Patrick Michaels’ 30 Years of Climate Denial

I. Michaels Cancels on Fossil Fuel Impact Investigation

On September 28, 2018, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines was scheduled to hear Patrick Michaels in their ongoing investigation into carbon majors’ contributions to climate change and its impacts on Filipinos. Michaels, currently the Director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Koch-founded and funded Cato Institute, has built a career vending doubt about the reality of climate change and denying its urgency. His contributions as an ‘expert’ to stall action on climate change have been subsidized for decades by the industries that have the most to lose from any such action, some of which are named respondents in the Commission’s investigation.

Despite committing to appear before the Commission, Michaels withdrew from the proceeding at the last minute for reasons that were not explained. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen was slated to appear just before Michaels at the September 28th hearing. Presenting as scheduled, Hansen spoke to the importance of the scientific method and referred to Michaels as “a master of the fine art of cherry-picking, which is exactly the opposite of the scientific method in the sense that it isn’t using all the data.” Hansen provided the Commission a report that refutes Michaels’ scientific claims.

II. Unreliable, Then and Now

Michaels has been a part of shaping public policy and public opinion on climate change since 1984, appearing frequently before the judiciary and legislature. Beyond legal and legislative proceedings, various news programs, including Fox News and even CNN, have also given him a platform to proffer misinformation. Despite revelations of covert fossil fuel funding and questions of credibility throughout his career, Michaels is somehow taken seriously, even when he veers into economics and environmental policy, subjects well outside his area of scientific expertise.

While the consensus over climate change science has grown, Michaels has gone from flat denial of the science to denying the severity of its impacts, ignoring the already deadly and devastating effects being felt in the Philippines and many other parts of the world. As more climate lawsuits are filed seeking accountability for fossil fuel companies, Michaels’  and other deniers’ work will likely be pushed to the fore again and again by his peers and financial backers.

We continue to uncover and analyze primary documents on CIC’s Climate Files portal and have recently added several new documents to our existing Patrick Michaels dossier. The following timeline reflects the complete collection:

III. (In)Expert Testimony from Michaels and his Cohort

Over the decades, Michaels has testified with other corporate-funded climate deniers that work in concert, guard information surrounding their funding, and support one another’s theories. In the early 1990s, Michaels began working with the likes of Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Jr., and Fred Singer, all of whom have financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. Lindzen and Balling, along with Roy Spencer, John Christy, and Sherwood, Keith, and Craig Idso, have appeared regularly for decades with Michaels at events and in legal proceedings. Most of these men are still active climate deniers today.

As early as 1995, Michaels testified as an expert witness in a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission case on behalf of the coal trade group Western Fuels Association (WFA) after he received funding from WFA for separate work; Michaels was joined by Lindzen, Balling, and Idso in these proceedings and ultimately the WFA was rebuffed. The same year Michaels testified, his work, and that of other climate deniers, was refuted in a “draft primer” for corporations on how to talk about climate change science, authored by Mobil Oil Corporation scientist, Leonard Bernstein:

“Michaels’ questions about the temperature record are not convincing arguments against any conclusion that we are currently experiencing warming as the result of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Though the legitimacy of Michaels and his peers was questioned as early as 1994, the group continues to collaborate regularly. In 2007, for example, Christy took Michaels’ place as expert witness in a Vermont fuel emissions standards case after Michaels was forced to withdraw for his failure to disclose his funders. In 2012, Balling and Craig Idso collaborated with Michaels on Cato’s “addendum” to the 2012 U.S. Climate Change Science Program report. And in April 2018, Michaels spoke at the American Enterprise Institute, citing Christy’s models as he has done for the last 20 years.

IV. Key Documents in Climate Files’ Michaels Collection

1990 Patrick Michaels CV

This CV reveals Michaels’ early and active active role in the climate denial circuit, documenting some of Michaels’ first connections with climate-denying organizations, fossil fuel, and mining companies.

Michaels detailed two “Invited Lectures” given in 1989 to the Western Fuels Association and to the Edison Electric Institute, groups which have both been involved with various climate denial campaigns. The CV listed papers written by Michaels for the Virginia Climate Advisory in 1984 and 1986, titled The Carbon Dioxide Controversyand “Carbon Dioxide/Climate Revisited.

The final item on the CV disclosed that in 1989 Michaels received $40,000 in funding from Cyprus Minerals, one of the world’s largest mining companies which merged with Amax in 1993. That same year, Cyprus Minerals also contributed significant funding to the research of Sherwood Idso and Robert Balling.

