Funders Behind Climate Change Denial Hide Donations

power plant
The coal-fired Seminole power plant in northern Florida, emits greenhouse gases, as do all coal-burning power stations. (Photo by Seminole Electric Coop)


PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 2, 2014 (ENS) – Most donations behind the climate change denial effort in the United States are “dark money,” or concealed funding, finds the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the sources of funding behind the campaign.

A new study by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert J. Brulle, PhD, exposes the organizational underpinnings and funding behind the climate change denial “countermovement.”

This well-funded and organized effort seeks to undermine public faith in climate science and block action by the U.S. government to regulate emissions 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.

Dr. Robert Brulle (Photo courtesy Drexel University)
Dr. Robert Brulle (Photo courtesy Drexel University)

Dr. 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. Published late last month in the journal “Climatic Change,” the study finds that funding for climate science denial has shifted to pass through untraceable sources.

While the largest funders of climate change denial are a small number of conservative foundations, two of the largest supporters of climate science denial, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, have pulled back from publicly funding countermovement organizations, Brulle learned.

“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.”

Brulle found that 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.

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.

Through an analysis of the financial structure of the organizations that constitute the core of the campaign and their sources of monetary support, Brulle found that the decline in traceable funding parallels the amount of money given to countermovement organizations through third party pass-through foundations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funders cannot be traced.

The foundation Donors Trust now provides about 25 percent of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations engaged in promoting systematic denial of climate change, says Brulle.

To uncover how the countermovement was built and maintained, Brulle developed a listing of 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.

power plant
The coal-fired Seminole power plant in northern Florida, emits greenhouse gases, as do all coal-burning power stations. (Photo by Seminole Electric Coop)

The final sample for analysis consisted of 140 foundations making 5,299 grants totaling $558 million to 91 organizations from 2003 to 2010.

The data shows that these 91 organizations have an annual income of just over $900 million, with an annual average of $64 million in identifiable foundation support. Since the majority of the organizations are multiple focus organizations, not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities, Brulle notes.

Despite extensive data compilation and analyses, only a fraction of the hundreds of millions in contributions to climate change denying organizations can be specifically accounted for from public records, Brulle found. Approximately 75 percent of the income of these organizations comes from unidentifiable sources.

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

“Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square,” he said. “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.”

This study is part one of Brulle’s three-part project to examine the climate movement in the United States at the national level. The next step in the project is to examine the environmental movement or the climate change movement. Brulle will then compare the whole funding flow to the entire range of organizations on both sides of the debate.

A former commissioned officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, Brulle has authored numerous articles and book chapters on environmental science, and is a frequent media commentator on climate change. He co-edited “Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement” (2005) with David Pellow, and is the author of “Agency, Democracy, and Nature: U.S. Environmental Movements from a Critical Theory Perspective” (2000).

Dr. Brulle’s research was published a Drexel University opens a new research institute to answer some of the most challenging questions about energy and environmental sustainability facing the United States. The A.J. Drexel Institute for Energy and the Environment will look at the science, economics and politics that influence decisions about energy and the environment; and serve as a resource for decision makers both in the region and around the world.

“America is at a crossroads in terms of energy strategy, and Drexel’s research strengths are ideally suited to analyzing the costs, benefits and tradeoffs created by emergent and conventional energy sources,” said John Fry, Drexel’s president. “Drexel has made a broad commitment to use our intellectual capital to help meet the challenges facing society, and it’s in that spirit that we launch the Institute for Energy and the Environment.”

The new institute’s six designated research thrusts are: Energy, Environment and Society; Energy Scenarios; Energy-Effective Design; Energy Storage Technologies; Energy Systems, Analytics and Control; and Energy Sources.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


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