One of the arguments which frequently emerge from the warmers in climate change debates is that the scientific expertise of sceptics has been bought – literally – by oil companies. We see this tired argument again wheeled out in the aftermath of the Inhofe 400 list. For example, James Wang of non-profit organisation Environmental Defense tells us,
The aim of the report is to refute that only a handful of scientists – mostly in the pocket of oil companies – still dispute that global warming is happening, and that it’s caused by human activities.
The logic of the “industry funded sceptics” argument seems to be that scientists can’t possibly have an honestly held position which contradicts the “consensus” because the consensus cannot possibly be mistaken, so their opinion must have been paid for. These scientists (and, for that matter, anyone with a public profile who has anything critical to say about global warming) are whores – “industry shills” , “corporate toadies”, or part of the “well funded denial machine” – who not only prostitute themselves, but also sell us all out to an apocalypse for dirty, dirty dollars… Those who “deny” climate change are in fact, denying a “holocaust“. As ecowarrior Mark Lynas puts it,
I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put this in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial – except that this time the Holocaust is yet to come, and we still have time to avoid it. Those who try to ensure we don’t will one day have to answer for their crimes.
It would be hard for the warmers to escalate the rhetoric against their detractors and for the tone to sink any lower. Yet still, the inclination of those using this argument is not to engage their sceptical counterparts in scientific discussion, or even to allow their political opinions on the best way to act on the available evidence to be challenged in an open and democratic way. Meanwhile, the scientific and political debates go unheard, and are overwhelmed or shut down by the shallow rhetoric of ‘consensus science versus industry-funded sceptics’.
This is not merely the language of hairshirt lunatics and fringe activists operating in the blogosphere and Internet forums, but even the “considered” opinion of “experts”. But far from lending the argument credibility, this expert opinion only reveals its own shallow, fragile and nervous claim to objectivity and the hollowness of the political environment that it thrives in. The truth of the matter appears to be that few people recognise environmentalism as a political ideology. We’ve reported before how the Royal Society – the UKs leading “science academy” – make bigger noises about “funding” than they shed any light on the science.
There are some individuals and organisations, some of which are funded by the US oil industry, that seek to undermine the science of climate change and the work of the IPCC. They appear motivated in their arguments by opposition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, which seek urgent action to tackle climate change through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions… Often all these individuals and organisations have in common is their opposition to the growing consensus of the scientific community that urgent action is required through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But the opponents are well-organised and well-funded…
The Royal Society’s statements that sceptics aren’t interested in debate but “seek to distort and undermine the science of climate change and deny the seriousness of the potential consequences of global warming” are unequivocal. According to them [PDF] (and pretty much any activist), at the centre of this conspiracy to pervert the course of science are “climate criminals” ExxonMobil, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And at the centre of the attempt to expose this devious master plan, and dishing the dirt on the backroom negotiations is the website Exxonsecrets, a database of rumour, innuendo, and leaked documents, which sells itself as:
a Greenpeace research project highlighting the more than a decade-long campaign by Exxon-funded front groups – and the scientists they work with – to deny the urgency of the scientific consensus on global warming and delay action to fix the problem.
And the reason Greenpeace have targeted ExxonMobil is that,
For over a decade, it has tried to sabotage international climate change negotiations and block agreements that would lead to greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
A report by the campaign [PDF] in May last year concluded that
ExxonMobil’s campaign to fund “think tanks” and organizations that spread misinformation about the science and policies of global warming is now widely known. The company’s multimillion dollar campaign has undoubtedly contributed to public confusion and government inaction on global warming over the past decade.
and suggested that ExxonMobil should
Apologize to the world for the damage delay caused by the company’s actions to confuse the public understanding and slow political response to this global crisis.
And the sums we are talking about, which have been spent on comissioning these “climate criminals”…
TABLE 1. EXXONMOBIL’S “HANDFUL” OF 2006 FUNDING CUTS
Center for a New Europe USA $50,000 $170,000 Center for Defense of Free
$60,000 $230,000 Competitive Enterprise Institute
$270,000 $2,005,000 Environmental Literacy Council $50,000 $50,000 Free Enterprise Education Institute. $70,000 $130,000 TOTAL $500,000 $2,585,000
So, according to Greenpeace and co, the $2,005,000 given to the CEI between ’98 and ’05 was enough to stall worldwide action on climate change.
But hang on a minute. Don’t Greenpeace also seek to influence the debate by lobbying politicians, and making public statements to “inform” the public?
Gosh, looking back over some of our recent posts, it seems as they do. Just last month, we reported on how Conservative leader (and quite possibly the UK’s next Prime Minister) David Cameron was so impressed by Greenpeace’s views on micro-generation that he was virtually singing about it from the rooftops.
Here he is, actually on Greenpeace’s rooftop, at their expensive headquarters in London. Not quite singing, but policy-making and webcasting, nonetheless.
In a BBC article last year, a Greenpeace representative summed up the way they like to be perceived…
“But it is not enough for green campaigners just to be seen as “nice people”, argues Greenpeace’s Jean McSorely – they must also have the stronger arguments. The pro-nuclear lobby has been clever in using environmental arguments, on climate change, and the security of supply issue, to push its case, she says. She believes Greenpeace has a stronger scientific case, but, she argues, it does not always get a fair chance to make it. “The access industry gets is just phenomenal compared to green groups,” she tells the BBC News website. “Labour has often castigated the old boy network, the public school tie and so on, but they have a similar network. It depends who you know in the unions or ex-Labour ministers. “People may accept that as the way things are, but there needs to be more transparency.”
