You are on page 1of 4

Why Do We Need Divestment?

Follow the Money: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Influence Over Our Government
Once the reality of the climate crisis became clear in the 1990s, the leadership of fossil fuel companies had a choice. They could choose to act responsibly by aiding society’s transition to clean energy, or they could choose to act to protect their outsize power and profit by maintaining the dominance of fossil fuels over our energy system. Twenty years later, we know which decision they made. Fossil fuel corporations have invested their tremendous profits into manipulating the public and the media, buying elections and influencing our politicians, and blocking clean energy projects. Divestment, by staining the money and image of fossil fuel corporations, will decrease the political influence of this toxic and corrupting industry. Only when we have loosened their stranglehold on our government will we be able to take the actions necessary to solve the climate crisis.

Follow the Money: The Creation of Climate Denialism
The fossil fuel industry organized and funded the climate denial machine, a network of think tanks, blogs, and “scientific” spokespeople that propagates climate denial among the general public and lawmakers. Their strategy has been frighteningly successful—right now, 55% of House Republicans and 65% of Senate Republicans deny the existence of climate change, despite overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary. An aggressive, effective media strategy is at the core of the climate denial machine’s work.. This strategy can be traced directly to fossil fuel companies: in 1998, the American Petroleum Institute convened a meeting with industry representatives and conservative think tanks (all of whom had received funding from Exxon) to form a “national media relations program” to promote uncertainty about climate science. “Victory will be achieved,” the report said, “when those promoting the Kyoto [treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.” Today, mainstream media outlets routinely quote and publish op-eds by supposed experts who question the existence of climate change—despite overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary. The climate denial machine executes its media strategy by:

1. Recruiting and training “scientific” spokespeople to question climate science through reports, op-eds, and public speaking tours. This elaborate affair is made possible only by financial backing from the fossil fuel industry. For instance: • Climate denial spokesperson Willie Soon has taken over $1 million from fossil fuel companies in the past decade in return for publishing shoddy but highprofile reports that raised doubts about legitimate climate science. Soon is an astrophysicist, but he has claimed false public health credentials in his publications. • In 2006, a leaked letter showed that the American Enterprise Institute was offering $10,000 to any scientist who would write a review questioning the use of climate models to direct climate policy. • Industry funding backs blogs like that claim to debunk climate science. 2. Organizing events to attract media coverage to climate denialism. The Heartland Institute—funded by Exxon, Donors Trust, and wealthy anonymous donors —hosted several International Climate Conferences between 2008 and 2012. These events are billed to the media as scientific gatherings, but very few scientists actually attend. The real goal of these conferences it to “generate international media attention” around climate denialism and promote opposition to climate policy. They have also published 3. Harassing and smearing climate scientists. In some of their most violent breaches of ethical standards, the climate denial machine has attempted to tar the image of high-profile climate scientists and their research through the media. They also attempt to derail the work of climatologists like Jim Hansen of NASA and Michael Mann of UPenn by harassing them with incessent FOIA requests, wasting the time and energy of the scientists and their offices. The climate denial machine would not be possible without significant investment from the fossil fuel industry. Though the funders behind think tanks and institutes can be shrouded in secrecy, tax filings and leaked documents point to a coordinated industry backing for the climate denial machine. In addition to the examples mentioned above, we know that: • ExxonMobil spent over $27 million supporting climate denialist groups. • The shady Donors Trust and Donors Capital funds put $146 million behind climate denial groups in 2002-2012, and we know that the oil billionaire Koch brothers put millions into the Donors funds. • The oil billionaire Koch brothers also fund Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party group that made climate denial a central plank of the Republican Party’s platform.

Follow the Money: Buying Elections and Politicians
A Textbook Case in Harvard’s Backyard

As a Massachusetts state legislator, Scott Brown was a strong supporting of climate legislation. As the Boston Globe reported: “Brown voted to impose the nation’s strongest limits on greenhouse gases and to launch the region’s landmark effort to cap carbon emissions from power plants, earning him a perfect voting record on environmental issues in the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s 2007 score card. The following year, after Brown’s last full session in the Legislature, the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters said he voted its way 82 percent of the time.” However, after taking over $440,000 from fossil fuel corporations for his successful 2010 Senate bid, Scott Brown began voting in line with the industry’s interests. He voted to slash the EPA’s budget by 33% and prevent it from regulating greenhouse gases; he voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and block automobile fuelefficiency standards; and he voted to maintain billions of dollars in subsidies to fossil fuel corporations. A Much Broader Problem Scott Brown is certainly not the only US politician influenced by campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies: • In March 2012, a vote in the Senate failed to repeal $2.4 billion in subsidies to the top 5 oil companies, despite the fact that the subsidies don’t affect gas prices and the top 5 oil companies don’t need any government help (they earned $137 billion profit in the previous year alone). The reason for the bill’s failure is clear: Senators who voted to keep the subsidies had taken four times as much money in campaign contributions as the Senators who voted to repeal the subsidies. • In March 2013, senators who voted to approve the carbon-intensive Keystone XL pipeline in a symbolic vote took 3.5 times as much money in direct campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry as those senators who voted against the pipeline. The tremendous wealth of fossil fuel corporations gives them even more power over our government through lobbying and the revolving door. Citizen advocacy group funding is regularly dwarfed by that of the fossil fuel industry: • In 2009, Exxon Mobil alone spent $5 million more than all environmental groups combined on lobbying around the cap and trade bill • During the 2012 election cycle, fossil fuel groups spent four times more money than clean energy groups on political ads • On the issue of the carbon-intensive Keystone XL pipeline, pro-tar sands industry groups have spent 35 times more money on lobbying than oppponents The Problem is Getting Worse This year, the Supreme Court will decide on a case, dubbed by activists as “Citizens United 2”, that could remove all spending limits on individual campaign contributions. Guess who’s behind the case? The fossil fuel industry—it’s being filed by coal baron and climate denialist Shaun McCutcheon. If the Supreme Court

decides in McCutcheon’s favor, the fossil fuel industry will be able exert even more influence over our government—with disastrous consequences for our future, unless we can stop them with divestment.

Follow the Money: Blocking Clean Energy Projects
Cape Wind, a proposed windfarm off the coast of Massachusetts, should be providing over one hundred megawatts of clean energy to Massachusetts. This energy would help shut down the aged and dirty coal plants that burden Massachusetts communities with carbon pollution and high rates of cancer and birth defects. Instead, the project—which would be America’s first offshore wind farm— has been held up for twelve years by ceaseless litigation from the town of Barnstable. This litigation was only possible due to funding from fossil fuel barons—Bill Koch, an oil billionaire who owns a vacation home on the Cape, has covered the town’s legal expenses through a shady front group known as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. As Dan Wolf, the State Senator from Barnstable, noted, “Without [Koch’s] Alliance’s funding, Barnstable’s taxpayers would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue fighting Cape Wind, despite multiple court rulings in its favor.”