AEI Think Tank Sought Critique of Climate Report
Author: Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
The pro-business think tank, with numerous close ties to the Bush administration, denied it was looking for global warming skeptics to cast doubt on the UN report.
AEI made the offers to scientists starting last July, but ultimately abandoned the project, according to Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at the institute who worked on the program.
First reported in the Guardian newspaper in Britain, the program aimed to publish scientists' essays to coincide with the release of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
The report found, with 90 percent probability, that humans caused accelerated global warming in the last half-century. It was released in Paris on Friday.
In a July 5 letter to a climate scientist in Texas, Green and colleague Steven Hayward 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 ... reports."
The letter offered US$10,000 for an essay of 7,500 to 10,000 words, due Dec. 15, 2006, about six weeks before the UN report was expected. The letter also offered more "honoraria" and travel expenses if the scientist participated in a series of conferences on the same topic.
The letter was obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace and made available to the media.
Green said in a telephone interview he did not know how many scientists were contacted, but said the responses led the institute to revamp and then shelve the project.
THE RIGHT FOCUS
"The people we respected on the issue didn't think we had the right focus or the project wasn't structured right for them," he said.
AEI has had close ties to the Bush administration. Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, has an office there, and President Bush in 2003 praised the think tank for having "some of the finest minds in our nation," adding, "You do such good work that my administration has borrowed 20 such minds."
It has received US$1.6 million from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2005, according to the watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists, as part of a campaign by the energy giant to raise doubt about climate change. ExxonMobil said it supported various public policy groups but that did not mean it had control over the groups' positions.
Green said the think tank hoped the essays would stimulate debate and provide an alternative voice on global warming.
"I view this discussion to have become hardened on a bipolar axis of alarmists and deniers, and I believe that is a bad dynamic in which to find good policy," Green said. "And so we were looking for voices who could illuminate a middle road, a third way ... so that we could move out of this bipolar dynamic and move on to something where you could find more reason for discourse."
As to his own views on global warming, Green said he was "less compelled" by the UN report's findings.
"They essentially asked the lead authors to rank their level of certainty," Green said. "... It is purely the opinion of the (UN reports') authors themselves as to how strongly they think they're right."
Acknowledging that the report represents the work of 2,500 scientists from more than 130 nations, Green said, "That doesn't mean they're always right."