December 26, 2013

Follow the Money

How far the climate change debate has been distorted by “dirty money”—that is, money provided by rich foundations and corporations directly interested in fossil fuel production—is a question taken up in a new study by Robert J. Brulle in the journal  Climate Change. The author, a professor of environmental sociology at Drexel University, identifies a range of foundations and think tanks that he calls “U.S. Climate Change Countermovement Organizations."  Then he matches them with their sources of funding. Brulle acknowledges that the majority of these organizations are “multiple focus organizations” and that “not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities.”   Still, he has clearly identified a network of funders and fundees who have thrown scorn upon the climate change movement, and he has demonstrated the intimate nexus of financial ties that exist within this network. His most unsettling finding is that unknown donors have recently assumed by far the most prominent role in funding the “countermovement.” However one understands these ties among conservative foundations and think tanks—a more innocent explanation is possible than the one Brulle offers—it is surely a travesty of democratic norms that those conducting such a big intervention in the debate should be allowed to do so anonymously.

The first pie-chart below shows the relative size of conservative public policy institutes—what Brulle calls the “Climate Change Countermovement Organizations.” The second pie-chart shows the conservative foundations that fund them.

 In perhaps his most interesting finding, Brulle shows the rise to funding prominence of Donors Trust and Donors Capital. Conveniently, these are “third party pass-through foundations” whose funders cannot be traced. In the following graph, we get a picture of changing “node strength,” which is “based on the assumption that a foundation’s influence in the funding network is a function of its overall grant-making levels.”
Notes Brulle:
As this graph shows, the overall percentage contribution of Donors Trust/Capital rapidly increased from 2007 to 2010. At the same time, the Koch Affiliated Foundations, which peaked at 9 % in 2006, declined to 2 %. The ExxonMobil Foundation effectively stopped publicly funding CCCM organizations in 2007. Additionally, funding by the Scaife Affiliated Foundations, the second largest funder of CCCM organizations, also declined from 14 % in 2003 to just under 6 % in 2010. Finally, Bradley Foundation funding slightly declined over this time period. The rapid increase in the percentage of funding of the CCCM by Donors Trust/Capital and the decline in both Koch and ExxonMobil corresponds to the initiation of campaigns by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace publicizing and criticizing both ExxonMobil and Koch Corporations as funders of climate denial. Although the correspondence is suggestive of an effort to conceal funding of the CCCM by these foundations, it is impossible to determine for certain whether or not ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations continue to fund CCCM organizations via Donors Trust/Capital or direct corporate contributions. However, it is important to note that a Koch run foundation, the Knowledge and Progress Fund, initiated a pattern of making large grants to Donors Trust in 2008.
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Brulle promises a study of the influence of money on the other side of the debate as well. For a pdf of the paper, see Robert J. Brulle, “Institutionalizing Delay: Foundation Funding and the Creation of U.S. Climate Change Counter-Movement Organizations,” Climate Change (accepted November 19, 2013). Tip of the hat to Desdemona Despair.

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