Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from the Breakthrough Institute the way Time, WSJ, NPR, and The New Republic have been

I can’t imagine why any serious journalist would cite the work of The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) — except to debunk it. As we’ll see once again, they constantly misstate and misrepresent what others say, and generally put out very bad analysis designed to push their anti-climate-action, anti-environmental agenda.

So why do journalists cite them?  Simple — the media love contrarians.  So if you convince the media you are, say, part of the progressive environmental movement, you can get all the media attention you want by then trashing your supposed allies.

I would ignore TBI if the media did, but because they don’t, I can’t.

In just the last few months, TBI, and its founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus have gone on a disinformation rampage with the help of the media:

  • They attacked President Obama’s cap-and-trade climate plan as political suicide and doomed to fail, 18 months after endorsing the plan “” heck, they said it was their plan all along (see Salon debunking here).
  • They attacked Henry Waxman, the green groups, Tom Friedman, and Al Gore (for the umpteenth time) while utterly missrepresenting the findings of the International Energy Agency, McKinsey, and the Stern Review (see “The dynamic duo of disinformation and doubletalk return.”)
  • They launched a lengthy attack against Al Gore that completely misstates his positions (see “Shellenberger and Nordhaus smear Gore by making stuff up“).
  • The New Republic let them publish a string of factually untrue, egregious statements in an essay titled:  “The Green Bubble:  Why environmentalist keeps imploding.”  The biggest whopper:  “It has become an article of faith among many greens that the global poor are happier with less and must be shielded from the horrors of overconsumption and economic development–never mind the realities of infant mortality, treatable disease, short life expectancies, and grinding agrarian poverty.”  No one in the environmental movement believes that, but it is a right-wing fantasy of the “greens.”  Robert J. Brulle, Professor of Sociology and Environmental Science, Drexel University utterly debunks this essay (see below) and writes of this quote, “Who or what environmental group has ever said anything of this nature?  This statement is an out-and-out fabrication.  One wonders if there are any fact-checkers at The New Republic.

The key point everyone in the media must understand is that Shellenberger and Nordhaus need for Waxman-Markey to fail.  Otherwise all their claims that the environmental movement keeps imploding would be seen by everyone as the sham that it is.

So it is perhaps not surprising that 18 months after I got them to strongly and publicly endorse Obama’s cap-and-trade plan, they have launched a series of attacks on it — attacks based on misrepresentation and misanalysis.  What is surprising is that the media keeps treating them as if they were credible sources — or even worse, as credible sources who are part of the environmental movement.  They are not.  They are non-credible sources whose core arguments and analsyses are indistinguishable from the anti-climate disinformation campaign driven by fossil fuel companies and conservative media, politicians and think tanks.

TBI has recently written two attacks on Waxman-Markey, “The Flawed Logic of The Cap-and-Trade Debate,” which attacks any effort to significantly raise the price of carbon pollution through a tax or a cap (which Yale e360 bizarrely posted, tarnishing their brand), and “Waxman-Markey Climate Bill’s Emissions ‘Cap’ May Let U.S. Emissions Continue to Rise Through 2030,” which attacks the offsets provisions in the bill, asserting “If fully utilized, the emissions “offset” provisions in the American Clean Energy and Security Act would allow continued business as usual growth in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions until 2030.”

The latter piece has gotten a lot of media attention, including in Time magazine, the WSJ, and NPR, so you’d never know that the TBI analysis is devoid of any analysis — or understanding — of the offset market.

I am certainly one of the biggest critics of the offset market as it is currently constituted, having coined the term rip-offsets.  And I have previously worried that federal climate legislation would be significantly weakened by allowing domestic emitters to substitute substantial domestic and international offsets for their own emissions reductions.

I have, however, spent the past few months analyzing the offset market and talking to leading experts on it.  It is clear that the offset provisions in Waxman-Markey do not vitiate the targets.  Indeed, I have previously explained why the supply of domestic offsets provision does not undermine the target (see here).  In a regulated market with a cap, many of the domestic offsets will represent real reductions of US greenhouse gas emissions, and the total supply of cheap domestic offsets will be limited for a long time.  A recent EPA analysis of Waxman-Markey came to precisely the same conclusion.  TBI’s analysis never mentions this at all.

After the holiday weekend, I will blog at length on why the international offsets don’t threaten the overall integrity of the bill.  The bottom line is that the vast amounts of moderate-cost near-term domestic emissions reductions strategies “” energy efficiency, conservation, replacing coal power with natural gas-fired power, wind power, biomass cofiring, concentrated solar thermal power, recycled energy, geothermal, and hydro power (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions“) —  will be cheaper (in quantity) than most of the offsets will be in 2020 and beyond.

Let me end this post by showing just what kind of bad analysis and misrepresentation TBI continues to do.

As but one example in “The Flawed Logic of The Cap-and-Trade Debate,” Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote:

“If the price of carbon dioxide is only $5 per ton “” a level Waxman-Markey supporters like the Center for American Progress’s Joe Romm says it could reach “” there would be just $3 billion for energy technology and just $250 million for R&D.”

It “could reach” $5?

Here is what I wrote:

The price of one ton of carbon dioxide is going to be very low at first maybe around $5 to $10 a ton in the first few years, and then no more than, say, $15 a ton in 2020.

Yeah, the price will START around $5 to $10 in the first few  years, maybe 2012 to 2015.  As I explained, “We are cramming vast quantities of renewables into the marketplace” and “We are cramming vast quantities of renewables into the marketplace.”  And we’re coming out of a deep recession.  It should also be obvious that the CO2 price will continue to rise quickly after 2020.

I subsequently asked for and got a correction from e360 — too late for Time magazine, though, which repeats the original incorrect number.  Worse, like many in the media, Time continues to treat the TBI as if it were part of the “environmental movement,” when it would be far more accurate to describe it as part of the anti-environmental movement.

That is clear from the TNR essay, “The Green Bubble:  Why environmentalist keeps imploding.”

The essay is such a disinformation-filled anti-environmental screed, that I am reprinting a response by Robert J. Brulle, Professor of Sociology and Environmental Science, Department of Culture and Communications, Drexel University “” and a widely published expert on the environmental movement:

The New Conservatism or Ecological Romanticism:  A False Dichotomy

In their recent essay, “The Green Bubble”, Nordhaus and Shellenberger launch a long attack against the green movement in the U.S.  Based on a series of heroic misstatements, revisionist history, and unsubstantiated stereotypes, they construct an image of environmentalism based in liberal elite circles and searching for social redemption in premodern, aesthetic lifestyles.  Thus much of what passes for “green” activity comprises little more than symbolic gestures to define an “alternative” lifestyle.  Yet at the same time, environmentalists are also portrayed as dabblers in these bohemian lifestyles, floating in and out of aesthetic and consumerist roles.  Hence environmentalism takes the form of fads or bubbles that come and go.

