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Home >  Short Publications >  Climate Controversy and AEI: Facts and Fictions
Climate Controversy and AEI: Facts and Fictions
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Posted: Friday, February 9, 2007
ARTICLES
AEI Online  
Publication Date: February 9, 2007

On February 2, 2007, London’s Guardian newspaper published an article about the work of two AEI scholars, Steven F. Hayward and Kenneth P. Green on global warming. The article, laced with inaccuracies, circulated widely. Four senators wrote to AEI on February 6 asking for a response to the allegations. AEI president Christopher DeMuth's response appears below along with other related materials.

Coverage of the controversy in the Wall Street Journal

Download file Click here for a PDF version of the Guardian story and AEI's February 2 response.

Download file Click here for a PDF version of the letter from Christopher DeMuth to senators on February 8, 2007.

Download file Click here for a PDF version of a listing of AEI's research on global climate change.

Full text of the original Guardian story

Note from Christopher DeMuth for AEI Scholars, Fellows, and Staff
February 2, 2007

Many of us have received telephone calls and emails prompted by a shoddy article on the front page of today’s Guardian, the British newspaper, headlined “Scientists Offered Cash to Dispute Climate Study.”

The article uses several garden-variety journalistic tricks to create the impression of a story where none exists. Thus, AEI is described as a “lobby group” (we are a research group that does no lobbying and takes no institutional positions on policy issues); ExxonMobil’s donations to AEI are either bulked up by adding donations over many years, or simply made up (the firm’s annual AEI support is generous and valued but is a fraction of the amount reported--no corporation accounts for more than 1 percent of our annual budget); and AEI is characterized as the Bush administration’s “intellectual Cosa Nostra” and “White House surrogates” (AEI scholars criticize or praise Bush administration policies--every day, on the merits). All of this could have been gleaned from a brief visit to the AEI website.

But the article’s specific charge (announced in the headline) is a very serious one. Although most of you will appreciate the truth on your own, I thought it would be useful to provide a few details.

First, AEI has published a large volume of books and papers on climate change issues over the past decade and has held numerous conferences on the subject. A wide range of views on the scientific and policy issues have been presented in these publications and conferences. All of them are posted on our website. It would be easy to find policy arguments in our publications and conferences that people at ExxonMobil (or other corporations that support AEI) disagree with--as well as those they agree with and, I hope, some they hadn’t thought of until we presented them. Our latest book on the subject, Lee Lane’s Strategic Options for Bush Administration Climate Policy, advocates a carbon tax, which I’m pretty sure ExxonMobil opposes (the book also dares to criticize some of the Bush administration’s climate-change policies!).

Second, attempting to disentangle science from politics on the question of climate change causation, and to fashion policies that take account of the uncertainties concerning causation, are longstanding AEI interests. Several recent issues of our Environmental Policy Outlook address these issues, as does Ken Green’s “Q & A” article in the November-December issue of The American. The new research project that Ken and Steve Hayward have been organizing is a continuation of these interests. I am attaching the two letters that Steve and Ken have sent out to climate change scientists and policy experts (the first one emphasizing the scientific and climate-modeling issues addressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the second, more recent one covering broader policy issues as well)--and invite you to read them and compare them with the characterization in the Guardian article. The first letter, sent last summer to Professor Steve Schroeder of Texas A&M (and also to his colleague Gerald North), is the one quoted by the Guardian. Ken and Steve canvassed scholars with a range of views on the scientific and policy issues, with an eye to the intrinsic quality and interest of their work rather than to whether partisans might characterize them as climate change “skeptics” or “advocates.” They certainly did not avoid those with a favorable view of the IPCC reports--such as Professor Schroeder himself.

Third, what the Guardian essentially characterizes as a bribe is the conventional practice of AEI--and Brookings, Harvard, and the University of Manchester--to pay individuals at other research institutions for commissioned work, and to cover their travel expenses when they come to the sponsoring institution to present their papers. The levels of authors’ honoraria vary from case to case, but a $10,000 fee for a research project involving the review of a large amount of dense scientific material, and the synthesis of that material into an original, footnoted and rigorous article is hardly exorbitant or unusual; many academics would call it modest.

