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.