N&S critique the presumed attachment of environmentalists to romanticist premodernist images of society and celebrate economic modernization, along with the growing affluence, individualization, and freedom that this social process creates.  The answer to ecological issues for all, they imply, is to increase economic modernization across the globe.  For example, they note that “It is poverty, not rising carbon-dioxide levels, that make them (the poor) more vulnerable than the rest of us.”

One can easily critique their essay on a factual basis.  Note the sparse nature of their data sources and their lack of reference to any existing environmental histories.  They can maintain their interpretation of the U.S. environmental movement only by speaking in broad generalities, without citing specifics.  The manuscript is rife with historical inaccuracies and fabricated statements.  This essay is a political fiction in which facts are created to support their argument.  For example, one of the most egregious statements is that “it has become an article of faith among many greens that the global poor are happier with less and must be shielded from the horrors of overconsumption and economic development – never mind the realities of infant mortality, treatable disease, short life expectancies, and grinding agrarian poverty.”   Who or what environmental group has ever said anything of this nature?  This statement is an out-and-out fabrication.  One wonders if there are any fact-checkers at The New Republic.

While this lack of factual basis is an important critique of N&S’s argument, it is not the most central.  Essentially, they are attempting to dichotomize the environmental movement between hopeless anti-modern romantic yuppies, engaged in symbolic activities, and the sober modernists (exemplified by themselves) who celebrate and promote economic expansion as the only real way to address environmental degradation.  The space created by this dichotomy only allows for “responsible” environmentalism, based on economic modernization, and irresponsible, premodern romanticism, and eliminates all other possibilities.  Thus the essay seeks to paint environmentalism with a universal brush, and delegitimate the entire movement.

The core problem with this analysis is that we are held between two competing and rigid ideologies.  Apparently, in the view of N&S, the modern environmental movement has no ability to reason, or to calculate trade-offs between economic growth and environmental protection.  Neither, apparently, do N&S.  They are imprisoned within their own ideology of an uncritical and unreflexive modernization, without any corrective capacity based on democratic governance.  The idea of the Enlightenment was to subject our institutions, including both the market and the state, to collective democratic control.  Our society’s capacity to learn, and change is enabled through democratic discussion.  While economic modernization is one part of modernization, its uncritical application as the universal solution to whatever ails us is just another form of irrational ideology.  Nowhere do we see any critical perspective on the limitations of markets, or the false freedom of consumer choice that N&S celebrate.  How can one celebrate “individual choice” in a society permeated by a $300-billion-per-year needs-creation industry in the form of modern advertising?  The so-called freedom and individuality lauded by N&S merely amounts to a false choice among consumer lifestyles, not a real and informed participant in our own governance.

N&S can only maintain their simplistic dichotomy by basing their argument on typifications, and ignoring the more complex reality of environmentalism in the U.S.  Thus this is a false dichotomy.  Thus Nordhaus and Schellenberger deny the legacy of the Enlightenment, and revert to a blind faith in the market and a celebration of the status quo.

There is a third alternative.  Through democratic deliberations, we can define the shape of the world we wish to create, and then act collectively to realize it.  Dealing with environmental degradation, poverty, and exploitation is a difficult task.  But it will only be solved by looking truthfully at our situation, and rejecting easy and simplistic solution.  Ideological diatribes only make a hard task more difficult.

We are not trapped in either hopeless romanticism, or at the whim of market dynamics.  We can do much better than this.

And the media can do better than quoting the bad analyses and misrepresentations of TBI — and must stop pretending that Nordhaus and Shellenberger are part of the environmental movement.  They are as much a part of the environmental movement as I am of the conservative movement [Note to self and media:  But you do promote conserving energy, conserving resources, and conserving a livable climate — so maybe you are a conservative after all and deserve lots of media attention for being a contrarian or an apostate.]

70 Responses to Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from the Breakthrough Institute the way Time, WSJ, NPR, and The New Republic have been

  1. I hereby re-name them “The Break Wind Institute”

  2. James Newberry says:

    Timely post Joe. I think Brulle and your analyses are substantial and perceptive. One can’t help but wonder who or what finances these two. They certainly are making the rounds, including a presentation at a Yale graduate seminar at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies this Spring where e360 is associated. They called for more atomic fission among other “clean” energy strategies. By the way, Nordhaus is the name of a widely read economics professor at Yale who has published ideas on the economics of climate change.

  3. Karl says:

    Some very good points Joe. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are anti-environmental. They (at least some of them) do care deeply about climate action they just have misguided ideas on climate action and are relying on faulty data.

  4. Hey this is good stuff. So glad you posted this. I enjoy reading blogs like this. Anna

  5. Jim Beacon says:

    This is what happens when the worlds of science and politics collide. I’m afraid even if the Breakthrough Institute were to implode tomorrow, the mass media would simply seek out some other contrarian source to quote. The faux-journalism standards of today mandate that you *must* present “both sides of the story”, even if one side has absolutlely no truth or merit to its position.

    So, how are you gonna do that with global warming stories? There are no reputable sources to quote for “the other side of the story” because the science does not allow any rational, informed person to be “against global warming” or “against efforts to reducing greenhouse gas emissions”. So these writers and their editors believe that to be “fair and balanced” they have no choice but to go to the junk science and political propaganda purveyors to get their quotes to “balance out the story”.

    They can’t get past the textbook concept that that there must *always* be “at least two valid sides to any debate”. When, in reality, there is no longer any valid basis for debate on the basic facts of climate change — only on exactly how we respond to those facts.

    It’s high school journalism gone global.

  6. Frank C. says:

    Joe deservedly evisceration of them comes to a head in the “In their recent essay….” paragraph.

    Both of them cannot see how narrow their own POV is. They are strange, stubborn, and now seemingly contrarian for the sake of being contrary.

    So I’d accuse them of being not only wrong, but of being childish.

  7. Frank C. says:

    Correction – Rather – that was Brulle’s own evisceration…

  8. Todd Mooring says:

    “It’s high school journalism gone global.”

    As a then-high school journalist who gave major play to the climate issue (and the mainstream science surrounding it) back in the 2004 election cycle, I take offense ;-).

    It is a depressing commentary on journalism that what I wrote was better informed than a lot of the stuff still appearing in the MSM.

