A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.
CNN anchor Piers Morgan hosted a "debate" on climate science between Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and professional climate misinformer Marc Morano. As Morano spewed myths about climate change, CNN failed to disclose that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization.
Offering two "viewpoints" about temperature data and suggesting that scientific facts are up for "debate" is misleading in and of itself. During the segment, Morano claimed that we "have gone 16 years without global warming according to UN data." Nye pushed back, saying "This will be the hottest two decades in history, in recorded history. So when you throw around a statement like the UN says it's not the hottest 20 years, I got to disagree with you." But the audience was left unaware that Morano was highlighting a short time period to obscure the overall warming trend, as illustrated by this chart from Skeptical Science:
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.
Following relentless attacks on the solar industry in the wake of Solyndra's bankruptcy, wind power has become the latest target of the right-wing campaign against renewable energy. But contrary to the myths propagated by the conservative media, wind power is safe, increasingly affordable, and has the potential to significantly reduce pollution and U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.
In a recent interview with MSNBC.com, scientist James Lovelock said that he was too "alarmist" in his previous statements about the consequences of global warming and he now appears to be overcorrecting in the opposite direction. While conservative media have used his reversal to question the scientific consensus on climate change, the truth is that Lovelock's views were never in line with mainstream climate science.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a large group of experts that synthesizes climate research into massive reports on the state of the science. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009 that Lovelock, who is known for formulating the Gaia hypothesis in the 1960s, considered those reports "too optimistic, constrained by 'consensus' (a word that makes his teeth itch) and wedded to computer models." Climate experts, in turn, distanced themselves from Lovelock's doomsday rhetoric. The IPCC's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, told Agence France-Presse in September 2009 that Lovelock's predictions were "highly improbable"; RealClimate.org, a blog written by climate scientists, noted in 2006 that Lovelock's claims weren't supported by scientific research.
AFP labeled Lovelock a "scientific black sheep." The London Independent said in 2006 that Lovelock was "going out on a limb" and that his claims were "far gloomier than any yet made by a scientist of comparable international standing." And The Washington Post reported in 2006 that "the warming that Lovelock fears will occur is far more dire than that projected by many other scientists," and that his "dire talk no doubt occasions much rolling of eyes in polite circles, particularly among scientists in the United States."
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has canceled the climate change chapter in his upcoming book of environmental essays after Rush Limbaugh and other commentators targeted its author, atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe.
At a recent campaign event, Gingrich told a woman he had cut the climate change section after she expressed concerns about it, citing what she heard from "Rush." "That's not going to be in the book. We didn't know that they were doing that and we told them to kill it," Gingrich says in the video provided by National Journal. The woman replies, "That sounds like a good idea because I thought, why would you want to have somebody like that in there."
By "somebody like that," she was referring to a scientist who, like the vast majority of climatologists, will tell you that human activities are driving climate change. Gingrich's comments came as a surprise to Hayhoe, who said on Twitter that she spent "100+ unpaid hrs" on the project. According to emails reported by the Los Angeles Times, Hayhoe was asked in 2007 to write "a good opening chapter that lays out the facts on global climate change," including "a sense of what needs to happen." She said via email that her chapter did not include specific policy prescriptions. Gingrich's collaborator Terry Maple told the Times that the book will probably be released in 2013.
Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian who often speaks about climate change to faith-based communities, has noted in the past that "there is a very intelligent, well-planned effort to deliberately try to muddy the waters on this issue." This month, she became the target of that very cohort of activists and commentators.
As many faith leaders have recognized, climate change presents a massive ethical challenge since those least responsible for global warming are among the most vulnerable to its consequences, including water scarcity, climate-sensitive diseases, and sea level rise. Yet in response to the recent international climate talks, conservative media outlets are mocking developing countries for seeking adaptation assistance, saying they just want to "cash in" on "climate gold."
From the September 6 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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After relentlessly pushing the false claim that the so-called "Climategate" controversy showed climate scientists deceitfully manipulating data, conservative media are celebrating a Rasmussen Reports poll finding that a majority of Americans believe "some scientists" have likely "falsified research data" to support "their own theories and beliefs about global warming."
From the August 6 edition of Fox Business' The Tom Sullivan Show:
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In response to the suspension of federal scientist Charles Monnett, who authored a 2006 article documenting polar bear deaths, conservative media have claimed that the case exposes "the global warming fraud" and that polar bears are not threatened by climate change. In fact, extensive research establishes that polar bears are vulnerable to extinction due to decreasing sea ice, and human-induced global warming is supported by a robust body of evidence independent of any polar bear studies.
Conservative media outlets are reprimanding three prominent Republicans who recently acknowledged what scientists have been saying for years -- that human activities are contributing to global climate change.
From the April 29 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
From the February 18 Accuracy in Media Awards at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference:
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