Big Oil Funding of Climate Denial – An Examination of the Thesis

It is a common them by those who most dogmatically support the climate change agenda that the opposition are funded by big oil and similarly evil companies. There are potentially a number of angles to this viewpoint.

  1. If money does influence outcomes then we should see that where money on one side is hundreds of times greater than a ragbag of critics, then the critics will be drowned out. This is clearly not the case.
  2. When political parties complain of a money bias, this often goes hand-in-hand of complaints of media bias. But in the global warming sceptics have the most grounds for complaint on the media front. For instance the policies of the BBC and Guardian Newspaper.
  3. Maybe then the sceptics are winning, despite the lack of funds and despite the strong media bias against them, because they are using inappropriate language. My belief is that it is the mainstream who are guilty of intolerant and misleading language.
  4. Maybe the outside money has led to sceptics having undue influence on decision-making, subverting the democratic process. Like the WWF has achieved with the IPCC process?
  5. Maybe the sceptics are guilty of campaigns to misrepresent the status of the science. Like the eco activists “cajoling” scientific organisations to make political proclamations?
  6. Maybe it is the source of funding that creates the greatest bias. In the case of big oil money, if they decided to fund both ways, there are two ways to go. Either, the credibility of both sides is forever tainted, or, if the money was loaded massively one way, then on one side is tainted far more than the other.
  7. Maybe it is because big oil funds climate denial that we should be most concerned. The alternative explanation is that public knowledge of the funding will lead to attacks by environmental groups. To support of attacks by environmental groups (and hence viewing the secrecy of “denial” funding) require two moral points to be maintained. The first is that the views supported are evil. Second, that character assassination, or blockading of premises, or physical attacks on opponents are legitimate ways of opposing those you disagree with.
  8. Maybe, big oil could be viewed by some as being immoral or evil. Others might view with suspicion funding from anyone who makes their money in the gambling industry (especially if they pleaded guilty to money laundering in connection to those activities). They may also view with suspicion currency market speculators, especially one who made over $1bn at the expense of UK taxpayers.
  9. Maybe it is only recent big oil funding that has tainted the policy outcomes. The alleged bad reputation of the oil industry was largely down to one individual in creating a virtual US monopoly in oil production in the late nineteenth century. I do not see a similar smearing of the activities of the foundation created with the ultimate in big oil money.

In short I can see no valid reason to base rejection of critical viewpoints on climate change simply because of unsubstantiated allegations of big oil funding.

I offer an alternative view of those who make these allegations. The belief in “evil funding” stems from a belief they are guardians of some fundamental and irrefutable truths. Furthermore, these truths are concerning a future apocalypse. By implication, those who have an unwillingness to accept that truth is due to out-right lying, or having being deceived by some evil entities, or because they are not right in the head. Historically, those who have maintained to be Truth Guardians, have never substantiated their arguments or allowed for error, or allowed the slightest deviation. Instead they have sought to discourage or prevent people exploring alternatives, knowing deep down that the process of questioning will lead to the understanding that their beliefs are either extreme or in many respects wrong.

Prof Nir Shaviv Presentation

A couple of blogs (Bishophill and Jo Nova) direct you to a short 30 minute presentation by Prof Vincent Courtillot. The proceeding presentation by Prof. Nir Shaviv on cosmic ray theory, though more technically advanced, is worth a look, especially if you compare the strength of his argument with the IPCC greenhouse theory.

For the non-scientist, the Shaviv thesis of solar changes explaining the 20th century warming episode is better than the IPCC greenhouse theory as

  • Has some corroborating evidence to suggest that cosmic rays are affecting the climate, with the extent.
  • Has a simple computer model that explains most of the twentieth century warming. In particular the two similar periods of warming from 1915 to 1940 and 1975 to 1998, and the pauses are all modelled quite well. Using Occams Razor  (the most succinct hypothesis, or that which needs the fewest assumptions), it beats the anthropogenic greenhouse gas theories. Alternatively, it is a better fit of the data, as AGW only fits the later warming. The early 20th century warming can only be explained by predominantly natural factors.
  • Is happy flicking between the decadal time-scale that he is trying to explain to geological time scale of hundreds of millions of years and then to the influence of solar flares that last a few days. Neither does he have problems with natural variations.

The IPCC greenhouse gas models do have a number of models that concur. But this can be explained that they have similar assumptions and assumptions behind them. Indeed, given the strong coherence it is a weakness that they have such a wide variation in the data. The IPCC

  • Lacks corroborating evidence, particularly of the tropical tropospheric hotspot.
  • Relies on computer models are highly complex, rely on a two-stage process (see note below), and have many ad hoc adjustments.
  • Yet these computer models that do not tie in very well with the data. To explain the lack of warming in the 1945 to 1978 period and post 1998 you have to resort to an ad hoc inclusion of aerosols. The early-twentieth century warming, so similar empirically, has to have a different explanations.
  • Greenhouse gas theory is uncomfortable with looking beyond the twentieth. It cannot explain the medieval warm period, hence the amount of backing for the infamous hockey stick which suggests the twentieth century warming was unusual. Neither can it explain the other natural fluctuations in the current inter-glacial.

An opposite view that Shaviv’s work is insignificant can be referenced at Sourcewatch, a highly pro-AGW site. They state

“While he does believe the earth is warming, he contends that the sun’s rays, rather than human produced CO2, are the cause. But a 2009 analysis of data “on the sun’s output in the last 25 years of the 20th century has firmly put the notion to rest. The data shows that even though the sun’s activity has been decreasing since 1985, global temperatures have continued to rise at an accelerating rate.”

There are counters to this is that Sourcewatch is speaking about the wrong thing. Shaviv contends it is cosmic rays emanating from elsewhere in the galaxy that affect cloud cover and by this means temperature. Solar winds (determined by solar activity) heavily influence the levels of cosmic rays reaching the earth. A much smaller influence is the solar variability. Shaviv shows the following slide (at 17 mins) to show the difference in his measured magnitudes.

Note on IPCC Climate models

The IPCC climate models do not just rely on greenhouse gases directly impacting on the temperature to generate global climate catastrophe. This was nicely summarized by Prof Richard Lindzen in his Congressional testimony of November 17th 2010. (Full pdf here, Warren Meyer comments here)

  1. A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1C to greenhouse warming. All models project more warming, because, within models, there are positive feedbacks from water vapour and clouds, and these feedbacks are considered by the IPCC to be uncertain.
  2. If one assumes all warming over the past century is due to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing, then the derived sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 is less than 1C. The higher sensitivity of existing models is made consistent with observed warming by invoking unknown additional negative forcings from aerosols and solar variability as arbitrary adjustments.