Follow the climate money? Well, they did…

This is a cross-post from Peter Griffin’s blog Griffin’s Gadgets over at Sciblogs. Peter (head of the NZ Science Media Centre), had the chance to explore some of the background to the intense lobbying being carried out on climate action (or inaction) when he met Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity recently…

In the wake of Climategate and especially during the Copenhagen climate talks, much was made by climate sceptics of the “billions” climate scientists have received over the last two decades to undertake research into the claimed impacts of global warming.

This claim from the grand-sounding but climate crank-infested Science and Public Policy Institute typifies the criticisms:

The US Government has spent more than US$79 billion of taxpayers’ money since 1989 on policies related to climate change, including science and technology research, administration, propaganda campaigns, foreign aid, and tax breaks. Most of this spending was unnecessary.

cfpiWell, a group with a well-earned reputation for independent investigative journalism has followed the money trail of the climate change lobby set up to insulate the multibillion dollar industries that have the most to lose from the world’s governments getting serious about tackling climate change.

I had the pleasure of last week catching up with Bill Buzenberg, the executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity. Holidaying in New Zealand while visiting his daughter-in-law Dacia Herbulock, my colleague at the Science Media Centre, the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist filled me in on the centre’s latest investigation:

Our team pieced together the story of a far-reaching, multinational backlash by fossil fuel industries and other heavy carbon emitters aimed at slowing progress on control of greenhouse gas emissions. Employing thousands of lobbyists, millions in political contributions, and widespread fear tactics, entrenched interests worldwide are thwarting the steps that scientists say are needed to stave off a looming environmental calamity, the investigation found.

This, from a piece on the oil and coal industries’ lobbying efforts in Copenhagen:

The world’s two largest publicly traded companies, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, together earned nearly US$8 billion in the last quarter alone. They are leaders in an industry that employed more than 350 lobbyists in Washington during the first six months of 2009. Shell secured the lobbying expertise of a former U.S. senator. Exxon hired a former staffer for the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The extensive coverage following the global lobbying efforts on climate change makes for fascinating reading. If climate scientists have been riding a gravy train of Government funding, at least there’s transparency in where the money went. The climate change lobbyists, most of them working for energy providers and major polluters, are incentivised to win concessions for their deep-pocketed pay masters. The extent of this industry is hard to judge, as the centre discovered when it delved into the global lobbying industry.

For a taste of the issues that preoccupy these highly-paid lobbyists, read this piece on the jostling for position that was underway on the fringes of the Copenhagen conference:

For carbon-intensive power companies, the ideal outcome for a UN framework would feature major carbon reduction targets by the year 2050 or thereabout — allowing them to outfit their plants with technology to sequester carbon and store it underground. If faced with nearer term targets… many companies would have to turn to natural gas — a technology investment that wouldn’t payoff in the long run.

Sadly for the coal industry and despite the furious lobbying, carbon capture and storage remained off the agenda at Copenhagen and will not be added to the list of technologies that industrial countries can invest in to offset their emissions.

The point here is that for every dollar that goes to a scientist researching climate change, at least the same amount and likely much more is going into the pockets of people paid to maintain the status quo, discredit the scientists, slow progress on climate change. What is worse is that their activities are not transparent.

Follow the money say the sceptics. Well it is interesting, as the Centre for Public Integrity reveals in its investigation, that the aims of the climate change lobby groups and the large industries they represent dovetail quite nicely with the arguments put forward by the sceptics. As this report on Politico from the centre’s reporters notes:

Put the 60 or so venture and investment firm lobbyists together with the 170 alternative energy lobbyists and 160 environmental lobbyists, and they are still outnumbered 5-to-1 by the approximately 2,000 representatives of major sectors that are looking for a slowdown or handout — traditional manufacturers, power companies, oil and gas, transportation and agriculture. The total number of climate lobbyists working for all those interest groups, new and old, stands at about 2,780 — five for every member of Congress. That’s 400 percent more than when lawmakers first considered a nationwide greenhouse gas reduction program six years ago. If they all want a place at the Senate’s table, there had better be plenty of chairs.

19 thoughts on “Follow the climate money? Well, they did…”

  1. Shock horror! Oil and coal industries employ lobbiests! Stop the press!

    And from this you some how conclude that skeptical scientists are on the pay roll of Exxon Mobil?

    1. There’s plenty of evidence for that. You don’t even need to dig too hard. Try these articles at Rolling Stone, for instance:

      As the world burns
      The climate killers

      Note what the latter says about the Koch brothers:

      Over the years, the Kochs and their foundations have lavished millions on climate deniers at the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, which Charles [Koch] founded in 1977. Cato, in turn, supports the work of Patrick Michaels, a leading climate denier who attempts to discredit the international scientific consensus on global warming while accepting money from coal companies. As author Thomas Frank observes in What’s the Matter With Kansas?, “Koch money subsidizes the mass production of bad ideas.”

