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Documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a prominent aerospace engineer who claims the sun is responsible for most of global warming has received more than $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry to fund his research.
The scientist, Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon, is employed part-time by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and has received little federal funding in the last 10 years, according to The New York Times. Instead, he's been deeply funded by industry interests, including $409,000 from a subsidiary of utilities giant Southern Company and at least $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute have also funded Soon, though both have discontinued funding in recent years. At least 11 of his papers published since 2008 have failed to disclose funding sources, an ethical practice required by most peer-reviewed science journals.
Soon claims that humans have played little role in climate change and that most warming can instead be explained by changes in solar activity. In 2003, he and astronomer Sallie Baliunas argued in a journal article that the Medieval Warm Period at the turn of the last millennium saw higher temperatures than during the 20th century, proving that recent warming was not unusual.
Climate reconstructions have shown, however, that temperatures since the late 20th century are warmer than those during the Medieval Warm Period, according to the National Climatic Data Center. And, the rise in solar activity that started in the late 19th century tapered off in the 1960s, according to the American Institute of Physics, while the atmosphere and oceans have continued to warm. Last year was the warmest year on record, this past decade was the hottest ever, and each of the last three decades has been warmer than the one before.
The sun likely accounts for no more than 10 percent of this recent warming, Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the Times, adding: "The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless."