As It Happens

Energy industry paid climate deniers' star scientist

Willie Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics whose research supported the case against climate change, was paid over a million by big oil, gas and coal companies.

Willie Soon doesn't deny that the planet is warming. But he is one of the few bona fide scientists who still maintain that greenhouse gas emissions are not the cause. And his research has famously been used by climate change deniers in Washington to support their claims.

But according to documents obtained by Greenpeace through a freedom of information request, nearly all of Soon's climate research over the last 14 years was funded by the energy industry. Soon, who is an aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is shown to have taken more than $1.25-million (US) from the likes of Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute and a foundation run by the Koch brothers. 

"Dr. Soon was promising what were called deliverables to these entities in exchange for their funding," Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "Those deliverables included affecting public policy."

"He's been used to great effect by the (U.S.) Congress and by the Senate to influence climate change policies," says Coleman. "There's not very many people that are credentialed scientists that deny or obfuscate climate science."

In response to the publication of the documents, the Smithsonian issued a statement Sunday saying that it was looking into the allegations surrounding Soon's work and into his failure to disclose the sources of funding for his climate research.

"The Smithsonian does not support Dr. Soon's conclusions on climate change."