Dealing in Doubt

Part 1: A Brief History of Denial

Page - September 10, 2013
Dealing in Doubt --> Part 1: A Brief History of Denial --> The 1990s: a network of denial is created


The 1990s: a network of denial is created


In the early 1990’s, as governments began negotiating a global agreement to tackle climate change, a number of lobby groups were set up to prevent it. These early groups included the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), the Climate Council and the Information Council on the Environment (ICE). The GCC called itself an “organisation of business trade associations and private companies established in 1989 to coordinate business participation in the scientific and policy debate on global climate change." Its membership was a list of the largest coal, oil and auto companies in the US – representing, it said, 230,000 companies and all companies that would stand to lose if they were held to account for the carbon they were pumping into the air for free.

The Climate Council staff included lobbyist heavyweight Don Pearlman a Washington, DC lawyer who became the right hand man of the Saudi, Kuwait and Russian governments . (Pearlman died in 2005).

ICE was formed by a group of utility and coal companies: the National Coal Association, the Western Fuels Association and the Edison Electric Institute.[1] In 1991, according to journalist Ross Gelbspan ICE:

“launched a blatantly misleading campaign on climate change that had been designed by a public relations firm…[that] clearly stated that the aim of the campaign was to ‘reposition global warming as theory rather than fact’. Its plan specified that three of the so-called greenhouse sceptics – Robert Balling, Pat Michaels and S Fred Singer – should be placed in broadcast appearances, op-ed pages and newspaper interviews.”[2]

ICE prepared a series of newspaper ads, one of them headlined “If the earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis getting colder?” Fox News anchors suggested that the massive snowstorms on the East Coast of the US in early 2010 called into question the scientific consensus on global warming, comments that climate scientists rejected. January 2010 turned out to be among the hottest on record.

And the scientific evidence continues to mount. In August 2013, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “State of the Climate” report, drawing on contributions from 384 scientists from 52 countries, outlined the latest set of records.

“Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate — carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place,” said its press release.

This network was constructed using money provided by fossil fuel companies. But there were a few companies who were central to this campaign.




When this report was first written, everybody focused on, at that point, the most obvious funder of the network of think tanks and front groups promoting climate denial: oil giant ExxonMobil, has spent $27.4 million supporting the climate denial movement between 1998 and 2012.

In 2008, after years of adverse publicity about its funding policies, ExxonMobil stopped its funding nine key groups, claiming their “position on climate change diverted attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Exxon slowly scaled back its funding to the denial machine from a peak of $3.5 million in 2005 down to $766,000 in 2012. Nonetheless, ExxonMobil continues to fund at least 12 groups campaigning against climate science, according to its own tax documents and corporate reports.

It should be noted that, due to the anonymity of Donors Trust, the decline in Exxon’s direct funding of the denial machine doesn’t necessarily mean there is not additional funding provided by the company’s employees that is not transparently reported.

The Koch Brothers

In early 2010, a Greenpeace investigation revealed that it wasn’t just ExxonMobil funding the climate denial machine. David and Charles Koch, of Koch Industries, who run the “biggest company you’ve never heard of,” have, through their company and family foundations, funnelled at least $67 million or more into the denial machine since 1997. The Kochs’ climate denial campaign is just part of a 40-plus year history of financing, influencing and, in some cases, leading a much broader conservative agenda.

The Koch focus has been on fighting environmental regulation, opposing clean energy legislation, and easing limits on industrial pollution.

This Koch money is routinely funneled through one of "charitable" foundations the Kochs have set up: the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation; the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation; and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and the less-known Knowledge and Progress Fund, used only to funnel money to Donors.

Since our investigation, many different investigations have looked further into what has become known as “The Kochtopus” – a massive network of funding tentacles that has spread across the US, from state to Federal level, a multi-decadal campaign involving events from local legislation to national decisions on pipelines, from funding for tenured professors at Universities to the potential purchase of major newspapers.

Perhaps most significantly, the Koch brothers set up Americans for Prosperity (with the tobacco industry), that masterminded the so-called grassroots “Tea Party” movement that has helped bring widespread climate denial into the heart of US Republican politics.

Donors Trust & Donors Capital: The ATM of Climate Denial

In 2007, after Greenpeace attempted to get a Vermont Court to release a list of clients funding climate denier Patrick Michaels’ company, “New Hope,’ the long-time denier made this comment in his [successful] affadavit opposing the Greenpeace application:

"Large companies are understandably adverse to negative publicity. Thus, the global warming controversy has created an environment in which companies who wish to support New Hope's research and advocacy about global warming science are increasingly willing to do so only if their support remains confidential. For this reason, some companies that support New Hope financially do so on the understanding that their support will not be made public."

Only recently have the efforts of these big funders to hide that they’re spending money on climate denial come to light. In January 2012, a detailed study of Heartland Institute and other think tanks found connections with two donor advised funds based in Alexandria, Virginia: Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, set up in 2002.

After a climate scientist duped Heartland Institute into revealing its funders and plans in early 2012 (see Heartland Institute case study from Dealing in Doubt Part 2), one of the discoveries was a large anonymous donor. The detailed study plus newly-revealed internal plans were then combined to show Barre Seid as the major Heartland funder, using Donors.

