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Now Dominant, the Green Movement Is Gobbling Its $pinach, With Few Blutos Left to Clobber

October 17, 2023

After years as a federal officer helping the Drug Enforcement Administration hunt drug lords across Central Asia, and years more teaching in Maryland classrooms, Robin Shaffer anticipated a quiet retirement watching the deep swells roll across the Atlantic and crash on to the broad Jersey Shore.

Instead, he finds himself embroiled in a fight. As a leader of a grassroots group, Protect Our Coast NJ, Shaffer, 53, is taking on an international company and politicians in Trenton backing Ocean Wind 1, a $10 billion proposal to line the Jersey Shore with 98 wind turbines whose 722-foot propeller whirls would dwarf the Washington Monument and Statue of Liberty.

It’s been an uphill battle, with the group “taking in nickels and dimes” and “selling T-shirts and magnets.” The local press seems indifferent to their cause, he said, noting that no outlets covered a public event he held at a pub, perhaps fittingly, with “Cheers” and "Frasier" actor Kelsey Grammer, one of Hollywood’s few prominent conservatives.

“There’s this argument made that we must be bought off, sort of, ‘Why fight the Green Revolution? Don’t you care about the environment?’” Shaffer said. “But we don’t have any corporate sponsors or major funding. It’s very much a David vs. Goliath kind of thing.”

Protect Our Coast NJ, an all-volunteer outfit with a budget of less than $100,000, is one example of an overwhelming disparity that has emerged in the debate over the aggressive push for renewable energy in response to what President Biden calls the “existential threat” of climate change. While once upon a time there may have been scrappy environmentalists combating the corporate might of Big Oil, major fossil fuel producers and conservative philanthropies provide little supporting research challenging climate change, Shaffer and other people interviewed for this article said. As a result, the money and the muscle and the lawyers are now aligned with what they call Big Green.

Government largesse, shot into the stratosphere by hundreds of taxpayer billions President Biden shoveled to green energy companies and backers through the Inflation Reduction Act, is just the crest of this wave of momentum on behalf of a “climate emergency.”

Powering the apparent juggernaut are philanthropists who have donated billions, corporate sponsors of environmental groups that look like a who’s who of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, attorneys at white-shoe firms and Ivy League law schools, prosecutors paid privately but operating under a district attorney’s umbrella, along with media and academics who hammer the narrative home.

“This whole movement is pushed by a small but very powerful elite that controls Washington and the media, but not the way your average American thinks,” said William Happer, an emeritus physics professor at Princeton University who founded the CO2 Coalition in 2015 to advance the argument that global warming is not an existential threat.

“You think, ‘What can you do?’” Happer said. “They have the media under control, they have politicians, professional and scientific groups and publications are controlled by them, and it’s all driven by money.”

The corporate sponsors of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), for instance, include titans of tech and private enterprise such as Amazon, Google, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Meta and others. Google is also working with the Sierra Club, while the Environmental Defense Fund lists General Electric and DuPont as allies on its website.

Liberal billionaire Michael Bloomberg pledged another $500 million to kill the coal industry in September, a massive injection of cash that brings to more than $1 billion the amount he has committed to his Beyond Carbon launched in 2019. Another $1.1 billion was pledged by liberal venture capitalist John Doerr to build a climate change school at Stanford University, and Tom Steyer, like Bloomberg a former Democrat presidential candidate, has put millions of his billions behind similar global warming initiatives.

Shaffer said Protect Our Coast is hiring attorneys he hopes “will do a good job,” but powerful lawyers are already aligned with the “climate emergency” camp. Since 2009 Columbia University Law School has had a Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, while the venerable New York firm of Shearman & Sterling, with 850 attorneys, is partnered with ACORE.

Whether Shearman & Sterling offers ACORE anything beyond financial backing is unclear; neither responded to a request for comment from RealClearInvestigations. Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center, says its attorneys do not see themselves as activists working on behalf of environmentalists but rather partners in the push for a renewable energy future.

“The Sabin Center conducts legal analysis and supports strong action on climate change,” Gerrard said. “The Sabin Center does not file lawsuits, but it often files amicus briefs and comment letters.”

In all cases, he noted, the center is “in support of such [renewable energy] facilities, and opposing those who are against such facilities – typically municipalities, and sometimes NIMBY groups.”

