WaPo on AEI Funding Climate Critiques:

Today's Washington Post reports on the controversy over the American Enterprise Institute's effort to solicit analyses and critiques of the IPCC report and proposed climate policies.

Advocacy groups such as Greenpeace and the Public Interest Research Group questioned why the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has offered $10,000 to academics willing to contribute to a book on climate- change policy, an overture that was first reported Friday in London's Guardian newspaper.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Jane Kochersperger, who noted that AEI has received funding from Exxon Mobil in recent years, said yesterday that the think tank "has clearly hit a new low . . . when it's throwing out cash awards under the rubric of 'reason' to create confusion on the status of climate science. Americans are still suffering the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, and it's clearly time for policymakers on both sides of the aisle to take substantive action on global warming and ignore Exxon Mobil's disinformation campaign via climate skeptics."

AEI visiting scholar Kenneth Green — one of two researchers who has sought to commission the critiques — said in an interview that his group is examining the policy debate on global warming, not the science.

"It's completely policy-oriented," said Green, adding that a third of the academics AEI solicited for the project are interested in participating. "Somebody wants to distort this."

Set aside the irony of citing Hurricane Katrina in the context of complaining about those who "create confusion on the status of climate science." The Greenpeace complaint ultimately amounts to nothing more than opposition to critical perspectives on the need for the sort of climate policies Greenpeace supports. Whether or not one likes AEI's work on climate change — some of which has endorsed carbon taxes and other serious measures — this is hardly a substantive argument that AEI did anything unseemly.

One interesting tidbit in the story provides insight on why Steven Schroeder of Texas A&M declined to participate in the AEI project, and further undermines the most outrageous claims against AEI. In particular, the story reports that Schroeder did not believe AEI would have "skewed his results":

Schroeder, who has worked with Green in the past and has questioned some aspects of traditional climate modeling, said in an interview that he did not think AEI would have skewed his results. But he added that he worried his contribution might have been published alongside "off-the-wall ideas" questioning the existence of global warming.

"We worried our work could be misused even if we produced a reasonable report," Schroeder said. "While any human endeavor can be criticized, the IPCC system greatly exceeds the cooperation, openness and scientific rigorousness of the process applied to any other problem area that has significant effects on society."

Faced with such resistance, AEI modified its proposal last month and sent out a new round of offers, asking academics to contribute to a book examining the broad policy options for dealing with global warming.

I have a copy of the model letter Ken Green and Steven Hayward used for the second round of solicitations noted in the WaPo story and, because some have requested it, I am posting it below (even though I don't think it laters the bottom line). So others can judge for themselves, here it is:

This is Steven Hayward and Ken Green writing from the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. We are writing to solicit your thoughts about, and hopefully your participation in, an AEI project on climate change policy. Between the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC due later this year, the Stern Review, and the close of the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period on the intermediate horizon, the time seems propitious for a fresh round of discussion of climate policy. AEI would like to commission a series of essays from a broad range of experts on various general and specific aspects of the issue, around which we should like to organize several conferences in Washington and ultimately a book.

Two general thoughts dominate our thinking about the structure of a useful project. First, in the public mind at least (which is to say, the news media) climate change has tended to be caught in a straightjacket between so-called "skeptics" and so-called "alarmists," with seemingly little room left in the middle for people who may have reasonable doubts or heterodox views about the range of policy prescriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimension. This perception is mistaken, of course, as Andrew Revkin's recent New York Times article on "an emerging middle ground" on climate change made evident. Nonetheless, we would like to attempt to break out of this straightjacket and see if it is possible to create a space for an identifiable "third way" of thinking about the problem that is similar to the various "third way" approaches to other social policy problems that were popular in the 1990s.

Our second general thought is that the chief difficulty of carving out a "third way" on climate change is due to the unwieldy size and complexity of both the scientific inquiry and policy approaches to the problem. We had thought to produce a series of essays to review and critique the forthcoming IPCC FAR, early drafts of which are circulating, but have been persuaded that an IPCC-focused project is too limited. Although some commentary on the IPCC FAR is in order, our latest thinking is broaden our scope. One idea is to solicit essays in two categories. The first category would be along the lines of a blue-sky essay on "What Climate Policies Would I Implement If I Was King for a Day." The second category would be specific critiques of existing or proposed policy responses such as will appear in Working Group III or have been put forward in reports such as the Stern Review. (Such essays might take as their focus a single chapter from Working Group III, or an aspect of the Stern Review.)

Above all we want to have a diverse collection of pre-eminent thinkers on this subject, which is why we are keen to include you in the project. AEI is willing to offer honoraria of up to $10,000 for participating authors, for essays in the range of 7,500 to 10,000 words, to be completed by September 1, and we are keen to work with you to refine an appropriate topic.

As I noted before, I don't think there is much of a story here: A think tank is commissioning work from people who are likely to produce reports that will support the think tank's general mission. When those reports are produced, they can be evaluated on their merits. Insofar as there is now controversy, I understand why the WaPo ran its piece. My point is that there should not have been any controversy in the first place.

UPDATE: According to this report, ExxonMobil was not involved, or even aware, that AEI was soliciting critiques and analyses of the IPCC report and climate policy proposals.