1991 Information Council on the Environment (ICE) campaign

In May of 1991, Michaels and Balling both participated in a climate-denial “Public Relations Tour” sponsored by ICE, a short-lived group founded and funded by U.S. pro-coal entities.

The campaign explicitly aimed to “[r]eposition global warming as theory (not fact).” Equipped with polling data showing that the vast majority of Americans believed climate change was a threat, ICE designed an ad campaign targeting “less educated males from large households” and “lower income women” whom they considered pliable. ICE sent letters, paid for advertising, and hosted panels. Michaels was a central part of those efforts.

1994 TASSC Catalyst newsletter

Michaels is listed as a member scientist in a 1994 newsletter from The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), an industry-funded front group created in 1993 to create doubt about the health and environmental risks of tobacco. The group was a front for Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, which controls about half of the U.S. tobacco market.

This issue of TASSC’s newsletter, “Catalyst,” focused on the results of a poll funded by TASSC which showed increased concern among scientists about the way science is used or misrepresented in policy creation. Michaels was included as a member scientist “who assisted in drafting our Statement of Principles.” The newsletter also included an overview of recent organizational activities, including “speaking to the American Legislative Exchange Council ” and providing written testimony for a hearing in New York City “on legislation that called for unreasonable restrictions on smoking in buildings.”

1995 Global Climate Coalition Draft Climate Change Science Primer

This document, discussed above, shows Lenny Bernstein of Mobil Corporation compiling a “primer” for the Global Climate Coalition regarding the state of climate science after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Second Assessment.

Acknowledging that the effect of “human activities” on climate “cannot be denied,” Bernstein explored “[a]lternate [e]xplanations” by looking at the work of Jastrow, Lindzen, and Michaels. Bernstein deemed all three scientists’ findings as “not convincing.”

1995 WFA expert testimony

This testimony by Michaels, then Senior Fellow of Environmental studies at the Cato Institute, was used as expert opinion by WFA before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The hearing was held in St. Paul, Minnesota to determine the environmental cost of coal-burning power plants in the state.

In this testimony, Michaels was questioned about the causes and effects of global climate change. Michaels agreed that “the earth will undergo some warming as a result of the increase in anthropo-generated greenhouse gases,” but contested that science as a whole has undergone “an unfortunate politicization” when it comes to climate change.

Particularly pressed on his sources of funding, Michaels identified the Edison Electric Institute and the Western Fuels Association as grants for “research,” but failed to identify the source of funding he received from a German organization. When asked if it was the German Coal Association, Michaels responded “Beats me … It’s a, I mean it is a German energy-related energy company.” He admitted to receiving funding from WFA for publishing the World Climate Review, but declared that he knew “absolutely nothing of Cato’s funding … Cato doesn’t fund me … My remuneration from Cato is zero dollars and zero zero cents.”  

Regarding the environmental impact of coal-burning power plants in Minnesota, Michaels argued that “regional climate changes quite a bit, naturally” and agreed that “patterns are more important” than means when measuring climate changes because “two opposite patterns can have the same mean.”

1997 Michaels Debates Alan Robock at CEI Event

This is the transcript of a debate between Michaels and Alan Robock, a climatologist from the University of Maryland. The topic of the debate was “Must We Act Now To Avert a Climate Catastrophe?” and was part of a longer conference hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute called “The Costs of Kyoto” that took place on July 15, 1997. Ben Wattenberg, moderator of the debate, was a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Throughout the debate, Michaels took the stance that there is no need for urgent action on climate change. He labeled the call by the United Nations for a global treaty on the issue “a silly thing” and argued that predictions made in 1990 about magnitudes of warming from climate change had already been proven wrong – meaning, climate skeptics had been proven right. Michaels cites Roy Spencer, Robert Balling, and John Christy, among others, in the debate.

1998 Michaels Appears in WFA/Greening Earth Society Propaganda Film

Michaels, Robert Balling, Robert Davis, and Roy Spencer all appeared in the short film “The Greening of Planet Earth Continues,” released by the Greening Earth Society, as a follow-up to the 1992 film titled The Greening of Planet Earth.The Greening Earth Society was a non-profit front group created by the Western Fuels Association to advocate on behalf of their membership, comprised of rural electric cooperatives, electric utilities, fuel suppliers, and individuals.

True to its name, the film argues that thanks to increased CO2 in the atmosphere, the earth has gotten greener: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is a nutrient – a very important nutrient, perhaps the most important.”

2006 Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) Internal Memo on Carbon Taxes and Climate Alarmism

This 2006 memo is from the General Manager of Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), an electric distribution cooperative in Colorado which has directly and indirectly promoted climate skepticism. The memo detailed a $100,000 grant from IREA to Michaels as a part of its fundraising effort to combat climate change “alarmists.” IREA coordinated other contributions for Michaels between power generators and transmitters (later referencing an additional $50,000 pledge).

