By Mike Gaworecki
Thanks to a recent poll from ABC News and the Washington Post, we know that nearly two-thirds of American adults think global warming is “a serious problem facing the country.”
And now, thanks to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change (full study available at this link), we know exactly how many people are out there taking money from dirty energy interests to try and confuse Americans about climate changeto derail overdue action and protect the fossil fuel industries’ profits.
Justin Farrell, a professor of sociology at Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the author of the report, studied both the institutional and social network structure of the climate denier movement and found that there are some 4,556 individuals with ties to 164 organizations that are involved in pushing anti-climate science views on the public.
“The individuals in this bipartite network include interlocking board members, as well as many more informal and overlapping social, political, economic and scientific ties,” Farrell wrote in the report. “The organizations include a complex network of think tanks, foundations, public relations firms, trade associations, and ad hoc groups.”
Farrell notes that while funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations have notoriously played a part in building the climate denial movement, there was very little empirical evidence demonstrating exactly how much influence these corporate benefactors had on the actual output of climate deniers and, in turn, how much they affected what politicians and other decisionmakers were saying about climate change.
So Farrell studied all of the written and verbal texts relating to climate change produced between 1993 and 2013 by climate denial organizations (40,785 documents comprising nearly 40 million words), as well as any mention of global warming and climate science by three major news channels (14,943 documents), every US president (1,930 documents) and the USCongress (7,786 documents).
He focused on Exxon and the Koch Brothers’ family foundations because, he writes, they are “reliable indicators of a much larger effort of corporate lobbying in the climate change counter-movement.”
What Farrell found was that organizations taking funds from “elite” corporate funders of climate denial like Exxon and the Koch Brothers — groups like the CATO Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Heartland Institute — “have greater influence over flows of resources, communication, and the production of contrarian information” than other denial groups.
Media enablers of climate denial
After performing a sophisticated semantic analysis, Farrell was able to show that climate denial organizations with ties to those two major funders were more successful at getting their viewpoint echoed in national news media. Presidential speeches and debate on the floor of Congress showed less of an impact.
According to Bloomberg, Robert Brulle, a sociology professor at Drexel University who has conducted similar research but was not involved in the Nature Climate Change study, said that Farrell’s findings beg a very obvious question:
“Why is the media picking up and promulgating the central themes of climate misinformation?”
That is very similar to the questions posed by DeSmog’s executive director Brendan DeMelle in his coverage of Justin Farrell’s other recent study on this issue: Research Confirms ExxonMobil, Koch-funded Climate Denial Echo Chamber Polluted Mainstream Media. DeMelle listed three questions for media outlets to ponder:
Will this study, published in a highly authoritative journal, finally compel the newsrooms and boardrooms of the traditional media to take responsibility to undo some of the damage done by their complicity in spreading fossil fuel industry-funded misinformation?
Will editors commit to serving as referees to ensure the same industry PR pollution isn’t published any longer?