A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered close ties between a Colorado political couple and at least six oil and gas industry front groups that have been fighting state regulations designed to protect the health of its citizens and the environment.
The husband and wife team are ex-state senator and onetime Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Josh Penry and his wife, founder of republican PR and fundraising firm Starboard Group, Kristin Strohm. Colorado has emerged as a key battleground in the national debate over shale drilling and fracking. The state’s oil and gas industry has over 50,000 hydraulically fractured wells, and plans to drill many thousands more every year into the foreseeable future. These wells have caused severe water and air pollution problems, and have sparked a grassroots movement against drilling and fracking across the state. Concern over pollution from fracking culminated in a series of local laws to ban or regulate fracking, efforts that sent shockwaves through the shale industry. To combat the growing threat of local control over drilling practices, the shale industry began funding political strategies to undermine local action against drilling. Enter Penry and Strohm, who who helped develop the shale industry’s sophisticated astroturf campaign strategy that was created in concert with legal strategies to override popularly-supported local drilling restrictions. (Astroturf is a term used to describe fake “grassroots” groups that are conceived and paid for by corporations or public relations firms to advance a business or political interest.)
Josh Penry has strong connections to both Colorado politics and the oil and gas industry. He became the youngest person ever elected to the state Senate in 2006. While a state senator, he sponsored and passed legislation designed to benefit the drilling industry by boosting the use of gas-fired electric power plants. His biggest achievement was HB 1365, a bill designed to help Xcel Energy build gas-fired power plants. The bill was called the ”Clean Air Clean Jobs Bill,” and sold as a boon for the environment because it eased the transition from coal fired power to gas fired power. However, Penry made the intentions behind the legislation clear by promising a 15% increase in gas drilling in the state if the bill was passed. Josh Penry is apparently unconcerned about the enormous contribution that gas extraction and combustion makes to climate change, explaining during a debate that it doesn’t "keep [him] up at night." However, studies of highly fracked areas in Colorado raise alarms for the climate. One recent study of the Front Range drilling area in Colorado found a methane leakage rate of 19.3 tons per hour. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, at least 86 times as powerful as CO2 at disrupting the climate. After surprising his staff and supporters by backing out of the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2009 and serving out his time as State Senator, Penry became Vice President of EIS Solutions, a public relations and political strategy consulting firm that specializes in “grassroots coalition building.” The group has been a key cog in the fracking industry’s pushback against community resistance and the state of Colorado’s gas regulations. EIS advertises their ability to create a “path to advocacy.” In practical terms, this means EIS will create non-profit and fake grassroots groups to give the illusion of widespread public support for oil and gas drilling. EIS has been criticized for repeatedly stepping outside of respectable practices, including one case in 2013 when they were caught faking signatures on an anti-regulation petition. EIS has long standing contracts with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the leading industry lobbying group in the state. A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered the following non-profit front groups tied to EIS solutions: Colorado Liberty Alliance - shares a phone number with EIS phone, and advocates against local control. Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale - shares an address with EIS solutions and promotes drilling. Grow Our Western Economy - has an EIS Solutions phone number and the chairman is former EIS Solutions employee, now president of the Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, Justin Zvonek. The group attacks people who promote local control over drilling. The groups listed above represents only those created by EIS employees that have registered as non-profits. EIS also creates groups that have not registered as tax-exempt non-profits, thereby avoiding reporting requirements.
Vital for Colorado
One such group is Vital for Colorado, a well-funded and highly active pro-fracking front group. While the Vital for Colorado website makes no direct mention of Penry, he serves as spokesman and strategist for the group, and coordinates messaging with other anti-regulation groups through Vital for Colorado. In September, Penry attended a meeting in Denver where he spoke to an audience of State Policy Network groups from around the country about the industry’s strategy to fight oil and gas drilling restrictions in Colorado. Josh Penry’s ties to Vital for Colorado run deep. Both EIS employee Dan Haley and Penry’s wife Kristin Strohm sit on the Advisory board of Vital for Colorado. Vital for Colorado’s website is registered to Charity Meinhart, a web developer that works for both EIS Solutions and Starboard Group according to her LinkdIn account.
Kristin Strohm is the managing partner at her own pubic relations firm, Starboard Group. Strohm, who is an advisor for Vital for Colorado, has also set up other front groups that work in concert with Vital for Colorado to oppose drilling regulations. The Western Colorado Jobs Alliance and The Common Sense Policy Roundtable Forum were created by Starboard Group to oppose local control over shale drilling and fracking. Both groups also publicly support Vital for Colorado, creating a seemingly independent network of reinforcing voices that oppose fracking regulations, while being centrally coordinated by Strohm and Penry. Strohm worked for Penry in his run for State Senate in 2006. Penry and Strohm married in 2012, shortly after his divorce from his wife, whom he had married in 1999.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Penry and Strohm team both have connections to the national effort to reduce regulation on the oil industry through the creation of front groups, bottom-lined by oil and gas billionaires Charles and David Koch. Kristin Strohm has successfully solicited major funding from the Kochs. While Strohm was the finance director for Mike Coffman’s congressional campaign, Coffman benefited from ads run by Americans for Prosperity supporting his campaign. Through Strohm, he also received the maximum possible donation allowed by law from David Koch. Starboard Group’s website boasts of working for the Koch Brothers' flagship front group, Americans for Prosperity. Strohm has also hired former Koch Interns to the Starboard Group. A former director of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a front group created by Strohm, attended the secretive 2010 Koch strategy meeting in Aspen. Penry’s EIS Solutions also has close ties to the Koch network. The director for Colorado’s Americans For Prosperity chapter is a former EIS Solutions employee, Dustin Zvonek. Like the other front groups in Penry’s orbit, Zvonek and AFP have been consistently working against local control of drilling regulations.
