Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
A new report funded by big oil and big tobacco has the chutzpah to complain about corporate influence on the climate debate.
A month ago I was contacted by a journalist who works for Greenwire, an American publication that describes itself as the “leader in energy and environmental policy news.” He sent me a series of questions, one group of which read as follows:
Many of these groups (Heartland, CEI, etc.) get donations from foundations linked to the fossil fuels industry. Should that in your opinion cast any doubt on their motives in questioning climate change? Or is that unimportant?
CEI stands for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Like the Heartland Institute, it is a think tank that believes societies prosper when governments reduce – rather than expand – red tape. It believes in the power of ordinary people and small businesses to create jobs and the sort of wealth that funds schools, hospitals, the arts, and so forth.
This is a perfectly legitimate – even compelling – perspective. Those who think that government bureaucrats dreaming up thousands of new regulations every year is what makes the world go round are equally entitled to their point-of-view. But one doesn’t need to do much reading on green websites before getting the impression that “right-wing” and “conservative” think tanks such as the Heartland and CEI are indistinguishable from Satan. The big piece of evidence for this, we’re told, is that they accept money from fossil fuel companies.
My e-mail response to that particular line of inquiry on the part of the journalist read as follows:
I have written numerous blog posts about the fossil fuels funding issue, and my analysis is quite different from the one that is normally heard. The short version is that green groups take lots of fossil fuel money directly – and lots more from fossil-fuel funded foundations. The source of the Rockefeller Foundation fortune is Standard Oil. John D. Rockefeller was its founder.
If fossil fuel money is dirty when skeptics take it, why isn’t it dirty when Greenpeace helps itself to the Rockefeller fortune? Why isn’t it dirty when Rajendra Pachauri (the chairman of the IPCC) uses it to fund his annual sustainability conference – both via direct sponsorships from oil companies, and via grants from the Rockefeller Foundation (see the bottom of my blog post here)?
If people really believe that oil money taints things, why doesn’t anyone care about the 40 years of oil funding that has gone to the World Wildlife Fund? The WWF’s first corporate sponsor was Shell – see my blog post: http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2012/04/11/the-wwfs-vast-pool-of-oil-money/
Why isn’t there more concern about the $25 million in fossil fuel funding the Sierra Club took recently – see my blog post: http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2012/02/17/big-oil-money-for-me-but-not-for-thee/
My background is investigative journalism. It seems to me the environmental press corps has been overlooking some profound shortcomings in the greens’ standard arguments about fossil fuel funding.
I can find no evidence that any of these comments made it into print. There are many potential explanations for this, some of which would have been beyond the journalist’s control. But I was reminded of the exchange while reading an absolutely brilliant piece by Ronald Bailey over at Reason magazine.
It’s about a new report issued by a left-leaning activist organization that goes by the highly misleading name of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). One need not be a scientist to be considered a member of this group. Indeed, as blogger Anthony Watts has demonstrated, so long as you provide the UCS with a credit card it’ll sign you up. Even if you are a dog. See here, here, here, and here.
The report is titled A Climate of Corporate Control: How Corporations Have Influenced the U.S. Dialogue on Climate Science and Policy. It’s 72 pages long and may be downloaded here.
The first page tells us the report is a project of the “scientific integrity program” of the UCS. The Acknowledgements page informs us that it was made possible by funding from, among others, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. Ah, yes. And where does that entity get its money?
As has been mentioned over at the Climate-Resistance blog, the Grantham Foundation is bankrolled by hedge-fund manager Jeremy Grantham. In August of last year his fund owned millions of shares in fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil. The total value of those shares amounted to nearly $1.5 billion. The dividends associated with that portion of his portfolio alone added $28 million to his bottom line.
So the Union of Concerned Scientists has released a climate-related report that has, itself, been indirectly funded by big oil and big tobacco. The primary purpose of this report is to complain that corporations are influencing the climate debate. Honestly. Moral coherence seems to get rarer by the day, doesn’t it?
Bailey’s evisceration of this report makes even me squirm. He notes that the Los Angeles Times coverage of the UCS report discussed General Electric. This quote from the newspaper article provides a sense of the quality of the report’s analysis – as well as the gullible mainstream media’s presentation of it:
General Electric has backed six environmental and non-partisan research groups that accept the scientific consensus on climate change, including the Brookings Institution and the Nature Conservancy. At the same time, it has funded four organizations that reject or question the consensus, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. Moreover, it was a member of several organizations that have doggedly fought greater environmental regulation, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. [article backed up here]
Notice how this works? Merely being a member of the US Chamber of Commerce is sufficient to condemn you in the paranoid, conspiracy-riddled minds of the climate activists over at the USC – the same activists who are taking Jeremy Grantham’s tobacco money. Care to guess what the title of that newspaper article was? Study accuses corporations of hypocrisy on climate change.
But getting back to GE, here’s Bailey:
According to the UCS report, among the four GE-supported organizations that “misrepresent” climate-change science is the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.
So what vast sums of money did the duplicitous executives at General Electric lavish on the Reason Foundation in 2008 and 2009 to support an implied campaign to traduce climate science? Exactly $325. How much did GE spend on matching and direct grants on the six think tanks identified by the UCS as being pro-climate consensus? That would be $497,744. [bold added]
Bailey did some double-checking with the Reason Foundation, which confirmed that it received $225 in 2008 and $100 in 2009 from General Electric:
Puzzled, I called up Dr. Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and director of its Scientific Integrity Program. She put me on speakerphone with her and the author of the report, Gretchen Goldman. I asked them if these minuscule donations were why GE was listed as a corporate supporter of the Reason Foundation. They answered yes. Seriously? Yes. They added that GE’s 990 forms did not disclose what the funds would be used for, darkly implying that the money might be directed to what the UCS might regard as climate disinformation campaigns.
In a memo (pdf) sent to me the next day (at my request), Grifo explained that the UCS did not have a threshold dollar amount for funds in their analysis. She added that GE’s 990 forms do not provide further information on the nature of these payments. But that is simply not true. The 990 forms clearly indicate to even the casual investigator that the payments are matching funds for employees’ donations, meaning that individual GE employees gave money, and the company matched it. (GE matching fund donations to the Union of Concerned Scientists for those same two years totaled $6,980, or 21 times more than was donated to the Reason Foundation.) Grifo’s memo does note that the UCS report admits “that because the details of these affiliations are not publicly available, we cannot directly link specific donations to climate-related activities.” Indeed not. But it appears that UCS nonetheless wanted credulous reporters to uncritically accept these vaguely-referenced payments as evidence of underhanded corporate influence.
Digging further into GE’s 990 forms one finds that with just a few significant exceptions, all of the money donated to the various groups is in fact corporate matching funds for employee donations. In other words, GE executives had no hand in directing these donations. [link in the original; article backed-up here]
This, ladies and gentleman, is a textbook case of how cavalier climate activists can be with the truth. The UCS report smears General Electric for committing the unpardonable sin of matching trivial donations made by its employees.
The fact that the UCS itself benefited from this exact same mechanism during those same two years at a ratio of 21 to 1 apparently caused them no concern. No one at the UCS, it seems, worried that the organization might be being a little unfair.
Want to talk about hypocrisy ? The Union of Concerned Scientists are masters of it.