Jeff Kueter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute, complains that the mainstream media does not respect climate-change research conducted by industry-funded groups, such as his Washington think tank. He says that scientists who question whether global warming is real “are quickly labeled [as] having received money from the petroleum industry. The media considers their findings and their opinions to be somehow tainted because they’ve got a financial relationship.”
Kueter argues that reporters should more closely scrutinize the research funded by private foundations; he charges that some of these foundations have already concluded that carbon dioxide and other industrial emissions are causing the Earth to warm. In Kueter’s view, those foundations want the government to regulate greenhouse gases, andhe says that they may be influencing the global-warming research that they underwrite.
“If you believe that financial interests drive results, then you need to look at everyone’s financial interests and agendas,” he says. Kueter doesn’t describe those foundations as “liberal,” however; he says he doesn’t know their positions on other issues.
Kueter’s charges are the most recent salvo in the fight to shape the American public’s perspective on global warming. The vast majority of world climate scientists have concluded that human activity is causing the Earth to warm. However, a vocal group of researchers, including some associated with the George C. Marshall Institute, say the science is inconclusive.
To press his point about the other side’s agenda, Kueter collected data on the connection between the American foundations that underwrite most of the privately funded global-warming research and the environmental advocacy groups and universities that receive much of the research money. He concedes, however, that he could not prove that the foundations are influencing the outcome of the research.
According to hisreport, which he shared with National Journal, three philanthropic organizations — the Energy Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation — provided nearly $66.5 million in funding for climate-change research from 2000 to 2002. That’s more than half of the $112.1 million in climate-change money that was passed out by the top 20 private foundations during the three-year period.
According to the report, most of the money went to groups that favor “restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions and believe that climate change requires dramatic government action.”The top recipient was Strategies for the Global Environment, which is the umbrella organization for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group. The foundations also heavily favored the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Environmental Defense.
In the name of full disclosure, Kueter shared financial documents showing that in 2003, his institution’s climate-change program received $95,000 from the Exxon Education Foundation and $60,000 from the American Petroleum Institute. He denies that his group has a political bias, although lobbyists from both ends of the political spectrum describe the institute as libertarian or conservative.
Kueter’s suggestion that private foundations are influencing the outcome of the scientific studies they underwrite is wrong, says Hal Harvey, director of the environment program at the Hewlett Foundation and a former president of the Energy Foundation.”That’s a far-fetched claim at best,” Harvey says, pointing out that research funded by Hewlett and by the Energy Foundation is thoroughly peer-reviewed by outside scientific experts before it is released.
“We look for high-quality, compelling proposals from outstanding researchers, and we support them,” Harvey says. “But we don’t try to influence their work. If the science sends you in a new direction, you have to follow that data. You’ve got to be honest with the conclusions of the science.”
Kueter’s report also examined government contributions to global-warming research, showing that the federal agencies distributed nearly $2 billion to universities and research institutions in fiscal 2004. According to the report, the top five recipients received a combined $487,000 from 1998 to 2002. These five were the University of Colorado (all campuses); the University of Oklahoma (all campuses); the University of Miami; the University of Wisconsin (Madison); and the University of Washington (Seattle).
Describing those funding levels as “alarming,” Kueter argues that the agencies might be pushing the universities to take a pro-regulatory approach to climate-change research. “I’m very concerned that our university system may be losing some of its creative edge because it has these critical dependencies on a single source of funding.”
Kueter acknowledges that the Bush administration is strongly opposed to controls on greenhouse gases. But he believes that the White House philosophy is not filtering down to career bureaucrats. “I don’t think the presidential policy directives are influencing the contents of the research activities,” he says.
This article by Margaret Kris appeared in the National Journal, April 2, 2005, p. 985