Global Warming Skeptic Organizations (2013)

Published Jul 16, 2008 Updated Aug 16, 2013

An overwhelming majority of scientists agree — global warming is happening and human activity is the primary cause. Yet several prominent global warming skeptic organizations are actively working to sow doubt about the facts of global warming.

These organizations play a key role in the fossil fuel industry's "disinformation playbook," a strategy designed to confuse the public about global warming and delay action on climate change. Why? Because the fossil fuel industry wants to sell more coal, oil, and gas — even though the science clearly shows that the resulting carbon emissions threaten our planet.

Who are these groups? And what is the evidence linking them to the fossil fuel industry?

Here's a quick primer on several prominent global warming skeptic organizations, including examples of their disinformation efforts and funding sources from the fossil fuel industry. Many have received large donations from foundations established, and supported, by the fossil fuel billionaire Koch brothers.

American Enterprise Institute

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has routinely tried to undermine the credibility of climate science, despite at times affirming that the “weight of the evidence” justifies “prudent action” on climate change. [1]

For years, AEI played a role in propagating misinformation about a manufactured controversy over emails stolen from climate scientists [2], with one AEI research fellow even claiming, “There was no consensus about the extent and causes of global warming.” [3] A resident scholar at AEI went so far as to state that the profession of climate scientist “threatens to overtake all” on the list of “most distrusted occupations.” [4]

AEI received $3,615,000 from ExxonMobil from 1998-2012 [5], and more than $1 million in funding from Koch foundations from 2004-2011. [6]

Americans for Prosperity

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) frequently provides a platform for climate contrarian statements, such as “How much information refutes carbon dioxide-caused global warming? Let me count the ways.” [7]

While claiming to be a grassroots organization, AFP has bolstered its list of “activists” by hosting “$1.84 Gas” events, where consumers who receive discounts on gasoline are asked to provide their name and email address on a “petition” form. [8] These events are billed as raising awareness about “failing energy policies” and high gasoline prices, but consumers are not told about AFP’s ties to oil interests, namely Koch Industries.

AFP has its origins in a group founded in 1984 by fossil fuel billionaires Charles and David Koch [9], and the latter Koch still serves on AFP Foundation’s board of directors [10]. Richard Fink, executive vice president of Koch Industries, also serves as a director for both AFP and AFP Foundation. [11]

Koch foundations donated $3,609,281 to AFP Foundation from 2007-2011. [12]

American Legislative Exchange Council

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) maintains that “global climate change is inevitable” [13] and since the 1990s has pushed various forms of model legislation aimed at obstructing policies intended to reduce global warming emissions.

ALEC purports to “support the use of sound science to guide policy,” but routinely provides a one-sided platform for climate contrarians. State legislators attending one ALEC meeting were offered a workshop touting a report by a fossil fuel-funded group that declared “like love, carbon dioxide's many splendors are seemingly endless." [14, 15] Another ALEC meeting featured a Fox News contributor who has claimed on the air that carbon dioxide “literally cannot cause global warming.” [16, 17]

ALEC received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil from 1998-2012 [18], and more than $850,000 from Koch foundations from 1997-2011. [19]

Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University

From its position as the research arm of the Department of Economics at Suffolk University, the Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) has published misleading analyses of clean energy and climate change policies in more than three dozen states. 

These economic analyses are at times accompanied by a dose of climate contrarianism. For example, BHI Director David Tuerck has claimed that “the very question of whether the climate is warming is in doubt…” [20] Claims such as “wind power actually increases pollution” can be found in many of BHI’s reports.

BHI has publicly acknowledged its Koch funding [21], which likely includes at least some of the approximately $725,000 the Charles G. Koch foundation contributed to Suffolk University from 2008-2011. [22]

Cato Institute

Cato acknowledges that “Global warming is indeed real…” But when it comes to the causes of global warming, Cato has sent mixed messages over the years. Cato's website, for instance, reports that “… human activity has been a contributor [to global warming] since 1975.” [23] Yet, on the same topic of whether human activity is responsible for global warming, Cato’s vice president has written: “We don’t know.” [24]

Patrick Michaels, Director of Cato’s Center for the Study of Science, has referred to the latest Draft National Climate Assessment Report as “the stuff of fantasy.” [25] The most recent edition of Cato’s “Handbook for Policymakers” advises that Congress should “pass no legislation restricting emissions of carbon dioxide.” [26]