This means that Congressman Stewart now has dominion over the EPA, climate change research, and "all activities related to climate." According to the House Science Committees website (of which Stewart's subcommitee is a part), the chair of the Environment subcommittee oversees:
"all matters relating to environmental research; Environmental Protection Agency research and development; environmental standards; climate change research and development; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including all activities related to weather, weather services, climate, the atmosphere, marine fisheries, and oceanic research;…"
Unfortunately for the EPA, NOAA, and anyone worried about climate change, Chris Stewart is a climate science denier. Mr. Stewart believes there is "insufficient science" to determine if climate change is caused by humans. He believes this in spite of the fact that the EPA, NOAA, and all experts in the field (which he now oversees), disagrees with him.
For the record, Chris Stewart has no advanced degrees in science. However, before running for congress he was owner and CEO of Shipley Group, a company that trains government workers on environmental issues. Shipley Group actually runs a training on climate change science, and according to the Shipley Group website "Upon completion of the workshop, participants will be able to understand basic climate change science." Clearly Mr. Stewart has never taken his company's training.
Ties to Fossil Fuels
Though Stewart seems to ignore climate change science (while his company profits by teaching it), he does not ignore the fossil fuel industry. In fact he is quite sympathetic to the plight of oil and gas companies. His campaign website claims:
"I am the CEO of a company that works extensively with independent energy producers. I understand how difficult it is to get a drilling permit on federal lands. It is painfully slow, incoherently arbitrary, and always expensive."
Stewart's "extensive" knowledge of the fossil fuel industry is not a surprise. His brother, Tim Stewart is a lobbyist for American Capitol Group, a washington DC lobbying firm. American capitol Group lobbies for fossil Fuel interests, like the Western Energy Alliance, a group mainly comprised of fracking and oil companies. Tim Stewart also lobbied for EnergyNorthAmerica, a company he cofounded to lobby for the Fossil Fuel Industry. One EnergyNorthAmerica slide presentation reads:
"The fact that fossil energy and mining are viewed by political "elites" with disfavor, a view driven by acolytes of radical environmentalism, has resulted in damaging laws and regulation and general neglect"
Unsurprisingly, the fossil fuel industry does not ignore Chris Stewart either. One of Stewart's books (which were published and praised by Glenn Beck), is recommended reading at Koch Industries. Stewart received the maximum possible campaign contribution from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries during his last campaign. He also received considerable support from several Koch and Exxon funded SuperPACs. All told, he received more funding from dirty energy companies and their superPACs than any other single source.
See Chris Stewart's PolluterWatch profile for more information.
"The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless."
Recent revelations regarding Smithsonian scientist Willie Soon's financing and coordination with fossil fuel companies for studies undermining the science of climate change has received quite a bit of attention. Our friends at the Climate Investigations Center have links to source documents, letters to the IRS and Congress, letters to journals that Soon appears to have mislead, and some of the press covering all of this.
The drama has largely outshone the main point among most scientists: Willie Soon's work is vastly discredited. For those who aren't familiar with Willie Soon's fossil fuel company contracting over the last fifteen years, there is probably a legitimate question of whether or not this guy deserves to be in his current pinch.
Frankly, he had it coming.
Scientists and science reporters have often had to waste their time addressing the interference of Soon and his cohorts, who take advantage of the public's general unfamiliarity with scientific nuance.
But scientists too are talking about Dr. Soon's work and what it means for the troubled peer-review process that the most stringent journals usually adhere to. Here is a summary of some of the most interesting conversations in science publications about Willie Soon's #Fakexpert scandal.
First, Soon's manager at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Charles Alcock, has time and time again said that neither he nor Smithsonian support Soon's fossil-funded conclusions. From E&E Publishing's ClimateWire:
"I'd have to say that I've reached my conclusions independent of Dr. Soon's work," Alcock said. "Dr. Soon is not actively engaged in actually gathering new data. He's principally disputing the interpretation of data gathered by other people. And I think this is an area where most of the progress will be made by people who collect new [climate] data or who build new models."
Soon's industry-financed papers have been debunked by climate scientists over and over. Just last month, Soon co-authored a paper claiming to debunk decades of science using a "simple" model of long term temperature projections. Scientists worldwide noted that Soon's methodology was grossly oversimplified, ignoring key factors that scientists have warned will lead to unprecedented temperature increases in the coming decades.
The Heartland Institute, a think tank with ties to the fossil fuel industry, paid to promote this paper in Science Bulletin, a journal published by the Chinese National Academy of Sciences. Heartland has misrepresented the Chinese NAS for political purposes before, and Science Bulletin was the latest victim of Dr. Soon's serial lack of disclosure of fossil fuel funding to science journals. Science Insider - published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) - interviewed editors at science journals who appear to have been fooled by Dr. Soon's non-disclosure of his industry payments.
But Soon's work was widely disregarded before his controversial 2015 paper in Science Bulletin. The prestigious science journal Nature notes that Dr. Soon's haggard relationship with science isn't new:
The scientist has published numerous papers that go against mainstream climate science. Most famously, in 2003, Soon co-authored a paper in the journal Climate Research that questioned the standard interpretation of climate change over the past millennium and argued that recent warming is not unusual by historical standards. Subsequent controversy led to the resignation of several of the journal’s editors. In that case, the controversy revolved around scientific issues, not disclosure of funding sources. [More on this scandal in our profile of Willie Soon]
NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt for RealClimate re-starts, giving Soon the benefit of the doubt (select clips):
However, a valid question is whether the science that arose from these funds is any good? It’s certainly conceivable that Soon’s work was too radical for standard federal research programs and that these energy companies were really taking a chance on blue-sky high risk research that might have the potential to shake things up. [...]