    I wonder if its increasing stupidity is one of the reasons for the decline of the “traditional” news media? In that sense, it might be deserved but I’m not sure how democracy will work without it.

  9. PaulK says:

    Is the $5 going to $15 price of carbon dioxide the amount assessed for going over the cap?

  10. Joe,

    You have performed an amazing service with your blog for anyone who wants to understand the rapidly changing issue of global warming, from the science to the politics. This post in particular, pointing out TBI’s propaganda masked as analysis, is important in two ways. First, of course, for what it brings to the debate of how effective/ineffective this bill might be AND for revealing how mainstream media gobble up any numbers that have been spit out there without any verification — that’s where weapons of mass destruction came from. I’m not a big fan of this climate bill but I have watched you tell it straight for nearly twenty years in the climate fight. Thank you.

    John Passacantando

  11. MarkB says:

    I read their e360 article. While they attack climate legislation, they don’t come up with a viable alternative. Their solution is to have faith that throwing money at government labs will solve all problems. They don’t believe in using market incentives to drive innovation. This is not to say that government research into solutions isn’t very important and shouldn’t be fully funded. It’s just that it’s not sufficient.

    They also seem to buy into the nonsense that high carbon emissions per capita indicates prosperity, and thus we can’t move towards a low carbon society without returning to the stone age.

  12. The Breakthrough Institute has an absurd overreliance on technology and economic growth that makes it hard to take them seriously regarding practical policy matters.

    But I don’t think that Nordhaus and Shellenberger are anti environmentalists, and I think that their cultural critique of environmentalism has legs. Popular environmentalism is Victorian, scolding, joyless and arch. The leverage is all wrong when environmentalists think in terms of their own individual impact (ie, Colin Beavan). There’s a basic, counterintuitive insincerity to framing environmental problems in terms of the individual. The scale’s so radically off that people like Beavan do wind up seeming narcissistic. Environmentalism winds up reading as mere lifestyle.

    This is a serious rhetorical and cultural problem that does need to be addressed. It is standing in the way of real work getting done. Nordhaus and Shellenberger may be shooting themselves in the foot by thinking that they know everything… but they are right about the cultural dimension of the problem.

  13. Modesty says:

    I think you’re making the right call debunking when they appear in the media. People need this info.

    Yale e360 has been making some other odd decisions lately. What’s that all about?

  14. Rick Covert says:


    I can’t tell you how many times an article on global warming comes up on common nightmares (commondreams) and the people who post on the site run the gammet from, its all over we’re toast, to we need to get back to nature run everything without electricity like before the industrial age because it causes pollution and won’t be around much longer, to nature’s culling the herd. To their credit they take global warming seriously unfortunately it has led them over the cliff into paralysis and off of what can be done to prevent the worst effects of global warming. But all of them reflect this side of the cultural divide that emenates this joyless, scolding of those who continue with business as usual and refer to others who are not making the changes they are as sheeple. I used to like commondreams and I will probably continue to read it but I’ll have to pass on the posts. They’re just too toxic to read.

  15. hapa says:

    deborah/rick: c’mon, you both must know that lifestyle green is exactly what you would expect from people: direct, hands-on, socially-oriented behavior change. call it scolding if you want, call gossip names, but that’s how human economics works at the personal level. ideas become identities, in part as defense against critiques by BAU groupies and the comfortably entrenched.

    i saw a poll, was it here, i don’t think so… of US citizens… there was about 90% of the respondents thought a car was a necessity for life. oh here it is:

    88%. anyway chances are pretty good the vast majority of the other 12% lived in NYC or such, right? and if true, that leaves most communities around the country with a single-digit percentage of the population trying to shift development and transportation policy in their area, and that’s just transport. who wouldn’t get defensive? who wouldn’t get tribal about it? if only because you need tight integration of your avant-garde, to get buying power, drive down prices, build a market for your green businesses, etc.

    and further it is no surprise that people who have taken considerable trouble to green their lives look down on “the establishment” — because the powers-that-be are brown to the very center of their conflicted, reckless hearts.

    admit it: the thought that the titanic of all titanics can remake itself of bamboo while it’s sinking looks like the biggest fish story ever told.

  16. Big Fat Brush says:

    Just what is the agenda with TBI? To be noticed? To have their name in articles? Are they making money out of this? Are they funded by deniers?

    One thinks all that because it’s hard to be that dumb as their articles are and still be able to write paragraphs and sentences.

  17. PeterW says:

    Hi Joe, I’m sorry this is off topic.

    Have you heard about Gywnne Dyer’s new book Climate Wars. If you haven’t I urge you to look into this different angle on the repercussions of Climate Change. It delves into the global conflicts that might develop because of climate change in the not too distant future. He did 3 hour long radio specials about the subject for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in January. You can listen to the programs here.

  18. Leland Palmer says:

    Thanks for the information.

    They don’t have any information on their website about funding, that I could find.

    Their operation appears to be astroturf, of some sort.

    Interesting operation, huh?

    Anybody think this is accidental, that an astroturf operation would get so much press?

    The right’s belief in lying and deception seems boundless.

  19. The Breakthrough Institute is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. See:

  20. ruchi says:

    I thought their article in the New Republic was fairly problematic in its assessment of green social movements, and wrote a fairly long critique of it.

    However, the sentence you cited wasn’t one I found particularly problematic. It might be slightly hyperbolic, but how many Northern environmentalists opposed the Tato Nano? I mean, I’m no fan, either, but Northern environmentalists haven’t been resoundingly supportive of economic growth in the South. In my perception, there is a lot more talk about dirty coal plants in China than there is pressing Northern governments for technology transfer by Northern environmental groups. In fact, in an open letter regarding their March 2nd coal protests, Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry pointedly said that as part of the international negotiations, the United States would be asking China and India to reduce coal consumption.

    If the Northern environmental movement is continuously pressing Southern countries to limit coal consumption, and yet fails to press for significant technology transfer, what conclusion should the South draw, but that Northern environmentalists don’t particularly care that much about development.

    [JR: “Opposed” the Tata Nano, isn’t the right word. Many who have expressed strong disapproval of US transportation policy have expressed dismay at the direction of Indian transportation policy. I hardly think that comes close to what N&S have written.

    But don’t you see the hypocrisy of TBI’s position? Yes, rich countries like the United States need to help poor countries develop in a green fashion — that is what international offsets are for! Yet TBI trashes them. They simply have no consistent core beliefs.

