Myths, fairy stories and inventions regarding climate sceptics are often presented and promoted by climate scientists and their hangers-on in the social sciences, in the media, in NGOs and in politics. One thing that we’ll be doing on this blog is debunking some of these myths.
One of the most wide-spread myths is that climate scepticism is lavishly funded, usually by the oil industry, and is well organised and powerful. See for example this tweet from climate scientist/activist Andrew Dessler:
A particularly amusing article related to this myth recently appeared in the Guardian. Apparently Greenpeace has hired a team of investigative journalists, and “a network of freelancers, field researchers and specialists based around the world”. “Funding is available”, with a “significant budget”, to investigate, amongst other things, the “funding of climate change deniers”. Quite how much funding is available for this venture is not made clear – perhaps an investigative journalist could look into it. The farcical irony of this scenario seemed to be missed by the Guardian reporter and Meirion Jones, one of the journalists involved.
Climate scientist Bethan Davies, who appears to believe this myth, wrote a blog post, Why is communicating climate change science hard, in which she wondered why some people don’t accept what they are told by climate scientists, and claimed that “There is also a well-funded campaign that seeks to spread disinformation about climate science” and “we’re up against powerful forces”. When I asked whether she really believed all this stuff, she seemed to misinterpret my comment, thereby inadvertently partially answering her original question about why climate scientists aren’t trusted. Later on in the discussion, commentator tlitb patiently questioned the argument about the alleged campaigns and public relations superstars. She mentioned the GWPF, who have 677 Twitter followers – she has 2,578.
Davies cites a Physics Today article by Somerville and Hassol, which makes the claim of “the well-organized and well-funded disinformation campaign”, strongly criticised for its policy advocacy by Roger Pielke Sr. Somerville and Hassol provide no evidence but cite the usual source of the myth, the notorious “Merchants of Smear” Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, whose book has been critically reviewed by Reiner Grundmann. Grundmann concludes that the book is more of a passionate attack than a scholarly work, and does a disservice to its cause. To put it more bluntly, Oreskes and Conway are political activists masquerading as serious academics. See also Bankruptcy of the ‘merchants of doubt’ meme.
Another academic peddling the myth is Robert Brulle. His absurd paper delves into the finances of dozens of obscure US organisations. Ever heard of the “John William Pope Foundation” or the “Atlas Economic Research Foundation”? Me neither. Apparently some of these organisations gave some money to others; worse still, in the eyes of the hopelessly biased academic left, some of them even support free-market policies. What actually happens with this money is not mentioned; Brulle fails to produce any evidence that it is used for climate scepticism, and admits that much of it is untraceable.
One doesn’t have to look too far to see that the claim that climate sceptics are lavishly funded is completely bogus. Take a look at the UK’s most active climate sceptic blog, Bishop Hill. The first thing you can’t help noticing (unless you have ad-blocking installed) is a large banner advert across the top of the site:
Lower down, there’s another intrusive advert, alongside a tip jar begging for cash:
The leading US climate blog, Watts Up With That, is also cluttered with ads. Now if climate sceptics were awash with oil money, as alleged by the likes of Dessler, Davies, Oreskes and Brulle, wouldn’t the top UK and US sceptic bloggers be supplied with sufficient funds that they didn’t have to clutter their blog with irritating adverts?
Mike Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute simply describes the myth as ‘manifestly wrong’:
and in another sequence of tweets debunks The Exxon Climate Denial Myth.
The reality is that it is the climate activism industry that is rolling in money. Organisations such as RTCC, Carbon Brief and dozens of others all have flashy websites to churn out their propaganda. In fact the two mentioned here have recently had professional and presumably expensive website re-designs. They also regularly offer well-paid jobs in their industry. Where are the job offers for climate sceptics?
On the funding front, recent news stories include:
- Michael Bloomberg targets Big Coal again with $30m donation to Sierra Club
- MacArthur Foundation vows to push climate solutions, starting with $50M pledge to green groups
- Obama pledges $12 billion in new federal loan guarantees for renewables
Furthermore, many climate scientists themselves, and climate activist groups, have accepted oil money. The UEA Climatic Research Unit acknowledges funding from BP and Shell, while RTCC is sponsored by Pacific, a leading explorer and producer of natural gas and crude oil. Even the new chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee, was employed by Exxon for three years!
So why do so many climate activists appear to believe in the conspiracy theory of the powerful, well organised, secretive, lavishly funded network of climate sceptics, when in fact all the money and organisation is on their side? One possibility is that having failed to win the argument (it’s generally agreed that scepticism has increased over the last decade or so) they need to create an excuse, a scapegoat, an imaginary villain, rather than face up to their own failings. What better way to rouse your followers than telling them there is a ‘well-funded campaign’ out to thwart them. They are then in battle-mode, inspired to see themselves as valiant heroes, even though it isn’t true.