Revealed: Oil-Funded Research in Palin's Campaign Against Protection For Polar Bear

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Revealed: Oil-Funded Research in Palin's Campaign Against Protection For Polar Bear

Paper authored by known climate change sceptics • Governor suing over threatened species ruling

by
Ed Pilkington

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (L) listens as he is introduced by U.S. Republican vice-presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at a campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio September 29, 2008. Palin and her officials in the Alaskan state government drew on the work of at least six scientists known to be sceptical about the dangers and causes of global warming, to back efforts to stop polar bears being protected as an endangered species. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

The Republican Sarah Palin
and her officials in the Alaskan state government drew on the work of
at least six scientists known to be sceptical about the dangers and
causes of global warming, to back efforts to stop polar bears being
protected as an endangered species, the Guardian can disclose. Some of
the scientists were funded by the oil industry.

In official
submissions to the US government's consultation on the status of the
polar bear, Palin and her team referred to at least six scientists who
have questioned either the existence of warming as a largely man-made
phenomenon or its severity. One paper was partly funded by the US oil
company ExxonMobil.

The status of the polar bear has become a
battleground in the debate on global warming. In May the US department
of the interior rejected Palin's objections and listed the bear as a
threatened species, saying that two-thirds of the world's polar bears
were likely to be extinct by 2050 due to the rapid melting of the sea
ice. Palin, governor of Alaska and the Republican nominee for US
vice-president, responded last month by suing the federal government,
to try to overturn the ruling. The case will be heard in January.

Though
the state of Alaska has no polar bear specialists on its staff, the
governor's stance has pitted it against the combined scientific
fire-power of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological
Survey, and world experts on the mammal.

In its lawsuit, Alaska
said it opposed the endangered label partly because the listing would
"deter activities such as ... oil and gas exploration and development".
Oil companies recently bid $2.7bn (£1.5bn) for rights to explore the
Chuckchi sea, an established polar bear habitat.

The threatened
species status might also impede the building of an Alaskan natural gas
pipeline, which Palin has called the "will of God". In a letter last
year to the US interior secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, she said she
believed the polar bear population was "abundant, stable and
unthreatened by direct human activity". She opposed the call for the
listing because it "did not use the best available scientific and
commercial information".

Her own Alaskan review of the science
drew on a joint paper by seven authors, four of whom were well-known
climate- change contrarians. Her paper argued that it was "certainly
premature, if not impossible" to link temperature rise in Alaska with
human CO2 emissions.

The paper, entitled Polar Bears of Western
Hudson Bay and Climate Change, has been criticised for relying on old
research and ignoring evidence that Arctic sea-ice is melting at a
quickening pace. Walt Meier, a world authority on sea ice, based at the
National Snow and Ice Data Centre, said: "The paper doesn't measure up
scientifically."

One co-author of the paper, Willie Soon,
completed the study with funding from ExxonMobil - which has oil
operations in Alaska's North Slope - as well as from the American
Petroleum Institute. Soon was a former senior scientist with the George
C Marshall Institute, which acts as an incubator for climate-change
scepticism. The institute has received $715,000 in funding from
ExxonMobil since 1998.

In May, ExxonMobil announced that it was
no longer funding Marshall and other groups linked with contrarian
views. It said this was to avoid "distraction from the need to provide
energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions" and stressed that the
company did not "control the research itself".

Another co-author
of the document was Sallie Baliunas. In 2003 she and Soon were
criticised when it was revealed that a joint paper had been partially
funded by the American Petroleum Institute. Thirteen scientists whom
they cited issued a rebuttal and several editors of the journal Climate
Research resigned because of the "flawed peer review". A third
co-author of the polar bear study, David Legates, a professor at
Delaware University, is also associated with the Marshall Institute.

The
citation by Palin and her officials prompted complaints from Congress.
One member, Brad Miller, dubbed the polar bear study phony science.

Palin
told Miller: "Attempts to discredit scientists ... simply because their
analyses do not agree with your views, would be a disservice to this
country." Miller now says that Palin's use of the paper shows she
differs greatly from John McCain, the Republican presidential
contender, who has pressed for scientific integrity. "Turning to the
cottage industry of scientists who are funded because they spread doubt
about global warming is not integrity," Miller said.

Palin's
submission consulted J Scott Armstrong, a specialist in forecasting,
who regards the global warming issue as "public hysteria".

Two
other contrarian scholars were cited. One was Syun-Ichi Akasofu,
formerly director of the International Arctic Research Centre, in
Alaska, who argues that climate change could be a hangover from the
little ice age. He is a founding director of the Heartland Institute, a
thinktank that has received $676,500 from ExxonMobil since 1998.

Timothy
Ball, a retired professor from Winnipeg, is cited for his climate and
polar bear research. He has called human-made global warming "the
greatest deception in the history of science". He has worked with both
Friends of Science, and the Natural Resources Stewardship Project,
which each had funding from energy firms.

Kert Davies, research
director at Greenpeace US, said the state of Alaska under Palin's
leadership had relied on scholars who argue the opposite view to that
of the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community. "It shows
that she is completely out of touch with the urgency of the climate
crisis."

Last month Palin agreed that the Alaskan climate was
changing but added: "I'm not one though who would attribute it to being
man-made." She later tried to retract the statement.

 

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