The memo also mentioned a multifaceted strategy involving Michaels, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Koch Industries, Southern Company, American Electric Power, the National Association of Manufacturers, and more.

2007 Affidavit of Patrick Michaels in Green Mountain Chrysler v. Crombie

This affidavit from Michaels reflects his participation in a 2007 lawsuit regarding Vermont’s changes to fuel emissions standards for new automobiles. Asked to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs, Michaels’ affidavit centered around his funding rather than his scientific opinion on climate change.

Michaels provided information on funding sources to the court confidentially, but Greenpeace filed a motion to make the details publicly available. Michaels stated that “the global warming controversy has created an environment in which companies who wish to support [his] research … are increasingly willing to do so only if their support remains confidential.” Greenpeace’s pressure for public disclosure led Michaels to withdraw from the case.

2009 Michaels CVs Mislead Congress About Oil Funding

In February 2009, Patrick Michaels appeared before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment to testify on “The Climate Crisis: National Security, Public Health, and Economic Threats.” He submitted a CV to the subcommittee that came under scrutiny for its omissions regarding Michaels’ financial and professional history with the fossil fuel industry. It also omitted experience that was listed in a copy of his 1990 CV. Congressman Peter Welch issued a series of “Questions for the Record for Patrick J. Michaels” regarding the omissions.

In the CV Michaels originally submitted to the committee, he did “not list any affiliation with New Hope Environmental Services,” a consulting firm founded by Michaels. New Hope, according to Michaels, was intended to “publicize findings on climate change and scientific and social perspectives that may not otherwise appear in the popular literature or media.” As Welch pointed out in his questioning, the affidavit described New Hope as his “sole source of income,” making his omission particularly noteworthy. Michaels responded to Welch’s questioning and submitted a revised CV listing his professional work with the Cato Institute and the Marshall Institute, though he did not address many of Welch’s questions and failed to list his association with New Hope Environmental Services, IREA, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and the Heartland Institute.

2010 Michaels Admits Oil Funding on CNN

This is an excerpt of a 2010 CNN interview with Michaels. The interview reflected his admission that roughly 40% of his research funding came from the oil industry.

2012 Michaels is Editor-In-Chief of Unofficial “Addendum” to Government Report

In 2012, Michaels was Editor-in-Chief of a report published by Cato as an unofficial “addendum” to an assessment by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program on “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.” The Cato report was designed to be nearly identical to the government’s report, drawing criticism from the scientific community as a “counterfeit,” but the content is contradictory and contains unsubstantiated conclusions on climate science.

2014 Michaels Included in Leaked Email Chain From Fred Singer on Merchants of Doubt

In 2014, Michaels was one of many climate deniers, bloggers, and PR experts who received an email from climate denialist Fred Singer regarding the release of the documentary “Merchants of Doubt.” The movie profiled Singer (along with many of the people to whom he sent this email) as part of the network of climate change denial and legislative delay on action in the United States.

The movie was adapted from a book of the same title by historians Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes and exposes the history of corporations using public relations to create doubt and skepticism around science – a technique used by the tobacco industry, and now by the fossil fuel industry.

Singer’s email sought help in attacking the film and Naomi Oreskes.

2017 Michaels Appears on “Green Tyranny” with John Stossel

In 2017, Michaels appeared in a video segment of John Stossel’s “Green Tyranny” series. Green Tyranny originally aired on Fox until Stossel began working with the Koch-funded Reason Foundation and publishing his content on YouTube.

This episode, titled “The Truth About Climate Change,” featured interviews with Michaels, former Georgia Institute of Technology professor Judith Curry, and Bill Moomaw, a professor of environmental policy at Tufts University filling the role of the “climate alarmist.”

Throughout the video, Stossel focused the climate change debate around its impacts, asking “is [climate change] dangerous? Is it gonna harm people?” He argued that “a few degrees [of] warming might be good,” and that “cold waves kill many more people than heat waves.” Michaels supported Stossel in this line of argument. He tied the warming climate to the increasing life expectancy in certain parts of the world; “[w]e don’t really care whether it warms a degree in the next 60 years. It warmed a degree in the last hundred years. Life expectancy doubled!”

Michaels went on to portray “climate alarmists” as people pushing issues to “compete with each other… for your money.” He argued that in contrast to previous “environmental catastrophes” like the population boom or global cooling, “the global warming scare has longer legs ‘cause it’s got more money.”

Posted by Climate Investigations Center