When internal documents from a libertarian think tank – the Heartland Institute, known for its sceptical views on climate change – were published on the internet recently, climate-change activists around the world were elated. The leak seemed to reveal the existence of a conspiracy to distort science and impede political progress on solving climate change, just as activists had claimed. But the celebrations turned sour when one of the documents turned out to be fake, and the remainder turned out to reveal nothing remarkable. Rather than telling us anything about organised ‘climate-change denial’, this silly affair reveals much more about environmentalists.
One of the endlessly recurring themes of the environmental narrative is – in the words of the man at the centre of the ‘Fakegate’ mess, water and climate researcher Peter Gleick – that an ‘anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated’ effort exists ‘to cast doubt on climate science’, and ‘muddy public understanding about climate science and policy’. According to this mythology, right-leaning think tanks are funded by big energy companies that are keen to protect their profits from environmental regulation.
There are two problems for environmentalists convinced by this mythology.
The first is that it has never been plausible. Large corporations do not suffer from regulation. They are simply able to pass costs on to the consumer. Moreover, regulation creates firm ground on which to base longer-term strategic decisions about capital investments. And finally, regulation creates opportunities for companies that are able to mobilise resources to enter new markets. Wind farms, for example, are not cottage industries. Regulation suits larger companies.
The second problem for environmentalists has been to demonstrate that the myth is anything more than a myth. An ongoing Greenpeace project launched in 2004, for instance, aimed to provide a ‘database of information on the corporate-funded anti-environmental movement’. However, the sums of money involved were paltry. According to Greenpeace, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, one of the most vilified organisations, had received just $2million from Exxon between 1998 and 2005. Yet between 1994 and 2005, total donations to Greenpeace amounted to over $2 billion. According to the greens’ conspiratorial narrative, a handful of conservative think tanks with relatively small resources were seemingly able to undo the campaigning of a host of huge international environmental NGOs, national governments, international agencies, and yes, corporate interests, whose combined resources were many, many thousands of times greater.
The myth of the climate change denier exists in the heads of environmentalists, and seems to prevent them entering into conversation with anyone that dares to criticise environmentalism. The crusade of ‘communicating’ climate change is not a project that involves an exchange of views. To criticise environmentalism is to ‘deny The Science’, no matter how incoherent the environmentalist’s grasp of science or how lacking his or her sense of proportion.
It must be for that reason that, when Gleick was invited to speak at an event held by the Heartland Institute, he refused. Instead of taking the opportunity to bring ‘The Science’ to ‘the deniers’, he created an email account using the name of a Heartland Institute board member. With this, he emailed an administrator at the think tank, requesting internal documents be forwarded to the spoofed inbox ’ a tactic known as ‘phishing’ in bank fraud.
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