The “Well-funded campaign” myth

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:

BH-screen-gb

Lower down, there’s another intrusive advert, alongside a tip jar begging for cash:

BH2-screengrab

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?

The response by climate sceptics to the myth of oil funding is often to ask jokingly “Where’s My Exxon Check?” (another example here).

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:

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.

24 thoughts on “The “Well-funded campaign” myth

  1. Funding alarmism to funding skepticism is dollars to doughnuts, and the skeptics are actually doughnut holes, so thin their subsistence.

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  2. Yes, it’s a handy excuse and certainly couched in emotional trigger words. The repetition of a simple idea and psuedo-scholarly foundation Oreskes gave to the meme reinforces its attraction for the unthinking. Psychological projection is in there somewhere too.

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  3. “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.”
    Parallels with some (non mainstream) Christian organisations/followers here

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  4. Very true. More your imaginary villain than a scapegoat though. A secular equivalent of the devil, with oil money as sin. Cultures often create the image of a powerful enemy from the thinnest of contexts; not only motivates the adherents to angry passion for all that the culture stands for (which is all that the enemy is not), but the active force of the enemy apparently unraveling and undermining all the good works, helps explain why there is little or no progress to Nirvana. The culture benefits from the constant journey in fact, rather than from actually reaching what is anyhow an impossible goal.

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  5. Oil companies, like climate septics, are smart enough to understand that demand for their products is unlikely to reduce in any foreseeable future scenario.

    They are also large & wealthy enough to adapt their businesses to any new energy sources that should show promise.

    Way back in the 80s I worked with a UK research centre set up by BP to develop alpha silicon thin-film solar cells. That technology didn’t realise its promise – but there have been many other areas where “big oil” has invested in non-fossil energy.

    Big companies are extremely good at adapting to political change & profiting from it – so have no need to try and stand in the way of fashionable ideas like climate change.

    It’s hard to believe any educated person could really believe such an obvious conspiracy tale – but then it’s equally hard to believe that that such a person could wish away the historical evidence for the medieval warm period. We live in curious times.

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  6. Something I find amusing is that, loosely using alarmists’ logic, one could argue that since ExxonMobil takes an alarmist stance on climate change,

    (http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/environment/climate-change)

    and since (this is just one example) the new IPCC chairman began his career with Exxon,

    (http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2015/10/14/hoesung-lee-new-ipcc-leader/)

    all of the IPCC’s conclusions and statements will be invalid (because Hoesung Lee is “linked to” Exxon!) Of course, it is absurd logic, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the alarmists when they repeatedly attack and smear many who disagree with them, be it professors from Princeton (or some other prestigious university),

    (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/15/interview-with-physicist-will-happer-on-climate-change/)

    Nobel Prize laureates,

    (http://www.desmogblog.com/ivar-giaever)

    former Presidents of the National Academy of Sciences,

    (http://www.populartechnology.net/2010/05/rebuttal-to-video-crock-of-week-32000.html)

    or just about anyone.

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  7. I do look forward to seeing what this new blog will bring. Many thank for taking the time to start it up and maintain it.

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  8. Oreskes is not stupid, and therefore the only alternative is that she is a true believer. I personally believe this has something to do with the general demotion of reason with the rise of modernism. Bertrand Russell nailed it very well with his diagnoses of Romanticism’s fatal flaw. When truth is no longer an objectively believed in value, anything is excused in the promotion of the cause and global warming is the new cause celeb of the political left. And this is where there is a real blind spot in the scientist agenda. Science as Russell would say is different than values and can just as easily be misused in the service of evil as of good.

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  9. Plus the fact that the alarmist side of the debate is getting its butt kicked all over the shop, so they must invent a “vicious, well-funded denialist machine” to somehow explain away their own failure.

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  10. 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”.
    There are two basic questions here:

    1) Is what we’re told by climate scientists true?
    Well the answer to that one is that we don’t really know because we are not being told a coherent story. Increasing levels of CO2 under business as usual may increase temperature ‘anomalies’ by somewhere between 1C and 6C by 2100. They can’t tell us for sure exactly what the average temperature rise will be, but instead advise us to should assume the worst just in case. This is plain daft advice to policy makers and also very bad science. We should instead insist that they narrow down predicted warming to within 1 degree, as some models are already obviously wrong. It makes no sense to have a policy goal to keep warming to within 2C if we don’t know whether climate sensitivity is 1 degree or 4.5 degrees! The refusal of the IPCC to narrow down the range is a classic example of covering their backsides.

