The head of the study, a longtime critic of the global warming consensus, will testify before a House panel. Leading climate scientists worry that the project, funded in part by an oil billionaire's foundation, has an agenda.
March 31, 2011- An effort by a handful of UC Berkeley scientists to reexamine temperature data underlying global warming research has landed in the center of a national political debate over government regulation.
The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study is led by physicist Richard Muller, a longtime critic of the scientific consensus on climate change, who plans to testify on the effort Thursday before the House Science Committee in the latest of several congressional inquiries on climate science since the GOP majority was seated.
The Berkeley project's biggest private backer, with $150,000, is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Oil billionaires Charles and David Koch are the nation's most prominent funders of efforts to prevent curbs on fossil-fuel burning, the biggest contributor to planet-warming greenhouse gases.
Temperature data from tens of thousands of weather stations across the globe, many of which have incomplete records, are "very contentious," Muller said in an interview. "The skeptics are raising legitimate concerns."
Leading climate scientists, however, say the three most in-depth temperature studies agree on the overall severity and pace of global warming. They worry that the Berkeley effort, and the hearing Thursday, will add to public confusion on a topic that is as politically polarized as it is scientifically complex.
Muller said Koch and other contributors will have no influence over the results. "We have no prejudice, no preconception of what we are going to get," he said, adding that the Koch donation was less than the $188,587 contributed by the federal Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where Muller is a senior scientist.
"Global warming is a serious problem," Muller said in a lecture at UC Berkeley last week. "But people simply don't believe the story anymore because the story was exaggerated…. Not a single polar bear has died because of receding ice."
The Berkeley study comes as efforts to curb planet-heating emissions from industrial plants and motor vehicles are under attack in Congress. The Supreme Court in 2007 said the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, but Republicans and coal-state Democrats, citing uncertainty over the science, are sponsoring legislation to thwart that effort.