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Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial think tanks

anonymous money
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Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120 million to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing “wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1 million or more.

Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust, told the Guardian that her organization assured wealthy donors that their funds would never be diverted to liberal causes.

"We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise," she said in an interview.

By definition that means none of the money is going to end up with groups like Greenpeace, she said. "It won't be going to liberals."

Ball won't divulge names, but she said the stable of donors represents a wide range of opinion on the American right. Increasingly over the years, those conservative donors have been pushing funds towards organizations working to discredit climate science or block climate action.

Donors exhibit sharp differences of opinion on many issues, Ball said. They run the spectrum of conservative opinion, from social conservatives to libertarians. But in opposing mandatory cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, they found common ground.

"Are there both sides of an environmental issue? Probably not," she went on. "Here is the thing. If you look at libertarians, you tend to have a lot of differences on things like defence, immigration, drugs, the war, things like that compared to conservatives. When it comes to issues like the environment, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced."

By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118 million distributed to 102 think tanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.

The money flowed to Washington think tanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.

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Climate change set to make America hotter, drier, and more disaster-prone

The report says steps taken by Obama to reduce emissions are 'not close to sufficient' to prevent the most severe consequences of climate change.
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The report says steps taken by Obama to reduce emissions are "not close to sufficient" to prevent the most severe consequences of climate change.

Future generations of Americans can expect to spend 25 days a year sweltering in temperatures above 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), with climate change on course to turn the country into a hotter, drier, and more disaster-prone place.

The National Climate Assessment, released in draft form on Friday, provided the fullest picture to date of the real-time effects of climate change on U.S. life, and the most likely consequences for the future.

The 1,000-page report, the work of the more than 300 government scientists and outside experts, was unequivocal on the human causes of climate change, and on the links between climate change and extreme weather.

"Climate change is already affecting the American people," the draft report said. "Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense including heat waves, heavy downpours and in some regions floods and drought. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting."

The report, which is not due for adoption until 2014, was produced to guide federal, state, and city governments in America in making long-term plans.

By the end of the 21st century, climate change is expected to result in increased risk of asthma and other public health emergencies, widespread power blackouts, mass transit shutdowns, and possibly shortages of food.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Mississippi River faces shipping closure as water levels drop

The Mississippi as seen from Ed Drager's tug boat is a river in retreat: A giant beached barge is stranded where the water dropped, with sand bars springing into view. The floating barge office where the tug boat captain reports for duty is tilted like a funhouse. One side now rests on the exposed shore. "I've never seen the river this low," Drager said. "It's weird."

The worst drought in half a century has brought water levels in the Mississippi close to historic lows and could shut down all shipping in a matter of weeks -- unless Barack Obama takes extraordinary measures.

It's the second extreme event on the river in 18 months, after flooding in the spring of 2011 forced thousands to flee their homes.

Without rain, water levels on the Mississippi are projected to reach historic lows this month, the National Weather Service said in its latest four-week forecast.

"All the ingredients for us getting to an all-time record low are certainly in place," said Mark Fuchs, a hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in St. Louis. "I would be very surprised if we didn't set a record this winter."

The drought has already created a low-water choke point south of St. Louis, near the town of Thebes, where pinnacles of rock extend upwards from the river bottom, making passage treacherous.

Click to embiggen.
Tim McDonnell/Climate Desk
Click to embiggen.

Shipping companies are hauling 15 barges at a time instead of a typical string of 25, because the bigger runs are too big for current operating conditions.

Barges are being sent off with lighter loads, making for more traffic, with more delays and back-ups. Stretches of the river are now reduced to one-way traffic. A long cold spell could make navigation even trickier: Shallow, slow-moving water is more likely to get clogged up with ice.

Current projections suggest water levels could drop too low to send barges through Thebes before the new year -- unless there is heavy rainfall.

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Al Gore calls on Barack Obama to ‘act boldly’ on climate change

Center for American Progress Action Fund

The former vice president and climate champion, Al Gore, has called on Barack Obama to seize the moment and use his reelection victory to push through bold action on climate change.

The president has faced rising public pressure in the wake of superstorm Sandy to deliver on his promise to act on global warming.

But none of those calling on Obama to act carries the moral authority of Gore, who has devoted his post-political career to building a climate movement.

Now, Gore said, it is the president's turn. He urged Obama to immediately begin pushing for a carbon tax in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" budget crisis.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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I will pump the climate activism up

Arnold Schwarzenegger: My future as a green activist

What will Arnold Schwarzenegger's next role be?Cross-posted from the Guardian. It's very nearly a wrap for Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose career as governor of California will come sputtering to an end in January with his approval rating in the 20s, the state budget shortfall at $25 billion, and unemployment at nearly 13 percent. But, like the action heroes he has so often played, the man they called the governator is already working on a comeback. In what is likely his last performance on a world stage as governor, Schwarzenegger this week launched the R20 climate network, an alliance of regional leaders …