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Energy company could end funding for climate change denier

Scientist Dr Wei-Hock Soon, who accepted $1.25m in funding from Exxon Mobil and others, defends his record and attacks ‘politically motivated groups’

Funders appear to be backing away from a prominent climate change denier who may have failed to disclose that his peer-reviewed articles were funded with grants from petroleum companies.

On Monday, the scientist defended accepting the grants through one of the largest climate denial lobbying groups in the United States, even as former donors are discontinuing contracts.

Documents obtained by Greenpeace showed that Dr Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, who worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, accepted $1.25m in funding from companies such as Exxon Mobil and the industry group American Petroleum Institute.

On Monday, Soon defended his record through the Heartland Institute, a group that lobbies against climate change initiatives and one of the scientist’s most avid supporters.

“In recent weeks I have been the target of attacks in the press by various radical environmental and politically motivated groups,” said Soon in a statement released on Monday on Heartland’s website.

“This effort should be seen for what it is: a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings, and to make an example out of me as a warning to any other researcher who may dare question in the slightest their fervently held orthodoxy of anthropogenic global warming.”

The Heartland Institute has framed the debate as a partisan issue, blaming the American left for attempting to discredit a scientist who questions accepted science. Heartland’s president, Joseph L Bast, has gone so far as to call critics “ethically challenged and mental midgets”.

This logic will probably ring hollow for scientists who, for years, have worked to build evidence of climate change while denial groups and conservative politicians attempted to discredit them.

Soon’s statement on Monday came as clean energy advocates questioned whether one company, electric utility Southern Company, had any business funding research when it could have used the cash to reduce ratepayers’ bills. Southern granted Soon $409,000, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Southern Company said on Tuesday that it “funds a broad range of research on a matter of topics that have potentially significant public policy implications for our business”.

“While the scientific and political discussions on climate change continue, Southern Company is focused on researching, developing and deploying innovative energy technologies to deliver clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity to customers.”

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