A new report from a climate-focused advocacy group attempts to quantify spending on “obstructive climate policy lobbying,” estimating that fossil fuel companies may be spending upwards of $500 million per year to “influence” the debate. But a review of the group’s calculations and methods suggests that much of what the group defines as climate-related advocacy actually encourages emissions reductions, or has nothing to do with climate change.
The report, authored by the British group InfluenceMap, is also part of a broader, well-funded political campaign to label fossil fuel companies “deniers” in the press, based upon dubious and even contradictory assumptions that receive little if any scrutiny.
In a press release announcing its report, InfluenceMap accused two oil and natural gas companies (ExxonMobil and Shell) of “systematically trying to stall progress” on climate change. The group goes on to accuse these companies of “manipulating the public discourse,” using a quote from the radical environmentalist Bill McKibben (founder of 350.org) to support its claim. InfluenceMap claims to have conducted a “forensic analysis” of Internal Revenue Service filings and “careful study” of other public advocacy to arrive at its conclusions.
All told, InfluenceMap estimates that these companies, with support from the American Petroleum Institute, spend over $100 million every year on “climate lobbying.”
But the spreadsheet that InfluenceMap included with its report shows that what the group is saying publicly about its data is a deliberate misrepresentation.
For example, InfluenceMap groups together a series of ads released by Shell that focused on bringing power to developing countries. The ads ran in several different formats and languages, but each of them focused on the same general premise, highlighting the importance of energy access and using solar power or other renewable technologies to meet global energy needs.
But InfluenceMap argues that of the total spending on the ads ($24.7 million), 30 percent of it was “climate relevant,” meaning $7.5 million was allegedly earmarked to discuss climate change – even though the group admits in the spreadsheet that the ads don’t mention climate change. The group also claims an “obstructive factor” of 2.5 percent, meaning that – according to InfluenceMap – Shell spent $190,000 to “obstruct” action on climate change with these ads.
Think about that. A company produces ads showing how solar power can help meet the energy needs of developing countries, and InfluenceMap claims the ads are actually about preventing action on climate change. In other words, InfluenceMap is arguing that promoting solar power is now “climate denial.”
Advertisement from Shell encouraging the use of solar energy to empower women in the developing world. InfluenceMap gave a high ranking to this ad for “obstructing” action on climate change.
InfluenceMap claimed several other Shell ads were part of a climate denial strategy, including:
- An ad discussing the right to energy access in Haiti, mentioning specifically solar and other renewable technologies.
- An ad calling for making homes more energy efficient.
- An ad calling for more solar energy in “frontier markets.”
- An ad highlighting a biomass project in Uganda.
None of those ads even mentioned climate change, and all of them are calling for things that climate activist groups have been advocating for years. But InfluenceMap somehow claimed they represent $750,000 in spending to obstruct climate action.
Other items that InfluenceMap classified as influencing or even “obstructing” action on climate change include:
- An ExxonMobil ad touting the company’s work on carbon capture and biofuels from algae.
- Total spending on conferences, conventions, and meetings by the Western States Petroleum Association. InfluenceMap claims half (49%) of all these expenditures were “devoted to climate influence,” based entirely upon what WSPA lobbied for in the state legislature.
- An ExxonMobil ad describing what hydraulic fracturing is.
- A campaign by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) called “Our Natural Advantage,” which highlights how important natural gas is to the Australian economy. InfluenceMap claims 62 percent of the campaign is “devoted to climate influence.” The word “climate” does not appear on the campaign’s home page or its About page.
- Nearly half (46 percent) of API’s total spending on its employees’ salaries. InfluenceMap also claims that one-third of API’s entire operating budget is “geared towards opposing ambitious climate policy.”
The list goes on, but the common thread is that what InfluenceMap considers spending on “climate obstruction” largely consists of activities that (a) have nothing to do with climate change, or (b) advocate explicitly for renewables and other emissions-cutting technologies.
But so far, instead of scrutinizing these details, the press has simply swallowed what InfluenceMap fed them. Bloomberg News claimed that the activities listed above were about “blocking climate policies,” even though no objective review could possibly conclude such a thing. Bloomberg also repeated the group’s claims without scrutiny last September, when InfluenceMap made similar accusations about a wide range of companies that were not limited to fossil fuel producers.
Disagreement vs. Climate Denial
Unfortunately, InfluenceMap’s report is part of a broader environmentalist effort to label any criticism or disagreement as “climate denial,” based on a singular focus of attacking energy producers.
Late last year, a professor from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Justin Farrell, published a paper alleging that 160 so-called “climate counter movement” organizations were responsible for public denial of climate change. The school is funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, among other foundations, that also bankroll environmental activists like 350.org and InsideClimate News.
As EID highlighted at the time, Farrell’s definition of what it means to be a “climate denier” was either incredibly lazy or deliberately misleading. His list of deniers included groups that have advocated for carbon taxes, as well as an official advisory body to the U.S. Department of Energy. One of the “denial” organizations even teamed up with an environmental group to call attention to how “climate change threatens to put millions at risk.”
But as with the latest report from InfluenceMap, Farrell’s bogus definition of “climate denial” was never questioned by the reporters who covered his study. Bloomberg wrote that his study identified a “deep network of climate change deniers.” The Washington Post reported the study revealed how “corporate funding” was responsible for raising “doubts” about climate change.
Of course, little can be done about the stories that have already run, and which activists and other fossil fuel critics cheerfully shared on social media. But now that the media knows the truth, the question is: what will they do the next time they’re pitched a story about “climate deniers”?