It is most succinctly highlighted in an article Soon wrote ‘It’s the Sun, stupid’ (not sure if it was ever really published anywhere, but he did send it to his contacts at Koch Industries). Towards the end he states:
The evidence in my paper is consistent with the hypothesis that the Sun causes climatic change in the Arctic.
It invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change – and raises serious questions about the wisdom of imposing cap-and-trade or other policies that would cripple energy production and economic activity, in the name of “preventing catastrophic climate change.”
It is the leap from the first to second sentence that drives Soon’s research – the notion that if you can find enough correlations to solar forcing, the impact of CO2 must be diminished, if not obliterated altogether. But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero.
If you're feeling masochistic enough to read more from scientists into the documented gap between reality and Willie Soon's research, check older RealClimate posts on Dr. Soon here, here, and here, and this generously-detailed debunk of Soon's presentation at the latest Heartland Institute climate denial conference by ecologist Richard Telford.
Telford isn't the only scientist baffled by Soon's awkward presentations. University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank details his "depressing" encounter with Willie Soon, at an event and a personal encounter, from NPR:
When it was announced that Soon was giving a talk at the University of Rochester, I knew it would be interesting. I was more than willing to hear what the man had to say. The whole point of being a scientist is, after all, to try to leave your preconceptions at the door and let the work speak for itself. I also wanted to understand Soon's own thinking about the role he was playing as a public skeptic.
On all counts I was disappointed.
Taken as nothing more than a scientific talk, Dr. Soon's presentation was, in my opinion, pretty bad. I watch a lot of these things. It's part of my job. If Soon had been giving a Ph.D defense, he would have been skewered. I was left without a clear line of argument or clear justifications for his claims. More importantly, for a topic this contentious there was insufficient discussion of the voluminous and highly detailed response critics have offered to his claims that solar activity accounts for most observed climate variability. Many of my colleagues listening to the talk said they felt the same way. I came away thinking, "Is that the best they have?"
The presentation that Prof. Adam Frank found depressing was focused on Soon's long-since-discredited thesis that the Sun, not industrial pollution, is responsible for climate change. Citing peer-reviewed material on Skeptical Science, science reporter Chris Mooney re-examines how Soon's primary argument is debunked, for the Washington Post:
[T]he idea that the sun is currently driving climate change is strongly rejected by the world’s leading authority on climate science, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found in its latest (2013) report that “There is high confidence that changes in total solar irradiance have not contributed to the increase in global mean surface temperature over the period 1986 to 2008, based on direct satellite measurements of total solar irradiance.”
The IPCC “basically says that global warming is not caused by the sun,” says Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The strongest evidence for this is the record of satellite measurements of solar output since the late 1970s that show no increasing trend in solar output during a period of rapid global warming.” [...]
A recent scientific review article on climate and the sun similarly notes “the lack of detection of an underlying irradiance trend in the past three decades,” and concludes, in rather strong terms, that:
Claims that the Sun has caused as much as 70% of the recent global warming … presents fundamental puzzles. It requires that the Sun’s brightness increased more in the past century than at any time in the past millennium, including over the past 30 years, contrary to the direct space-based observations. And it requires, as well, that Earth’s climate be insensitive to well-measured increases in greenhouse gases at the same time that it is excessively sensitive to poorly known solar brightness changes. Both scenarios are far less plausible than the simple attribution of most (90%) industrial global warming to anthropogenic effects, rather than to the Sun.
So in sum: It’s not that the sun can’t influence climate. It can, and it does. And climate scientists have accordingly been studying the influence of the sun for many years.
Discover Magazine has a similar rundown of Soon's debunked "it's the sun" thesis, based on a video of a presentation Soon gave to a Koch-funded student group.
Even Koch-funded scientist Richard Muller has abandoned Soon's solar theories in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, as Brad Friedman reminds us, in a study that Charles Koch Foundation itself helped finance (oops).
While most scientists may agree that Soon's work is nothing to bat an eyelash at, Soon's corporate funders aren't trying to influence scientists - they're trying to influence policymakers, and the people who vote for them. The Scientist quotes Harvard's Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, a book documenting corporate manipulation of science that is now being released as a critically-acclaimed movie (trailer here):
Though the vast majority of climate scientists agree that the Earth’s climate is changing as a result of human activities that increase the amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, researchers like Soon foment debate by publishing alternate hypotheses or denials. “The whole doubt-mongering strategy relies on creating the impression of scientific debate,” Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard, told the Times. “Willie Soon is playing a role in a certain kind of political theater.”
And the implications for this? Jay Michaelson at the Daily Beast has a brilliant summary of why these climate deniers matter, when their work is so discredited and marginalized in the scientific community:
Yet unlike 9/11 trutherism, and Obama-is-a-Muslim trutherism, the Climate Truther campaign has an air of respectability, a unanimous adherence among Republican presidential candidates. How is that possible?The answer is money. Lots of money. Billions of dollars, in fact, spent to create an entire industry of scientists, publicists, think tanks, and legislative organizations.Willie Soon, for example, should never have been given much credence in the first place. Like nearly all of the Climate Truthers’ scientists, he is not a climate expert. He’s not even an astrophysicist, as he is often presented. As the New York Times revealed, “He is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering.”