    Also, you seem to lump all Southern countries together which I don’t. The only “Southern” country I say has to dramatically change its coal policy now is China, and they ain’t Kenya or Haiti. Yes, we should help China, but they have a trade surplus with us of a quarter trillion dollars a year, and they have a leadership position in wind power, solar power, heat pumps, batteries, and electric cars. They aren’t poor.]

  21. john says:


    You’ve fallen right into their frame by accepting their strawman version of “popular environmentalism” as scolding —

    The reality is, Markey Waxman — indeed most recent environmental policy — is all about aligning incentives and market forces to make doing the right thing easy, cost-effective, and smart. Look at the best models for cutting residential carbon emissions. Prgrams like Berkeley First, Annapolis EZ, or Babylon NY’s all make it cheaper to cut energy use and/or install renewables than it would be to continue to buy fossil-fuel based power as usual. They do this by stretching amortization periods, lowering the cost of money and reducing lender risk and using schemes like on-bill financing collected through property taxes to embed the value of clean energy investments in the building, so as not to be tied to the owner’s short term cost-recovery time frames. The result? Owners use less energy (more than 40% less in such programs) and get lower monthly bills and they only pay against the savings they get — future cost recovery is borne by future owners.

    There are similar strategies for industry — CHP with appropriate depreciation schedules; FCMs that make demand-side energy reductions a source of negawatts that can be sold …

    No scolding; no censuring; no Victorian guilt mongering. Just good, smart fiscal and financial policies. And a cap and trade system compliments these policies well – the C&T puts a needed limit on emissions, and the smart policies put a limit on the costs of allowances.

    Nordhaus and Scellenberger seem to want to slay dragons that no longer exist. They either don’t know of these policy innovations — in which case they should be ignored — or they do but ignore them because they have another agenda.

    My own belief is that it’s the latter. They found they can make money and get attention by passing themselves off as progressives, while offering the media an opportunity to keep controversy alive.

    God knows Michaels, Singer et. al. have been discredited to the point where even our whore of a MSM can’t trot them out any more.

    S&N give them a new opportunity to be “smart” and to reveal “truths” no one else knows about — what the MSM think of as the policy equivalent of a scoop.

    But S&N’s motive really doesn’t matter — it’s their ignorance, whether willful or pure — that makes them irrelevant to any serious policy debate.

  22. Just for the record, we have pressed hard for technology transfer and in fact wealth transfer north to south. I have written extensively about the need for a carbon version of the Marshall Plan. That stance in favor of climate justice is one of the reasons that has found widespread support across the global south

  23. Joe,
    I keep wanting to not like Waxman-Markey because it’s not tough enough. You keep talking me into supporting it though…

    Until clean energy is cheaper than coal, the vast majority of people/nations will opt for the coal. Any policy or legislation that ignores this fact is doomed to failure (IMHO). The question here is does Waxman-Markey ignore this fact!

    You’ve pretty much convinced me that it doesn’t.

    [JR: Dan, thanks. Let’s all work to strengthen the bill in whatever capacity we can or, failing that, to stop it from being weakened.]

  24. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Peter and Trudy –

    The Breakthrough Institute is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

    Astroturf all the way, IMO.

    From Wikipedia, background on ExxonMobil and the Rockefellers:

    he Exxon Mobil Corporation, or ExxonMobil, is an American oil and gas corporation. It is a direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company,[3] formed on November 30, 1999, by the merger of Exxon and Mobil.

    ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly traded company when measured by either revenue or market capitalization. Exxon Mobil’s reserves were 72 billion oil-equivalent barrels at the end of 2007 and, at current rates of production, are expected to last over 14 years.[4] The company has 38 oil refineries in 21 countries constituting a combined daily refining capacity of 6.3 million barrels.[5][6][7]

    While it is the largest of the six oil supermajors[8] with daily production of 3.921 million BOE (barrels of oil equivalent) in 2008,[1] this is only approximately 3% of world production and ExxonMobil’s daily production is surpassed by several of the largest state-owned petroleum companies.[9] When ranked by oil and gas reserves it is 14th in the world with less than 1% of the total.[10][11]

    ExxonMobil has been accused by major scientific organizations of waging a misinformation campaign aiming to create uncertainty on the issue of global warming.

    So, it looks like the Breakthrough Institute was deliberately created to be quotable astroturf. Then, how amazing, flagship newspapers of the Eastern financial establishment routinely quote them to disrupt grassroots movements and sow dissent among true environmental advocates. The goal appears to be to sow confusion, prevent any real solutions, and favor the status quo and so the family oil business.

    Under Lee Raymond, ExxonMobil gave out at least 26 million dollars directly to a network of climate change deniers. ExxonMobil did this even after their own scientists told them in the mid 1990s that global warming was real and the link between greenhouse emissions and climate change was undeniable.

    A couple of years ago, Lee Raymond was “fired” as CEO of ExxonMobil, by a group of stockholders led by the Rockefeller family. The New York Times and other outlets hinted that this was because he had been rude to the Rockefeller family a couple of times, and due to his support for this network of global warming deniers. Poor Lee Raymond did receive a 400 million dollar golden parachute, though.

    So the new propaganda effort is more subtle, it appears, and includes astroturf groups like the Breakthrough Institute.

    Think how effective this strategy would be, if we did not have the Internet to help us uncover this sort of deception.

    It’s still pretty effective, though, because this blog only reaches a few people, while the New York Times influences millions directly and indirectly through the echo chamber effect.

    Thank you, Joe, for all of your hard work and good information.

  25. John,

    You’re conflating Waxman-Markey and all of environmentalism. I agree wholeheartedly with your assesement of W-M, and I’m certainly not advocating TBI’s alternative.

    I can absolutely agree with you about W-M, and at the same time think that environmentalism has a serious cultural problem, and since Bill McKibben is here in the comments, it makes sense to point out that Nordhaus and Shellenberger aren’t the only ones trying to push all of us past the sandtraps of “personal virtue” and “lifestyle.” Deep Economy is *this close* to being a really strong argument against a Beavanesque Lack-Based Victorianism, and toward a collective recalibrating of what “more” and “happiness” mean that is about abundance and joy instead of lack.

  26. James says:

    The problem with the Waxman-Markey Bill is that it uses government mandates to try and reduce carbon based energy, oil and coal, despite the fact their is not a viable alternative available that will meet the energy needs of the US. If you do the math you will find that wind and solar at their max deployment will meet only a fraction of our current energy needs. Not only that, the wind and solar may actually do more harm than good to the environment than coal and oil does. Unlike coal and oil, which produce profit, wind and solar need to be heavily subsidized by the government which cost will passed on to the public.