Greenpeace… Always the victim, the underdog, the oppressed. Never mind its access to teams of lawyers, opposition parties and its favourable media image as heroic planet savers, and their proximity to the old-boy, public school tie network in the forms of David Cameron, and the billionaire Goldsmiths, among many others.
But if it is true that poor little Greenpeace doesn’t always have a fair chance to make its case, (which is news to us) how much smaller is this David, than the Goliath? If it’s true, as Greenpeace say, that “You Get What You Pay For”, how much cash has it had to spent on PR, and to influence the global dialogue on climate change?
(Speaking very roughly, Euros 1,202,527,000 = US$1,772,404,550. @ todays exchange rate = $2,190,752,550 total)
That is a lot of money.
Let us recap. Of all the oil companies, according to Greenpeace, the Royal Society, and campaigning organisations, journalists, and scientists, ExxonMobil is the worst. And of all the wrong things it does, the worst has been to give $2 million to the CEI over the course of a decade. This funding has been sufficient to significantly stall international action on climate change on the global political agenda. Allegedly.
Yet as we can see, since 1994, Greenpeace have been the lucky recipients of well over $2 billion in roughly the same time. A difference of three orders of magnitude.
And what have they done with it? Lobbied. And pulled high-profile stunts to gain media attention. And lobbied. And run expensive PR and media campaigns. And lobbied. And interrupted democratic processes and the generation of electricity and sabotaged crops. And lobbied. And picketed the forecourts of privately run ESSO garages. And lobbied. And lobbied. And lobbied. And, of course, terrified the public about cancers, apocaplyses, armageddons, catastrophes, too often and too many to begin to list here. You can do a lot of lobbying and PR work with 2.2 billion dollars. And don’t forget that a vast amount of work done is done for Greenpeace for free by activists, journalists, campaigning celebrities, and politicians who are keen to appear to be up-to-speed with the climate bandwagon, and therefore ‘in-tune’ with today’s concerns. Nothing epitomises this state of affairs better than the image of an MP or prospective Prime Minister in bed with an NGO. Because politics is regarded as sinister, whereas NGOs, in today’s world, are seen to be above that kind of stuff – “ethical”, rather than political. By achieving the ethical seal-of-approval of vociferous and high-profile NGOs, politicians can claim to have a stainless character. Environmental NGOs foster suspicion of politics, which is corruptible, claiming that their vision of “the good life” isn’t subject to contest, criticism or influence because “the science is in”.
Greenpeace want to claim that the corrupting influence of money has distorted the public perception of climate science. Given the scale of their funding and the extent of their influence, shouldn’t we agree with them? Couldn’t we say that Greenpeace have been engaged in exactly the propaganda exercise they accuse ExxonMobil and the CEI of? It accuses other organisations of sabotage, yet sabotaging and interrupting legal and democratic processes and stopping industrial operations is precisely how Greenpeace has risen to prominence. It terrifies people into donating and believing, and in doing so, over the last few decades, Greenpeace has successfully influenced politics throughout the world. But it is right and proper that they have been able to do so. What is a terrible, terrible shame is that opposition to them has been insufficient, and that, their own shrill complaints have gone largely unchallenged. There have not been enough Exxon-funded CEIs. If Greenpeace really had “science” on its side, and really had our interests in mind, it would welcome challenge, and debate – like all good political campaigns, it would shout “BRING IT ON!“. It would be through this process that Greenpeace would influence the debate. Instead, Greenpeace, the scientists at the Royal Society, and anyone using the cheap language of rumour, conspiracy, and innuendo avoid debate. This argument has been successful only because of the mass withdrawal from politics, and the political elite’s desperate need to find ways to justify itself. The ‘scientific consensus’ is a stand-in for political legitimacy, and the terrifying images of Armageddon constructed by environmentalists are a surrogate ‘purpose’ or vision. To challenge the consensus is to undermine that legitimacy, and to challenge the terrifying images is to undermine that purpose. It is far easier to shift the debate away from such potential damaging and revealing matters, to focus on ‘interests’, and to say that such challenges are the obfuscations of profit-seeking oil-barons. The most peculiar thing about this is that in this strange way of thinking, those who claim to have the least interests get to have the loudest voice, and it is up to the sceptics to prove the argument false.
Greenpeace should be free to make its political arguments, as should the CEI – wherever they each get their money from. But if Greenpeace want to continue to appeal to victimhood, as the hard-done-by truth-seekers, oppressed by the nefarious influence of cash, they should consider that their billions of dollars make their claims look not too dissimilar to those of the old church, which preached the virtues of poverty while raking in a vast wealth, using it to expand its influence, and to coerce and harass disbelievers. Such is the nature of orthodoxies.
The only real value in pointing out Greenpeace’s billions is to show how exhausted the political environment has become. People who clothe themselves in terms such as “progressive” and “liberal” yet get behind Greenpeace’s arguments about “scientific consensus” and “industry funding” should therefore take stock of the fact that, if it is true that alternative voices are being funded by corporate interests, it is big business which has created a challenge to powerful, well-funded and well-connected quasi-corporate interests and orthodoxies. No doubt it is confusing for such liberals to learn that they are in fact, engaged in undemocratic, and elitist argument.
The irony of “the well-funded well-funded-denial-machine denial machine” is not simply that it is well funded, and denies critics of its political agenda, whilst complaining about funding and political distortion of science. But that the angry accusations thrown at sceptics – both scientists and ‘ideological’ sceptics – are the product of a deeply illiberal form of politics, which seeks to deny opposition its right to expression, avoids debate, and hides behind the distorted conception of science that comittees can determine scientific truth which politicians and individuals should obey, and damn anybody who disagrees.