Following the Money That Undermines Climate Science

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Hiroko Tabuchi

It’s difficult to figure out who’s funding climate denial, because many of the think tanks that continue to question established climate science are nonprofit groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors. That’s true of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market research organization in Washington that disputes that climate change is a problem.

So, the program for a recent gala organized by the institute, which included a list of corporate donors, offered a rare glimpse into the money that makes the work of these think tanks possible.

Among the sponsors for the Game of Thrones-themed gala were groups that have long been aligned with fossil fuel interests, including the Charles Koch Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. The fuel and petrochemical group, which lobbies for gasoline producers, pushed to weaken car fuel economy standards, one of the Obama administration’s landmark climate policies.

But the program for the event, obtained by The New York Times and verified by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, also included major corporations, like Google and Amazon, that have made their commitment to addressing climate change a key part of their corporate public relations strategies.

Those companies both signed a pledge of support for the Paris Agreement and joined a coalition that vowed to stick to the climate pact’s goals after President Trump announced the United States would withdraw from it.

A Google representative said the tech giant’s support of the gala did not necessarily mean it supports climate denial. “We’ve been extremely clear that Google’s sponsorship doesn’t mean that we endorse that organization’s entire agenda,” said a spokesman for the tech giant, whose manager for outreach was listed on the dinner’s host committee.

A spokeswoman for Amazon, where employees have been urging the company’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, to adopt a climate change policy, said the company “may not agree with all of the positions of each organization,” but believed that its $15,000 contribution to the event “will help advance policy objectives aligned with our interests.”

Analysts at C.E.I. do advocate on a wide range of policies, including opposing antitrust laws, an issue dear to tech and telecom giants as well as other major corporations.

Still, the organization is arguably best known for its work disputing the science of climate change, and the corporations’ support comes at a time when the think tank has played an outsized role in the Trump administration. The head of the environment program at the C.E.I., Myron Ebell, led the Trump administration’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency, spearheaded the opposition to the Paris Agreement.

How does the C.E.I. itself view corporate America’s support? In a statement, the organization’s president, Kent Lassman, was clear. The institute asks support from those, he said, that “share our values.”


So, you’re committed to reducing your carbon footprint and you’ve identified the individual actions that work for you. Great! But what next?

Try talking to others about climate change.

“Family and friends are our most trusted source of information,” said Connie Roser-Renouf, an associate professor at George Mason University who specializes in science communication. “Talking about what you do and giving people a sense that they can do to make a difference is extremely important.”

One example, Dr. Roser-Renouf said, is the strong link between parents and children in terms of attitudes toward climate change. A recent study found that children talking to their parents about the issue can have a big influence. “The parents get more engaged,” she said, “and everyone does more.”

Another study found that people were better at conserving electricity when the power company informed them of their neighbors’ energy usage. Research published in June concluded that “perceived social consensus is associated with a higher percentage of people who believe climate change is real and human-caused.”

Yale Climate Connections has guides on how to talk about climate at social gatherings, and to children. The Times also has advice on discussing climate change with young people. Dr. Roser-Renouf says the first step in talking to others is to find out how they feel about the issue, then you talk about why you care about the issue.

Connecting climate change to your local community often provides a good point of reference, she said. Asking someone to become part of a group that you participate in can also be effective, she noted, pointing out that such a request is among the top reasons that people join an organization.

Regardless, Dr. Roser-Renouf says that being a climate communicator is a critical contribution. “Interpersonal communication is much more powerful than mass media information,” she said. “It’s the people we talk to and care about that persuade us.”