The climate researcher targeted by a well-funded liberal media outlet earlier this year said billionaire-backed environmentalists railroaded his career in conjunction with thought police masquerading as journalists.
Roger Pielke Jr., a climate researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, said he was astonished by “the degree to which journalists and academics joined the campaign” to derail his career. Their efforts show how quickly and rabidly politicians and media outlets turn against “inconvenient” research, he wrote in a recent op-ed with The Wall Street Journal.
Pielke was referencing the reaction he got from an article he wrote for political pollster Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, which challenged a Democratic talking point that global warming was making extreme weather more severe. The reaction was swift and centered around articles from ThinkProgress subsidiary ClimateProgress.
Pielke’s point was that extreme weather only does more damage today because there’s more wealth to destroy when hitting shore. When economic growth is considered, “the overall trend in disaster costs proportional to GDP since 1990 has stayed fairly level,” Pielke wrote.
“Pielke basically has made a career of ‘accepting’ climate change but disputing that we can really do anything about it or that it has much of an impact,” ThinkProgress Judd Legum wrote in a 2014 email leaked by WikiLeaks to environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer thanking him for his “support.”
“I think it’s fair say that, without Climate Progress, Pielke would still be writing on climate change for 538. He would be providing important cover for climate deniers backed by Silver’s very respected brand. But because of our work, he is not,” Legum wrote in the memo.
FiveThirtyEight demoted Pielke later from staff writer to freelancer – he resigned a few months after the demotion.
“The mob celebrated,” he wrote. “ClimateTruth.org, founded by former Center for American Progress staffer Brad Johnson, and advised by Penn State’s Michael Mann, called my departure a ‘victory for climate truth.'”
The Obama administration eventually chimed in on the matter.
President Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, testified before Congress about whether climate change is causing more extreme weather, telling senators that Pielke is “not representative of the mainstream scientific opinion.” Pielke is a proponent of a carbon tax and believes that human beings contribute to climate change.
Holdren even posted a long essay on the White House website under the heading, “An Analysis of Statements by Roger Pielke Jr.”
The University of Colorado’s Board passed a resolution in November defending Pielke, stating “faculty and students must have complete freedom to study, to learn, to do research and to communicate the results of these pursuits to others.”
Republican Regent John Carson, who co-wrote the resolution, told reporters the campaign to take out Pielke was out-of-bounds and beyond the pale.
But the damage was done – and there was a valuable lesson to be learned, according to the former climate researcher: “A lone academic is no match for billionaires, well-funded advocacy groups, the media, Congress and the White House.”
“If academics,” he added, “are to play a meaningful role in public debate, the country will have to do a better job supporting good-faith researchers, even when their results are unwelcome.”
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