By Molly Taft
Excerpt: Ben Santer, one of the nation’s leading climate scientists, said he is cutting ties with a prestigious government-funded laboratory over its plans to invite a scientist who has spread climate denial to speak in a seminar.
Santer’s work has shaped much of climate science for the past 25 years. His work studying the “fingerprints” of climate change have informed decades of research and he was the author of a seminal sentence in a crucial 1995 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that said the science showed “a discernible human influence on global climate.”
On Monday, Santer, who is affiliated with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, sent out an emailed statement viewed by Earther and first published by the Union of Concerned Scientists in protest of a planned LLNL seminar with Steve Koonin, a well-known climate denier whose new book on how climate science is “unsettled” has attracted widespread praise from right-wing media and condemnation from basically everyone else.
In his statement, Santer didn’t mince words, alleging that Koonin is “not an authoritative voice on climate science” and that LLNL management had not adequately responded to Santer’s concerns about the seminar, which was scheduled to be held on May 27. (We’ve reached out to LLNL for comment and will update this post if they respond.)
“Writing and releasing this statement may be viewed by some as an act of disloyalty,” Santer wrote. “I do not see it that way. I chose to remain loyal to the climate science we have performed at LLNL for over three decades. I do not intend to remain silent while the credibility and integrity of this research is challenged.”
Koonin, a physics professor who worked at BP in the mid-2000s and who now is at NYU, is one of those dangerous figures who plays up the whataboutism that has plagued the conversation around climate science for decades. While he technically accepts the fact that humans are exerting some influence on the climate—which, in his opinion, does not make him a “climate denier”—his beef is with just how bad it’s going to be. These viewpoints—and the fact that he worked briefly in the Department of Energy under President Barack Obama—have made him a favorite among those who seek to further discredit climate science. Koonin was even tapped in 2018 by Scott Pruitt, the oil-and-gas serving, hotel lotion-loving, then-chief of Environmental Protection Agency, to lead the Trump administration’s theoretical exercise to try to discredit climate science, after Koonin authored a Wall Street Journal article proposing the idea. The exercise never came to fruition. (We’ve reached out to Koonin for comment on Santer’s letter and will update this post if we hear back.)
Koonin’s currently on a right-wing-fueled press tour for his Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, which, as the title suggests, posits that the whole global warming thing isn’t that bad and relies on misinformation to make its points. Erroneous theories promoted by Koonin in the book include the idea that Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t melting any faster than it was 80 years ago (false) and that sea level rise isn’t accelerating (also false).
Background on Ben Santer:
Climategate’s Ben Santer Study ‘shows humans main cause of global warming: ‘There’s no way all of the world’s oceans could’ve warmed by one tenth of a degree C without human impact’ – Study ‘rules out that the changes are related to natural variability…scientists are now certain man-made ghgs are primary cause…The evidence is unequivocal for global warming’ —