Thursday evening, students gathered in South Kedzie Hall to attend a forum facilitated by MSU Fossil Free, urging MSU to divest from fossil fuel companies, in which the university has at least $13.8 million invested, according to the event’s press release. At the same time across campus in Case Hall, a markedly different gathering was taking place.
Hosted by MSU Campus Conservatives, the event centered around a presentation by Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Soon is a leading skeptic of the widely accepted science surrounding climate change, In the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, a study titled “The Structure of Scientific Opinion on Climate Change” found that 97 percent of scientists surveyed believed global warming already is ongoing, with 84 percent of scientists surveyed believing human-produced greenhouse gases were the driving force behind the change.
“I say that you should study the issue for yourself, do the best that you can, and don’t listen to anyone,” said Soon during the presentation. “You always check; don’t take anyone’s word for granted — not mine, even.”
Soon argued in his presentation that the recent variances in climate can be traced back to fluctuations in solar radiation, not the rise in atmospheric-CO2 levels the vast majority of climate scientists hold responsible.
“No experimental data exists to support the view that the earth’s climate is changing in an anomalous way or changing in a dangerous way, as far as I’m concerned,” Soon said. “Carbon dioxide is a mere bit player in climate change. They are suggesting that you just adjust the CO2 level up and down and then you get a certain kind of temperature. That notion is completely false.”
The event had about 21 attendees, with about five members of MSU Greenpeace, a student organization opposed to the viewpoint of skeptics like Soon. Students from the organization engaged in a heated debate with Soon in the question-and-answer session after his presentation, emphasizing the enormous amount of evidence against Soon and a funding history that environmentalists consider to be dubious.
When asked by an audience member whether global warming was been promoted to fuel a hidden agenda, Soon believed proponents of greenhouses gas reductions were motivated by financial gains.
“In plain language, most of it is follow the money. I think there’s a huge amount of money involved,” Soon said. “You want to change the whole infrastructure of how energy is being supplied and what form of energy is being used.”
Greenpeace, MSU Greenpeace’s parent organization, released an investigation in 2011 based upon documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act alleging Soon has become increasingly under the thumb of the fossil fuel industry. From 2001 to 2012, Soon received about $1.33 million in funding from sources such as the American Petroleum Institute, the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Charles G. Koch Foundation , according to Greenpeace.
Soon also has received funding from a public charity known as Donor’s Trust, which in February, Greenpeace claimed has distributed more than $146 million from mostly anonymous donors to what the organization deems “climate denial groups”.
Contributions from Donor’s Trust also made up 40 percent of the budget of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, or CFACT, which organized Soon’s speaking tour and compensation.
When asked about these criticisms, Soon looked haggard and asked to sit down. He complained that he had been “tortured” by environmental activists throughout the four-stop university tour.
“It’s just not about money. I know that it looks bad. Since 2004, I am first unable[sic], then I decided to not take (government) money anymore,” Soon said. “I’ve been trying to get funding from whoever foundation or anybody who wants to give me money. Coal, anything, I don’t care. Really, I don’t, because I know that I’m not being influenced by money.”
Matt Sobecki, an international relations freshman and member of MSU Campus Conservatives, adopted a tempered perspective on Soon’s presentation.
“I’m not a science major, but I think (Soon’s presentation) has got valid points, but also other scientists who disagree with him have valid points,” Sobecki said. “I’m not crazy enough to think that six billion people don’t have an effect on climate in the world we live in.”