A new peer-reviewed study by Dr. Robert Brulle from Drexel University documents how the funding of the climate change disinformation campaign has shifted in the last few years from corporations and some politically conservative foundations to pass-through 501(c) (3) foundations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funders cannot be traced.
Ethics and Climate Change has explained in great detail in 13 separate articles available in the Start Here and Index tab on this site under “Disinformation Campaign and Climate Ethics” why the climate change disinformation campaign is ethically abhorrent, and, in fact, is some new kind of crime or assault against humanity, gross human rights violation, or other kind of villainy. This is so, as explained in these articles, because although skepticism in science should be encouraged, the climate change disinformation campaign has engaged in tactics which can’t be understood as responsible skepticism. These tactics have included: (1) lying or reckless disregard for the truth about mainstream climate change science, (2) cherry-picking climate science, (3) making specious claims about “bad” science, (4) focusing on what is unknown while ignoring what is not in dispute about climate change science, (5) using think tanks, front groups, and AstroTurf organizations to hide the real parties in interest, (6) manufacturing bogus science in conferences or publishing in non peer-reviewed journals, (7) hiring public relations firms to convince citizens that there is no basis for mainstream scientific conclusions about climate change, and (8) cyber-bullying climate scientists and journalists. These tactics are not responsible skepticism but morally abhorrent misinformation.
The new study reviews the sociological literature on the climate change disinformation campaign while examining what is known about funding for this phenomenon. Major conclusions of the study include:
- 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. These foundations promote ultra-free-market ideas in many realms.
- Koch and ExxonMobil have recently pulled back from publicly visible funding. 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.
- Funding has shifted to pass through untraceable sources. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to denial organizations by the Donors Trust has risen dramatically. Donors Trust is a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation now provides about 25% of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations engaged in promoting systematic denial of climate change.
- Most funding for denial efforts is untraceable. 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. Approximately 75% of the income of these organizations comes from unidentifiable sources..
The new study also concludes that the climate change disinformation campaign is what is known in the sociological literature as a “counter-movement.” Social movements such as that which has arisen to reduce the threat of climate change are often opposed by a “counter-movement” which seeks to undermine the goals of the social movement. Social movements usually seek to frame public policy issues as matters requiring government action while counter-movements work to frame the issue in the mind of the public to undermine the case for government action. This creates cultural contests over the appropriate frame for the public advocated by social movements and counter-movements.
Counter-movements are “networks of individuals and organizations that share many of the same objects of concern as the social movements that they oppose. They make competing claims on the state on matters of policy and politics and vie for attention from the mass media and the broader public. Counter-movements seek to maintain the currently dominant frame and thus maintain the status quo by opposing, or countering, the efforts of movements seeking change. Significantly, counter-movements typically originate as the social change movement starts to show signs of success in influencing public policy, and threatening established interests. These counter-movements typically represent economic interests directly challenged by the emergent social movement.”
According to Brulle, the climate change disinformation campaign is a well-funded and organized counter-movement effort to undermine public faith in climate science and block action by the U.S. government to regulate emissions. This counter-movement 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.
The new study also identifies the level of funding to the major organizations engaged in the climate change disinformation campaign and the amount of funding being provided to these organizations. The study ranks these organizations as follows with funding amounts in millions:
- American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, $86.7, 16%
- Heritage Foundation, $76.4, 14%
- Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, $45.4, 8%
- Manhattan Institute Policy Research, $33.1, 6%
- Cato Institute, $30.6, 5%
- Hudson Institute, $25.5, 5%
- Altas Economic Research Foundation, $24.5, 4%
- Americans for Prosperity Foundation, $22.7, 4%
- John Locke Foundation, $18.0, 3%
- Heartland Institute, $16.7, 3%
- Reason Foundation, $15.0, 3%
- Media Research Center, $14.5, 3%
- Mercatus Center, $14.3, 3%
- National Center for Policy Analysis, $13.9, 3%
- Competitive Enterprise Institute, $12.5, 2%
- State Policy Network, $12.0, 2%
- Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, $11.4, 2%
- Independent Womens Forum, $7.4, 1%
- Landmark Legal Foundation, $7.0, 1%
- FreedomWorks Foundation, $5.3, 1%
- 49 Other Organizations < 1%, $63.7, 11%
The new report also identifies foundation funding source of these organizations and ranks them as follows in millions:
- Donor Trust/Donors Capital Fund, $78.8, 14%
- Scaife Affiliated Foundations, $39.6, 7%
- The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, $29.6, 5%
- Koch Affiliated Foundations, $26.3, 5%
- Howard Charitable Foundation, $24.8, 4%
- John William Pope Foundation, $21.9, 4%
- Searle Freedom Trust, $21.7, 4%
- John Templeton Foundation, $20.2, 4%
- Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking, $13.7, 2%
- Smith Richarson Foundation, Inc., $13.5, 2%
- Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, $13.1, 2%
- The Kovner Foundation, $12.8, 2%
- Annenberg Foundation, $11.3, 2%
- Lily Endowment Inc., $10.3, 2%
- The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, $10.0, 2%
- ExxonMobil Foundation, $7.2, 1%
- Brady Education Foundation, $6.8, 1%
- The Samuel Roberts Foundation, Inc., $6.7, 1%
- Coors Affiliated Foundations, $6.2, 1%
- Lakeside Foundation, $5.8, 1%
- Herrick Foundation, $5.7, 1%
- 118 Others < 1%, $170.4, 31%
Because much of the funding for the climate change disinformation campaign has shifted to organizations that prevent tracing the actual donors who are receiving a tax deduction for their contributions, a case can be made that tax payers are paying for the disinformation campaign. The new funding scheme also prevents citizens from knowing where the funding is coming from, facts which are necessary to understand who the parties in interest are behind the counter-movement. Because the tactics of the disinformation are so ethically reprehensible, the new funding scheme most likely shields large funders from public scrutiny that would reveal ethically abhorrent behavior.
Donald A. Brown
Scholar In Residence and Professor, Sustainability Ethics and Law
Widener University School Of Law
Part-time Professor, Nanjing University School of Information Science and Technology, Nanjing, China