Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dark Money - Who funds Climate Change Deniers in the United States?

A new peer reviewed study exposes the major sources of funding of climate deniers in the United States and methods developed more recently to hide this funding as 'dark money'. The study was done by Robert J Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University College of Arts and Sciences and published in Climatic Change.

The major findings of this study reveal that Conservative foundations have bank-rolled the climate change denial countermovement. Although the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil have publicly reduced funding from 2007, this occurred at the same time as a dramatic rise in funding through untraceable sources such as Donors Trust. Most funding for climate denial efforts is now publicly untraceable.

This well funded counter-movement has been successful at muddying the waters of public discourse on climate change even though there is an overhelming consensus among climate scientists and the general science community. Drawing upon conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, trade associations and conservative foundations, with strong links to sympathetic media outlets and conservative politicians it has been able to block effective action by the US Federal government and Congress to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis covered the period 2003 to 2010. It involved looking onto the financial transactions 140 foundations making 5,299 grants totaling $558 million to 91 organizations. According to the data these 91 organizations have an annual income of just over $900 million, with an annual average of $64 million in identifiable foundation support. As most of these organizations are multiple focus organizations, Brulle points out that not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities.

“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,” said Brulle. “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.”

Although much of the recent funding is being siphoned as "dark money", essentially untraceable, Brulle highlights that "enough information is available to document that a number of major conservative foundations have clearly played a crucial role in the development and maintenance of the CCCM."

Brulle's final conclusion in the paper:

With delay and obfuscation as their goals, the U.S. CCCM has been quite successful in recent decades. However, the key actors in this cultural and political conflict are not just the “experts” who appear in the media spotlight. The roots of climate-change denial go deeper, because individuals’ efforts have been bankrolled and directed by organizations that receive sustained support from foundations and funders known for their overall commitments to conservative causes. Thus to fully understand the opposition to climate change legislation, we need to focus on the institutionalized efforts that have built and maintain this organized campaign. Just as in a theatrical show, there are stars in the spotlight. In the drama of climate change, these are often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians, such as Senator James Inhofe. However, they are only the most visible and transparent parts of a larger production. Supporting this effort are directors, script writers, and, most importantly, a series of producers, in the form of conservative foundations. Clarifying the institutional dynamics of the CCCM can aid our understanding of how anthropogenic climate change has been turned into a controversy rather than a scientific fact in the U.S.

“The real issue here is one of democracy. Without a free flow of accurate information, democratic politics and government accountability become impossible,” said Brulle in the University media release. “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.”