Between them, from 2002 to 2011, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund provided $146 million to more than 100 groups, most of them running climate denial campaigns and many of them active in climate denial since the 1990s.

The Koch Brothers and wealthy businessmen such as billionaire Barre Seid have funneled money through these trusts, on whose boards sit well-known players in the climate denial campaign. It’s not just climate denial, but they also fight health care and other issues that could curtail corporate profit, under the banner of “freedom from Big Government.”

In October 2012, PBS/Frontline’s “Climate of Doubt” briefly mentioned Donors. In February 2013, The Guardian exposed these two organisations, based on a Greenpeace investigation on the website and first outlined on DeSmogBlog in 2012. Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund don’t reveal who their funders are, advertizing and guaranteeing anonymity for their donors, thus shielding the funders themselves from public anger.

Further stories revealed it wasn’t just secret funders in the US financing climate denial – there was a network of wealthy businesspeople in the UK doing the same especially with the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), well-linked with related entities in the US and Canada.



Climate Denial's "Continental Army"

“There’s really only about 25 of us doing this. A core group of skeptics. It’s a ragtag bunch, very Continental Army.”

- Steve Milloy talking to Popular Science, June, 2012.

The organizations funded by Exxon, the Kochs, Donors Trust and others support a central team of spokespeople and strategists who set out to misinform the world and deny the science of climate change. Their names frequently appear in the media challenging the science of global warming: Fred Singer, Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon, Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels, Steve Milloy and many others.

Many forged a career out of denying environmental problems before climate change became a public policy issue. Together, they form a network that is still, 25 years later, challenging the climate science, no matter how much more work and how many thousands of scientific papers have been written since.

Although widely discredited, many of these same, media-savvy individuals continue to pollute the airwaves and travel all over the world casting doubt on well-established scientific facts.

Steve “The Junkman” Milloy, is the man who launched his corporate science denial career with The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, a Phillip Morris-funded front group formed to fend off the growing scientific consensus of the links between secondhand tobacco smoke and health problems. But today there are many more such celebrity deniers.

We have attempted to identify Climate Denial's “Continental Army” as described by Milloy – see Appendix 1 for the list of around 30 of the key players in the more than 20 year campaign and links to their updated profiles on or

The Think Tanks

The denial machine today is run by a network of free market think thanks, largely based in the US, but with outposts around the globe.

In part 2 of this report, we case study The Heartland Institute as an example of how these think tanks and front groups continue to operate with their corporate cash.

In Appendix 2 we set out a list of the think tanks currently being funded by Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, and a tally of ExxonMobil’s funding. We have a full breakdown of the ExxonMobil funding and a pdf of Donors funding. Greenpeace’s detailed tracking of Koch Industries' spending on the front groups.

Another set of these groups could be seen in the membership of a coalition that has been around since the late 90’s, set up and run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cooler Heads Coalition.


The fossil fuel companies were not the original architects of the blueprint for deflecting blame and denying responsibility.

In March 2013 an academic study published in the journal Tobacco Control and funded by the National Cancer Institute at the National Council of Health found that the notorious US “grassroots” organisation at the centre of today’s climate denial campaign and dysfunctional political system, the Tea Party, was started in 2002 by front groups closely who had been associated with – and funded - by Big Tobacco and the Koch Brothers since the early 1980’s.

The reason? Big Tobacco was looking for support in its fight to stop regulation on secondhand smoke. This diagram from the study shows the web of groups set up by the tobacco industry and their staff people, many of whom ended up working for think thanks and front groups around today.

One key group set up by Phillip Morris and its PR firms APCO and Burson Marsteller was The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), set up in 1993 to “promote sound science.” Steve Milloy, hired by Phillip Morris at TASSC in 1997, is still involved in climate denial campaigns today.

From Big Tobacco to the Tea Party

Caption: From Big Tobacco to the tea party. Source: ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts: the tobacco industry and the Tea party’

Further investigation has revealed more links between Big Tobacco to climate denial than even this study showed.

Take the efforts of Tom Borelli, who worked at Philip Morris throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s, when he took up a job as a coal lobbyist at FreedomWorks. (CSE later split into two groups: Freedomworks and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity).

In the early 1990’s, big tobacco had taken a major hit and its credibility was low. But the issue of secondhand smoke was hot and smoking bans were being actively discussed across the US: a major threat to the tobacco industry. Phillip Morris and its PR company APCO were setting up The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition in Europe.

One of the objectives suggested in a memo from APCO to Philip Morris’s man in Europe, Matt Winakur, was to link tobacco science to more “politically correct” issues, such as global warming, to make the tobacco science look more mainstream.

The TASSC’s draft “scientific principles” were “too vague”, so APCO got Borelli to “review and tighten” them. As Borelli confirmed to his boss: “The principals [sic] are intended to be a basis for policymakers to evaluate scientific studies. The principles will also serve as a foundation for state legislative criteria to review the scientific basis for new regulations.”

Climate and secondhandsmoke science denier Patrick Michaels pitched in to help with the final draft. Borelli went on to set up both funding and PR links with the George C Marshall Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for their reports and work on challenging the science of climate change.


[1]  James Hoggan, “Climate Cover Up,” Greystone books, 2009, page 32

[2]  Ross Gelbspan, “The Heat is On,” Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. Inc, 1997, page 34