Secret Funding Helped Build Vast Network of Climate Denial Thinktanks
By Suzanne Goldenberg / guardian.co.uk

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and theDonors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.

Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust told the Guardian that her organisation assured wealthy donors that their funds would never by diverted to liberal causes.

Koch Industries Executive Vice President David H. Koch : Funding climate chang deniersThe funding stream far outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise," she said in an interview.

By definition that means none of the money is going to end up with groups like Greenpeace, she said. "It won't be going to liberals."

Ball won't divulge names, but she said the stable of donors represents a wide range of opinion on the American right. Increasingly over the years, those conservative donors have been pushing funds towards organisations working to discredit climate science or block climate action.

Donors exhibit sharp differences of opinion on many issues, Ball said. They run the spectrum of conservative opinion, from social conservatives to libertarians. But in opposing mandatory cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, they found common ground.

"Are there both sides of an environmental issue? Probably not," she went on. "Here is the thing. If you look at libertarians, you tend to have a lot of differences on things like defence, immigration, drugs, the war, things like that compared to conservatives. When it comes to issues like the environment, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced."

By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118m distributed to 102 thinktanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.

The money flowed to Washington thinktanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.

The ready stream of cash set off a conservative backlash against Barack Obama's environmental agenda that wrecked any chance of Congress taking action on climate change.

Graphic: climate denial fundingGraphic: climate denial funding

Those same groups are now mobilising against Obama's efforts to act on climate change in his second term. A top recipient of the secret funds on Wednesday put out a point-by-point critique of the climate content in the president's state of the union address.

And it was all done with a guarantee of complete anonymity for the donors who wished to remain hidden.

"The funding of the denial machine is becoming increasingly invisible to public scrutiny. It's also growing. Budgets for all these different groups are growing," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which compiled the data on funding of the anti-climate groups using tax records.

"These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable. There is no transparency, no accountability for the money. There is no way to tell who is funding them," Davies said.

The trusts were established for the express purpose of managing donations to a host of conservative causes.

Such vehicles, called donor-advised funds, are not uncommon in America. They offer a number of advantages to wealthy donors. They are convenient, cheaper to run than a private foundation, offer tax breaks and are lawful.

That opposition hardened over the years, especially from the mid-2000s where the Greenpeace record shows a sharp spike in funds to the anti-climate cause.

In effect, the Donors Trust was bankrolling a movement, said Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist who has extensively researched the networks of ultra-conservative donors.

"This is what I call the counter-movement, a large-scale effort that is an organised effort and that is part and parcel of the conservative movement in the United States " Brulle said. "We don't know where a lot of the money is coming from, but we do know that Donors Trust is just one example of the dark money flowing into this effort."

In his view, Brulle said: "Donors Trust is just the tip of a very big iceberg."

The rise of that movement is evident in the funding stream. In 2002, the two trusts raised less than $900,000 for the anti-climate cause. That was a fraction of what Exxon Mobil or the conservative oil billionaire Koch brothers donated to climate sceptic groups that year.

By 2010, the two Donor Trusts between them were channelling just under $30m to a host of conservative organisations opposing climate action or science. That accounted to 46% of all their grants to conservative causes, according to the Greenpeace analysis.

The funding stream far outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, the records show. When it came to blocking action on the climate crisis, the obscure charity in the suburbs was outspending the Koch brothers by a factor of six to one.

"There is plenty of money coming from elsewhere," said John Mashey, a retired computer executive who has researched funding for climate contrarians. "Focusing on the Kochs gets things confused. You can not ignore the Kochs. They have their fingers in too many things, but they are not the only ones."

It is also possible the Kochs continued to fund their favourite projects using the anonymity offered by Donor Trust.

But the records suggest many other wealthy conservatives opened up their wallets to the anti-climate cause – an impression Ball wishes to stick.

She argued the media had overblown the Kochs support for conservative causes like climate contrarianism over the years. "It's so funny that on the right we think George Soros funds everything, and on the left you guys think it is the evil Koch brothers who are behind everything. It's just not true. If the Koch brothers didn't exist we would still have a very healthy organisation," Ball said.

 

3.5 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
6 Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal
Mark Manson · 11,201 views today · There’s no class in high school on how to not be a shitty boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, they teach us the biology of sex, the legality of marriage, and maybe read a few...
This Polish Ad Will Give You The Feels, For Reals
3 min · 8,677 views today · This is an ad for Allegro, a Polish company similar to eBay, and it's heartwarmingly lovely.
Time-Lapse Satellite Images Give a Startling Snapshot of Past 30 Years on Earth
2 min · 7,582 views today · Working with satellite images from NASA and the US Geological Survey, Google has created a searchable snapshot of the past 3 decades on Earth, creating startling time-lapses of...
Dr. Maya Angelou: Love Liberates
5 min · 5,029 views today · Words to live by from Dr. Maya Angelou. Love each other.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 2,766 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 1,965 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,120 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,054 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,025 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 1,004 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 741 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
The Lid Is off, The Truth Is Coming Out
Charles Eisenstein · 658 views today · It is getting harder to keep a secret these days. The collective shadow of our society, once safely relegated to the dark basement of the unmentionable, is now exposed to...
Sleaford Mods on Brexit Britain
4 min · 603 views today · In early 2014 the Guardian hailed duo Sleaford Mods as ‘the most uncompromising British protest music made in years’. Here, we go backstage at a Sleaford Mods gig in their...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 470 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 422 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 372 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 344 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Defiance in the Face of Oppression - Iranian Artist Atena Farghadani Defends the Right to Draw
Gavin Aung Than · 297 views today · Atena Farghadani is a 28-year-old Iranian artist. She was recently sentenced to 12 years and 9 months in prison for drawing a cartoon.  
Standing Rock Wisdom: How Sacred, Nonviolent Activism Has the Power to Succeed
Charles Eisenstein · 262 views today · I am told by Native American friends active at Standing Rock that the elders are counseling the Water Protectors to undertake each action prayerfully and to stay off the...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 257 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Secret Funding Helped Build Vast Network of Climate Denial Thinktanks