    What is more troubling is that the fact that the Waxman-Markey Bill will not decrease co2. The Waxman-Markey Climate Bill that is now being considered by Congress, CO2 emissions from the U.S. in the year 2050 are proposed to be 83% less than they were in 2005 … or a reduction of 4,980mmtCO2 … [the models say,] even if the entire United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 83% below current levels, it would only amount to a reduction of global warming of less than three-thousandths of a ºC per year. A number that is scientifically meaningless.”

    So why would anyone in their right mind support a bill will greatly harm our economy and not reduce co2? It just makes no sense except for the fact a lot of corporations like GE, who produce wind turbines, and government union “green job” workers will be able to siphon more of the private sector dollar while accomplishing nothing.

  27. Susan says:

    “joyless scolding” is the word of the day – I’ll add it to my collection. If I got money for the number of times my words have had their meaning twisted to support their opposite, I’d be a rich woman.

    The multi-headed hydra of doubt and delay creation is quite happy to tie us all up – after all they’re extremely well funded and their resources are continuously updated. They get particularly virulent when action is proposed.

    The dilution of W-M is a case in point, but still better than nothing.

  28. Susan says:

    Leland Palmer, thanks for the detail. I had found some stuff, but yours is much more complete. Great work!

  29. Leland Palmer says:

    Thanks, Susan

    Poor Lee Raymond. Fired like that, after being so unwisely rude to the Rockefellers.

    What a shame.

    Now he has only his 400 million dollar golden parachute to comfort him.

    I will admit to silly, unfortunate thoughts, like wondering if the whole “firing” thing and all the press it got was all a sham.

    I’ve also occasionally wondered, in moments of sheer irrationality, whether he got “fired” after all that good service funding that network of deniers, for getting caught doing it rather than for doing it in the first place.

    But that’s just silly, of course.

    Ho hum – what’s the latest “news” in the Times?

  30. Susan, just to clarify, I’m a passionate environmentalist. And I also strongly believe that environmentalism has to get past the joyless scolding. It’s not a right wing plot. Environmentalism has a serious rhetorical limitation that I think it’s really important to fix.

  31. Leland Palmer says:

    Environmentalists do need to learn to be quantitative, that’s true.

    I doubt that learning to be quantitative from an astroturf think tank is the way to do that, though.

    Who knows what other unfortunate baggage you might pick up, accepting information from a source like that?

  32. john says:


    Are there scolds and scoundrels out there telling us we have to do without to save the environment?

    Yes, there are.

    Are they in any way influential in environmental policy?

    No, they are not.

    W-M is not the exception to environmental policy. It is the rule. Ever since the 1990 CAA revisions, we have been looking to come up with strategies and policies to integrate economic, social and environmental progress, and succeeding — whether it’s sulfur trading, trading water permits, auctioning fishing rights, establishing efficiency set-asides in NOx rules – on and on — we are doing things differently in the envronmental and resource fields.

    The scolds and retro-nags S&N complain about; the command and control regs they warn about; the isolating and elitist positions they rail against are largely things of the past. 75% of Americans are worried abut global warming and are willing to pay more for energy if it will solve the problem.

    That watershed change occured for 2 reasons: 1) the kind of rules S&N talk about aren’t being made any more; and 2) the messaging and education of the public (something S&N warn against) has been factual and clear. Instead of getting repulsed an turned off, as S&N said they would, they are getting concerned and mobilizing to make progress.

    Sorry, Deborah, but S&N are ranting against shadows of things that don’t exist any more. Either they’re completely ignorant of the sea change in environmental approaches and public opinion or they are disingenuous — maybe both. But in any case, they offer no viable solutions, and the enemy they fight has left the field and retired. One wishes they would too.

  33. confused in colorado says:

    Joe- I am confused about your change of stance on offsets. Can you clarify?

  34. John,

    Respectfully, you’re still talking policy. I am talking about my relationships with my co-workers and friends, and the advertisements I read. I am talking about No Impact Man. I am talking about popular culture, and how the non-wonky individual is supposed to react to environmental woe.

    I agree with you. You are right that S&N are ranting against shadows of the past on a policy level. But I still am saying that the same thing can’t be said on a cultural level, and that appreciating this cultural criticism of environmentalism is an important part of taking it to the next level.

  35. David B. Benson says:

    confused in colorado — From the article: “After the holiday weekend, I will blog at length on why the international offsets don’t threaten the overall integrity of the bill.”

    Doesn’t Joe get a weekend?

  36. This is a great post – I read the Nordhaus/Shellenberger article in TNR this last issue, and was very disappointed for reasons that I couldn’t put my finger on, but sat very ill with me. I think they hit the mark sometimes, and miss others. They are missing right now.

  37. Oh, and Earth Hour. Earth Hour is probably the best possible example I could give of popular environmentalism’s cultural problem. How on earth is sitting in the dark for an hour supposed to get anyone jazzed up to do the work that so desperately needs to be done? It’s a mournful activity, it feels like punishment. It is the very essence of the Joyless Victorian Scolding that I am talking about.

    Forgive me for being very American right now, but Earth Hour sucks, and when I hear S&N’s arguments, I am reminded, painfully, of Earth Hour. I want a popular environmentalism that taps into a genuine sense of possibility, abundance and joy. Don’t you?

  38. paulm says:

    A progressive conservative!

  39. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Deborah-

    I want a popular environmentalism that taps into a genuine sense of possibility, abundance and joy. Don’t you?

    I’d settle for a popular environmentalism that can add, subtract, multiply, divide, count, that has a sense of scale, and that can evaluate relative risks scientifically.

    That appears to be the sort of environmentalism that Waxman/Markey embraces and contains, though.

    It’s too little, perhaps too late, perhaps not.

    Personally, I’m not going to spend my time criticizing environmentalism which can help save the planet, but not have a word to say about big business, which appears to be destroying it.

    My general feeling about environmentalism is “I’m OK, you’re OK”.

    My general feeling about our core financial elites is “I’m OK, you’re an abomination that must be destroyed, unless you develop a sense of social responsibility at nearly the speed of light”.

  40. confused in colorado says:

    David, I didn’t ask for an immediate response. This is the pace to submit questions to Joe is it not? Why so touchy? Whenever Joe gets to it I will be perfectly happy, and I would bet he has a good reply. Until then, try the decaf.

