An environmentalist lobbying group claims corporations pay vast sums to misrepresent climate science.
Last week the environmental lobbying group the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a new report entitled “A Climate of Corporate Control: How Corporations Have Influenced the U.S. Dialogue on Climate Science and Policy” [PDF]. Among other things, the report claims to trace corporate donations in 2008 and 2009 to think tanks and politicians as a way to uncover the true corporate attitudes and intentions toward climate change science and policy. According to the UCS, its analysis reveals that some corporations are climate-change science hypocrites, claiming to support the climate-change “consensus” in some venues but not in others. This climate hypocrisy allegedly produces confusion among both the public and policymakers, resulting in the defeat or delay of urgent policies needed to address climate change.
Several prominent news outlets swallowed these assertions from the UCS study. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Some major U.S. corporations that support climate science in their public relations materials actively work to derail regulations and laws addressing global warming through lobbying, campaign donations and support of various advocacy groups.” In line with the findings of the UCS, the L.A. Times specifically declared, “General Electric has backed six environmental and non-partisan research groups that accept the scientific consensus on climate change, including the Brookings Institution and the Nature Conservancy. At the same time, it has funded four organizations that reject or question the consensus, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.” Based on the UCS report, The Guardian (U.K.) stated, “Some of America’s top companies are spending heavily to block action on climate change or discredit climate science, despite public commitments to sustainable and green values.” The Guardian specifically mentioned that UCS had identified General Electric as being two-faced about climate change. According to the UCS report, among the four GE-supported organizations that “misrepresent” climate-change science is the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.
So what vast sums of money did the duplicitous executives at General Electric lavish on the Reason Foundation in 2008 and 2009 to support an implied campaign to traduce climate science? Exactly $325. How much did GE spend on matching and direct grants on the six think tanks identified by the UCS as being pro-climate consensus? That would be $497,744. At least with regard to General Electric’s contributions, it appears that the Union of Concerned Scientists has salted a follow-the-money trail with pieces of fool’s gold, which certain unwary news outlets obligingly picked up and reported as real bullion.
Let’s take a deeper look at just how much “support” General Electric has funneled into the Reason Foundation’s coffers. The UCS report notes it identified this “support” by mining General Electric’s two most recent IRS 990 forms, which report charitable giving by the GE Foundation. I asked Reason’s development people how much GE has contributed to the Reason Foundation during those two years. The grand total in our files and confirmed by the 990 forms investigated by the UCS researchers: $100 in 2009, and $225 in 2008.
Puzzled, I called up Dr. Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and director of its Scientific Integrity Program. She put me on speakerphone with her and the author of the report, Gretchen Goldman. I asked them if these minuscule donations were why GE was listed as a corporate supporter of the Reason Foundation. They answered yes. Seriously? Yes. They added that GE’s 990 forms did not disclose what the funds would be used for, darkly implying that the money might be directed to what the UCS might regard as climate disinformation campaigns.