We should all be aware that political attacks such as the Guardian's are more than sloppy or sensation-seeking journalism: they are efforts to throttle debate, and therefore aim at the heart of AEI’s purposes and methods. The successive IPCC climate change reports contain a wealth of valuable information, but there has been a longstanding effort to characterize them as representing more of a “scientific consensus” than they probably are, and to gloss over uncertainties and disagreements within the IPCC documents themselves. Consensus plays an important role in science and scientific progress, but so does disputation--reasoned argument is essential to good science, and competition of ideas is essential to scientific progress. AEI is strongly opposed to the politicization of science, just as it is to the politicization of economics and other disciplines. On climate change as on other issues, we try to sort out the areas of genuine consensus from the areas of reasonable debate and uncertainty. Ken and Steve’s letter to Professor Schroeder was clear about this: “we are looking for . . . a well-supported but accessible discussion of which elements of climate modeling have demonstrated predictive value that might make them policy-relevant and which elements of climate modeling have less levels of predictive utility, and hence, less utility in developing climate policy.”

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 do not succeed.

Chris DeMuth

July 5, 2006, Letter to Professor Schroeder

Prof. Steve Schroeder
Department of Atmospheric Sciences
Texas A&M University
3150 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-3150

Dear Prof. Schroeder:

The American Enterprise Institute is launching a major project to produce a review and policy critique of the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report (FAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due for release in the spring of 2007. We are looking to commission a series of review essays from a broad panel of experts to be published concurrent with the release of the FAR, and we want to invite you to be one of the authors.

The purpose of this project is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC process, especially as it bears on potential policy responses to climate change. 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. An independent review of the FAR will advance public deliberation about the extent of potential future climate change and clarify the basis for various policy strategies. Because advance drafts of the FAR are available for outside review (the report of Working Group I is already out; Working Groups II and III will be released for review shortly), a concurrent review of the FAR is feasible for the first time.

From our earlier discussions of climate modeling (with both yourself and Prof. North), I developed considerable respect for the integrity with which your lab approaches the characterization of climate modeling data. We are hoping to sponsor a paper by you and Prof. North that thoughtfully explores the limitations of climate model outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy (as opposed to the utility of climate models in more theoretical climate research). In particular, we are looking for an author who can write a well-supported but accessible discussion of which elements of climate modeling have demonstrated predictive value that might make them policy-relevant and which elements of climate modeling have less levels of predictive utility, and hence, less utility in developing climate policy. If you are interested in the idea, or have thoughts about who else might be interested, please give Ken Green a call at 202-862-4883 at your convenience.

If you and Prof. North are agreeable to being authors, AEI will offer an honorarium of $10,000. The essay should be in the range of 7,500 to 10,000 words, though it can be longer. The deadline for a complete draft will be December 15, 2007. We intend to hold a series of small conferences and seminars in Washington and elsewhere to coincide with the release of both the FAR and our assessment in the spring or summer of 2007, for which we can provide travel expenses and additional honoraria if you are able to participate.

Please feel free to contact us with questions and thoughts on this invitation.

Cordially,

Steven F. Hayward, Ph.D
Resident Scholar
shayward@aei.org

Kenneth Green, Ph.D
Visiting Scholar
kgreen@aei.org

Second Letter

Dear-----

This is Steven Hayward and Ken Green writing from the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. We are writing to solicit your thoughts about, and hopefully your participation in, an AEI project on climate change policy. Between the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC due later this year, the Stern Review, and the close of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period on the intermediate horizon, the time seems propitious for a fresh round of discussion of climate policy. AEI would like to commission a series of essays from a broad range of experts on various general and specific aspects of the issue, around which we should like to organize several conferences in Washington and ultimately a book.

Two general thoughts dominate our thinking about the structure of a useful project. First, in the public mind at least (which is to say, the news media) 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 prescriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimension. This perception is mistaken, of course, as Andrew Revkin’s recent New York Times article on “an emerging middle ground” on climate change made evident. Nonetheless, we would like to attempt to break out of this straightjacket and see if it is possible to create a space for an identifiable “third way” of thinking about the problem that is similar to the various “third way” approaches to other social policy problems that were popular in the 1990s.

Our second general thought is that the chief difficulty of carving out a “third way” on climate change is due to the unwieldy size and complexity of both the scientific inquiry and policy approaches to the problem. We had thought to produce a series of essays to review and critique the forthcoming IPCC FAR, early drafts of which are circulating, but have been persuaded that an IPCC-focused project is too limited. Although some commentary on the IPCC FAR is in order, our latest thinking is broaden our scope. One idea is to solicit essays in two categories. The first category would be along the lines of a blue-sky essay on “What Climate Policies Would I Implement If I Was King for a Day.” The second category would be specific critiques of existing or proposed policy responses such as will appear in Working Group III or have been put forward in reports such as the Stern Review. (Such essays might take as their focus a single chapter from Working Group III, or an aspect of the Stern Review.)

