Op-ed: The Regulatory Studies Center is perpetuating climate denial

Victoria Freire is a sophomore studying international affairs and history.

For the seemingly millionth time, our nation is witnessing a catastrophic climate event before our eyes. Last month, severe winter weather left more than 2.6 million people without power in Texas. Americans are freezing to death in their homes as extreme weather, brought on by the ever-worsening climate crisis, grips the nation. It has never been more clear that we are running out of time to save our planet.

In times like these, of emergency and chaos, we tend to – and should – reflect inward. Are we doing all that we can to provide aid to others and prevent the destruction of our planet? Maybe we are trying, but an issue like climate change is so existential and overwhelming that our individual actions feel futile. But the University’s actions are not futile, and officials have a huge responsibility to do their part in curbing climate change.

While fossil fuel divestment and the recent announcement of a ban on single-use plastics seem promising, sinister actors remain. I am talking, of course, about the Regulatory Studies Center, the academic research center housed inside the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Earlier this month, the RSC published a statement asserting “no one in the Regulatory Studies Center questions climate science.” But this could not be further from the truth.

Julian Morris, a discredited economist who has published under the auspices of the RSC and GW name, is a known climate denier. In his public interest comment for the RSC, he argued in favor of rolling back an Obama-era fuel economy rule, which would increase air pollution during an already dire and ongoing pandemic and climate crisis. In 2018, he claimed “the effects of climate change are unknown – but the benefits may well be greater than the costs for the foreseeable future.” Similarly, Morris has accused scientists, governments and environmentalists of propagating the “myth” of climate change for their self-interests.

Morris later went on to found the International Policy Network, a United Kingdom think tank that disputes climate science. Unsurprisingly, the mission of the IPN was to combat “biased and alarmist claims about human-induced climate change.” The think tank has argued various unscientific and unsubstantiated claims, including that climate change “would benefit humans by increasing fish stocks” and that sea levels are not rising. Most disturbingly, Morris has stated that climate science is “far from settled,” in addition to casting serious doubt about the climate crisis.

While Morris’ personal beliefs and published work are particularly outrageous, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Richard Belzer, an independent consultant on regulatory economics, has been twice published by the RSC and shares a history of climate denial similar to that of Morris. Belzer has worked for conservative think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and R Street Institute, and his clients include Exxon Mobil, the American Chemistry Council – a fossil fuel interest group – and Fitzgerald Glider Kits. The FGK, in particular, has a history of pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back air pollution protections on heavy trucks, which found success under the Trump administration. Belzer has also encouraged the Trump administration to rescind the EPA’s endangerment finding, a law that establishes the overwhelming scientific evidence that greenhouse gases threaten the public health and well-being of current and future generations. Most alarmingly, at a climate change conference hosted by the Heartland Institute in 2019, Belzer admitted: “The goal here is not to change the policy but to correct the science.” To be clear, his suggestion that climate science is flawed and needs correcting is nothing short of climate denial.

This anti-science agenda is not limited to independent consultants. The most damning evidence of the RSC’s climate denial lies at the top. RSC Founder and Director Susan Dudley submitted a public comment alongside another RSC research professor in 2014 arguing against a proposed increase to the EPA’s estimated social cost of carbon. They claimed the proposal was “one-sided” because it did not account for the potential of human-induced warming to prevent another ice age. In other words, the RSC director herself believes that an upcoming ice age is just as much as, if not more, of a threat than global warming. But do not take my word for it, as they have expressed themselves: “Absent warming, we know that glaciers will cover New York City again one day,” they said. “Moreover, the effects of the glacial advance will not be limited to coastlines – we will likely lose Chicago, too, and most of Canada.”

It is abundantly clear through the researchers, scholars and directors involved with the RSC, that their claims of “unbiased” research lack truth. Why would they go to such great lengths to deny climate science, then reject their denial? To me and likely many others, the RSC looks like it has something to hide, that it has an agenda set by Exxon Mobil and the Koch Network, which have poured millions into the RSC’s deregulatory work. But make no mistake, an agenda in favor of big oil and climate denial has no place in academia, much less a prestigious university in our nation’s capital.

Time is running out. We are already witnessing catastrophic climate events across our nation where millions have become vulnerable to starvation and hypothermia. We know the crisis will only get worse, and soon, irreversible. We cannot continue to allow climate deniers to publish  deregulatory work under GW’s name.

It is past time to wake up and abolish the Koch-funded RSC. Lives depend on it.

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