“Willie Soon (as amply documented in my book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”) was instrumental in the early attacks on the Hockey Stick by James Inhofe and other fossil fuel industry-funded politicians. Now we know for certain that his efforts were a quid pro quo with special interests looking to discredit my work as a means of calling into question the reality and threat of climate change.”
Extra Extra! Read all about climate denial scientist Willie Soon's dirty money from petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch, coal utility Southern Company, oil giant ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies to deny the science of climate change!
The last time I bumped into Willie Soon, I asked him if there was any explanation for some of the information in our latest round of documents indicating that his employer was eager to take money from ExxonMobil:
The questions I tried asking Dr. Soon (who won't talk to me, after a few of these encounters went bad for him) are based on seemed to show that despite all the embarrassment Soon has caused his employer, the Smithsonian Institution, private communications with ExxonMobil indicate that Smithsonian was all too happy to take Exxon's money for their general operating budget.
Is that why the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics allowed Dr. Soon to conduct what essentially is a lobbying and public relations campaign for fossil fuel companies, all in their name? From the documents Greenpeace obtained, here's the Harvard-Smithsonian Center thanking Exxon:
To their credit, Smithsonian officials say they are doing an internal review of Dr. Soon. We'll see how that goes, but it's not encouraging to see that Soon's coworkers may have been complicit in peddling influence for ExxonMobil and the other polluters financing Dr. Soon.
For years, we at Greenpeace have been working to make public the secret paper trails that show what everyone already knows: climate science deniers - #Fakexperts - are few and far between, and most of them are paid by companies most responsible for global warming to downplay the problem.
Willie Soon's payments from Koch, Exxon, Southern Company and the American Petroleum Institute aren't news - we've known he took over $1 million from these interests since 2011. But the level of detail and the implications from this latest round of research is shocking. From the New York Times:
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work. The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
For Greenpeace, this raises both legal and ethical questions. From The Guardian:
In letters to the Internal Revenue Service and Congress, Greenpeace said Soon may have misused the grants from the Koch foundation by trying to influence legislation.
Our executive director Annie Leonard just sent a letter to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and two letters to the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (here and here) in pursuit of answers.
Is the IRS okay with Charles Koch's nonprofit foundation funding research that appears to have directly influenced state and national politicians? Did ExxonMobil violate any Congressional rules by giving Soon a grant just two months after Soon told Congress he had no financial conflicts of interest, after telling them that climate change isn't a crisis? And Southern Company?
We will keep you posted as things unfold - keep track yourself on the Climate Investigations Center, where our former colleague Kert Davies is busy trying to answer the same questions. For disclosure - know that Kert helped start this work when he still was Greenpeace's Research Director. We have continued to partner with him on this since his amicable split from our team.
After you read the Times, check out more on the story...just about everywhere. The Boston Globe writes that Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) plans on opening an investigation on climate science deniers. InsideClimate News notes how Soon has been part of a game plan detailed by the American Petroleum Institute in a leaked memo from 1998. Gawker, Discover Magazine, and STGIST have more. Gizmodo wins for the most brazen headline.
Perhaps you heard the good news - the world's largest public relations firm, Edelman, just spun off an advertising subsidiary so that it could show a commitment to not aiding the denial of climate change science. The Guardian explains how API's contracts with Edelman were so massive--tens of millions of dollars--that it was up to 10% of the PR giant's income.
For years, Edelman has managed multi-million dollar contracts with the American Petroleum Institute (API), using its Blue Advertising subsidiary to help API run commercials selling fantasies to people: that oil and gas are our only viable, plentiful, "AMERICAN" sources of energy.
In the saga that led Edelman to dump the lobbyists at API, Greenpeace had a small role to play: we infiltrated a commercial shoot, run by Edelman's Blue advertising arm for API. The commercials were to be called "Vote 4 Energy," casting the illusion of mass popular demand for more oil and gas drilling (and more pollution, more climate change, and more government giveaways to prop it all up).
After being dressed up in a button-down, plaid orange shirt--I'm not sure what look they had in mind for me--I was put in front of the camera and told to repeat lines back. This despite the casting call for "REAL PEOPLE not Actors!" Huh.
Instead of telling them "I Vote" for oil and gas, I ran off script and demanded a prioritization of clean energy, not continued pandering to oil lobbyists at API. As I was ushered off set, the person I appealed to for a clean energy future was Robert McKernan, president of Blue Advertising, the company that Edelman is ditching. He was the last person I saw before being booted out of the studio rooms, and as we locked eyes, I appealed directly to him: "we need clean sources of energy, like wind and solar." Here's a transcribed recording of that on-set disruption:
Shockingly, API and Edelman didn't stop the commercial shoot there and reinvent it into an appeal for clean energy (yes, that's sarcasm). And as Edelman and API moved forward with the commercial, Greenpeace got another idea.
On the day that API's commercials debuted, Greenpeace created and released a fake Vote4Energy commercial, mocking their bizarre message with parody oil executives dismissing clean energy and using empty patriotic jargon: "I vote for prosperous American liberty jobs for Freedom."
We crashed API's launch event for Vote4Energy, rolling out an astroturf mat for politicians and lobbyists to make their entrance, framed by oil company logos. Online, we buried their actual website with our spoof material and drove more traffic to our fake commercial. Some journalists actually linked to our silly video in their stories about API's Vote4Energy campaign.
This was in January, 2012. Since then, big things have happened at Edelman.
Edelman's Make-Or-Break Moment
Fast forward to last fall, 2014: Edelman suffered a months-long PR crisis--the last thing a PR firm wants--over its representation of API and other climate science denial organizations. Edelman's chairman, Richard Edelman, hastily put out a statement affirming his company's commitment to climate change.
