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Del. scientist's view on climate criticized

Ties to big oil, industry-funded lobbies draw criticism

Posted Tuesday, February 6, 2007
David Legates is skeptical of global warming data.

A Delaware scientist's contrarian stand on global warming and climate change has earned him national attention in a series of critical reports -- including some that lump his views in with industry-backed disinformation campaigns.

The controversy surrounding Delaware State Climatologist David R. Legates and other climate change skeptics peaked last week with the publication of an updated summary report on global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Paris.

Shortly before the Paris climate change report emerged, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a study listing Legates among several scientists it described as "familiar spokespeople from ExxonMobil-funded organizations" that have regularly taken stands or sponsored reports questioning the science behind climate change warnings.

"I certainly think that Legates is a good example of someone who has chosen, for whatever reason, to have much of his work sponsored indirectly by ExxonMobil," said Seth Shulman, primary author of the Union of Concerned Scientists report.

"In these cases, these people are often putting out information as the 'state climatologist,' whereas it's really at best an incomplete accounting of their affiliation," Shulman said.

ExxonMobil, which posted a record $39.5 billion profit last year, was accused by UCS of funneling $16 million to advocacy groups over a seven-year period in an effort to "confuse the public on global warming science," including some groups that have worked closely with Legates or other climate change critics.

ExxonMobil has since branded the claims as "deeply offensive and wrong," and described its position on climate change as "misunderstood."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its fourth report described human-contributions to higher global temperatures as "unequivocal," and warned that rising seas and shifting climates were likely.

Legates, a University of Delaware professor, has criticized the panel's previous summary reports as offering "a lot of misinformation," despite the work by thousands of scientists from dozens of nations worldwide who teamed to produce the document.

Legates, who has referred to himself as a contrarian in public, could not be reached Monday. He has confirmed serving in various unpaid roles with groups that question global warming science, including as an adjunct scholar for the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank.

Although Legates holds the title of Delaware State Climatologist, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's office said that it had no direct role in the selection. The University of Delaware also supported the appointment, but has no direct oversight. Minner and the university both signed a four-way acknowledgement of the position.

Others around the country, meanwhile, have asked for a closer look at Legates' role in the debate over global warming.

California's attorney general last year asked a federal judge to force automakers to disclose their dealings with climate change skeptics, including Legates, in a dispute over greenhouse gas limits for new cars. General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers are defendants in that suit.

"The climate skeptics have played a major role in spreading disinformation about global warming," California Attorney General Bill Lockyer wrote.

The request included a quote from the book "The Heat is On," by former reporter and author Ross Gelbspan: "The tiny group of dissenting scientists have been given prominent public visibility and congressional influence out of all proportion to their standing in the scientific community on the issue of global warming."

Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace and other organizations have cited Legates' ties to several groups that have supported or emphasized skeptical stands on climate change, while they also received regular contributions from ExxonMobil. Those organizations include the National Center for Policy Analysis, which has received about $421,000 from ExxonMobil, and the George C. Marshall Institute, which received $630,000.

Both groups have published work by Legates, and Legates has reported working as an adjunct scholar for the National Center for Policy Analysis. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which also once listed Legates as an adjunct scholar, received more than $2 million from ExxonMobil at a time when the company was publicly fighting climate change policies.

During a speech last July at an event sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Legates described some claims about warming and climate shifts as "overblown," although he said that he was not disputing scientists whose work led to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

"I think in general there's very much of a disagreement," Legates said at the time.

Washington State Climatologist Philip Mote, who generally agrees with the panel's findings, said that few scientists disagree that the planet is warming, and said that an "inclusive and exhaustive" study found that humans "very likely" contributed to the change.

"It's pretty much the same eight or 10 people any time you see a skeptical point of view," Mote said. "It's pretty certain that it's going to be one of those folks."

But Mote also said that scientists who work on behalf of environmental groups also should have to disclose their backing.

"I don't know what number of scientists have accepted money from environmental groups to grind their ax, but I believe it's more than the eight or 10 listed in the UCS report."

Last year, Legates wrote a "policy report" for the National Center for Policy Analysis. It was released at about the same time as Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth." The center's paper questioned several cornerstones of the argument supporting links between human activities and global warming.

"The complexity of the climate and the limitations of data and computer models mean projections of future climate change are unreliable at best," Legates wrote. "In sum, the science does not support claims of drastic increases in global temperatures over the 21st century, nor does it support claims of human influence on weather events and other secondary effects of climate change."

Attention to Legates' views increased in Delaware when he disputed arguments used to support Delaware efforts to control greenhouse gases as one of several authors in a "friend-of-the-court" brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Competitive Enterprise Institute filed the brief.

Virginia state climatologist Patrick Michaels, who received a $100,000 contribution from a Colorado electric cooperative that supported Michaels' labeling of climate change supporters as "alarmists," was another co-author on the brief.

Contact Jeff Montgomery at 678-4277 or
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