      Read the entry for Fred Singer as well…

      1. “The Climate Killers” … sounds interesting

        So how are the efforts of these lobbiests who influence howto address climate related to sceptical science? Are implying they are somehow associated? So Cato has to get there money from somewhere, where do Greenpeace get their money from??

        1. Are you completely stupid or just arguing for the sake of it? The difference in funding is OBVIOUS! One receives it funding from those with VESTED interests the other does not. Those who pay the piper call the tune.

        2. Read the Rolling Stone article, as I suggested, and look which “think tanks” get funded. Then compare that list with the ones promoting climate inaction. The same names crop up a lot, I think you’ll find.

  2. So by the same principle, any research that is funded by government, whose conclusions support an increase in the size of government should be discounted?

  3. Geez, Gareth, the two sides have each deployed their armies. What a shock. To think that companies and individuals who could well be destroyed by legislative proposals would try to influence the legislative process. I’m sure that no one who would benefit from those proposals would ever dream of advocating them in the legislature.

    Lots of money from carbon has gone to support the AGW effort, see BP, Excelon and others. And lots of scientific papers which could be construed to undermine some aspect of the AGW case include a lot of disclaimers that seem to say we only reported what we found but this in no way undermines our funders preferred outcome.

    So if spending or receiving money from either side taints the evidence and credibility, where does that leave us? It leave us that this is not a science discussion or debate but a political one, and in politics the rules are different. I sort of thought that your site was more toward science, but if you want to go political, it’s your site.


    1. What’s interesting, Terry, is the imbalance in forces deployed. Read the post: its 5 to 1 to those trying to slow action down. The vast majority of the science being done on climate change is funded through normal academic channels, not by grants from companies or by groups with special interests — but this post is not about science funding, its about the funding of campaigns to derail action.

  4. Very interesting……..

    “At 04:19 PM 9/22/99 +0100, Keith Briffa wrote:…
    ……Glacier mass balance is driven by the difference mainly in winter
    >accumulation and summer ablation , filtered in a complex non-linear way to give variously lagged tongue advance/retreat .Simple inference on the precidence of modern day snout positions does not translate easily into absolute (or relative) temperature levels now or in the past. Similarly, I don’t see that we are able to substantiate the veracity of different temperature reconstructions through reference to Solar forcing theories without making assumptions on the effectiveness of (seasonally specific ) long-term insolation changes in different parts of the globe and the contribution of solar forcing to the observed 20th century warming .

    There is still a potential problem with non-linear responses in the very recent period of some biological proxies ( or perhaps a fertilisation through high CO2 or nitrate input) . I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite so simple. We don’t have a lot of proxies that come right up to date and those that do (at least a significant number of tree proxies ) some unexpected changes in response that do not match the recent warming. I do not think it wise that this issue be ignored in the chapter.

    For the record, I do believe that the proxy data do show unusually warm conditions in recent decades. I am not sure that this unusual warming is so clear in the summer responsive data. I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago. I do not believe that global mean annual temperatures have simply cooled progressively over thousands of years as Mike appears to and I contend that that there is strong evidence for major changes in climate over the Holocene (not Milankovich) that require explanation and that could represent part of the current or future background variability of our climate. I think the Venice meeting will be a good place to air these isssues…..”

  5. Well we are all entitled to our beliefs C3 and some we can hold with religious fervor, even if yours are demonstrably misguided.

    “I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago”. No – just read the literature.
    “or perhaps a fertilisation through high CO2 or nitrate input”. Highly unlikely – and minimal at best. Again read the literature.

      1. Is this scientific debate or political debate? Or scientists debating with political advocates?

        (Briffa to Mike Mann) “I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite so simple.”

  6. I agree with Terry and C3P0; after all, Nazi Germany bribed US politicians to keep the US out of the war in Europe, so why shouldn’t fossil fuel industries do the same?

    Let’s get real – what’s the point in trying to preserve a livable planet, if it might impact next quarter’s earnings and cause your stock to slide on Wall St.? A CEO could get fired for that!

    What’s the future ever done for us, anyway? Those earlier generations who made sacrifices to protect us, their unborn descendants, probably had nothing better to do with their lives – hell, they didn’t even have iPods and Facebook back then!

    Wow, look over there, guys, there’s a celebrity!

    1. Rob, I think it’s “Oh, look, a squirrel!”

      Without delving into motives, it is reasonable to expect the contending parties to take action to protect their perceived interests.

      And Gareth, when the Congress of the US earmarks billions for the climate research in last year’s stimulus, it looks like a serious thumb on the scale. No links, just memory, and it is possible it got deleted later, but contemporary press accounts discussed it. If anything, the 5 to 1 ration appears to favor advocates, not those who would question. Also, is there a place for a simple open-ended research project not designed to support and existing argument but merely trying to look at the physical evidence? And could it get funded?

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