Charles Koch co-founded Cato in 1977. Both Charles and David Koch were among the four “shareholders” who “owned” Cato until 2011 [27], and the latter Koch remains a member of Cato’s Board of Directors. [28] Koch foundations contributed more than $5 million to Cato from 1997-2011. [29]

Competitive Enterprise Institute

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has at times acknowledged that “Global warming is a reality.” [30] But CEI has also routinely disputed that global warming is a problem, contending that “There is no ‘scientific consensus’ that global warming will cause damaging climate change.”  [31]

These kinds of claims are nothing new for CEI. Back in 1991, CEI was claiming that “The greatest challenge we face is not warming, but cooling.” [32] More recently, CEI produced an ad calling for higher levels of carbon dioxide. [33] One CEI scholar even publicly compared a prominent climate scientist to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. [34]

CEI received around $2 million in funding from ExxonMobil from 1995-2005 [35], though ExxonMobil made a public break with CEI in 2007 after coming under scrutiny from UCS and other groups for its funding of climate contrarian organizations. CEI has also received funding from Koch foundations, dating back to the 1980s. [36]

Heartland Institute

While claiming to stand up for “sound science,” the Heartland Institute has routinely spread misinformation about climate science, including deliberate attacks on climate scientists. [37]

Popular outcry forced the Heartland Institute to pull down a controversial billboard that compared supporters of global warming facts to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski [38], bringing an early end to a planned campaign first announced in an essay by Heartland President Joseph Bast, which claimed “… the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” [39]

Heartland even once marked Earth Day by mailing out 100,000 free copies of a book claiming that “climate science has been corrupted” [40] – despite acknowledging that “…all major scientific organizations of the world have taken the official position that humankind is causing global warming.”

Heartland received more than $675,000 from ExxonMobil from 1997-2006 [41]. Heartland also raked in millions from the Koch-funded organization Donors Trust through 2011. [42, 43]

Heritage Foundation

While maintaining that “Science should be used as one tool to guide climate policy,” the Heritage Foundation often uses rhetoric such as “far from settled” to sow doubt about climate science. [44, 45, 46, 47] One Heritage report even claimed that “The only consensus over the threat of climate change that seems to exist these days is that there is no consensus.” [48]

Vocal climate contrarians, meanwhile, are described as “the world’s best scientists when it comes to the climate change study” in the words of one Heritage policy analyst. [49]

Heritage received more than $4.5 million from Koch foundations from 1997-2011. [50] ExxonMobil contributed $780,000 to the Heritage Foundation from 2001-2012. ExxonMobil continues to provide annual contributions to the Heritage Foundation, despite making a public pledge in 2007 to stop funding climate contrarian groups. [51, 52]

Institute for Energy Research

The term “alarmism” is defined by Mirriam-Webster as “the often unwarranted exciting of fears or warning of danger.” So when Robert Bradley, CEO and founder of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), and others at his organization routinely evoke the term “climate alarmism” they do so to sow doubt about the urgency of global warming.

IER claims that public policy “should be based on objective science, not emotion or improbable scenarios …” But IER also claims that the sense of urgency for climate action is due not to the science that shows the real and growing conequences of global warming. Rather, IER suggests that researchers “exacerbate the sense [that] policies are urgently needed” for monetary gain, noting that “issues that are perceived to be an imminent crisis can mean more funding.” [53]

IER has received funding from both ExxonMobil [54] and the Koch brothers [55].

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

The Manhattan Institute has acknowledged that the “scientific consensus is that the planet is warming,” while at the same time maintaining that “… accounts of climate change convey a sense of certitude that is probably unjustified.” [56]

“The science is not settled, not by a long shot,” Robert Bryce, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow has written in the Wall Street Journal [57]. At other times Bryce has expressed indifference to the science on climate change. “I don’t know who’s right. And I really don’t care,” he wrote in one book. [58]

The Manhattan Institute has received $635,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998 [59], with annual contributions continuing as of 2012, and nearly $2 million from Koch foundations from 1997-2011. [60] 