A Who's Who of Wall Street and Silicon Valley

The David vs. Goliath dynamic is compounded by government funding. Academic grants, scientific funding, and now, through the Inflation Reduction Act, U.S. taxpayer money for the environment go almost exclusively to what advocates characterize as green energy projects. Ultimately, the Inflation Reduction Act, which supporters predicted would cost taxpayers $391 billion, will likely cost some $1.2 trillion, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs.  

Just how much the U.S. government spends on global warming research is nearly impossible to calculate, since money comes from so many different departments. The Government Accounting Office, which conducts research at the behest of members of Congress, has not looked at the subject since 2018, when it calculated the cost had been $13.2 billion in the previous decade. 

That money flows almost exclusively to those who support the climate emergency argument. 

"It's real. If you were to submit a proposal to the federal government – whether it's NSF, NOAA or NASA – that was challenging the narrative, you would not have much chance at all of getting funded,” said former Obama energy official Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist and engineering professor at New York University. “Whereas if you wrote a proposal that supported the narrative, you're in." 

RCI sought comment from all three of the federal agencies Koonin mentioned. Only NASA acknowledged receipt of the questions; none has responded.

Judith Curry, a prominent skeptic of apocalyptic warnings regarding climate change and a former professor at Georgia Tech, looked at academe’s politicization and dependence on government financing in her book, “Climate Uncertainty and Risk.”

“Power politics by activist scientists to advance a clear political agenda has inflamed and polarized the climate change debate within the community of climate scientists,” Curry told RCI. “Calls for proposals from the federal funding agencies implicitly assume the dominance of human-caused global warming. Hence scientists have little motivation to work on anything else. The end result is research that analyzes the results of climate model simulations to infer dire societal consequences.”

Tarred as Shills for Big Oil

Despite the disparity in funding and resources, climate emergency skeptics are often dismissed as shills for energy companies. Yet the CO2 Coalition, for example, includes Happer, a member of the National Academy of Science; John Clausen, who won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics; and Patrick Moore, a co-founder and former director of Greenpeace.

A cursory web search on the Coalition turns up multiple stories of how it once received $1 million from ExxonMobil and articles about Happer’s brief stint with the Trump administration, all couched in language suggesting the Coalition’s work is biased.

Regardless of where the grant originated, $1 million is a paltry sum in the context of global warming largesse. In September alone those pushing the idea that global warming presents an existential threat stood to get 2,000 times that amount just from Bloomberg and a pledge from the liberal Rockefeller Foundation to spend $1 billion “to advance climate solutions.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and owner of The Washington Post, has pledged up to $10 billion for his Earth Fund.

In addition, the big energy companies appear to have largely stopped funding research challenging the climate emergency narrative, in some cases bending to the prevailing winds – or solar rays or what have you – of political expediency.

“Where is this oil money people talk about? I wish I could get some,” said Anthony Watts, who runs the Watts Up With That website. “ExxonMobil hasn’t the faintest idea who I am. The notion energy company money has corrupted any of the findings that run counter to the approved narrative on global warming is a fallacy designed to support the tribalism in the field.”

RCI reached out to numerous major energy companies. ExxonMobil asked for specific questions, which a spokeswoman did not answer, and the others did not respond.

Watts has run his site, which dubs itself “the world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change,” since 2006. In that time, the issue of global warming has gone from a computer model theory to “settled science” to a “climate emergency,” and the money and power has grown accordingly, he said.

“I thought, when I started, if I demonstrated biases in the temperature readings – significant biases – there would be a correction, because it’s science, there would be this ‘we got this wrong, let’s fix this,’ thinking,” he said. “But it has morphed from its infancy of studying numbers and data to some big business conglomerate.”

Watts has experienced firsthand how social media helps frame global warming as a looming catastrophe. Despite his site’s viewership, he says, it was “demonetized” by WordAds, which enables ads to be run on WordPress websites. There was no specific post cited for violating any terms, according to Watts, but WordPress notified him the fees would no longer be collected after Google announced “they were removing ad services from all climate skeptic cites.”

Wildly Inflated Numbers

Similar institutional moves, along with the marked funding disparities, have largely muffled the arguments made by those who disagree with the “climate emergency” conclusion.

“The truth is, we are essentially a grassroots movement of people who don’t believe a crisis exists, certainly not one worth destroying the economy of the world,” he said.