Mr. Edelman was personally urging the press that he cared about the issue, and fired a top executive who was uncooperative with the Climate Investigations Center, which was surveying PR firms on their climate change policies. It was awkward.
The mess was intensified by another round of documents showing Edelman was helping TransCanada--the operator of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline--with campaign planning to subvert local activism in Canada against TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. After the plan was leaked, TransCanada dumped Edelman.
It seems that Big Oil is starting to be a Big Headache for Big PR. Of course, there are still plenty of public relations firms with little to no moral standard out there, unrecognized by the public, for Big Oil to pay for dirty PR.
But for the world's largest firm to take some meaningful steps to throw in the towel on climate denial - that indicates a precedent for an industry that most activists wouldn't have bothered to spend time trying to change.
And it's a good thing, because climate scientists aren't getting any less distressed about our changed climate. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is getting desperate enough to officially call for "unproven technology" in attempts to mitigate the crisis. Despite the weight of the crisis, which is just getting started, coal companies, oil companies, the Koch brothers and their legion of front groups are creating layers of red tape to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the first regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants.
Perhaps there's a slick PR firm out there willing to make right of its past and do something productive for the climate, and all of us who rely upon it.
Edelman: you're up. Show us you mean it this time.
By Graham Readfern, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
A billionaire “vulture capitalist” and major backer of the US Republican Party is a major funder of the think tank of Danish climate science contrarian and fossil fuels advocate Bjørn Lomborg, DeSmogBlog has found.
New York-based hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s charitable foundation gave $200,000 to Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) in 2013, latest US tax disclosures reveal.
The grant to Lomborg’s think tank is revealed in the tax form of the Paul E. Singer Foundation covering that foundation’s activities between December 2012 and November 2013.
Singer, described as a “passionate defender of the 1%”, has emerged as a major force in the Republican party in recent years and was a key backer and influencer during Mitt Romney’s failed tilt at the Presidency.
The $200,000 grant represented almost one third of the $621,057 in donations declared by the Copenhagen Consensus Center in 2013.
A spokesperson for the think tank told DeSmogBlog that “not one dollar” of the Singer grant had been spent.
Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, is often cited on lists of the world’s most influential people. He writes extensively on climate change and energy issues with his columns appearing in many of the world’s biggest news outlets.
The CCC think tank produces reports that consistently argue that cutting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the roll-out of current renewable energy technologies should be low priorities for policy makers.
Most recently, Lomborg wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal arguing climate change was not the urgent problem that many thought.
He wrote that “the narrative that the world’s climate is changing from bad to worse is unhelpful alarmism”.
Lomborg argues the poorest countries need fossil fuels to lift themselves out of poverty – a position that gained support from the world’s richest man, Bill Gates.
At a G20 side event in Brisbane last year, Lomborg appeared at an event sponsored by the world’s largest private coal company, Peabody Energy, where he again argued that the world’s poor needed fossil fuels.
The CCC’s keystone project is the Post 2015 Consensus that is trying to influence the formulation of the next set of global development goals being discussed by the United Nations. Those goals will replace the millennium development goals.
Lomborg’s CCC think tank was registered as a not-for-profit in the US in 2008 and has attracted almost $5 million in donations since then. In 2013, the CCC paid Lomborg, its founder and president, $200,484 for his work. The previous year Lomborg was paid $775,000.
The think tank has insisted that its funders, most of which are anonymous, do not influence its research. The think tank says it does not accept funding from the fossil fuel industry.
Despite being registered in the US, Lomborg has admitted that all but one of the think tank’s seven staff are based elsewhere. The think tank’s address is aparcel service in Lowell, Massachusetts.
The discovery of support from Paul Singer comes after a DeSmogBlog investigation last year found that CCC’s early funders included conservative think tanks with links to the network of organisations funded by the Koch brothers, who have pushed millions into organisations denying climate science and blocking action to cut fossil fuel emissions.
In the 2014 US political spending cycle, data presented by OpenSecrets shows Singer spent $9.4 million influencing Republicans – the biggest disclosed individual spender on the conservative side of US politics.
Singer, whose Elliott Management hedge fund manages about $25 billion in assets, has been branded a “vulture capitalist” enterprise due to investment strategies employed by his firm that targets foreign economies in trouble.
A 2011 summary of “vulture funds” in The Guardian said Elliott Management’s “principal investment strategy” was “buying distressed debt cheaply and selling it at a profit or suing for full payment”.
Greg Palast, the author of Vulture’s Picnic, documented in The Guardian how Singer’s firm had managed to pocket $1.29 billion from the US Treasury after a “brilliantly complex” financial manoeuvre in 2009 that saw Singer lead a consortium to buy the parts supplier of General Motors and Chrysler before claiming cash from a government bailout of the struggling auto industry.
Singer, who according to Forbes is personally worth $1.8 billion, remains in conflict with the Argentinian government over debt bought by an Elliott affiliate and other investors.
As well as the generosity shown to Bjorn Lomborg’s think tank, Singer’s foundation gave $500,000 to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, where Singer is chairman of the board of trustees.
The Manhattan Institute is also known for downplaying the impacts of climate change while promoting fossil fuels.
In October 2014, Manhattan senior fellow Robert Bryce wrote a report Not Beyond Coal arguing that the future for the coal industry was bright and the fossil fuel was “essential” for addressing poverty in developing countries — a position identical to that pushed by Lomborg.
Bryce also attacks the wind industry claiming it cannot cut emissions, describing wind turbines as “climate change scarecrows”. In testimony to the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in February 2014, Bryce said wind turbines were “slaughtering wildlife” and killed 600,000 birds every year in the US.
