Richard Muller has a lot in common with Amory Lovins. They both received MacArthur Foundation Fellowships (aka “Genius Grants”) several decades ago – Muller in 1982 and Lovins in 1993. They both get a lot of attention from the commercial media and from elected politicians.
They both were active members of large environmental groups early in their careers (Lovins was a campaigner for Friends of the Earth UK in the 1970s and Muller was active in the Sierra Club until he resigned in the 1980s). Muller is a physicist while Lovins claims to be a physicist. (Lovins never earned a degree from any college or university).
They both advocate similar prescriptions for future energy supply systems, with a strong focus on energy conservation, inherently unreliable systems that depend on the weather (wind, solar and biofuels), and a rather large dose of natural gas. They both have mustaches.
On nuclear energy, they have often parted company; Lovins has been antinuclear activist for more than 35 years. In contrast, here is how Muller described his position on nuclear energy during a Grist interview published in October 2008:
Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
Oh yes. [Laughs.] In fact, back in the early ’80s, I resigned from the Sierra Club over the issue of global warming. At that time, they were opposing nuclear power. What I wrote them in my letter of resignation was that, if you oppose nuclear power, the U.S. will become much more heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and that this is a pollutant to the atmosphere that is very likely to lead to global warming.
During that same interview, Muller also made the following comment:
It absolutely has to be. Yes. And when it isn’t, then science loses the credibility, and that means the politicians lose science. I try to be nonpartisan. I tend to become a little bit of an advocate on nuclear, just because I have a long history of that — but on everything else, I try to tell the physics.
Unfortunately for the good guys – the people who recognize the fundamental difference between an energy dense fuel source that produces no CO2 and a hydrocarbon that is a vapor at standard temperature and pressure (STP) and produces 60% as much CO2 per unit heat as burning coal – Muller seems to have moved away from his nuclear advocacy just when he is getting the most media attention of his long career.
I have listened to three separate interviews with him – one with Ira Flatow on Science Friday, one with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, and one with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC – that were conducted during the past week. Not once during any of those interviews did Richard Muller mention the word “nuclear”.
Instead, he consistently stated that there were just two things that society could do to slow global warming. We can continue a worldwide effort towards conservation and energy efficiency and we can convert as much electricity generation as possible from coal to natural gas. According to Muller, natural gas is the only replacement for coal that rapidly growing countries like China and India can afford.
He is apparently unaware of the fact that natural gas is a limited quantity fuel source that requires not only a substantial industrial effort for the drilling process but also a massive infrastructure investment for pipelines and other delivery systems. Since he is speaking to American audiences, he seems to believe that none of us know that natural gas prices are 3-6 times as high outside of North American as they are inside. He also made the startlingly incorrect claim that burning natural gas produces only 1/3 as much CO2 as burning coal.
The heavy promotion of natural gas, and the absence of the ‘N’ word spoke volumes and made me look deeper into Muller’s background and funding sources.
I found something else that Muller has in common with Amory Lovins. They both receive a large portion of their funds from the oil and gas industry or from individuals who make their money from the business of financing, finding, extracting, transporting, refining and distributing hydrocarbon based fuels to a worldwide market that exceeds three trillion dollars per year.
As Amory Lovins told Amy Goodman during a July 16, 2008 Democracy Now interview:
You know, I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years, and they understand how expensive it is to drill for oil.
In the case of Richard Muller, it is widely known that his research has been supported by the Koch brothers, two famous billionaires whose family made most of its money in the oil, gas and petrochemical busienss. In fact, several of the headlines touting Muller’s “conversion” from skeptic to a true believer in the warming effect of CO2 include the words “Koch-funded”. Here is a quote from Amy Goodman’s introduction of Muller as her guest on the August 2, 2012 show:
Richard Muller’s admission has gained additional attention because some of his research has been founded by Charles Koch of the Koch brothers, the Right-wing billionaires known for funding climate skeptic groups like The Heartland Institute. Richard Muller is the author of the newly published book, “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.” Welcome to Democracy Now!, talk about your change.
Here is how Muller described the Koch Foundation funding:
RICHARD MULLER: Well, The Koch Foundation provided about one quarter or maybe it was one-sixth of our funding and they made it clear to us that the reason they funded us was that we did recognize that these issues were real, issues that Michael Mann did not accept as real. But, I think he was wrong. I think there were valid questions and we addressed them, and they’ve expressed nothing but delight that we have been able to reach a conclusion. So, I think this cartoon-like characterization of the Koch Foundation as being right-wing deniers, I found that to be completely wrong.
Though all three of the interviews in the liberal leaning media sources listed above mentioned the fact that the Koch brothers are famous for supporting conservative causes, none of the interviewers thought to question the relationship between Koch money and Muller’s strong advocacy of using more natural gas. Though Muller denied any interference from the Koch foundation in his research and data analysis efforts, it seems obvious that there was at least one implied string attached to the money.
It is profitable for the gas industry if supposedly unbiased scientists like Muller and Lovins promote natural gas as a somewhat lower carbon alternative to coal. It’s no wonder that Koch Foundation funders have “expressed nothing but delight” that Muller’s project was able to reach a conclusion that CO2 is the cause of global warming; that conclusion supports the current meme that it is important to convert from coal to gas as rapidly as possible. It is beneficial to the natural gas pushers to help the scientists attract attention in media outlets where their advocacy might help to alleviate some of the activism being directed against the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
It would be harmful to the profit prospects of the natural gas industry if a scientist whose opinions even liberals might be convinced to respect spread the truth that ultra-low emission nuclear was a safe and capable replacement for BOTH coal and natural gas in electricity generation. It would be terrible for the natural gas industry if the word got out that uranium, thorium and plutonium are not just a temporary bridge fuel, but that the trio of heavy metals is capable of supplying abundant, reliable, clean, and safe energy use for several millennia into the future.
The persistent effort to damn nuclear energy by completely ignoring its well known capabilities in a discussion about solutions to CO2 emissions is blindingly obvious to me, but that is because I view the world through a rather uniquely focused lens. The messaging is subtle enough to be overlooked by almost everyone else. In order to share my thoughts and their bases as widely as possible, I am classifying this post as a smoking gun and calling out Richard Muller as a natural gas salesman in a “converted skeptic” costume.
PS – there is one point I want to make as clearly as possible. I am not saying that fossil fuel money has changed the results of the work that Muller has done. I am saying that fossil fuel money has helped to change the amount of attention it is being given and might have changed the recommended actions that Muller is advocating in response to the situation he investigated in his detailed analysis.
Master Resource (October 27, 2011) – BEST as Bad: The Irrelevance of Richard Muller’s Vaunted Proclamation (warming vs. catastrophe in a political atmosphere)
NewsBusters (October 23, 2011) WaPo Punked by Berkeley Warmist Posing as Skeptic
Watts Up With That (July 30, 2012) Muller on MSNBC – what he didn’t say was interesting
No Agenda Show (August 2, 2012) No Agenda Show 431 (Note: Look under the Agenda 21 dropdown menu for the clip titled “Richard Muller-gas.mp3”
Dot Earth (July 30, 2012) A Closer Look at Climate Studies Promoted Before Publication