The source for author Jordan Peterson’s recent claim that climate change cannot be modelled was a climate science denier who received money from a libertarian think tank funded by oil companies.
The Canadian psychologist was widely criticised for spreading climate misinformation this week after telling the popular Joe Rogan podcast’s 11 million subscribers that climate models were full of errors that increase over time, and that climate is too complicated to model accurately.
Singer, an American atmospheric physicist who died in 2020, argued that climate change was natural and not increased by human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. He argued that warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions was “trivial”.
In 1990 he founded the Science and Environment Policy Project (SEPP) that expounded these views. In 2014 DeSmog revealed that Singer received $5,000 a month from US right-wing think tank the Heartland Institute, which has taken donations from oil interests including ExxonMobil and the Koch family. Singer was a speaker at a 2012 Heartland conference where sponsors received $67 million from Exxon, Koch and the Scaife Family Foundations.
Singer frequently criticised climate modelling by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the peer-reviewed authority on climate science made up of hundreds of climate scientists.
In a 2016 article for American Thinker, Singer wrote: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has to provide proof for significant human-caused climate change; yet their climate models have never been validated and are rapidly diverging from actual observations.
“The real threat to humanity comes not from any (trivial) greenhouse warming but from cooling periods creating food shortages and famines.”
‘The Scientists Were Right’
Dr Simon Evans, policy editor at Carbon Brief, told DeSmog: “Back in the early 1970s, scientists were building simple climate models and they hypothesised that rising greenhouse gas emissions would warm the planet.
“Well, the results are in, and those scientists were right. Not only that, those models – and other more recent ones – have been pretty accurate in estimating how much warming we would get.”
Peterson is known for his self-help books and opposition to “identity politics”, but has increasingly been spreading climate science misinformation. In his Joe Rogan interview, Peterson advocated hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas – known as fracking – and dismissed the idea that greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced to net zero by 2050.
In an appearance on BBC Question Time in November, Peterson criticised the COP26 UN climate summit and said developing countries should not be encouraged to control their CO2 emissions.
Last week Peterson shared a tweet from Net Zero Watch, a rebranding of the climate science-denying Global Warming Policy Forum, which questioned whether wind power is a “reliable, efficient and in-demand technology”. Peterson’s tweet added, regarding net zero targets: “Any “policy maker” who aims at zero anything has instantly demonstrated his or her incompetence.”
Jennie King, head of civic action and education at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think tank, said: “This latest episode reveals a growing trend, whereby ‘non-climate influencers’ are becoming central nodes of mis- and disinformation for a mainstream public and exposing them to views which either deny the reality and impacts of climate change, or explicitly undermine trust in the science and institutions working to marshal a response.
“There are absolutely things to be debated and agreed around climate action, governance, timelines and finance, but the fundamental bases that Peterson calls into question are entirely ill-informed and do not move the conversation forward,” she added.