Top 5 of 2011 - #4: Who's attacking climate scientists?

Facing South has long reported on the corporate-funded public-relations campaign aimed at sowing doubt and confusion about the scientific consensus around manmade global warming.

In past years we have looked at how Art Pope -- a leading conservative benefactor from North Carolina with close ties to the Koch oil barons -- has funded organizations that spread misinformation about climate science. We have investigated how science-denying think tanks have tried to block state-level efforts to address global-warming pollution. And we exposed how Big Oil -- a primary funder of climate-science denial -- was behind a shady attack on legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

We continued that work this year. We reported on how European polluters were financing Senate global warming deniers and climate bill blockers. We examined how an industry-funded climate crank became a media darling. And we dug into another climate-science contrarian's oil-industry ties.

But in 2011, Facing South's highest-profile story about climate-science shenanigans was our in-depth investigation into the forces behind a new type of attack on climate scientists: In October, we revealed the dirty-energy interests behind an effort to target those scientists using the Freedom of Information Act.

Our story looked at the American Tradition Institute -- a free-market think tank that wants the public to believe human-caused global warming is a scientific fraud -- and its lawsuit against the University of Virginia seeking the release of emails and other documents from former professor Michael Mann (in photo), now at Penn State. One of the world's preeminent climatologists, Mann has become a target of the climate-denial movement because of his research documenting the recent spike in earth's temperatures.

Facing South obtained documentation that showed all of ATI's funding is coming from individuals and organizations with close ties to the fossil-fuel industry. Our reporting was featured by other media outlets including Grist, the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette and the British newspaper The Guardian.

We followed that investigation with reports on how the court allowed Mann to intervene in ATI's lawsuit in order to protect his privacy interests and academic freedom, and on how the same week as that hearing an ATI attorney was a featured speaker at a Koch-funded conference. We also brought readers the story of how ATI has teamed up with climate contrarians in North Carolina to attack that state's renewable-energy program using misleading information.

As the climate crisis deepens and public pressure to take action builds, dirty-energy interests are expected to step up their efforts to block a more sustainable future -- and Facing South plans to be there to expose them.