WSJ's Stephens touted conservative think tank as “very effective” on global warming

Bret Stephens claimed that “a relatively small, very effective think tank,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “has been consistently pointing out the flaws in some of the political conclusions that have been reached” about global warming. But contrary to Stephens' assertion about the quality of CEI's work, Media Matters has documented that two of CEI's television ads contained misleading statements about global warming.

On the December 9 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report, panelists discussed a letter that Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) sent to ExxonMobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson in October. In the letter, Snowe and Rockefeller requested that the company “end its dangerous support of global warming deniers.” However, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens claimed that Snowe and Rockefeller's “real objection” “is to a relatively small, very effective think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute [CEI],” an organization that “has been consistently pointing out the flaws in some of the political conclusions that have been reached.” Contrary to Stephens' assertion about the quality of CEI's work, Media Matters for America has documented that two of its 60-second television ads contained misleading statements about global warming and that those statements have been echoed by Wall Street Journal columnist Pete Du Pont and radio host Rush Limbaugh.

As Media Matters noted, CEI's ad titled “Energy” suggested that environmentalists have falsely labeled carbon dioxide a pollutant, when, in fact, it is “essential to life.” But the ad distorts the argument made by scientists: C02 is not inherently harmful; excessive discharges of the gas harm the atmosphere. Echoing this ad, Du Pont asserted in his May 23 column that carbon dioxide “is not a pollutant -- indeed it is vital for plant growth,” as Media Matters noted.

The second CEI ad, “Glaciers,” claimed that recent scientific studies have proven that “Greenland's glaciers are growing” and that the “Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner.” But as the weblog Think Progress noted, the Greenland study found increased snow accumulation only on the island's interior, while separate studies conducted during the same period found significant melting among the coastal glaciers. Further, the author of the study on Antarctica issued a public statement accusing CEI of a “deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate.” Nevertheless, Limbaugh echoed the ad on the May 22 broadcast of his radio show, declaring the “Antarctica ice is actually increasing,” as Media Matters noted.

CEI has received substantial funding from the fossil-fuel industry, including more than $2 million from ExxonMobil since 1998, as Stephens acknowledged, and as Media Matters has noted. Think Progress has reported that ExxonMobil “stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute” in 2006. In addition, CEI has been funded by right-wing financiers and organizations such as Richard Mellon Scaife, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, as noted by Media Matters.

From a panel discussion on the December 9 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report, featuring Stephens, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal editorial page deputy editor Daniel Henninger, and Wall Street Journal senior editorial board member Kim Strassel:

PAUL GIGOT: Two United States Senators have been caught trying to bully ExxonMobil into toeing their line on global warming. In a letter to CEO Rex Tillerson, Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democrat John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia urged the company to, quote, “end its dangerous support of global warming deniers,” end quote.

The senators also write: “We are convinced that ExxonMobil's long-standing support of a small cadre of global climate change skeptics and those skeptics' access to, and influence on government policymakers, have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy.”

The letter concludes by urging ExxonMobil to, quote, “publicly acknowledge both the reality of climate change and the role of humans in causing or exacerbating it.” Kim, I've been in Washington a long time --


GIGOT: -- and I can't remember seeing a letter this blunt and, frankly, threatening.


GIGOT: What are they trying to accomplish, Snowe and Rockefeller?

STRASSEL: Well, no, I mean, look, these people, they've made up their mind about global warming, and they're going to make sure nobody else disagrees with them anymore. ExxonMobil has been a big thorn in their side because they've been funding groups that have been asking probing questions about global warming. You'd think we'd like that down in Washington, but not the senators.

Now, what's scary about this is these are people who have the ability to institute windfall profits tax on oil companies, hold hearings and drag these people, public companies with share prices, in and embarrass them. So, I mean, there's some ethical issues about what they've been doing here, too.

GIGOT: I should add that we did call the senators and ask for comment. And they did not return our phone calls.


GIGOT: Bret, what does this tell us about the state of the global warming debate, that they're so concerned about these few skeptics?

BRET STEPHENS: Well, that's one of the very interesting things here. Because one of the things that people like Snowe and Rockefeller will say is that there is a consensus here. So anyone who rejects it isn't simply a skeptic -- is a denier -- as if they're Holocaust deniers, or in some kind of category like that.


But there's clearly a sense of real insecurity. Because the letter -- the real objection is to a relatively small, very effective think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has been one of the very few voices which has been consistently pointing out the flaws in some of the political conclusions that have been reached here.

If there were such a consensus and, if it were only CEI that was rejecting it, why would they have to be bullying ExxonMobil? Why would they be so afraid of what little CEI has to say?

STRASSEL: And one things here -- you've got to remember the stakes. The environmental community, for decades, has been trying to get all these things accomplished -- smaller cars, phasing out power plants, all these things done. And they've never been able to convince the American public to get on board.

Now, you say you've got this huge thing that's going to blow up the world. We've got to act immediately. And behind it, you can accomplish all these other things they've wanted to. So this is a very important issue for a lot of people. And they want to use it. They don't want any debate on this.

HENNINGER: That's right. I mean, they've turned global warming into essentially a fundamentalist religion. They're the ones who worry about evangelicals. But this has become the same thing on the left.

And you know what? I have -- I know scientists on the margin of this who are beginning to become very concerned about the credibility of science as they get drawn deeper into these political fights. Science is becoming extremely politicized. And I think it's posing dangers to the credibility of science with the American public.

GIGOT: Well, Richard Lindzen, a climatologist at MIT, has said that there is a climate of creeping political correctness here. And if you're a young scientist who wants to get tenure, wants to make advances in his career, wants money for research, you pretty much have to toe the line on global warming. Otherwise, you're going to run the risk that you won't get those kinds of resources.

STRASSEL: Well, I mean, you, you just -- one of the words you just used is most important -- money. You know, sure, there's a consensus of climate scientists out there who say there's global warming. Because if they were to say otherwise, they wouldn't have a job. You know, I mean, this is increasingly becoming about funding. This is one of the biggest scientific areas for money at the moment. And you lose all that if you say that there is a possibility it's not happening.

GIGOT: How much consensus is there on global warming? There does seem -- most people seem to agree the earth has warmed by about one degree over the last century or so. And most people agree that carbon amounts have played some kind of role in that. How much consensus is there really beyond that?

STEPHENS: Well, the issue is, and the important issue politically, is how responsible human activity is for that, what we've seen, that relatively slight warming? Or is what has happened simply a matter of natural fluctuations that have happened for centuries and eons? And they're relatively large questions.

Was there a little Ice Age in the past millennium? Was there a warm period about 1,000 years ago? Those are issues that are still very much in contention. And there, there isn't such consensus about the degree to which human activity actually contributes to [unintelligible].

STRASSEL: We also need some debate too on how much is this going to cost. How bad would it actually be? Are there other things that are more important to take care of at the moment? Those are the things that Exxon's been asking some of think tanks to look at. And we should be having debates on it.