In keeping with the trend of increased anonymity in campaign spending enabled by Super PACs, funding of climate change skepticism is also moving in this direction. The British newspaper The Independent has published a series of articles (here, here and here) on the influence of big money on climate change politics in America, specifically highlighting the role of "The Donors Trust," a fund that has become increasingly prominent in funding climate denial.
The Donors Trust, based in Alexandria, VA, is a "donor-advised fund" which means that, unlike traditional philanthropic foundations, it offers anonymity (and greater tax write-offs) to its donors in exchange for donors having less control over how their money is spent. This means that there is no way to trace specific grants made by The Donors Trust to particular organizations or foundations back to their original source. The Independent reported on an audit trail revealing that The Donors Trust is partially supported by the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers, the 6th and 7th richest men in the world, with a combined net worth over $88 billion (about equal to the gross state product of Nebraska, incidentally) own one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. and are involved in practically every sector of the fossil fuel economy: oil refining, pipelines, coal trading and transporting, and natural gas processing. According to The Independent, they are estimated to have spent nearly three times more money on funding climate denial from 2005-2008 than ExxonMobil.
Over $500 million has been funneled into funding climate denial in the US from 2003-2010, with funding particularly concentrated in 2007-2010, the time when the U.S. was most seriously considering legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike environmental organizations, the organizations funding climate denial have been tightly focused on shaping political and cultural narratives around climate change - instinctively recognizing what sociologist Robert Brulle and colleagues concluded in a study last year on public perception of climate change that "[t]he most important factor in influencing public opinion on climate change ... is the elite partisan battle over the issue" - outranking extreme weather, scientific results, and even media coverage.
According to The Independent, the trend in funding of climate skepticism is for more and more money to be funneled through anonymous channels like Donors. In 2003, Donors provided about 3% of the funding that went to climate skeptic groups like the Heartland Foundation, but “[T]his had risen by 2009 to about a quarter of the total funding of the climate countermovement dedicated to denying the link between greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and global warming."
Just as the rise of Super PACs makes it all but impossible to figure out who is influencing our elections, this move towards more anonymous funding of opposition to climate science undercuts our ability to understand and target the private economic powers that are influencing public debate on this issue.