TCS Daily

The Big Business of Climate Change Research

By Roy Spencer - April 1, 2005 12:00 AM

In the climate change debate, or more generally for any environmental issue, there exists a widespread assumption that funds provided by "big business" are used to promote falsehoods, while funds going to environmental organizations represent the grassroots will of the people. The people are like David going up against an industrial Goliath, hoping to spread truth in the face of insurmountable odds. There is little doubt that the vast majority of the citizens who donate to environmental causes view the situation in this way.

But a new report released today by the Marshall Institute, a Washington-based science policy group, looks at the major donors to environmental groups for climate-related activities. It finds that the vast majority of those donors represent and promote left-leaning causes.


Historically, those causes often involve lobbying Congress to promote a specific agenda. A startling example of this is the recent report of a former officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts admitting that Pew heavily funded a number of private interests to make it look like there was a grassroots movement in favor of campaign finance reform, which was later passed by Congress.


A wide variety of charitable foundations fund organizations whose very existence depends upon environmental crises. Does anyone really believe that organizations such as Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, and World Resources Institute would breathe a collective sigh of relief if the balance of evidence were to show that global warming was going to be relatively small, benign, and even beneficial?


I know at least two climate scientists that have received MacArthur Fellowship "genius grants", large no-strings-attached monetary awards, for their work on raising awareness of the threat posed by climate change. I wonder if there will ever be a MacArthur Fellowship for any researcher that finds evidence for a much reduced threat to humanity from human-induced climate change?


While new environmental regulations might be an annoyance for private industry, the fact is that the bulk of any new environmental-related costs to those industries are simply passed on to the public through more expensive goods and services. In contrast, spearheading environmental issues is the only reason for the existence of environmental organizations. Since all organizations have self-preservation as their number one priority, it is the environmental groups that are the most vulnerable to a loss of public interest, and thus funding. Environmental awareness is a luxury of the world's wealthiest countries, and its funding depends on (often apocalyptic) fear. An electric utility, in contrast, will continue to experience a demand for electricity (even from the homes of environmentalists) no matter what environmental regulations are passed by congress that affect that utility.


In my experience, industry is reluctant to fund environmental research in support of their views, deferring instead to the federal government to fund what is, one hopes, a balanced and impartial environmental research program. The U.S. government funds a whopping $2 billion per year in climate-related research.


While the distribution of these funds to universities and private companies might be expected to be policy-neutral, the real situation isn't quite so simple. Government agencies that disperse research funds have an infrastructure that depends upon congressional support for their existence. Their level of continued support depends upon the level of the threat perceived by the public, which then justifies the expenditure of tax dollars.


I'm not questioning the potential threat that climate change presents -- it is indeed an issue worthy of the investment. I am questioning, however, the perception that environmental organizations, and federal funding, are policy- and politically-neutral.


Someone once said, it's not a matter of who is biased (because everyone is) the real question is, which bias is the best bias to be biased with? I'm thankful that we have the freedom which allows the open exchange of ideas, and the competition between alternative philosophies and worldviews. The more money we spend on specific environmental threats, the less there is to devote to other issues. Therefore funding decisions must be based upon well informed citizens and policymakers. But let's not be nave about unbiased motives. They simply do not exist.


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