  41. hapa says:

    one of the alternatives to joyless scolding is making promises you can’t keep

  42. Mike the one-armed man says:

    “Leland Palmer”, there is no evidence of a Rockefeller conspiracy against climate action. Exxon-Mobil was formed (in 1999) over one hundred years after Rockefeller resigned as chairman of Standard Oil (in 1897), and as you note, the remaining Rockefeller shareholders played a role in getting the company to discontinue its sponsorship of climate change skeptics. So I would suggest inverting your whole perspective to entertain the notion that Rockefeller philanthropy supports the Breakthrough Institute in earnest. You might then argue that this is a mistake, maybe even a mistake arising from a financier’s worldview. That could be the basis of a discussion, but right now you’re not thinking things through. Memo to commenters: Don’t be suckered by bad conspiracy analyses from Leland Palmer!

  43. paulm says:

    eco-altruism vs big big business altruism !

  44. Leland,

    Popular culture and message drives a lot of individual voter’s choices, and we can all agree that we are short on time here, and need all hands on deck.

    The AGW solutions that are at the tips of our fingers tend to give us tangible short-term benefits. Renewable energy and electric cars mean less asthma and cleaner air immediately. Jogging by the side of the road could stop being a deeply ironic act in a few years. That’s a major improvement! Bill McKibben’s ideas about local economies, particularly when it comes to food, mean that everyone gets better, tastier, healthier food, and ensure that there are more farmers and farm jobs. That’s economic growth and a quality-of-life upgrade! I put radiant heat in my house because it’s efficient, but it also happens to be luxurious! There is an aspirational quality to wise use of resources that is literal and powerful. I am richer, month-to-month, because I use the sun to make about 90% of my hot water and heat. I could go on and on.

    Environmentalism has a very compelling argument for redefining what “more” means to a culture that loves the word “more,” and will be more than willing to listen, because the “more” that we have been living with has given us environmental woe, obesity, disease and existential angst. I don’t have any promises that can’t be kept here. The sun will keep heating my home and my bathwater as long as there is a sun. Local farmers will produce better food, and this will improve public health. “Clean, safe energy that never runs out” is not an empty promise. It actually describes what we are all working toward in a way that is abundant and joyful.

    And yet even Bill McKibben, in Deep Economy, as he is laying out this frankly delightful landscape in which our worlds literally become New And Improved refuses the word “more,” and chooses to work against this human desire to grow and change–even though he’s laying out a strong vision of growth and change! Even though in his vision we get more of the things that actually matter!

    I understand the impulse because I hate the way we have been growing and changing as much as you do, and of course, the growth of the past created the situation we are in right now. But that doesn’t equate to sitting in the dark, or eco-ritualizing every single individual consumer choice you make, or making other people feel bad because they got thirsty and bought a bottle of water. This kind of action is so small scale that it looks either absurd or narcissistic. It’s not compelling.

    I want an environmentalism that understands the scale of the problem too. And I think that means seeing that this is a problem that literally lies beyond individualism and ego, and setting aside my own individualistic desire to be against the dominant culture. It is simply more effective to develop a radically inclusive environmentalism that doesn’t ignore or oppose anyone, but instead seeks to bring everyone along by embracing the fact that these crises are opportunities. I am not an environmentalist because I love scaring myself with apocalyptic visions of the future, or because I feel “enlightened” or like I have knowledge that other people don’t have. All that’s an ego trap. It’s not going to work.

    I am an environmentalist because I am really looking forward to this positive, cleaner, brighter future, in which America manufactures things again, and in which I can buy truly local eggs and tomatoes in Brooklyn, and in which I can walk over the Williamsburg Bridge in summer without getting a headache from all the ground level ozone. I don’t think that’s a conservative vision, and I don’t think that has anything to do with big business. I think that what I am saying is progressive and revolutionary, and for that matter, much more attainable (and less problematic) than government seizure of all coal-fired power plants and the other silliness that gets floated around here.

    I am arguing for a rather simple semantic shift, in which environmentalists simply look at the value they are delivering–this specific redefinition of “more” and “growth”–and start talking, nonstop, about that value. I am arguing for a strong rhetorical offense.

  45. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Mike:

    “Leland Palmer”, there is no evidence of a Rockefeller conspiracy against climate action. Exxon-Mobil was formed (in 1999) over one hundred years after Rockefeller resigned as chairman of Standard Oil (in 1897), and as you note, the remaining Rockefeller shareholders played a role in getting the company to discontinue its sponsorship of climate change skeptics. So I would suggest inverting your whole perspective to entertain the notion that Rockefeller philanthropy supports the Breakthrough Institute in earnest. You might then argue that this is a mistake, maybe even a mistake arising from a financier’s worldview. That could be the basis of a discussion, but right now you’re not thinking things through. Memo to commenters: Don’t be suckered by bad conspiracy analyses from Leland Palmer!

    Well, there is an unbroken chain of events connecting John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil with David Rockefeller and ExxonMobil. Wikipedia is a good source of information on this, just read the articles there about the Rockefellers, ExxonMobil, and JPMorgan/Chase.

    I am kind of ashamed to have irrational thoughts about rich people, that they might lie and engage in corporate PR, to protect industrial enterprises worth trillions of dollars, and perpetuate control over such enterprises.

    I know that money is not really a significant motive for lying.

    Silly me.

    Regarding The Breakthrough Institute, though, it does look like the Rockefeller philanthropies have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, this time. TBI simply has no core beliefs, and simply manufactures disruptive criticism. TBI does appear to be a solely supported think tank funded by the Rockefellers. The TBI output has received anomalously huge amounts of press coverage, by an apparently controlled corporate media, the same media that recently helped con the American public into an aggressive invasion of the Middle East.

    Greenpeace also was deluded into thinking that ExxonMobil might be funding a global warming denialist network, which is why they put together this site:


    The site is a little dated, and for some reason hasn’t been kept up very well, but the interactive map is a real eye-opener.

    Greenpeace ought to be ashamed, too. The very thought that a corporation might engage in deception to protect profits!

    It’s just inconceivable.

  46. Susan says:

    fascinating! I stick with Leland Palmer about the “add, subtract, multiple, and divide” and about the continuing attack on any possible solution-oriented approach and the lack of attack on the ages-old extremely well financed doubt, delay, and obfuscation approach.

    Deborah, I’m glad you care, but I think it’s time to wake up and notice the multiplicity of events that are pointing in an unsustainable direction. Humans have a history of exploring and exploiting new territory, and this immovable force is meetings a finite planet. Increasingly, mitigation, which we all demand as a right, is getting more expensive.

    Magic thinking proposes an ever increasing ownership society and does not wish to see the expanding unfortunate billions whose lack of the likes of clean running water which we are assisting in making worse.

    President Obama says “empathy” and the gang says “communism. He’s a long shot, but the best we have, and appears to get it. Now it’s “common sense” and “to be able to stand in someone else’s shoes, and see through their eyes.”

