Scientists Getting Filthy Rich On Climate Change? Here Are The Facts

This train has no gravy on it.

25/05/2017 2:53 PM AEST | Updated 26/05/2017 10:55 AM AEST
Not money, just science.

When people attempt to debunk climate science, they come up with some pretty fanciful theories.

For example, people try to downplay the rapid rate of warming in the industrial era by saying "the climate's changed before", even though countless sources show that no, not this quickly it hasn't. Not even close.

But there's one line about climate science which almost defies belief. It's the idea -- often circulated by people working for billion-dollar fossil fuel companies -- that climate scientists are in it for the money.

In a moment, we'll give you three specific cases which provide fantastic examples of why this argument is a furphy. But first, a little background..

On Monday, HuffPost Australia launched Breaking The Ice. It's a podcast about climate scientists. Not so much about the science per se, but a series of intimate conversations with the people behind it. Because these people are actually humans.

The subject for Episode 1. is Michael E. Mann, the scientist best known for the hockey stick graph, which first showed the link between carbon emissions and warming in a way that the public could readily comprehend.

We shared a link to the podcast on Twitter, Mann retweeted it, others responded to his retweet, a provocateur emerged, and then all Twittery hell broke loose, as it so often does.

Wealthy on government grants? There were some dry-witted retorts to that accusation, including this one:

And this one:

Michael Mann himself made a fascinating point in our podcast about about the myth of getting wealthy on grants. He said:

"That's not what drove me. There isn't a whole lot of money in science in general."

And also:

"With the math skills that you develop in areas of science like maths and physics [where he started his career], if your goal is to make a lot of money there are lots of opportunities to do that elsewhere."

Many of Mann's former university colleagues took their skills to Wall Street and cashed in. But Mann moved into climate science, because he believed in the importance of it.

HuffPost Australia then called a young scientist we know in Tasmania, who has a three-year grant to study ocean warming -- where, for the record, most of the world's warming is happening.

This scientist preferred not to be identified, but he was happy to tell us he's on $80,000 a year, that his project is being funded for three years, and that both his tenure and salary are considerably more than most young climate scientists get in other countries.

The most impressive part? He's in it for the love, not the money, and estimates he could earn $200,000 as a data scientist in an industry like IT. Instead he earns just $80,000. That tells you plenty about the motivation of climate scientists.

"It's kind of like these people have never met a scientist," our Tasmanian researcher said of those who would accuse him of clamouring for his share of a pool of billions of dollars in grants.

"We are people who are in it for increasing society's knowledge, not the money."

A British climate modeller and educator we spoke to had similar views. She told us she rejected two much higher paying jobs -- one in IT consultancy, one in communication -- to keep studying climate science.

"As a particle physics PhD, I could be earning big money in the city working in finance," she said, echoing the experience of Michael Mann.

And here's something you should really read. It's by Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian climate scientist who works at Texas Tech University. This really says it all, and it's well worth reading every word.

Mann made another salient point about grants in our podcast. He said that the best way to get the really big research grants in science is to study or discover something which no one else is into.

Climate science doesn't exactly fit that category. There's not much gravy on this train. But there is a lot of science.

Click below to subscribe to the Breaking The Ice podcast by HuffPost Australia on iTunes.

Or if you believe "there's no consensus among climate scientists", you'll discover that yes, there effectively is -- especially on the CAUSES of global warming (as opposed to its effects, which is what many scientists are modelling now).

Many are debunked sites like Skeptical Science, which bills itself as being "skeptical about global warming skepticism".

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