Less transparency, more money flowing to U.S. climate denial machine

• February 15, 2013
Funding to climate denial groups since 2002, Source: Greenpeace, 2013

Funding to climate denial groups since 2002, Source: Greenpeace, 2013

Further investigations into the back door funding mechanisms that sponsor the U.S. climate denial movement have revealed greater details about the extent to which these millions have damaged efforts for climate action and support for renewable energy projects.

Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund have doled out nearly $120 million to over 100 think tanks and action groups that deny human contribution to climate change or oppose environmental regulations.  These two trusts have a special tax status that give their wealthy, conservative donors a greater degree of anonymity while enabling them to channel money into this highly partisan debate.  They count among their donors the billionaire Koch Brothers, but the scale of the funding suggests that there are many other anonymous contributors supporting their anti-environmental agenda.  In fact, while the Koch Brothers are the subject of much ire for environmentalists, the CEO of Donors Trust claims that without them, the influx of funding would still be strong.

According to Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which compiled the data on funding of the anti-climate groups (see graph) using tax records, ”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.”  The Greenpeace analysis reports that amidst a decline in the publicly traceable funding to climate denial groups, such as that from oil companies, shadowy funding from Donors Trust has increased sharply.

Donors Trust and Donors Capital have, in many respects, succeeded in turning climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing, partisan issue of ‘belief’ amongst Americans.  The work of organizations, politicians, and researchers funded by these two groups helped to create the impression that scientists were not in consensus on climate change, divide public opinion on environmental regulations, and halt climate action, such as the U.S. cap-and-trade legislation in 2009.

Now, new reports show that these trusts are shifting their focus to state and local campaigns to halt renewable energy projects.  The Franklin Centre for Government and Public Integrity, an organization helping to lead media campaigns against solar and wind energy, received a surge of funding from Donors Trust in 2011 that helped it create affiliates in several conservative and swing states.

The chief executive of Donors Trust, Whitney Ball, spoke to the purpose of the organization in an interview with The Guardian: ”We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise…[The money] won’t be going to liberals.”  She went on to explain that while the people giving to Donors Trust span a wide array of conservative political viewpoints, they have found common ground in fighting climate action because there are very few differences in how conservatives approach environmental issues.


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About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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