch, replacing "climate science" with the much broader field of "environmental research" to produce a bigger dollar sign. Even if that $55 million were kept just for the Dept. of Meteorology of which Mann is a part, it'd have to be split between 32 faculty members and 36 research and teaching staff, plus administrative expenses.

And remember, most of this funding must go directly into paying for research. So unlike subsidies for oil companies, science grants hardly line their recipients' pockets with taxpayer money.

Not only does the idea that climate scientists are promulgating fear to enrich themselves fail to pass the test of basic arithmetic - it defies elementary economics and business thinking. Any economist knows that competition drives down profits. Marketers refer to the importance of having a differentiated product or message. The points are the same: to acquire money, fame, or any of the things people normally seek, you have to say something different. Consensus just isn't profitable.

Now, 97% of climatologists agree that global warming is due to human activities, but 49% of American consumers dispute that view - and are desperate to hear voices that confirm their skepticism. Indeed, there are powerful economic rents to be earned from being part of the 3% of skeptical scientists. Publish a paper supporting the consensus, and you're just another brick in the IPCC wall. But take to the air with skeptical views, and all of a sudden you're the darling of half the country: you can sell books, make the rounds on the talk shows, and testify before Congress for skeptical politicians. And if government funding dries up, fossil fuel companies have plenty of dollars for your "research." In fact, it's easier to get your research funded as a skeptic, since there are fewer other scientists competing for those non-governmental dollars - and no Freedom of Information Act to scrutinize your work. While poor, naive scientists are toiling away finding the same results as everyone else, a few entrepreneurs with enterprising views of the truth have discovered that there's a vast, untapped, and hungry market for denial. And they're taking full advantage of it.

No matter how you look at it, scientists have everything to gain from being a skeptic, and everything to lose from joining the consensus. If views on climate science are driven by desire for material gain, every conceivable incentive should be driving more scientists to the skeptic camp. But they're not. The fact that 97% of climatologists continue to ignore the market for climate change denial suggests that money is not their primary motivation, and/or that the truth of climate change is so strong that in 97% of scientists' eyes, the immorality of misleading the public outweighs the profit to be had from doing so. To suggest that climate science is driven by financial concerns is a failure to grasp basic economics.

If the WSJ is publishing this kind of anti-economic rubbish, I'm certainly not going to trust their reporting on business or stocks. If scientists were really in it for the money, the Journal's editors might have had an easier time finding one to interview for their story - it'd be just a 30 minute subway ride down to 85 Broad Street.


Hackers, health care, and hot air: do we need to protect "climochondriacs" from too much information on the web?


  1. Phil Jones pulled in 22 million in grant money for CRU. Now, you REALLY don't believe the university REALLY liked him? Do you REALLY believe the university would like not to have that money? Looks like conflict of interest to me.

  2. A quote from David Archer's 'The Long Thaw'(2009) page 20 "globally around 2 billion dollars are being spent per year on climate change research, 50% in the United States. This sounds like a lot of money and it is, but to put it in perspective, it amounts to only 5% of the profits of the Exxon Mobil Oil Company. Much of the climate research money is use to pay for satellites that monitor various aspects of the climate of the earth from space. Satellites are expensive...”

    Another quote:
    One simply cannot fill the bottomless Hole of Stupid – [Bernard J]

  3. Good point amoeba. $22 million for CRU is simply not very much money - it's not as if that is going straight into people's pockets. And that $2 billion stat is correct. The US spends about $5 billion per year on "climate change," but only 40% of that goes to "science" - the bulk goes to energy technology research. We spend many times that sum on oil and gas subsidies.

    It amazes me how deniers get so outraged over a few million dollars being spent here and there for climate research, and ignore the hundreds of billions of dollars at stake for the oil and coal industries. That's the real conflict of interest

  4. WAG, I guess you've seen these, but just in case some of your readers haven't:

    First of all there's this:
    Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science

    Koch Industries' Extensive Funding of Climate Denial Industry Unmasked

    Greenpeace Says Climate Denialism a 20–Year Industry

    John Mashey: Crescendo Climategate Cacophony climategate cacophony v1 0.pdf

    And here's evidence that fraudulent science has been used by the denial industry – this example is from the tobacco industry.

    Attempted rebuttal and devastating counter-rebuttal, that must surely convince anyone that liars are prone to tell lies!

    It never hurts the honest to spread the truth.

    DeSmogblog - Revealing the Lies beneath the spin