The uneven playing field marks a change. Almost a decade ago, progressives such as New Yorker writer Jane Mayer – author of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” – were warning of secret networks funding climate change denial. There is no database aggregating funding for such groups, though progressive scholars have published research highlighting what they admit are wildly inflated numbers. A 2018 paper published in the journal Climactic Change, titled "Obstructing Action: Foundation Funding and U.S. Climate Change Counter-movement Organizations,” reports billions in grants between 2003-2018, though its authors note “we cannot ascertain that any particular grant supports activities directly related to climate change unless specifically stated on the grant records.” Instead, they add the gross totals of all contributions to conservative organizations they consider climate skeptics, such as Americans for Prosperity, the Reason Foundation, the Federalist Society, and the Manhattan Institute.

Conservative groups mentioned in the article, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Foundation, continue to publish critiques of global warming alarmism. But representatives noted their budgets are divided among many policy silos and they do not have the corporate backing enjoyed by the climate emergency camp. In 2023, Heritage said its budget grew to $100 million as part of a major fundraising initiative, but in the past it has usually operated with around $80 million annually.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of energy, climate and the environment at Heritage, noted that it gets “less than 5 percent of its money from corporate sponsors and no company contributes more than 1 percent.” And that money is spread out over various departments so that only a fraction of it is devoted to combatting the alarmist global warming narrative, she said.

Climate skeptics says such figures are laughable.  

“We have comparatively few dollars while the other side now literally has trillions,” said Steve Milloy, who operates the Junk Science website, pointing to money that European countries, the U.N., and other bodies have given for global warming research or to prop up green energy companies with loans and tax credits.

Others in the trenches, more or less, echoed Shaffer’s experience in New Jersey.

“We are up against sleazy lawyers and lobbyists and a fancy propaganda campaign every time,” said Kevin Emmerich, whose grassroots Basin and Range Watch has gone up against major solar projects in Nevada. “The big solar and wind projects that end up being the ones we fight are all being proposed by the companies who have the most money. They have the money to lobby congress and pay big lawyers. They also tend to buy out little towns.”

As lone laptop warrior operations like Milloy’s and Watts’s attest, whatever money that flows to skeptical camps to tar the other side is slight. The same appears to be true on the international scene, as the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a group that seeks to counter the notion that wrenching changes to Western economies are needed to combat global warming, reports an annual budget of roughly $475,000 in 2022. The Sierra Club alone had a budget of $151 million that year.

Companies have to a large extent begun to infuse environmental activists with cash as a form of “greenwashing,” said Furchtgott-Roth. The alarmist camp has become so hostile and flush that is simply easier for corporations to avoid potential problems.

Role Reversal

“It’s no longer just an ideological fight where one group of people may have the better view,” she said. “This has become a matter of theological importance, they see this as a matter of good vs. evil.”

For now, the role of scrappy opponent, once held by environmentalists, has switched to opponents of massive “green” energy projects. Small players like Protect Our Coast NJ take some solace in the rising costs of such projects which has delayed the launch of Ocean 1 until 2026. The group drew more than 100 people – but only one reporter – to a recent event marred by a downpour. Shaffer, pointing to polling that shows support for the project has plummeted in New Jersey, vows to keep up the fight.

“Despite obvious attempts by the Fourth Estate to ignore the efforts of thousands of New Jerseyans to protect the marine ecosystem and the Jersey Shore, our message is getting out,” he said.

That message will win in the end even with the lopsided nature of the debate, Happer predicted. He compares the current landscape to what prevailed with the eugenics movement a century ago.

“Every little town had its ‘Eugenics Society,’ decent white ladies got together to drink tea and discuss it, the presidents of Harvard and Princeton, the scientific journals – the whole ‘Establishment’ believed in eugenics,” Happer said. “It was all nonsense, of course, and ended when Germany took eugenics to its logical conclusion. Now, some unfortunate county or state will implement all this and the people will rise up in fury, the policies are so crazy people will simply rebel. It happens again and again in human history when something seems invincible.”

Correction 11:17 AM, Tuesday, October 17, 2023
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
An earlier version misidentified the state where offshore wind energy opponent Robin Shaffer worked as a teacher before retiring. It is Maryland, not New Jersey.
This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.
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