    If that’s scolding, I will continue to do so. I don’t like the ever-expanding rhetorical tricksterism and I will call it as I see it.

  47. Joe says:

    None of the Rockefeller-based philanthropies I am aware of have an anti-climate bias. Quite the reverse. Most of them are aggressively pursuing a variety of strategies to help accelerate the trend to a low carbon economy.

    I myself briefly worked for the Rockefeller Foundation 20 years ago and can safely say that even back then there was not a trace of oil-based agenda.

    That does not mean that every foundation investment is a good use of money, but the same is true of government and the private sector also. Indeed, my earlier posts on the Gates Foundation make clear that even foundations with vast resources and access to the best advice sometimes don’t make the best decisions.

  48. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Joe –

    One mistake is a mistake. Many mistakes is a pattern.

    I see a pattern, of which the funding for TBI is only a tiny part.

    Thanks for the info, and please delete the duplicate posts. Sorry, from now on I’ll just post and wait, when I encounter the spam filter.

    Leland Palmer
    2128 Camellia Court
    Santa Rosa, California

  49. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Joe-

    Oh, wrong Joe. You’re not Joe Romm, you’re just Joe. Sorry.

    Regarding the Rockefeller charitable activities, it has been alleged that these funds simply perpetuate control of corporate wealth. What such charitable foundations do is sequester wealth in a tax free environment, and perpetuate it. The big blocks of stock that fund these charitable foundations still have voting rights, the stock is just voted by trustees rather than by the former “owners”.

    So, if you control the way the trustees vote, you control the wealth.

    I imagine that the Rockefeller charities have very little oily taint about them, but the real goal in establishing them is continued control of stock voting rights, while not actually “owning” the stock, any more, IMO. Once in a while, maybe a slightly questionable, activity is funded, but mostly the function of such charitable foundations is to conceal control of corporate wealth, using the trustees as “cutouts”.

    Some other people that see this big pattern, regarding the ExxonMobil at least, are Al Gore and Senator John Warner:

    See Al Gore’s testimony at about 29 to 32 minutes in the above video link, during the Waxman/Markey hearings on ACES.

  50. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, darn the link leads to the main page. The video I was referring to is linked to at the bottom of the page , listed as April 24,2009 ACES Hearing, Panel 1 Questions Part 1.

    This is Al Gore’s answer to Barton, at about 29-32 minutes into the video, in which he quotes the NYT story by Andrew Revkin which accuses ExxonMobil of suppressing the report from its own scientists that said that the link between fossil fuel use and global warming was undeniable. ExxonMobil then went on to fund the network of denialists that the Greenpeace site documents.

    Al Gore also mentions the 400 million dollar payment to Lee Raymond, and says that such corporations owe the public an apology. He calls such corporations the “Bernie Madoffs” of global warming.

  51. Joe says:

    Leland — sorry, yes, this is Joe R.

    Don’t get me wrong — given the general collapse of journalism in the past two decades, I have no doubt whatsoever that what we know about what ExxonMobil and the like have done spread disinformation and confusion is but the tip of the iceberg.

    I am most certainly not defending the original generation of Rockefellers. But the modern foundations built around their money are not pushing an oil agenda. Again, that doesn’t mean their grantmaking efforts are unworthy of criticism — far from it. Indeed, foundations mainly get a free ride in this country because most experts are unwilling to criticize them they ultimately may want to get some money from them. That makes them insular.

    BTW, any post with two or more links is automatically held up in the spam filter — nothing personal. It’s just that spammers like to push a lot of links. I try to unlock those posts as fast as I can, I’m slower overnight or during weekends and holidays.

  52. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Joe-

    Well the press coverage does paint the modern generation of Rockefellers as good guys, rather than bad guys.

    I’m just not sure that I buy it.

    Officially, the Rockefeller family is a family whose wealth is increasingly splintered into multiple heirs, many of whom have environmental interests.

    You might check out sociologist Thomas R. Dye’s series of books “Who’s Running America” in which he outlines an oligarchic model of American governance and puts the previous generation of Rockefellers including David and Nelson in the thick of it. He calls the Rockefeller family “the best example of the oligarchic model of American governance”, for example.

    David is still alive, although 90 years old or so. You might check out his Memoirs, available on Amazon.

    I think that the Rockefellers may have learned to hide their control of their industrial wealth after the effort to break Standard Oil into the various oil companies we know today. The various fragments of Standard Oil never declined in value, by the way.

    On Wikipedia, John D. Rockefeller is listed as the richest guy ever, measured as a fraction of the GDP of his parent country. But the U.S. is a very, very rich country. So this could conceivably make JDR’s fortune worth many trillions of modern dollars. If for example the family managed to retain control of just ExxonMobil and JPMorgan/Chase, that’s about 3 trillion dollars worth of industrial wealth right there.

    What happened to Lee Raymond has been repeated many times, in traditionally Rockefeller dominated corporations. There is a big proxy fight, and the Rockefeller faction almost inevitably wins.

    Sorry about the duplicate posts, and thanks again for the info about TBI. I had read one of their articles, and was bothered by it, not knowing much about the source.

  53. john says:


    Forsome reason I looked back — I think because I find BTI so pernisicous in every way. And there was a response from you.

    The distinction you make between policy and culture is not meaningful, when 75% of people are concerned about and willing to make sacrifices to halt global warming.

    It’sclear folks aren’t getting turned off by calls to action and raising the consequences of business as usual as S&N warned. Quite the opposite, they’re getting tunred on and mobilized by the debates. So 25% don’t buy it — it’s probably the dittoheads who listen to Rush.

    I hope you’re not suggesting we change our messaging to appeal to them — How big a margin of success do we need before we can say that things are working and S&N are full of Bull?

    The trend is clear — and it’s directly the opposite of what S&N said it would be.

    But yes, Earth Hous was stupid.

  54. Leland, we note that there are several carbon and sustainability projects funded by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, including the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

    That doesn’t automatically make those astroturf.

    In no way are we defending BTI or John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil. However, you seem intent on branding anything associated with any Rockefeller money as oil-tainted.

    JDR III and Laurence Rockefeller were each driving forces behind a number of socially and environmentally responsible institutions and projects. Laurence was known for his work in conservation.

    We posted the information about Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ funding of BTI earlier simply because there had been several comments asking about BTI’s funding.

    Somehow we doubt that S&N are doing anyone’s “bidding” but their own, for their own reasons.

  55. John,

    I am suggesting changing messaging, and here’s why. Yes, 75% believe that they want to do something about climate change. But how many are doing anything? When I look at this set of graphs I see a ton of passive support and an infinitesimal amount of actual organized activity.