A review of studies and data into US bird deaths has found about 600 million birds are killed annually in collisions with windows and buildings, but even this high number was only a quarter of the birds killed annually in the US by feral cats.
Another large donation from Singer’s foundation went to the Moving Picture Institute – an organisation that says it produces films that promote understanding of “individual rights, limited government, and free markets”.
The MPI helped fund the 2004 pro-mining documentary Mine Your Own Business by Irish filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.
The two would go on to make the 2009 climate science denial film Not Evil Just Wrong, which was partly funded through a grant from DonorsTrust – a fund which stockpiles cash from conservative philanthropists and that has pushed millions into organisations promoting climate science denial while fighting action to cut emissions.
Roland Mathiasson, Executive Vice President at the Copenhagen Consensus Center, told DeSmogBlog: “Not one dollar of this grant has been spent. It's for a potential future project, pending support from a broad range of political perspectives to underline the non-political nature of the project.
“It is a project for the public conversation, so obviously there will be a lot of communication once broad support is secured, and the project is launched.”
Mathiasson declined to provide further details. DeSmogBlog attempted to contact the Paul E Singer Foundation to ask about their donation to CCC, but email requests went unanswered.
Written by Rachel Rye Butler, crossposted from Greenpeace.
News leaked this week that the Koch brothers’ billionaire network plans to spend nearly $900 million in fossil fuel and other corporate money to try to get their way in the 2016 election-- in other words, the Kochs and their cronies are planning to spend astronomically to prevent action on climate (as well as income inequality, voting rights, affordable healthcare, and many other issues of importance to the 99%).
The $889 million the Kochs plan to spend is more than the 2012 campaign budget for either the Democratic or the Republican party, and more than the Obama campaign spent in 2008, marking a shift in US politics that’s been underway since Citizens United.
Welcome to the Koch Primary
Candidates who want access to this giant hoard of campaign cash have to line up to protect the Kochs’ fossil fuel interests and prevent action on climate change. Some are calling this the Koch Primary, where candidates compete to show that the interests of the fossil fuel billionaires are at the top of their agenda.
Last weekend, the Kochs hosted the first of their twice-yearly secretive meetings for their corporate billionaire friends, during which they shared their $889 million election plans. A number of Republican presidential hopefuls-- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker-- attended the conference.
Hedging their bets against action on climate
So why would the Kochs and their network be motivated to spend so heavily in 2016?
Despite the fact that the Kochs are certainly a key piece of the Republican machine, helping the party elect candidates across the country, the Kochs aren't actually motivated by the interests of the Republican Party or any party. They are motivated by protecting their oil and chemical empire from regulation, no matter what.
When a supermajority of the public wants action on climate, it’s worth it for the Kochs to buy the allegiance of candidates who will walk the climate denial line, work to protect fossil fuel subsidies, and rubber stamp pet fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
In outspending the party machinery, the Koch network is hedging their bets against the fact that the public wants action on climate while providing a major incentive to candidates and congressional allies to not only hold the line on climate denial but hamper any actions or proposals coming out of the EPA or the White House.
Meanwhile, the Republican party and fossil-backed Democrats will struggle to both please their super-rich donors and appeal to voters who aren’t buying the “I’m not a scientist” climate denial dodge.
The Koch strategy to destroy democracy
Looking beyond the headlines, the Koch Primary and their $889 million campaign budget is the result of the Koch strategy at work.
To protect their fossil fuel interests, which are at odds with the public’s desire for a safe climate, clean water, and healthy air to breathe, the Kochs have spent the last several decades radically changing the face of American democracy, and investing major amounts of money in think tanks and other outlets involved in climate denial.
They’ve also worked long and hard to tear down laws and protections that limit corporate control of our elected officials, dumping ever more money in politics, along with campaigns and strategic litigation designed to suppress or disenfranchise key groups of voters, especially low-income and people of color. The goal is a world where candidates serve the interests of oily billionaires and their super-rich friends rather than those of the people.
In the Koch strategy to protect their fossil fuel interests, democracy has to go, and what’s at stake is our climate, and our very ability to survive on this planet.
We the People
The people, however, know what’s going on. They know that Koch and other fossil fuel money are behind Congress’s votes to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and protect tax breaks for polluters. They can hear the “ch-ching!” of fossil fuel cash every time a candidate says the words, “I’m not a scientist,” or “Climate change is a hoax.”
The Kochs are hoping that the people won’t believe that it’s possible to take back our democracy from the super-rich and will simply give up. They’re hoping that the people won’t turn out to vote while at the same time they’re working to make it harder to do so (check out voter ID laws and other dirty tricks.)
They’re hoping that people will just accept this brave new world-- and this is where they’re wrong. Literally millions of people across the US are fed up with corporate control and are calling for our democracy to be returned to the people. Four hundred thousand marched at at the People’s Climate March in September 2014. Five million plus have called for Citizens United to be overturned. Organizations representing millions of members from environmental, civil rights, labor, and other organizations are banding together in a new coalition to take back our democracy. And we also know that to take back our democracy, we need all of us. (One way to start is to add your name to the 5 million calling for an overturn of Citizens United.)
The overwhelmingly majority of Americans don't accept the Koch takeover of democracy. The Kochs have a lot to lose, or they wouldn’t be spending so much to keep their candidates in line. Because for the Kochs, what would happen if millions of people got together to ask the question, “Who do you really represent?”
We might get the democracy-- and the climate action-- we deserve.
