Climate change: One little problem with the “they’re in it for the money” argument

I’m always surprised to see climate-change deniers resort to the argument that scientists who warn about global warming are “only in it for the money.” Do they not realize the tiny amount of money that goes into climate change research compared to the vast sums reaped by the fossil fuel industry?

Then it occurred to me: Maybe they actually have no idea what it’s like to be a scholarly researcher, and how little money this research earns for them. So I decided to look up the numbers myself. Here’s what I found:

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The fossil fuel industry in the US brings in about 100 times more revenue than the government spends on climate change research. So if you’re going to argue, “they’re in it for the money,” you probably want to take this into account. The fossil fuel industry has much more to gain by “proving” that global climate change isn’t caused by their products than publicly-funded scientists do by showing that fossil fuels do cause climate change.

Or consider another way of looking at the problem. How much can an individual with a PhD earn working on climate change research in academia versus working for the fossil fuel industry?

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Once again, if you’re just in it for the money, you and your PhD are much better off working for industry than in a university research position.

This is something that is mind-blowingly obvious to anyone who works in or around academia (but perhaps not so much for the general public). The people who do this work aren’t in it for the money. If they were just interested in making a lot of money, for someone with their level of education, there are many, many other, easier ways to do it.

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