Climate Alarmists’ ‘Dark Money’ Dwarfs Skeptics’ Funding

Published January 19, 2014

Global warming activists claim vast amounts of untraceable special-interest money fund global warming skeptics and give skeptics an unfair advantage in the global warming debate. The undeniable truth is global warming alarmists raise and spend far more money—including far more untraceable special-interest “dark money”—than global warming skeptics.

Misleading Funding Assertions
Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle published a paper in the December 2013 issue of Climatic Change identifying 91 conservative and libertarian think tanks Brulle claims play an influential role opposing global warming programs. Brulle claims the 91 groups receive approximately $900 million in cumulative funding each year, with approximately $64 million coming from foundations that distribute “dark money” that cannot be traced to a particular donor. Brulle contends the $900 million in funding—and especially the $64 million in dark money—tilts the playing field and gives global warming skeptics undue political and public relations influence.

Global warming alarmists and their media allies present Brulle’s paper as “proof” that money drives the global warming debate and is heavily skewed in favor of skeptics. For example, UK Guardian environmental reporter Suzanne Goldenberg published an article in late December titled “Conservative groups have spent $1bn a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change.” Scientific American published a similar article titled “‘Dark Money’ Funds Climate Change Denial Effort.” Liberal pundit and former MSNBC anchor Cenk Uygur posted a 10-minute Internet video discussing Brulle’s paper and playing up its findings.

Despite what Goldenberg and the Guardian claim, it is palpably untrue that “Conservative groups have spent $1 bn a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change.” Without even addressing the mathematical fact that $900 million is $100 million short of the $1 billion claimed by Goldenberg, Brulle’s paper merely tabulates the total money raised by the 91 conservative think tanks for their total operations regarding all issues they address. It does not break down how much of each organization’s resources are devoted to issues such as economic policy, health care issues, foreign policy, climate policy, etc.

Goldenberg lies in pretending all money raised by all conservative and libertarian think tanks is devoted to global warming skepticism. Tell that to the supporters of Obamacare. 

Little Focus on Warming Debate
A look at some conservative think tank websites illustrates the point. On New Year’s Day, I pulled up the website for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which Brulle and the media claim is the conservative think tank receiving and spending the most money on global warming skepticism. AEI had 15 articles featured on the front page of its website, and not a single one focused on global warming.

I looked at the website for the Heritage Foundation, which Brulle and the media claim is the conservative think tank receiving and spending the second most money on global warming skepticism. The Heritage Foundation had 10 articles featured on the front page of its website. None of the 10 focused on global warming. Just two of the 10 focused on any aspect of energy or environment policy.

Between AEI and Heritage—representing fully 30 percent of the money raised by the 91 conservative think tanks—the global warming issue comprises substantially less than 10 percent of their cumulative time, money, and efforts. Even if we generously assign to the global warming issue a full 10 percent of the money raised by the 91 foremost conservative think tanks, this means the 91 conservative think tanks are devoting a mere $90 million per year—not the asserted $900 million per year or Goldenberg’s exaggerated $1 billion per year—to the global warming debate.

And it is not just AEI and Heritage that devote little attention to the global warming issue. The Hoover Institution, identified as raising and spending the third-most money on global warming skepticism, also rarely addresses the topic. The most recent Hoover Institution item I can find addressing global warming is a short op-ed published more than two months ago in National Review Online by a Hoover Institution fellow commenting on a global warming poll. Prior to that short op-ed, the most recent Hoover Institution item I can find is an article published nine months ago supporting a carbon tax.

‘Skeptics’ Supporting Carbon Tax
This brings us to another whopper told by Brulle, Goldenberg, and their media allies—the assertion that all the think tanks identified in Brulle’s paper actively fight against global warming activism. To the contrary, two of the three top-funded groups (AEI and the Hoover Institution) support a carbon tax. Other groups identified in Brulle’s paper have similarly expressed support for a carbon tax and global warming activism.

At least 25 percent of the funding Brulle claims goes to skeptical think tanks actually goes to organizations supporting global warming restrictions.

All told, giving the global warming activists every benefit of the doubt, no more than $90 million of conservative think tank money addresses global warming, and no more than $68 million supports conservative think tank efforts opposing global warming activism. This $68 million is counterbalanced by $22 million for conservative think tank efforts supporting global warming activism. That leaves a net of merely $46 million among 91 conservative think tanks opposing global warming activism.

Alarmist Funding Dwarfs Skeptics’
Even though $46 million is far short of the $1 billion claimed by Goldenberg, $46 million may still seem like a large amount of money. It is only a drop in the bucket, however, compared to the money raised and spent by groups supporting global warming activism.

Two environmental activist groups—Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy—raise more than $1 billion cumulatively per year. These two groups raise more money than the combined funding of the 91 conservative think tanks identified in Brulle’s paper. Just as importantly, they raise money solely for environmental causes and frequently advocate for global warming restrictions. Their $1 billion is not diluted addressing issues such as economic policy, health care policy, foreign policy, etc.

Five environment-specific groups alone raise more than $1.6 billion per year in total (Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club). All five focus solely on environmental issues and are frequent and prominent advocates for global warming restrictions. When global warming activists claim skeptics receive the lion’s share of funding in the debate, they are lying through their teeth.

Emphasis on ‘Dark Money’
Interestingly, Brulle and his media allies place special emphasis on the so-called dark money given to conservative think tanks by foundations with anonymous donors. Only $64 million of the conservative think tanks’ $900 million in total donations come from foundations. At most, only $6.4 million of the “dark money” addresses global warming topics, with a net of only $3.2 million opposing global warming activism.

Somehow, alarmists assert, dark money is nefarious and has special impact on the debate. As Cenk Uygur claimed in his video:

“There’s over 140 different foundations. … As you’re about to find out here, they’re totally funded by the groups that have a financial interest in making sure that you don’t believe in climate change.”

Curiously, neither Brulle nor Uygur provides any evidence or source material backing up the assertion most money donated to conservative foundations comes from energy companies with an agenda to fund global warming skeptics. They simply make the assertion and provide no factual support. However, it is difficult to believe most conservative foundation money is donated by energy companies with an anti-global warming agenda, especially when the conservative foundations give a large portion of the money to think tanks that support carbon taxes and those that devote little attention the global warming issue.

Activists’ ‘Dark Money’ Goldmine
Putting this minimal conservative dark money in context, note that liberal foundations with anonymous donors are major funders of global warming activist groups. For example, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project sent out a fundraising letter in late December telling people an “anonymous donor” would match every donation dollar-for-dollar. Somehow, neither Brulle nor the media mention these inconvenient truths in their narrative.

The long and short of it is think tanks and activist groups supporting global warming restrictions raise and spend far more money than groups opposing global warming restrictions.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. A longer version of this article first appeared at and is reprinted with permission.