Sources and References

1  American Enterprise Institute. 2009. Climate Change Email Scandal Underscores Myth of Pure Science.
2  Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), 2011. Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails in the "Climategate" Manufactured Controversy.
3  American Enterprise Institute. 2011. Climategate (Part II)
4  American Enterprise Institute. 2010. How Climate-Change Fanatics Corrupted Science.
5 2012. Factsheet: American Enterprise Institute, AEI.
6  UCS. 2013. Unreliable Sources: How the News Media Help the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil Spread Climate Disinformation.
7  Americans for Prosperity. 2013. AFP GA Activists Fire Major Shot Against Obama’s ‘War on Consumer Energy’ Agenda.
8  PR Watch. 2012. Koch's AFP Complains about Gas Prices, but Koch Speculation Helps Fuel High Prices at the Pump.
9  Koch Industries. 2010. Koch and Americans for Prosperity/Citizens for a Sound Economy.
10  Americans for Prosperity Foundation. About AFP Foundation: Directors.
11  Americans for Prosperity. About AFP: Directors.
12  Investigative Reporting Workshop. 2013. Koch database: donations to nonprofits.
13  American Legislative Exchange Council. 2011. ALEC Energy Principles.
14  The Cap Times. 2011. Brendan Fischer: CO2 is good for you, and other ALEC talking points.
15  Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. 2011. The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment.
16  PR Watch. 2013. A Side of Climate Change Denial with Your Coffee? ALEC Dishes up Some Hard to Swallow Spin with the Heartland Institute.
17  Climate Progress. 2012. WeatherBELL Chief Forecaster Joe Bastardi Denies Basic Physics: ‘CO2 Cannot Cause Global Warming’
18 2012. Factsheet: ALEC – American Legislative Exchange Council.
19  Greenpeace. 2011. Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
20  Carolina Journal Online. 2008. Friday Interview: Global Warming Policy Costs.
21  Washington Post. 2012. Climate skeptic group works to reverse renewable energy mandates.
22  Greenpeace. 2013. Koch Brother Fronts Flood into Kansas to Attack Wind Industry.
23  Cato Institute. Global Warming.
24  Cato Institute. 2005. Hot Enough for You? The state of the global-warming debate, and politicking.
25  Cato Institute. 2013. Federal Climatologists Pen Fantasy Novel.
26  Cato Institute. 2009. Cato Handbook for Policymakers.
27  Cato Institute. 2012. Cato Institute and Shareholders Reach Agreement in Principle.
28  Cato Institute. 2012. Cato Institute and Shareholders Reach Agreement in Principle.
29  Greenpeace. 2011. Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: Cato Institute.
30  Competitive Enterprise Institute. 2009. 10 Cool Global Warming Policies.
31  Competitive Enterprise Institute. Global Warming FAQ.
32  Competitive Enterprise Institute. 1991. Why Worry About Global Warming.
33  UCS. 2009. New Disinformation Ads Argue for More Carbon Dioxide.
34  UCS. 2013. Timeline: Legal Harassment of Climate Scientist Michael Mann.
35  UCS. 2013. Fossil Fuel Industry Funders of Climate Contrarian Groups, 2001-2011.
36  Greenpeace. Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: Competitive Enterprise Institute.
37  UCS. 2012. Scientists Who Had Emails Stolen Ask Heartland Institute to End Attack on Climate Science.
38  UCS. 2012. Who’s the Crazy One Here?
39  Heartland Institute. 2012. Do You Still Believe in Global Warming?’ Billboards Hit Chicago.
40  Heartland Institute. 2013. Heartland Institute Celebrates Earth Day with Release of New Book.
41 Factsheet: Heartland Institute.
42  The Guardian. 2013. How Donors Trust distributed millions to anti-climate groups.
43  The Center for Public Integrity. 2013. Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states.
44  Heritage Foundation. 2013. Climate Change: The Cost of “Bold Action”
45  Heritage Foundation. 2013. With Climate Change Science Unsettled, a Carbon Tax is Even More Useless.
46  Heritage Foundation. 2009. Sen. Inhofe Discusses Climategate, “The Greatest Scandal in Modern Science”
47  Heritage Foundation. 2013. 10 Questions for DOE Nominee Ernest Moniz.
48  Heritage Foundation. 2010. How the “Scientific Consensus” on Global Warming Affects American Business—and Consumers.
49  Heritage Foundation. 2009. Global Warming Conference: The Science of Climate Change
50  Greenpeace. 2011. Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: The Heritage Foundation.
51 2012. Factsheet: Heritage Foundation.
52  UCS. 2012. ExxonMobil Corporation.
53  Institute for Energy Research. Climate Change Overview.
54 Factsheet: Institute for Energy Research.
55  Investigative Reporting Workshop. 2013. Koch database: donations to nonprofits.
56  Manhattan Institute. 2007. Realities and Uncertainties of Global Warming.
57  Media Matters. 2011. Who Is Robert Bryce?
58  Media Matters. 2011. Who Is Robert Bryce?
59 2012. Factsheet: Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research.
60  Greenpeace. 2011. Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

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