    Note also that global warming is always given in temperature anomalies. So for example if you live in Siberia that means that instead of -50C in winter you might expect -48C instead. This is also the reason why most ‘warming’ occurs in very cold areas like the Arctic. Equatorial temperatures hardly change at all. The effects of warming depend on where you live. Likewise sea level rise is all relative. During the recent lunar eclipse the spring high tide was about 0.5m higher than normal. 8000 years ago Neolithic man was living in Doggerland which is now under the North Sea. Likewise druing the last interglacial sea levels were 3-4m higher than today. The expected sea level rise during the lifetime of anyone alive today is probably just ~0.3m. Yes we should do something about CO2 emissions in a rational planned way, but we should keep some of the extreme predictions in perspective. That is why scepticism is important.

    2) Do sceptics spread misinformation?
    There are are some sceptics who claim that CO2 has no effect whatsoever on global temperatures, but most, especially those with a physics background, are convinced of the CO2 greenhouse effect. It is just the exaggeration of positive feedbacks, and the more daft impacts that we dissagree on. The trouble is that this is all lumped together in a ‘them and us’ type of stand off. More important than this is the political angle which muddies all rational arguments. I will ignore the slur that somehow sceptics are part of some well-funded campaign as it is just laughable.

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  11. Indeed Clive, well said. You may find interesting the opinions of Dr. Roger Pielke Sr., which can be found on his blog, if you have not yet looked into it. Though it is no longer being updated, it has a wealth of useful information still on it. Here is the link: https://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/.

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  12. The strength of the polarity, despite the tremendous disparity in treasure, power, and lives is curious. Why is the skeptic case so durable? Part of the answer is that such case is simply doubting the exaggeration of the alarmists, for which there is no other raison d’etre. Absent significant danger, the bubble goes poof.

    And then the dissonance and wreckage, floating about on an ocean of understanding of the mysteriously untold benefits of carbon. It’s slowly becoming completely obvious that man’s use of fossil fuels, and the increased concentration of CO2, and the mild and variable warming, and the great and cornucopic greening is all a huge net benefit to not only man, but the whole biome.
    ==================

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  13. A part of this myth undoubtedly has to do with the fact that skeptics punch far above their weight, because they have facts and logic on their side. Warmunists have to contend with their failed past alarmist predictions, the pause, global greening, and the impracticalities of solutions like renewables. No amount of money for propaganda can cover up so many grave blemishes.

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  14. The problem here goes very deep into human circumstances and preferences. Fossil fuels provide things that are very satisfying to human beings, such as fast transport, electricity, heat during the winter, air-conditioning during the summer, etc. The CO2 problem is fundamentally different than the air pollution problem where controling emissions is easier and far cheaper.

    Admitting the essentials of this situation would put the climate activist in a tough position, so they instead search for witches to burn. The convenient one is a vast conspiracy of wealthy special interests that prevents the activist from being successful. However, burning a witch or two will not change anything except to make the activist feel better for a short while. The real problem of course is simply that most people like the short term benefits of fossil fuels and will not support measures that significantly reduce those benefits.

    If I were myself very concerned about CO2, I would be very disappointed that the mitigation advocates have shown themselves to be so deluded and ineffective.

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  16. I don’t think the analogy to witches is very close. We all know what the archetypal evil well-funded conspiracy to subvert the world actually is.
    It is amusing to ask anyone who trots out the Koch brothers as the central villains if they get their information from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But then they block you.

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  20. Climate alarmism is a glaring example of the politisisation of science. 1. We have a comparatively new branch of science competing for government funding against against such heavyweights as health, education, defence and so on. How better to bolster one’s case by predicting disaster if money is not immediately made available. 2. Aided and abetted by bureaucracy who live to regulate. 3. Hard wired anti capitalists who, following the implosion of the centrally controlled economies in 1989 have been looking for some other means to belabour the capitalistic beast. How better than to raise the cost of energy on which any modern economy depends by government fiat. 4. Purveyors of windmills and solar panels who can’t exist without government subsidies. 5. Merchant banks who can see a dollar to be made by trading carbon credits. 6. Misguided idealists intent on saving us from ourselves (most of whom are themselves on some form of government.

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