Oil, gas and coal companies are stepping up attacks on scientists who support the growing consensus about climate change. Their new strategy: Lawsuits demanding that climate scholars at public universities divulge their emails, research and other documents. A new investigation at Facing South finds that the crusade is heavily backed by energy interests and right-wing donors like Art Pope, who launched the career of a climate denial leader.
The Facing South investigation by Sue Sturgis starts with the story of a lawsuit being heard this week in Virginia which targets award-winning climate scientist Michael Mann, who used to work at the University of Virginia. The suit is part of an ongoing effort by Virginia Republicans and a little-known group called the American Tradition Institute to force the release of emails and private research by Mann in the hopes of finding bias or corruption.
As Sturgis notes, the attack on professor Mann has been almost universally criticized as an attack on academic freedom in the university community: The board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that such legal challenges "have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas."
But most interesting of all is the money and people fueling the attack. A key figure is Paul Chesser, a leader at the American Tradition Institute who claims to be a "noted climate scholar." But as Sturgis reveals:
In fact, Chesser is not a scientist but has long worked in what environmental advocates call the "climate denial machine": a network of organizations, many backed by energy interests, that work to create doubt about the science of human-caused global warming.
According to his bio, Chesser grew up in Rhode Island and worked as an accountant in Los Angeles. He launched his reporting career in North Carolina, where he edited two weekly conservative Christian newspapers, The Raleigh World and The Triad World. Now defunct, the papers were owned by World Newspaper Publishing, whose stated purpose is to "bring journalism informed by a distinctly Christian worldview to major cities across America."
But Chesser didn't get his real start working in the climate denial industry until he was hired by the John Locke Foundation, a conservative North Carolina think tank founded and largely funded by Art Pope. The Locke Foundation, headed by former tobacco lobbyist John Hood, has long been a fierce denier of the scientific consensus about human-caused climate change.
Thanks to Pope, Chesser was launched full-fledged into the industry-backed climate denial network. Sturgis details Chesser's growing corporate-funded resume:
* At Locke, Chesser led up Climate Strategies Watch, a joint initiative with the Heartland Institute. Heartland has received at least $676,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Between 1997 and 2008, they also received $30,000 from foundations connected to the Kochs and another $50,000 from Pope's family foundation.
* Chesser became an associate fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative think tank funded by the Scaife Foundations -- controlled by the family that owns Gulf Oil.
* Chesser started blogging for the Cooler Heads Coalition, an industry front group led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute -- a fierce opponent of greenhouse gas regulation that has taken over $2 million from ExxonMobil as well as funding from the American Petroleum Institute, Texaco and the Koch, Scaife and Pope foundations.
Now at American Tradition Institute, Chesser again finds himself speaking for a group largely bankrolled by fossil fuel interests -- mostly the fortune from Lair Petroleum, now owned by William Koch, the lesser-known brother of Charles and David Koch.
Read the full investigation here.
PHOTO -- Paul Chesser of the American Tradition Institute: "Noted climate scholar?"