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Global warming activists claim vast amounts of untraceable special interest money fund global warming skeptics and give skeptics an unfair advantage in the global warming debate. The undeniable truth is global warming alarmists raise and spend far more money – including far more untraceable special interest “dark money” – than global warming skeptics.
Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle published a paper last week in the journal Climatic Change identifying 91 conservative and libertarian think tanks that Brulle claims play an influential role opposing global warming programs. Brulle claims the 91 groups receive approximately $900 million in cumulative funding each year, with approximately $64 million coming from foundations that distribute “dark money” that cannot be traced to a particular donor. Brulle claims the $900 million in funding – and especially the $64 million in dark money – tilts the playing field and gives global warming skeptics undue political and public relations influence.
Global warming alarmists and their media allies present Brulle’s paper as “proof” that money drives the global warming debate and the money is heavily skewed in favor of skeptics. For example, UK Guardian environmental reporter Suzanne Goldenberg published an article last week titled “Conservative groups have spent $1bn a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change.” Scientific American published a similar article titled “’Dark Money’ Funds Climate Change Denial Effort.” Liberal pundit and former MSNBC anchor Cenk Uygur posted a 10-minute Internetvideo discussing Brulle’s paper and playing up its findings.
Brulle’s paper and the media narrative may score some temporary points with members of the general public who do not closely follow the global warming debate, but ultimately Brulle’s paper and the media narrative will backfire on global warming activists. The narrative will backfire because the general public is not stupid. Slick lies may win some converts who will not check the facts, but the greater number of people will check the facts and hold the liars accountable.
As an initial matter, despite what Suzanne Goldenberg and the UK Guardian claim, it is palpably untrue that “Conservative groups have spent $1 bn a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change.” Without even addressing the mathematical fact that $900 million is $100 million short of the $1 billion claimed by Goldenberg, Brulle’s paper merely tabulates the total money raised by the 91 conservative think tanks for their total operations regarding all issues they address and does not break down how much of each think tank’s resources are devoted to issues such as economic policy, health care policy, foreign policy, climate policy, etc. Goldenberg tells the lie that all money raised by all conservative and libertarian think tanks is devoted to global warming skepticism. Tell that to the supporters of Obamacare.
A look at some conservative think tank websites illustrates the point. While writing this article on New Year’s Day, I pulled up the website for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which Brulle and the media claim is the conservative think tank receiving and spending the most money on global warming skepticism. AEI has 15 articles featured on the front page of its website, and not a single one focuses on global warming.
I also pulled up the website for the Heritage Foundation, which Brulle and the media claim is the conservative think tank receiving and spending the second most amount of money on global warming skepticism. The Heritage Foundation has 10 articles featured on the front page of its website. None of the 10 focuses on global warming. Merely 2 of the 10 focus on any aspect of energy or environment policy.
Between AEI and Heritage – representing fully 30 percent of the money raised by the 91 conservative think tanks – the global warming issue comprises substantially less than 10 percent of their cumulative time, money and efforts. Even if we generously assign to the global warming issue a full 10 percent of the money raised by the 91 foremost conservative think tanks, this means the 91 conservative think tanks are devoting a mere $90 million per year – rather than the asserted $900 million per year (or Goldenberg’s exaggerated $1 billion per year) – to the global warming debate.
And it is not just AEI and Heritage that devote little attention to the global warming issue. The Hoover Institution, identified as raising and spending the third most money on global warming skepticism, also rarely addresses the global warming topic. The most recent Hoover Institution item I can find addressing the topic is a short op-ed published more than two months ago in National Review Online by a Hoover Institution fellow commenting on a global warming poll. Prior to that short op-ed, the most recent Hoover Institution item I can find is an article published nine months ago supporting a carbon tax.
This brings us to another whopper told by Brulle, Goldenberg and their media allies – the assertion that all the think tanks identified in Brulle’s paper actively fight against global warming activism. To the contrary, two of the three top-funded groups (AEI and the Hoover Institution) support a carbon tax. Other groups identified in Brulle’s paper have similarly expressed support for a carbon tax and global warming activism. At least 25 percent of the funding that Brulle claims goes to skeptical think tanks actually goes to think tanks supporting global warming restrictions.
All told, giving the global warming activists every benefit of the doubt, no more than $90 million of conservative think tank money addresses global warming, and no more than $68 million supports conservative think tank efforts opposing global warming activism. This $68 million is counterbalanced by $22 million for conservative think tank efforts supporting global warming activism. That leaves a net of merely $46 million among 91 conservative think tanks opposing global warming activism.
Even though $46 million is far short of the $1 billion claimed by Goldenberg, $46 million may still seem like a large amount of money. It is only a drop in the bucket, however, compared to the money raised and spent by groups supporting global warming activism.
Two environmental activist groups – Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy – raise more than $1 billion cumulatively per year. These two groups raise more money than the combined funding of the 91 conservative think tanks identified in Brulle’s paper. Just as importantly, these two groups raise money solely for environmental causes and frequently advocate for global warming restrictions. Their $1 billion is not diluted addressing issues such as economic policy, health care policy, foreign policy, etc.
Five environment-specific groups alone raise more than $1.6 billion per year (Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club). All five focus solely on environmental issues and are frequent and prominent advocates for global warming restrictions. When global warming activists claim global warming skeptics receive the lion’s share of funding in the global warming debate, they are lying through their teeth.
Interestingly, Brulle and his media allies place special emphasis on the so-called dark money given to conservative think tanks by foundations with anonymous donors. Only $64 million of the conservative think tanks’ $900 million in total donations come from foundations. At most, only $6.4 million of the “dark money” addresses global warming topics, with a net of only $3.2 million opposing global warming activism. Nevertheless, the assertion is dark money is nefarious money and has a special impact on the debate. As Cenk Uyger claimed in his video post:
“There’s over 140 different foundations … As you’re about to find out here, they’re totally funded by the groups that have a financial interest in making sure that you don’t believe in climate change. So those 140 different foundations are shell groups – they’re set up ironically by companies like Shell – to make sure that you believe something that’s going to help their bottom line that isn’t true.”
Curiously, neither Brulle nor Uyger provides any evidence or source material backing up the assertion that most money donated to conservative foundations is donated by energy companies with an agenda to fund global warming skeptics. They simply make the assertion based on speculation without providing any factual support. However, it is difficult to believe that most conservative foundation money is donated by energy companies with an anti-global warming agenda, especially when the conservative foundations give a large portion of the money to think tanks that support carbon taxes and think tanks that devote little attention the global warming issue.
Putting this minimal conservative dark money in context, liberal foundations with anonymous donors are major funders of global warming activist groups. For example, check out the list of Defenders of Wildlife’s “Select Funders” here. Heck, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project sent out a fundraising letter last week telling people that an “anonymous donor” would match every other donation dollar-for-dollar. Somehow, neither Brulle nor the media remembered to mention these inconvenient truths in their narrative.
The long and short of it is think tanks and activist groups supporting global warming restrictions raise and spend far more money than think tanks and activist groups opposing global warming restrictions. Global warming activists may think they are scoring short-term political points by lying and misleading the public about such funding, but their lies will certainly come back to haunt them. They always do.
[Originally published on Forbes]