In New Orleans at the annual conference of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics I enjoyed an encounter with Bill Butos and Thomas McQuade who have been working on climate science. This paper contains a mass of information on the number of dollars devoted to climate science and the innumerable channels that contribute to it, a great many of them driven directly out of the office of the President of the United States.
Our overall conclusion is that a confluence of scientific uncertainty, political opportunism, and ideological predisposition in an area of scientific study of phenomena of great practical interest has fomented an artificial boom in that scientific discipline. The boom is driven and sustained by the actions of Big Players—the IPCC and various government entities—in funding the boom and singularly in promoting only one among a number of plausible hypotheses describing the relevant phenomena.
A key feature of the US scene is the Global Change Research Act of 1990 which established institutional structures operating out of the White House to develop and oversee the implementation of the National Global Change Research Plan. It also created the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to coordinate executive departments’ and agencies’ climate-change research activities. The USGCRP drives the research components of thirteen participating government agencies, each of which independently designates funds in accordance with the program’s objectives.
The departments and agencies whose activities compose the bulk of such funding include independent agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the quasi-official Smithsonian Institute as well as executive departments such as Agriculture, Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], National Institute of Standards and Technology), Energy (DOE), Interior (DOI, the U.S. Geological Survey and conservation initiatives), State, and Treasury.
As of 2014, the coordination of climate-change-related activities resides largely in the president’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, which houses several separate offices, including Environment and Energy, Polar Sciences, Ocean Sciences, Clean Energy and Materials R&D, Climate Adaptation and Ecosystems, National Climate Assessment, and others. The Office of the President also maintains the National Science and Technology Council, which oversees the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability and its Subcommittee on Climate Change Research. The subcommittee is charged with the responsibility of planning and coordinating with the interagency USGCRP. Also, the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy is housed within the president’s Domestic Policy Council. Although Congress authorizes executive-branch budgets, the priorities these departments and agencies follow are set by the White House. As expressed in various agency and executive-branch strategic plans, these efforts have been recently organized around four components: (1) climate-change research and education, (2) emissions reduction through “clean” energy technologies and investments, (3) adaptation to climate change, and (4) international climate-change leadership.
The impact of government funding on scientific research is a matter not only of the amounts but also of the concentration of research monies arising from a single source and brought to bear on particular kinds of scientific research. Government is that single source and has Big Player effects because it has access to a deep pool of taxpayer (and, indeed, borrowed and created) funds as well as regulatory and enforcement powers that necessarily place it on a different footing from other players and institutions.
Section 1705 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorized the DOE to provide taxpayer loan guarantees and direct-investment subsidies for the development of green technologies. As the program wound down in 2014, $16 billion had been allocated to twenty-seven firms. As Christine Lakatos (2014) has reported in detail, the majority of the firms had officers or investors with close ties to political insiders at the federal and state levels, campaign bundlers, donors, and DOE agency officials. Of these firms, several have declared bankruptcy, accounting for $3 billion in taxpayer losses, and several others that Victor Nava and Julian Morris (2013) list as “troubled recipients” account for another $3.5 billion.58 Of the eighteen firms that were not listed as “troubled,” fourteen, representing $11.3 billion in loan guarantees, had not completed their projects as of the end of 2013, and only four firms with loan guarantees of $352.6 million had completed projects. In summary, of the $16 billion in DOE loan guarantees, about $15.6 billion represent bankrupt, troubled, or incomplete taxpayer investments as of 2013.