In the public relations world, there exists a subset known as crisis communications, or crisis management. This is the type of service a company like Takata may purchase to handle deaths and recalls from faulty air bags, how BP and Halliburton seek damage control after causing the worst accidental oil spill in history, or how TransCanada may hire (then fire) PR giants like Edelman to handle activist groups that are resisting development of tar sands pipelines.
Now, DeSmogBlog's Kevin Grandia (a former Greenpeace employee) reveals how one particularly un-savvy PR agent named Randal Simonetti is using Greenpeace campaigns to end deforestation in Indonesia as an excuse for companies to hire people like him to troll activists' Facebook pages and slander activists as a bunch of greedy hypocrites. Simonetti says that activists don't really care about the bad things corporations do, like "defoliating" forests. Instead, we're just a bunch of greedy treehuggers, laughing all the way to our eco-friendly
banks credit unions:
As is often the case, funding is a primary driver of any activist organization’s behavior. However, there are people within the activist organization that really do believe in the mission but dislike the strategy of attacking just to raise awareness to increase funding.
These folks are essentially whistle blowers. Primarily, they only feel safe to express those opinions through social media therefore it is essential to search the social media networks for syntax clues provided by the whistle blowers. Then, expose that information through your own media channels.
This from the guy hired to protect the profit margins of large corporations during times of public scrutiny. Never considered is the fact that rainforest destruction in Indonesia is linked to slavery at palm oil plantations, local air pollution, global climate change, and habitat loss for critically endangered tigers and orangutans.
DeSmog's Grandia sums up Mr. Simonetti's likely motivation nicely:
By assuming from the word go that the company is right and that activists are only in it for the money, Simonetti sets up a path that ends in ruin for both his client and for the environmental advocates who want to see positive change. It creates a confrontation, instead of dialogue — a log jam before either party has even had the chance to consider the other's point of view.It sets up a scenario where nobody wins.Which, I guess if you are in the business of crisis communications, is a pretty lucrative situation to find yourself in.
How Corporate Executives Imagine Protests
Most hilarious is the Tweet where Randal Simonetti's company, EFP Rotenberg, attempts to sell its bad advice with the most awkward of images. Apparently, this is what impeccably-groomed middle-aged white men think grassroots protests look like:
For those hungry for more laughs, the full Ignition Consulting / EFP Rotenberg blog can be viewed here. The Greenpeace International campaign it references was waged against chocolate giant Nestle to end its role in driving the destruction of Indonesia's Paradise Rainforest. That campaign ended in productive partnership, the way Greenpeace (and most companies) prefer to collaborate on solving important problems.
But if corporations would rather favor Ignition Consulting's conflict-mongering instead of listening to the case of activist groups seeking solutions, they have every right to waste their time and money doing so. We don't want that, nor do we recommend it.
As students in Michigan, Kansas and Virginia attempt to pin down evasive administrators to review grant contracts cut between billionaire Charles Koch and their universities, one campus is working to tie these regional movements together. Photos from across the U.S. are posted below.
Florida State University (FSU) students affiliated with the group FSU Progress coordinated various student groups at 20 campuses across the U.S. to push back against corporate donors who use money to weave their interests into the mission of universities: educating students. For FSU Progress, this not only means resisting the efforts of Charles Koch to capture colleges to wage his long-term political campaigns--at the expense of academic freedom--but protesting the rigged process by which a Koch-backed politician is poised to take FSU's presidency. Inside Higher Ed explains:
"Monday’s event, though, focused on the wider issue of "corporatization of higher education" and homed in on state Sen. John Thrasher’s appointment last month as president. He was approved despite strong objections from students and faculty members.
"Student activists with the FSU Progress Coalition are asking the state Board of Governors to reject Thrasher’s appointment at its meeting this week. About 80 students walked from campus to the Old Capitol Monday as part of a rally protesting the selection of Thrasher. There’s also a walkout and occupation of the president’s office planned for Thursday while the Board of Governors meets, said Lakey, a graduate student at Florida State who only goes by one name. [...]
"Thrasher also was chosen multiple times as legislator of the year by the conservative, Koch-supported American Legislative Exchange Council, Lakey said. And Allan Bense, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, is also chairman of the board of directors of the James Madison Institute, a Koch-funded think tank.
"Thrasher has denied any sort of relationship with the Koch brothers, although he has received modest campaign contributions from Kansas-based Koch Industries."
In solidarity, other campuses took action in solidarity with FSU student organizers.
George Mason University is by far the largest university benefactor of Koch money, receiving $24 million from 2005-2012, excluding tens of millions of dollars from Koch to two Koch-governed think tanks on campus. GMU student protestors petitioned their fellow students to help grow pressure on the GMU administration, which has so far failed to provide the transparency needed to prove to it students and professors that Koch money isn't exerting influence in the classroom. Photo below.
University of Virginia students hosted a teach-in on the student debt crisis that was conducted in solidarity with the FSU protests. Photo below.
Michigan State University students filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain any grant agreements signed between MSU and the Charles Koch Foundation. MSU was Tweeting its support yesterday. Photos below.
Students at University of Kansas are awaiting the results of an open records request submitted in September, which their administration charged them $1,800 for. After making their case in a public op-ed in the Lawrence Journal-World, public supporters helped KU students raise the money needed to get documents relating to former Koch-lobbyist Art Hall who now runs a project in KU's business school with Koch grants. University of Maryland is being criticized by members of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP). SLAP member Chris Bangert-Drowns noted the shady history of Koch Industries, which has faced a range of multi-million dollar fines, lawsuits, criminal and civil penalties for chemical leaks, oil spills, stealing from American Indians and wrongful death due to corporate negligence. Given Koch's history of profiting from such bad business conduct, Bangert-Drowns noted,
"In accepting the donation from the Charles Koch Foundation, this university is condoning the historically criminal, destructive and treacherous behavior of Koch Industries and its leaders."
