Follow the climate money? Well, they did…

By Gareth Renowden 13/01/2010

This is a cross-post from Peter Griffin’s blog Griffin’s Gadgets over at Sciblogs. Peter (head of the NZ Science Media Centre), had the chance to explore some of the background to the intense lobbying being carried out on climate action (or inaction) when he met Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity recently…

In the wake of Climategate and especially during the Copenhagen climate talks, much was made by climate sceptics of the “billions” climate scientists have received over the last two decades to undertake research into the claimed impacts of global warming.

This claim from the grand-sounding but climate crank-infested Science and Public Policy Institute typifies the criticisms:

The US Government has spent more than US$79 billion of taxpayers’ money since 1989 on policies related to climate change, including science and technology research, administration, propaganda campaigns, foreign aid, and tax breaks. Most of this spending was unnecessary.

cfpiWell, a group with a well-earned reputation for independent investigative journalism has followed the money trail of the climate change lobby set up to insulate the multibillion dollar industries that have the most to lose from the world’s governments getting serious about tackling climate change.

I had the pleasure of last week catching up with Bill Buzenberg, the executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity. Holidaying in New Zealand while visiting his daughter-in-law Dacia Herbulock, my colleague at the Science Media Centre, the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist filled me in on the centre’s latest investigation:

Our team pieced together the story of a far-reaching, multinational backlash by fossil fuel industries and other heavy carbon emitters aimed at slowing progress on control of greenhouse gas emissions. Employing thousands of lobbyists, millions in political contributions, and widespread fear tactics, entrenched interests worldwide are thwarting the steps that scientists say are needed to stave off a looming environmental calamity, the investigation found.

This, from a piece on the oil and coal industries’ lobbying efforts in Copenhagen:

The world’s two largest publicly traded companies, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, together earned nearly US$8 billion in the last quarter alone. They are leaders in an industry that employed more than 350 lobbyists in Washington during the first six months of 2009. Shell secured the lobbying expertise of a former U.S. senator. Exxon hired a former staffer for the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The extensive coverage following the global lobbying efforts on climate change makes for fascinating reading. If climate scientists have been riding a gravy train of Government funding, at least there’s transparency in where the money went. The climate change lobbyists, most of them working for energy providers and major polluters, are incentivised to win concessions for their deep-pocketed pay masters. The extent of this industry is hard to judge, as the centre discovered when it delved into the global lobbying industry.

For a taste of the issues that preoccupy these highly-paid lobbyists, read this piece on the jostling for position that was underway on the fringes of the Copenhagen conference:

For carbon-intensive power companies, the ideal outcome for a UN framework would feature major carbon reduction targets by the year 2050 or thereabout – allowing them to outfit their plants with technology to sequester carbon and store it underground. If faced with nearer term targets… many companies would have to turn to natural gas – a technology investment that wouldn’t payoff in the long run.

Sadly for the coal industry and despite the furious lobbying, carbon capture and storage remained off the agenda at Copenhagen and will not be added to the list of technologies that industrial countries can invest in to offset their emissions.

The point here is that for every dollar that goes to a scientist researching climate change, at least the same amount and likely much more is going into the pockets of people paid to maintain the status quo, discredit the scientists, slow progress on climate change. What is worse is that their activities are not transparent.

Follow the money say the sceptics. Well it is interesting, as the Centre for Public Integrity reveals in its investigation, that the aims of the climate change lobby groups and the large industries they represent dovetail quite nicely with the arguments put forward by the sceptics. As this report on Politico from the centre’s reporters notes:

Put the 60 or so venture and investment firm lobbyists together with the 170 alternative energy lobbyists and 160 environmental lobbyists, and they are still outnumbered 5-to-1 by the approximately 2,000 representatives of major sectors that are looking for a slowdown or handout – traditional manufacturers, power companies, oil and gas, transportation and agriculture. The total number of climate lobbyists working for all those interest groups, new and old, stands at about 2,780 – five for every member of Congress. That’s 400 percent more than when lawmakers first considered a nationwide greenhouse gas reduction program six years ago. If they all want a place at the Senate’s table, there had better be plenty of chairs.

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