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All Aboard the Climate Gravy Train
There was a time when climate scientists were not extremely well paid, but that is no longer the case.


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Iain Murray

Global-warming alarmists often portray climate scientists as poorly paid academics whose judgment is impervious to the influence of money. This seems strange given the billions of taxpayer dollars that have been invested in climate science over the past few years. And as the public-choice school of economics has clearly shown, the opportunity for reward affects even supposedly disinterested professionals.

Therefore, it is fair to ask: Just how well rewarded are climate scientists? As it turns out, by some measures they are paid as well as corporate CEOs.

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When it comes to comparing the annual salaries of various professions, there is an obvious problem. Some work extremely long hours — about 2,600 a year for firefighters — while others work far fewer — 1,400 a year for teachers. To iron out this difficulty, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey converts yearly salaries into hourly pay. From that we can see that teachers, at $37.91 an hour, are actually much more highly paid than firefighters, at $21.68 an hour, despite their comparable annual salaries ($53,000 for teachers, $55,000 for firefighters).

What about climate scientists? Well, university lecturers and professors earn an average of $49.88 an hour over a 1,600-hour work year, for a total salary of about $80,000. In the public sector, “atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary” earn considerably more than the average university teacher ($70.61 per hour). They also work much less (1,471 hours each year), and despite their lower workload, they pull down about $104,000 a year. Climate scientists’ hourly pay ranks them higher than business-school teachers at public universities, who earn $63.35 an hour, but not public-sector law-school professors, who earn over $100 an hour.

So climate scientists are very well compensated, out-earning all other faculty outside of law in hourly-wage terms. What about the rest of the public sector? Astonishingly, only one other public-sector profession — psychiatrist — pays better than climate science, at just over $73 an hour. In other words, climate scientists have the third-highest-paid public-sector job, ranking above judges.

What about the private sector? That’s led by airline pilots, who earn about $112 an hour, but work for only 1,100 hours a year, followed by company CEOs at an average of $91 an hour. Physicians and surgeons earn almost as much as CEOs, at $89.51 an hour. Private-sector law-school professors, interestingly enough, earn far less than their public-school counterparts, at $82 an hour. After that come professor-level jobs in engineering, at $76.11, and dentists, at $73.19. These are the only private-sector professions that pay more than climate science. Taking the public and private sectors together, by my reckoning, climate scientist is the tenth-highest-paid profession in the nation.

Bear in mind that these averages are statistical means, and are therefore inflated by extremely high salaries at the top end, particularly in the case of CEOs and physicians. If we look at median earnings — what the earner right in the middle of the pack gets — we see that climate scientists get $75.29 an hour, compared with private-sector CEOs at $75.48 and physicians at $81.73.

The story gets even more interesting when we look back at the figures from 2005, the year before Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth launched the current wave of climate alarmism. Back then, university teachers were paid $43.16 an hour, while climate scientists were paid $54.65 an hour. In other words, climate-science compensation has risen by 30 percent in five years, while pay for other university instructors has increased by only 15 percent.

There was a time when climate scientists were not extremely well paid, but that is no longer the case. Not only have their earnings grown far faster than their colleagues’, but on an hourly basis they now earn as much as CEOs. When climate skeptics talk about a global-warming gravy train, the numbers back them up.

— Iain Murray heads the Center for Economic Freedom at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.



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