Above all we want to have a diverse collection of pre-eminent thinkers on this subject, which is why we are keen to include you in the project. AEI is willing to offer honoraria of up to $10,000 for participating authors, for essays in the range of 7,500 to 10,000 words, to be completed by September 1, and we are keen to work with you to refine an appropriate topic.

DeMuth Letter to Senators, February 8, 2007

The Honorable Bernard Sanders
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
The Honorable John Kerry
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Sanders, Feinstein, Leahy, and Kerry:

I am writing in response to your letter to me of February 6 (Attachment 1).

Your letter says that you would be saddened if last week’s news reports about AEI were accurate, but the accusatory tone and harsh wording of your letter make it clear that you believe the reports are accurate. (Moreover Senator Sanders posted your letter on his official website with a press release stating that “[i]t's outrageous that a right-wing think tank with ties to Big Oil and the Bush Administration is trying to twist scientific findings for their political purposes on the pressing issue of climate change.”) So let me begin by saying that I am saddened that you would not only believe the reports but would seek to give them credence by repeating them in ways that are even more reckless than the original article published last Friday by the Guardian (Attachment 2).

The accusations of the Guardian article, and of your letter, are false. I sent around a memorandum to my AEI colleagues the day the article was published, attaching the letters we had sent to various scientists and policy experts knowledgeable about climate change issues (one of the letters was quoted in part by the Guardian). My memo and the letters are attached here (Attachment 3). Relevant portions of these documents were in circulation on the Internet last weekend and in the press earlier this week; they were readily available to anyone on your staffs who had wished to look into the matter or to call me or anyone else at AEI about it.

I am also attaching (Attachment 4) a list of all of AEI’s publications and conferences on climate change issues over the past decade, with URLs for their postings on the AEI website. I recommend this work to you highly; I believe it has contributed substantially to public consideration of climate change issues and exemplifies the kind of “honest discussion” that you suggest AEI is permitting to be trumped by “donors’ self-interest.”

Because of your letter’s focus on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change process, I should point out that AEI’s publications and conferences have included a wide range of expert opinion on the issues addressed by the IPCC, and that most of our work has been devoted to evaluating policy options to respond to global warming--that is, on the assumption that the IPCC projections turn out to be correct. Moreover, we have regularly invited senior IPCC scientists to participate in our research and conferences (usually without success, but for reasons of scheduling conflicts and time commitments we knew to be genuine). AEI, like other research institutes, routinely pays fees for research, writing, and conference presentations commensurate to the amount of effort involved. We have indeed offered fees of as much as $10,000 to scientists and policy experts for substantial, original research in connection with the project detailed in the attached letters, and have done so--rather obviously!--without regard to their “positions” on various IPCC issues. Instead, our regard has been for the quality and pertinence of their work and the opportunity costs of their time, which we have found is often considerable. AEI has never paid anyone to conduct research with a predetermined result and has never accepted a donation premised on such research.

The accusations of your letter, while couched in the form of questions and insinuations, are as I said harshly worded, and are extremely serious coming from four members of the United States Senate. And they are leveled at a long-established research institution, familiar to all of you, which takes the integrity and independence of its research equally seriously (our public statement of policies and procedures on these matters is my final attachment--Attachment 5). So it is not a rhetorical question to ask whether you stand by your letter and think it was well-considered.

Finally, I must take exception to your pointed opening reference to “the depths to which some would sink to undermine the scientific consensus that human activity is the major source of global climate change.” I believe you have overstated the scientific consensus on the subject, but, even if you have not, I find it worrisome that four powerful political leaders would object to scientific dissent per se. Although you later give a formulaic nod to the right of dissent, you object to being paid a “significant” sum for dissenting research, which rather limits your conception of permissible dissent.

Consensus--and freedom to challenge consensus--are equally vital to the progress of science. History, including recent history, is replete with examples of expert consensus that turned out in the fullness of time to be mistaken. When I look over AEI’s publications and conferences on climate change issues, I can indeed find arguments against (as well as for) aspects of IPCC modeling and other matters where some have urged that public debate should cease. I want you to know that AEI will continue to sponsor research and host speakers on climate change issues whose views we regard as reasonable and worthy of attention--never seeking to undermine any consensus for its own sake, but also never paying heed to whether particular views are in or out of official favor. AEI scholars have stood in opposition to established orthodoxy many times; we cherish our intellectual freedom and are proud of the uses we have made of that freedom; we will not be silenced by threats to that freedom.

Yours truly,
Christopher DeMuth
President

Related Links
Listing of all Environmental Policy Outlooks
AEI publications and conferences on global climate change


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