Creating an Artificial Climate Change Controversy

How corporate energy interests in the US have created the illusion of a scientific debate between climate change advocates and deniers.

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On the 1st of November President Obama signed an executive order on climate preparedness, building on a broader environmental plan put into place by his administration in 2009. The order sets out to:

“Improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency operations, services, and programs.”

While Obama has been criticised in the past for not being forceful enough in recognising human activity as the key contributing factor to climate change, the signing of the executive order has been widely welcomed by environmentalists. As well as praise, however, there has also been a predictable backlash from the conservative media.

Tucker Carlson, Image: Gage Skidmore

Tucker Carlson, Image: Gage Skidmore

The need to take action on climate change was questioned by Tucker Carlson, during the November 2 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday, who claimed that “temperatures have not risen in the past several years, they have gone down,” and went to state that there is “an emerging scientific consensus that we may be in for a period of global cooling caused not by greenhouse gases but by fluctuations in solar energy — sun spots.”

The right wing media in the US has been instrumental in creating an illusion in the public eye of a two sided debate going on between two cohorts of scientists:  those who believe in climate change and those who do not.

The problem with this view is that it completely distorts the true state of play in the scientific community when it comes to climate change. Much like the debate between evolutionists and creationists, the one surrounding climate science should be long since finished. Worryingly, however, one third of Americans claim to not believe in climate change.

In September the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a groundbreaking report which found that human activity is “unequivocal” in contributing to climate change. The report was compiled by the world’s leading climate scientists, of whom an overwhelming 97% agree that climate warming trends are likely to be caused by human activity. Even prior to the 2013 report, the degree of consensus within the scientific community has been undeniable with 18 American scientific associations releasing the following joint statement in 2009:

“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.” (2009)

Given the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion supporting the view that human activity is altering our planets climate, how then has the view that there is a controversy surrounding climate change managed to survive?

the anonymous donations of billionaires have been channelled into a movement of climate change denial

The answer is that through a vast secretive funding organisation in place for over a decade, the anonymous donations of billionaires have been channelled into a movement of climate change denial. An article published in The Guardian in February reveals how a funding channel called “The Donor’s Trust” has been responsible for over $120m being distributed to groups working to discredit climate change science.

From a visit to the Donor’s Trust website, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what its purpose is. Its mission statement speaks in vague terms about philanthropy, promoting a free society, and granting funds to over 1000 liberty minded charities. Among the beneficiaries of the Donor’s Trust are a vast number including “Americans for Prosperity” and “The Heartland Institute”, which was described by The Economist as being “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.”

Rather than producing convincing scientific evidence of their own to counter evidence of climate change, these groups have largely concentrated on the defamation of known climate change advocating scientists. One such example is the funding by the Donor’s Trust of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, later taken to court by Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania University, an eminent climatologist, for accusing him of scientific fraud and comparing him to a convicted child molester.

A look at where the millions of dollars being channeled through the Donor’s Fund are coming from is telling. One name which crops up repeatedly is the Koch Foundation, a huge conglomerate of oil and gas subsidiaries and the US’s second largest privately owned company. Another major source of funding is oil giant Exxon mobile. A Greenpeace report from January 2013 found that:

“As traceable funding from big oil (Exxon and Koch) to climate denial front groups has slowly declined over the last few years, “anonymous” money from Donors Trust has sharply increased.”

Image: Greenpeace

These revelations make it clear that Donor’s Trust has been used as a thinly veiled vehicle for corporate and energy interests in the US. The people who are most vigorously funding the denial of climate change are those with the clearest imaginable vested interest in doing so.

In the US, media is big business and power is concentrated in the hands of a few hugely influential corporations

The cause of climate denial is aided, as seen this week, by conservative media interests. In the US, media is big business and power is concentrated in the hands of a few hugely influential corporations. The agendas of Fox News and other similar stations are therefore synonymous with the corporations which run them, so they will continue to misinform the public on issues such as climate change.

Video Explaining the Koch Foundation’s Funding of Climate Change Denial

In the eyes of many Americans a debate still exists between whether or not human-made climate change should be accepted as a fact. This should not, however, be attributed to a lack of consensus within the scientific community who are overwhelming in agreement regarding climate change, but rather to the millions of dollars being invested by US energy giants in climate change denial. The divide does not exist within the scientific community, but between the scientific community on one side and America’s corporate and energy giants on the other.