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Time to Wake Up: The Campaign to Mislead the Public on Climate Change

As delivered on the Senate floor

Thank you, Madam President. We are gathered here in the Senate in the somber shadow of the events in Boston at the marathon. And I guess I will start by conveying my sympathies to the individuals and their families who were killed or hurt in that terrible act.   I share the determination of so many people that our law enforcement folks will indeed get to the bottom of this, and will get the resources they need, and we will have answers and justice for the families that are affected.

I rise again though, on the subject I come to the floor every week we are in session to discuss, which is the need for this body to wake up to the reality of the clear scientific consensus that human activity is driving serious changes in our climate and oceans.

For more than two decades, the fossil fuel companies and certain right-wing extremists have cooked up a well-organized campaign to call into question the scientific evidence of climate change.  The paid-for deniers then manufacture an interesting product, they manufacture uncertainty so the polluters who are doing the paying can also keep polluting, because a sufficient atmosphere of uncertainty has been created to inhibit progress.   

This is not a new strategy. We have seen this played before. Industries eager to drown out scientific evidence to maximize profit is not a new story. They questioned the merits of requiring seatbelts in automobiles. They questioned the toxic effects of lead exposure. And they questioned whether tobacco was really bad for people.

Well, they were wrong then and they’re wrong now about climate. Interestingly, they do not actually care. It is not their purpose to be accurate. They just want to create doubt; to sow enough of a question  to stop progress. So these sophisticated campaigns are launched to give the public the false impression that there actually is a real scientific debate over climate change.  And here in the Senate, regrettably, some of my colleagues even promote this view. 

But, let’s be practical here. Which is the more likely case?

April 16 2013 Climate Change Speech Chart 1

Are a handful of nonprofit environmental groups using their limited funding to pay off literally hundreds and hundreds of climate scientists in an internationally coordinated hoax to falsify complicated climate research? Really?

April 16 2013 What is More Likely Chart 2

Or is it more likely that fossil-fuel corporations are using a slice of their immense profits to float front groups to protect their immense profits?

Well, the answer to that question is obvious I think, just from the logic. But we don’t have to apply logic. We can follow the money and look at evidence.

According to an analysis by the Checks and Balances Project, a self-described pro-clean-energy government and industry watchdog group, from 2006 to 2010, four sources of fossil-fuel money, just 4 of them, contributed more than $16 million to a group of conservative think tanks that go about the business of being publicly critical of climate science and clean energy.  Those four sources are the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, and oil giant ExxonMobil.  On the receiving end is a lengthy roster of well-known and often-cited rightward-leaning outfits: The top 10 (we’ll just talk about the top 10 in this set of remarks):

  • American Enterprise Institute
  • Cato Institute
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute
  • Heartland Institute
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Hudson Institute
  • Institute for Energy Research
  • George C. Marshall Institute
  • Manhattan Institute
  • Mercatus Center

Who’s giving? Well, Charles Koch is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries and he is the 6th-richest person on the planet.  Koch Industries is the second-largest privately held company in the United States.  Koch companies include the Koch Pipeline Company, and Flint Hills Resources, which operates refineries with a combined crude oil processing capacity of more than 292 million barrels per year.  That much oil accounts for 126 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year—as much as 35 coal-fired power plants produce or 26 million cars.  So to put it mildly, this fellow has got some skin in the game.

Between 2006 and 2010, the Charles G. Koch Foundation gave almost $8 million to think tanks and institutes, including $7.6 million to the Mercatus Center, and $100,000 to the American Enterprise Institute.

Charles Koch, along with his brother David, also established the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation – those two have the same source - and they direct that foundation’s giving as well. This foundation provided almost $5 million to climate denying think tanks and institutes, including over $1 million to the Cato Institute, and more than $2 million to the Heritage Foundation.

The Earhart Foundation was started by Henry Boyd Earhart using funds from his oil business, White Star Refining Company—now a part of, you guessed it, ExxonMobil.  The Earhart Foundation has donated almost $1.5 million to climate denier groups: $370,000 to the American Enterprise Institute, $330,000 to the Cato Institute, and another $195,000 for the George C. Marshall Institute.

