Climate change denialism: Follow the money?

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Fossil fuel companies and conservative foundations continue to pour millions of dollars into politically and economically motivated efforts to deny climate science.

Study finds that most funding for anti-science groups can’t be traced to specific donors

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even though climate scientists are in near total agreement about how and why Earth is steadily heating up, the political arguments over global warming continue — in large part because a well-funded disinformation network is deliberately peddling half-truths, twisted facts and even outright lies.

Since a lot of the money flows through back channels and cover organizations, it’s not always easy to tell exactly who is paying for what. But that all just got a bit easier after some detailed analysis by Drexel University environmental sociologist Dr. Robert J. Brulle. In a peer-reviewed study, Brulle looked the sources of funding that maintain the effort to deny climate science.

After analyzing the financial structure of the organizations that constitute the core of the climate-denier movement and their sources of monetary support, Brulle found that the largest and most consistent funders are a number of well-known conservative foundations — but the majority of donations are “dark money,” or concealed funding.

“The climate change countermovement has had a real political and ecological impact on the failure of the world to act on the issue of global warming,” Brulle said in a statement.

Between 2003 and 2010, 140 foundations made 5,299 grants totaling $558 million to 91 organizations that are trying to cast doubt on climate science. Brulle traced the money by listing 118 important climate denial organizations in the U.S. He then coded data on philanthropic funding for each organization, combining information from the Foundation Center with financial data submitted by organizations to the Internal Revenue Service.

But most individuals and groups who contribute to the climate denial movement apparently want to hide their activities because most funding for denial efforts remains untraceable. About 75 percent of the income of these organizations comes from unidentifiable sources.

He also found that Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, two of the largest supporters of climate science denial, have recently pulled back from publicly funding what he calls “countermovement” organizations.But even as traceable money declined, the amount of funding flowing through third party pass-through foundations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funders cannot be traced, has risen dramatically.

Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, conducted the study during a year-long fellowship at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. The study was published recently in Climatic Change, one of the top 10 climate science journals in the world.

The climate change countermovement is a well-funded and organized effort to undermine public faith in climate science and block action by the U.S. government to regulate emissions. This countermovement involves a large number of organizations, including conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, trade associations and conservative foundations, with strong links to sympathetic media outlets and conservative politicians.

“Like a play on Broadway, the countermovement has stars in the spotlight — often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians — but behind the stars is an organizational structure of directors, script writers and producers, in the form of conservative foundations. If you want to understand what’s driving this movement, you have to look at what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Key findings include:

  • Conservative foundations have bank-rolled denial. The largest and most consistent funders of organizations orchestrating climate change denial are a number of well-known conservative foundations, such as the Searle Freedom Trust, the John William Pope Foundation, the Howard Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation. These foundations promote ultra-free-market ideas in many realms.
  • Koch and ExxonMobil have recently pulled back from publicly visible funding. From 2003 to 2007, the Koch Affiliated Foundations and the ExxonMobil Foundation were heavily involved in funding climate-change denial organizations. But since 2008, they are no longer making publicly traceable contributions.
  • Funding has shifted to pass through untraceable sources. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to denial organizations by the Donors Trust has risen dramatically. Donors Trust is a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation now provides about 25 percent of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations engaged in promoting systematic denial of climate change.
“The real issue here is one of democracy. Without a free flow of accurate information, democratic politics and government accountability become impossible,” said Brulle. “Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square. Powerful funders are supporting the campaign to deny scientific findings about global warming and raise public doubts about the roots and remedies of this massive global threat. At the very least, American voters deserve to know who is behind these efforts.”
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4 Responses

  1. Today’s SDN contains a climate denier piece on the Opinions page. She asserts that the world is cooling, not heating, using cherry picked data. I would like to see you, Bob, refute this nonsense.

    • All you need to do is go to some of Bob’s old posts and follow the links. Words aren’t needed, look at the pictures like the front page right now on this one http://www.realclimate.org/ and there are many more on that site if you look at its links. I follow the links on some of the posts and save them because I tend to make speeches and always get called to “prove it or siddown!”

      • Thank you, Linda. I was speaking more to the need for a public response to the piece in the SDN–widely read in Summit County. If it is not refuted, many will believe that it is authoritative. It sounds like you would be a terrific person to do that. Would you?

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