After decades of funding a network of institutes and think tanks to promote denial of climate science, the oil and gas industry is losing control of the monster it created, InsideClimate News reported just before the holiday, as part of a longer recap on U.S. climate politics. And that monster’s influence now extends into a White House administration that has accepted its ideology as settled policy.
[Though have no fear. At least that administration is led by a self-described genius. – Ed.]
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“Hundreds of millions of dollars from corporations such as ExxonMobil and wealthy individuals such as the billionaires Charles and David Koch have supported the development of a sprawling network, which includes Heartland and other think tanks, advocacy groups, and political operatives,” InsideClimate noted. “They have cast doubt on consensus science, confused public opinion, and forestalled passage of laws and regulations that would address the global environmental crisis.”
And now, organizations like the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are striking out on their own, taking more extreme positions than their patrons can comfortably support. “While ExxonMobil today publicly accepts the reality of human-caused climate change and the need to address the problem, Heartland argues for the benefits of a warming world. The group is pushing the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] to overturn its official conclusion—known as the endangerment finding—that excessive carbon dioxide is a danger to human health and welfare. The finding, affirmed by the Supreme Court, is what empowers the agency to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”
Exxon was one of a group of companies at a recent meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that derailed a resolution attacking the endangerment finding. That prompted Heartland President Tim Huelskamp to call the colossal fossil just another member of “the discredited and anti-energy global warming movement,” claiming that “they’ve put their profits and ‘green’ virtue signaling above sound science.”
ICN correspondent Neela Banerjee notes that “ExxonMobil is among an early group of donors that slowed or ended its funding of climate denial. But the misinformation apparatus the corporations helped create is now so independent and robust, it no longer needs—or trusts—them.”
“There used to be some degree of interest in projecting an image of seriousness, of expertise and evenhandedness on climate, and there isn’t anymore,” said Jerry Taylor, ALEC’s former staff director for energy and environment, who now heads the bipartisan, pro-climate action Niskanen Center. Now, the goal is to keep climate denial as “part of the ideological catechism of the conservative base. They are trying to keep the hard right animated.”
The split must be a sharp irony for ExxonMobil, which donated nearly $31 million to 69 climate denial groups between 1998 and 2014, including $650,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, according to Greenpeace/ExxonSecrets. The Koch brothers have invested more than $100 million in 84 groups since 1997.
(Banerjee’s longer chronology is a troubling and essential read.)