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Consumer Energy Report

The big money of environmentalism

Climate change is a huge concern, but misguided attacks won't solve the issue, and the environmental movement is more financially motivated than some of its proponents would like us to think.

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Thus, climate change advocates are shooting at the wrong target. They are making a lot of noise for sure. They are raising a lot of money (more on that below). But is their campaign going to have any impact on policies in Venezuela or Nigeria to stop subsidizing fuel for their citizens? Of course not. Thus, campaigns like this are totally impotent at getting the desired results because they have spent their money and their time in the wrong area.

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The Environmental Movement is a For-Profit Industry

I am not so cynical to believe that this is all about money, but I do question how money influences some of the environmental organizations. I recently spent some time looking through the financials of a prominent environmental “non-profit.” They have $250 million in assets, annual donations of more than $100 million, and a dozen employees listed as receiving more than $200,000 a year in compensation. I think it is safe to say that environmentalism is indeed a lucrative business for some.

Climate change advocates would argue that this sort of funding is necessary because they are up against the deep pockets of Big Oil. I am sure they would deny that money influences their objectivity just as it influences the objectivity of the banking industry, the pharmaceutical industry, or the oil industry. I do not reject this notion, because I get press releases every day from environmental organizations that are misleading, factually incorrect, and grossly misinformed.

Waging Battle Away From the Wrong Target

Yet despite all of the funding and activity of the advocates, carbon dioxide emissions are not only increasing, in the past few years they have accelerated. Why haven’t the advocates managed to make a major impact? Because most climate change advocates in the U.S. are fighting a tiny local skirmish, while the real war rages elsewhere. The following graphic from my recent article Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions — Facts and Figures tells the story:

From that graphic, one can see that U.S. emissions 1). Are a small fraction of Asia Pacific’s; and 2). Have declined in recent years. In fact, since 2006 the U.S. is the world leader in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But the biggest reasons for the decline in carbon emissions have nothing to do with the environmental movement. People have cut back on fossil fuel consumption due to high oil prices and a recession. Low natural gas prices have resulted in a large shift for power producers from coal to natural gas. Not only did environmentalists have nothing to do with any of this, they have actively fought against the growth of natural gas.

Further, if one were to limit the emissions to only emissions from U.S. consumption of oil (which I will do in a follow-up), you can immediately see that a lot of money is being spent in an area that will have little to no impact on the overall problem. It’s as if you are trying to cure obesity by launching a major campaign to ensure that everyone clips their toenails. Sure, it will help you lose a tiny fraction of an ounce, but is that really where you want to focus your efforts? Does that really address the root problem?

The Danger of Misinformation

I believe some of these organizations do more harm than good by misleading people, because misinformation causes people to spend their money and expend their time in the wrong places. Meanwhile, a new year brings a new record for global carbon dioxide emissions.

The truth is that current and future emissions are being driven by developing countries, and developing countries are the overwhelming source of fossil fuel subsidies cited in the recent Twitterstorm. The narrative being spun by the environmental movement tells a story that is disconnected from the facts.

Environmentalism is big business, so there is a large incentive to spin misleading narratives that stir people’s emotions if that helps with the fundraising. Perhaps most of these organizations are started with the purest of intentions, but I suspect somewhere along the line the people in charge recognized a profitable opportunity. So if they can keep people angry enough about fossil fuel subsidies to companies like ExxonMobil, the donations come pouring in.

I am not suggesting that there is nothing at all to be done in the U.S., but I am suggesting that a disproportionate amount of money is being spent on an increasingly marginal part of the problem. So it should come as no surprise that while their misleading narratives are effective at raising money, these organizations have been wholly ineffective at impacting the real problem.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. This post originally ran on www.consumerenergyreport.com.

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