That leaves us, of course, ExxonMobil itself, which is the second largest corporation in the world, and among the most profitable.  Ranked number one among Fortune 500 companies, its total revenues reached nearly half a trillion dollars in 2012, and their profits were nearly $45 billion.  ExxonMobil produces over 6 million barrels of oil per day at its 36 refineries in 20 countries, so it’s the world’s largest oil producer. From 2006 to 2010, the petroleum giant gave institutes more than $2.3 million: $1.2 million for the American Enterprise Institute, $220,000 for the Heritage Foundation, $160,000 for the Institute for Energy Research, and $115,000 for the Heartland Institute.

So what did the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, and ExxonMobil get for all of that so-called charitable giving? Well, the Checks and Balances Project found that from 2007 to 2011, these ten organizations that I cited, the top 10, were quoted, cited, or had articles published over 1000 times, over 1000 times in 60 mainstream newspapers and print publications, and invariably they were promoting fossil fuels, undermining renewable energy, or attacking environmental policies. 

That’s good investing.  Spend millions of dollars on a handful of think tanks to protect billions of dollars in profits; really a thousand-to-one return. But here’s the problem: the public is unaware of the connection, usually. Only a handful of these attacks were accompanied by any explanation by the media that the fossil-fuel industry was involved in them.

Here’s one prime example. Last summer, when the Navy displayed its Great Green Fleet, a carrier strike group that runs on a 50-50 blend of biodiesel and petroleum, Institute for Energy Research president Thomas Pyle wrote a column for U.S. News and World Report, calling that initiative “ridiculous,” and “a costly and pointless exercise.”

Never mind that our defense and intelligence communities have repeatedly warned of the threats posed by climate change to national security and international stability, and of their own need to secure a reliable and secure fuel supply.  What’s misleading here is that U.S. News and World Report in publishing that article attributed the column simply thus: “Thomas Pyle is the president of the Institute for Energy Research,” with no mention that the Institute for Energy Research is a front for big donors like the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and ExxonMobil.

This is one example of this misleading practice in the media.

[Show Media Description Chart]

More than half of the time, media outlets do nothing more than state the name of the publishing organization, like Thomas Pyle and the Institute for Energy Research, or they may add a functional description, like “think-tank” or “non-partisan group.”

The instances when the publication described the basic ideology of the group, for example as a “free-market” or “conservative” think tank, amount to less than a third.

In all of the media outlets reviewed between 2007 and 2011, the financial ties between the authors and the fossil-fuel industry were mentioned a mere 6 percent of the time. 94% of the time, the fossil fuel industry funders got away with it. This chart shows some examples:

[Show Anonymity Chart]

  • The Washington Post ignored the financial connection 88 percent of the time;
  • POLITICO – ignored the financial connection 95 percent of the time;
  • Christian Science Monitor – ignored it every time;
  • USA Today – ignored it 98 percent of the time;
  • The New York Times – ignored it 90 percent.

So the scam of laundering money through independent-sounding organizations works. The media lets it work. The vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is occurring, but a recent Gallup poll revealed that only 62 percent of Americans believe the vast majority of scientists agree global warming is occurring.

Well over 90 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and that humans are the main cause.  The only uncertainty is about how bad it is going to be. And the leading research predicts warmer air and seas, rising sea levels, stronger storms, and more acidic oceans.

Most major players in the private sector actually get it.  While the big fossil fuel polluters try to confuse the public to boost their bottom line and prolong their pollution, hundreds of leading corporations understand that climate change ultimately undermines our entire economy.  Let me think of, let me mention some of the examples: Ford; Coca-Cola; GE; Walmart; the insurance giant Munich Re; Alcoa, the great aluminum maker; Maersk; Proctor and Gamble; Fedex; and the so-called BICEP Group which includes EBay, Intel, Starbucks, Adidas, and Nike.  So this notion that this is a hoax, that there is doubt, is belied by some of the most respected names in the private sector. And those companies join the National Academies, NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Government Accountability Office, the American Public Health Association, and yes, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the majority of Americans, in understanding that it is time to wake up, to end the faux controversy that has been cooked up by the fossil fuel industry, and to do the work here in Congress that needs to be done to protect Americans from the harms of carbon pollution.

I thank the presiding officer and I yield the floor.