By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007
A Washington-based think tank has been soliciting critiques of the just-released international assessment of the evidence on climate change, a move that prompted some academics and environmentalists to accuse the group of seeking to distort the latest evidence for global warming.
Advocacy groups such as Greenpeace and the Public Interest Research Group questioned why the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has offered $10,000 to academics willing to contribute to a book on climate- change policy, an overture that was first reported Friday in London's Guardian newspaper.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Jane Kochersperger, who noted that AEI has received funding from Exxon Mobil in recent years, said yesterday that the think tank "has clearly hit a new low . . . when it's throwing out cash awards under the rubric of 'reason' to create confusion on the status of climate science. Americans are still suffering the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, and it's clearly time for policymakers on both sides of the aisle to take substantive action on global warming and ignore Exxon Mobil's disinformation campaign via climate skeptics."
AEI visiting scholar Kenneth Green -- one of two researchers who has sought to commission the critiques -- said in an interview that his group is examining the policy debate on global warming, not the science.
"It's completely policy-oriented," said Green, adding that a third of the academics AEI solicited for the project are interested in participating. "Somebody wants to distort this."
In July 2006, Green and AEI resident scholar Steven F. Hayward -- both of whom have questioned the need for caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gasses linked to global warming -- started soliciting essays from academics on the then-upcoming report on global warming by the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The survey's authors, who hail from more than 100 countries, said in their report Friday that they are at least 90 percent certain that human activity accounted for climate change over the past 50 years.
"The purpose of the project is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC process, especially as it bears on policy responses to climate change," the two men wrote. "As with any large-scale 'consensus' process, the IPCC is susceptible to self-selection bias in its personnel, resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent, and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work of the complete Working Group reports."
At least two academics -- Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor Gerald North and Texas A&M climate researcher Steven Schroeder -- turned down AEI's offer because they feared their work would be politicized.
Schroeder, who has worked with Green in the past and has questioned some aspects of traditional climate modeling, said in an interview that he did not think AEI would have skewed his results. But he added that he worried his contribution might have been published alongside "off-the-wall ideas" questioning the existence of global warming.
"We worried our work could be misused even if we produced a reasonable report," Schroeder said. "While any human endeavor can be criticized, the IPCC system greatly exceeds the cooperation, openness and scientific rigorousness of the process applied to any other problem area that has significant effects on society."
Faced with such resistance, AEI modified its proposal last month and sent out a new round of offers, asking academics to contribute to a book examining the broad policy options for dealing with global warming.
Hayward and Green wrote that "climate change has tended to be caught in a straightjacket between so-called 'skeptics' and so-called 'alarmists' with seemingly little room left in the middle for people who may have reasonable doubts or heterodox views about the range of policy descriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimensions."
Several environmental activists and climate scientists questioned why AEI would offer a $10,000 honorarium to scientists to critique the IPCC survey. Andrew Dessler, another Texas A&M atmospheric science professor, who has worked with both Schroeder and North, said the move represents an effort by climate skeptics to create "reasonable doubt" in the minds of policymakers who are debating whether to limit greenhouse gases.
AEI President Christopher DeMuth issued a letter Friday saying his group will continue to challenge orthodox thinking on climate change: "The effort to anathematize opposing views is the standard recourse of the ideologue; one of AEI's highest purposes, here as in many other contentious areas, is to ensure that such efforts to do not succeed."