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Advocates and Vested Interests
I think it is better to address the many weaknesses in their arguments and highlight the many lies they have put their names to in the past, but it still strikes me as a reasonable point to bring up. Scientists are people after all, and people will lie for money. Fair enough.
Now it so happens that I have frequently heard the counter accusation, that the research that supports Global Warming is somehow funded by Greenpeace or the Sierra Club and is therefore similarily suspect. Again, the science should stand or fall on its own, but these debates sometimes, shall we say, stray a bit from the scientific topics (hard to believe, isn't it?). Now, this is clearly not the case. The research is coming from the likes of NASA's GISS. I suppose environmental organizations might hire scientists as consultants from time to time and maybe they actually do commision some special research on a particular special issue every now and then. But clearly, the big names in climate science do not depend on any particular environmental group or lobby, they work for universities and governments by and large.
But what if they did, would this then be an equivalence? I don't think so.
Roger Pielke Jr has just done a post on Prometheus comparing the recent kafuffle with Phil Cooney to a situation that he describes with Susan Hassol. Phil Cooney recall went from being a lawyer for the American Petroleum Institute, to being a White House staffer, where he edited out urgency and certainty from scientific reports on Global Warming, to a consulting job with Exxon Mobil. Susan Hassol is working now as a consultant for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program while at the same time is the writer for a film advocating action on Global Warming that is funded by unspecified environmental groups. Seems pretty flimsy to me.
But there is a fundamental difference aside from job particulars etc.
The difference lies in the often conflated meanings of what it means to have a vested interest and what it means to be an advocate. Clearly, Exxon Mobil has a vested interest in the GW debate, its revenue stream comes directly from the cause of CO2 pollution. But is it fair to say that environmental groups have some kind of vested interest? I don't think so. They have a position, a bias perhaps and they are advocates but this is not the same thing as a vested interest. There is no profit, no material gain for them in people reducing CO2 emissions, unless you consider a healthy environment a material gain (which I do, but then we all have that vested interest, don't we?). Why would they want a scientist to lie about a phoney environmental threat? And there are plenty of real ones out there after all, if you want to entertain the notion that they need the work.
I think this is why Michael Crichton's State of Fear is so ridiculously implausible, we have to believe there is huge wealth and power at stake for the environmentalists, so much that greed and ego drive them to lie, manipulate and even kill. It just doesn't pass the sniff test.
In the meantime, ExxonMobil just gave its CEO a whopping $400 million retirement package.
That doesn't quite pass either.
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