Feisty Ala. climate change critic claims Washington is trying to intimidate him

By Daniel Cusick | 03/26/2015 08:23 AM EDT

An Alabama atmospheric scientist who has gained a global reputation as a repudiator of “mainstream climate science” strongly defended his research record at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, where he is a distinguished professor and director of the university’s Earth System Science Center.

Correction appended.

An Alabama atmospheric scientist who has gained a global reputation as a repudiator of "mainstream climate science" strongly defended his research record at the University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH), where he is a distinguished professor and director of the university’s Earth System Science Center.

John Christy, who has been at UAH since 1987, said this week that all of his research funds are derived from state and federal agencies and that he has never accepted research money from business or industry groups that have challenged the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the National Research Council and other expert bodies.


Nor has he accepted research funding from groups actively engaged in lobbying against U.S. climate change policies, he said.

Moreover, Christy suggested a recently launched congressional investigation into sources of his and other climate scientists’ research funding is an attempt by Democrats in Washington to squelch dissenting opinions about the degree of climate warming and the role that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have in a shifting climate.

"I’ve been involved in this issue for 25 years, and I’m past the point of being intimidated," Christy said in an email responding to the inquiry led by House Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) exploring outside funding to climate researchers at seven U.S. universities.

"This is simply a way for the Administration to publicly draw attention to us as scientists not aligned with their views, implying there must be a scurrilous reason for daring to think the way we do," he added.

Christy said he did not distinguish between Democrats in Congress, where the investigation is playing out, and members of the Obama administration who have cast Christy and other scientists with dissenting views on climate change as being idealogues or beholden to the fossil fuel industry and other polluters.

"They are one and the same to me," he said.

Not a joiner

Christy’s comments follow renewed attention brought to his and six other high-profile academics’ research records, public engagements and other activities carried out in their capacities as university employees.

John Christy
John Christy, climate scientist at the University of Alabama. | Photo courtesy of John Christy.

Others targeted by the Grijalva investigation are Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Robert Balling of Arizona State University, Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Steven Hayward of Pepperdine University, David Legates of the University of Delaware and Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado.

All seven of the academics have testified before Congress, and several have participated in events hosted or sponsored by groups seeking to disprove widely accepted climate change theories or characterize the phenomenon as a hoax.

Some of those organizations, such as the Heartland Institute and the Institute for Energy Research, have come under scrutiny from advocacy groups, climate scientists and elected officials for their lobbying activities, public statements and financial support for research that promotes climate change skepticism.

Christy, who is credited with important research using balloons and satellites to measure changes in the Earth’s lower atmosphere, is well-known to climate skeptic organizations, and his work has been cited in various documents and reports. He is also a well-known figure in both Washington, D.C., and Alabama, where he has been the state’s official climatologist since 2000.

In the past, Christy has said he avoids close association, including attending the meetings of climate skeptic groups, to avoid "guilt by association."

He has testified before Congress numerous times, most recently in 2013, and is one of the lead authors of the IPCC’s 2001 report in which the satellite temperatures were included as a high-quality data set for studying global climate change. He has since become one of the IPCC’s staunchest critics.

Among other things, Christy has said IPCC models suggesting that climate change is an imminent threat are wrong, and he has argued that efforts to arrest climate change by sharply curtailing the burning of fossil fuels will leave the country without its cheapest and most abundant energy resources.

"Someone has just done a terrific job at marketing an [unproven] idea," Christy said of leading climate theories in a June 2014 interview (ClimateWire, July 17, 2014).

‘We need to put down the IPCC’

Before Congress, Christy has often struck a more combative posture.

"It appears the nation has indeed enacted knee-jerk remedies to ‘combat climate change’ through regulations on carbon dioxide," he told a House panel in December 2013. "I warned this committee in 1996 that these would be ‘unproductive and economically damaging.’"

In the same testimony,Christy submitted comments from fellow climate scientist Curry of Georgia Tech likening the IPCC to an entity that has stifled scientific inquiry and worked to infect the scientific and policy communities with false findings, much the way a disease infects an organism. "We need to put down the IPCC as soon as possible — not to protect the patient who seems to be thriving in its own little cocoon, but for the sake of the rest of us whom it is trying to infect with its disease," Curry said.

Such comments have brought Christy into the crosshairs of numerous climate advocacy groups, as well as Democrats like Grijalva, who last month began digging into sources of financial support for researchers like Christy and the six others targeted in the investigation.

In a Feb. 24 letter, Grijalva asked UAH administrators to respond to a series of questions and information requests concerning Christy’s work. Among other things, the congressman asked for all of Christy’s testimony before government agencies, as well as detailed information on any "external funding" that Christy has received from non-UAH sources, including "consulting fees, promotional considerations, speaking fees, honoraria, travel expenses, salary, compensation and other monies."

In an email last week, a spokesman for House Natural Resources Committee Democrats declined to provide any information on the investigation’s findings to date.

Christy said that the university will be sending a response "based on all of my funding records." As for the investigators’ request for all of Christy’s public testimony, he said his remarks before Congress are already part of the public record, including information about research funding sources.

Christy also has the backing of his employer. Ray Garner, chief of staff to UAH President Robert Altenkirch, said in a statement that Christy "has always approached his work with the utmost of integrity, and the quality of his research is nothing short of exemplary."

Correction: A quote attributed to John Christy about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during a 2013 House hearing was actually made by another scientist, Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Curry’s comment was included by Christy as an appendix to his testimony.