As with UMD, students have questioned what Koch's six-figure grants are buying at George Washington University, a private school in Washington, DC. Last spring, Freshman student Kinjo Kimea wrote:
It’s impossible to tell whether strings are attached to this donation. The University has declined to disclose if there were any conditions that came with accepting the money. That should raise red flags. Students deserve to know whether politics play a role in these decisions. Donors can be outspoken Republicans or Democrats, yes, but fundraising requires transparency.
Koch is now noticing this nationwide revolt. In response to student protest, the Charles Koch Foundation just created "academic giving principles" that aim to gloss over the documented cases in which academic freedom took a back seat to Mr. Koch's preferences. This is consistent with the activities of Mr. Koch: micromanage the things you fund, and use fancy words to obscure what you're actually doing - in this case meddling with the education of high school and college students.
Charles Koch cannot hide his assault on academic freedom with words. Mr. Koch is attempting to buy a constituency which is actively developing its ability to think critically. Students and professors are asking the right questions, and Koch-funded university administrations aren't helping by behaving in secretive ways.
The primary suspect in examining nationwide attacks on academic freedom is billionaire Charles Koch. Greenpeace has documented that what little is known about the $50 million Koch sent to universities from 2005-2012 puts Mr. Koch's corporate ideologies ahead of the ability for faculty to teach concepts freely.
Resources: Day of Action against the Corporitization of Education.
- Facebook event page
- Twitter #UnKoch feed
- Announcement from Florida State University Students
- Greenpeace report: Koch on Campus: Polluting Higher Education
Photos from FSU and solidarity protests across the country:
Stand with students today to #unkoch our schools. Follow @FsuProgress to learn more. pic.twitter.com/pZNGIMywIZ — Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) November 3, 2014
.@SLAPUCF stands in #solidarity with Florida State students, faculty, and workers. #UnKoch #fightcorruption pic.twitter.com/E3VDIEJONE — SLAP - Student Labor (@studentlabor) November 3, 2014
.@slapumass supports FSU students, faculty & workers. #fightcorruption #UnKoch F$U #UnKochMyCampus #StopCorporateU pic.twitter.com/slI4yL9svR — SLAP - Student Labor (@studentlabor) November 3, 2014
GP staff standing w/students to #unkoch our schools. Take your own pic & post with #unkoch http://t.co/htCFuSFOAo pic.twitter.com/IMBiCUE3W7 — Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) October 30, 2014
.@floridastate alum and @greenpeaceusa staffer Florence stands w @FsuProgress to #UnKoch their campus! #highered pic.twitter.com/hIgtMSN5DI — Connor Gibson (@ClimateConnor) October 31, 2014
University of Oregon Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation
George Mason University students
Temple University (PA) Students
University of Virginia students
Michigan State University students and Grad Employees Union
American University students
Written by Kert Davies - former Research Director of Greenpeace USA - crossposted with permission from Climate Investigations Center: Five Questions on Climate Change for Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO.
Five questions reporters might ask Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO on climate change and energy:
1. YOUR PERSONAL UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE SCIENCE?
Lisa Nelson, you stated recently that you “don’t know” the science of climate change.
Q: What is your plan to further inform yourself on climate change?
Q: What sources of information will you be seeking and what questions about the science of climate change are you seeking to answer first?
Note: Nelson answered to National Journal “I don't know the science on that" when asked specifically whether human emissions are the primary driver of climate change.”
2. ALEC’s POSITION ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
Q: Will you be seeking advise and counsel from ALEC’s Board of Directors, Private Enterprise Advisory Council, Board of Scholars or Private Sector Members to clarify ALEC’s position on climate change in the wake of Google and other recent corporate departures?
Notes: ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling was recently quoted saying ALEC doesn't have a position on climate science anymore than a policy “jelly beans”, a strange analogy for a crucial issue of our times.
Lisa Nelson said on Diane Rehm: “To be clear: ALEC has no policy on climate change, and does not take positions without underlying model policy. " Yet the organization's September 24th letter to Google stated ALEC “Recognizes that climate change is an important issue...” However, the ALEC website is more direct yet equivocal on the scientific basis: “Global Climate Change is Inevitable. Climate change is a historical phenomenon and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.”
Which is it?
3. ALEC SPONSORS CONTROL OF MEETING AGENDA?
There are many events (luncheons, workshops, etc.) held during ALEC conferences.
Q: How much control do sponsors have over session topics and speaker selection? Have the Heartland Institute or CFACT indeed paid ALEC to hold sessions about climate change during your meetings? Or did ALEC request that they hold these briefings?
4. BALANCED “EXCHANGE” ON CLIMATE SCIENCE?
ALEC stated in its September 24th Letter to Google that it “just hosted a roundtable conversation for a variety of companies—including Google—on this very issue.”
Q: Will you provide evidence of this “roundtable” and what companies were present?
Note: There was a Google presentation within the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force session of the July annual meeting, but specifically on the subject of Google's renewable energy goals, not climate change.
5. ALEC OPPOSITION TO SUBSIDIES FOR FOSSIL FUELS AND NUCLEAR ENERGY?
ALEC maintains positions against government mandates and subsidies which backstop the organizations opposition to renewable energy targets.
Q: Given ALEC’s emphasis on free markets and subsidies, does the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force plan to pass model legislation limiting fossil fuel and nuclear energy subsidies and corporate welfare?