Payola Fuels A Crock of Persistent Climate Change Denial: A Billion Dollars a Year is Spent to Ensure Inaction

Even though 97% of climate scientists agree that we face devastating irreversible changes to civilization, half us don’t know this, and many Americans still believe anthropogenic global warming is open to debate. Rogue contrarian scientists and outspoken fossil fuel-loving politicians influence our minds with false propaganda. But deep roots sustain an organized climate change counter-movement.

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Photo by Glenn Fay

It turns out that a well-funded climate counter-movement with very deep pockets has been actively perpetuating doubt, delay, and obfuscation of the facts for decades. Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University completed research in 2013 that showed there has been what he calls a climate change counter-movement (CCCM) that is funded by conservative advocacy organizations, trade associations, and wealthy individuals to the tune of almost a billion dollars a year. The goal of the disinformation campaign is to derail climate change information despite the responsible efforts of scientists to warn us that go as far back as the 1970s. So far, the counter-movement has been successful.

Brulle discovered 91 CCCM organizations that have gone to great lengths to conceal where the money is coming from by setting up elaborate donor-directed philanthropies. About 80% of them are registered as charitable organizations and get healthy tax breaks. They route the money through trusts that offer anonymity for their donors.

According to Brulle, the CCCM spends just under a billion dollars a year to block American action on climate change. In fact, some of these funds have eclipsed the spending of big donors such as the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobil with even bigger endowments such as the Donors Trust, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, all of it secret dark money.

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Photo by Glenn Fay

Over the years this dark money has paid for public speakers to denounce scientists and climate change research, authors to write climate change denial books, and other disinformation campaigns. It’s been used to fight President Obama’s green regulations, and to intimidate scientists. In fact, they went so far as to accuse climate scientist Michael Mann and others of fraud.

Nine hundred million dollars a year can buy a lot of time and doubt for the greedy to burn and profit from fossil fuels and it has. Just consider the polarization and misinformation still widely circulating out there about global warming and the enormous $5.2 billion in U.S. fossil fuel company subsidies and $28 billion in profits, while they dump carbon into the air for free.

Perhaps worse, our children and grandchildren will have these climate counter-movement donors to thank for decades of foot-dragging and a spiral of silence as carbon dioxide levels have soared from 300 ppm to well over 400 ppm and beyond, resulting in extreme weather, floods, wildfires, food and water insecurity, and political instability for many generations worldwide.

Author of Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen: Patriot, Commando and Emancipator by Arcadia/The History Press (July 2021), Photographer. EdD, UVM.

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