    Why settle for tacit acknowledgment that a problem exists? TBI may know nothing about policy, but they do tidily lay out exactly why these numbers shake out the way they do, and offer consistently smart messaging shifts that will probably raise participation. Why not take what’s useful from TBI’s playbook and really start actively working, en masse, for a better world right now?

    It does make sense to message environmentalism in terms of humans having the ability to make the world a better place instead of falling into these puritanical arguments for environmentalism that revolve around the essential supremacy of earth and the essential sinfulness and evil of humans. And it is more effective for environmentalists to organize in actual groups to make large-scale change, even if that change is symbolic, instead of organizing the self around eco-ritualizing individual consumer choices.

    I see a world of gain and nothing, really, to lose. Why not change the dialogue so that it makes sense for lots and lots of people to participate?

  56. hapa says:

    the benefits are there. the underlying mechanism for guaranteeing those benefits isn’t.

    do you remember the “ownership society”? millions of newly homeless are cursing the day they believed the hype.

    similarly, the stimulus bill will help soften the landing of the real economy. fraudsters are taking advantage of the desperation by offering secret access to stimulus money “for a reasonable fee.”

    even the “green jobs, good jobs” slogan has its asterisk: “the ‘good’ part will be at the discretion of management, unless you fight for it.”

    right, remedy, facility.

    (a) green benefits are a right. you can have them.

    (b) the remedy part — if you don’t get what you expected — is in two pieces: (1) if benefits are distributed unfairly, you can say so, try to change it, but people are already strapped and nervous — shaky start to a big change. (2) now, if green piece isn’t there to be distributed, whoops, ugly.

    (c) with both parts of the remedy somewhat iffy, the facility — the need to guarantee the right, to be sure it’s there, ready to go, affordable, and reliable, before people reach for it — is that much more important.

    that’s what it means to keep the promise. high green standards combined with crappy inspectors = broken promise. increased energy prices without quality you-can-do-it-in-your-sleep cost mitigation and revenue sharing = broken promise. lack of fraud enforcement, poor information distribution, “grandfathering” based on zipcode = broken promises.

    i think a bright green future is there still to take and is the only workable option. i also think we need to green our bureaucracy or the ecological economy we’ll get will be stuffed with false green fronts.

  57. hapa says:

    (when elizabeth warren is done with the TARP we could do worse than hire her into an office of green consumer transition whatever.)

  58. I like Elizabeth Warren too.

  59. Anna Haynes says:

    At this juncture, TBI’s funding still seems a little mysterious.

    TBI was in existence by mid-Jan 2004. To my (admittedly minimal – pls correct if wrong) knowledge, there was no info on their site about their funding for the first 3+years.

    Starting with a site change by Oct 2007, TBI indicated RockPA was funding them: TBI’s About page said
    “The Breakthrough Institute is a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(3)corporation. As part of its mission and services, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors facilitates the charitable purposes of The Breakthrough Institute, serving as the fiscal sponsor for the initiative.”

    But Guidestar’s most recent Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Form 990, for funding through Dec 31 2007, doesn’t show any money going to The Breakthrough Institute.
    …unless I overlooked it, but I read through it twice – no mention of TBI in the Donor Advised Funds giving (although some black sheep gave to Heritage, the Leadership Institute, Manhattan Institute etc…) nor in their Special Projects and General Fund giving.

    I haven’t yet checked 2006 and 2005.

    So…how has TBI been funded?
    I’ve also emailed one of RPA’s media contact people last night, to find out how we can find out who funds TBI through RockPA now; will report back with answer(s). (I’ll also email TBI and ask.)

    Disclaimer of sorts: I have no informed beef against TBI, but I did read the above post&comments, and I’m curious.

  60. Anna Haynes says:

    OK, now I’ve also reviewed the 2005 and 2006 RockPA form 990s. There’s no mention of The Breakthrough Institute in them either, but there _is_ a mention of American Environics, in which S&N are partners:

    In 2006 (only), RockPA paid American Environics $232,750 for “research on the values and behavior of the American voting population on behalf of two special projects” – only Fenton Communications got more (253,664).

    And the significance of this is…?
    (hell if I know; likely none)

  61. Anna Haynes says:

    Yesterday in a comment above I’d asked

    > “So…how has [The Breakthrough Institute] been funded?…I’ll also email TBI and ask.”

    And today we have a prompt and tart response from Mr. Shellenberger, the short answer being –
    “RPA is TBI’s parent non-profit, they do not fund us nor are they any longer connected to Big Oil. We have two funders…Cummings Foundation, from the Sara Lee fortune, part of the worldwide Jewish pound cake conspiracy, and Lotus Fund. Neither is connected to fossil fuels…”

    Of the Cummings Foundation, last year CliProg commenter Alex Smith said (link)
    (Note -I’m just quoting what Google turned up, I haven’t looked into it at all)
    “[Cummings] is a small family with hundreds of millions of dollars, from the founder of Sara Lee, and other food conglomerates.
    Nathan Cummings Foundation used to fund all kinds of alternative environmental groups. Then, with a new funding manager, they swerved into a kind of rightist netherland, where environmentalism was the cause of all our problems, and must be killed off. Thus the “environmentalist is dead” craze.”

    As for the Lotus Fund, it’s still a bit mysterious.

    If it’s “The Lotus Fund” in Santa Monica at 2118 Wilshire Blvd #107, it’s an unknown quantity; Guidestar says it was founded in 2002 and is in the category “Health—General & Rehabilitative / (Health Support Services)”, but has no 990s for it (that I could see, at least) and it doesn’t seem to have a website.

    Guidestar also shows a Lotus Endowment Fund and a Lotus Partnership Fund.

    But it doesn’t look to be the Lotus Endowment Fund, Inc., which “is organized and operated exclusively as a supporting foundation for The Sundari Foundation, Inc. and its initiatives, including the Lotus House Women’s Shelter. The Endowment Fund was formed to secure the financial stability and long term viability of the Sundari Foundation” – which is “a public charity organized for educational and charitable purposes and dedicated to promoting the education, advancement and social inclusion of poor, disadvantaged and homeless women and children.”

    The Lotus Partnership Fund is a little more likely – it’s a newbie, formed in 2008 (so no 990s available) and very very quiet, online – again, I see no website. Their category is “Community Improvement, Capacity Building / (Fund Raising and/or Fund Distribution)”
    (for the moment, I will not speculate on the significance of this)

    Is “Lotus” related to “former Lotus CEO Jim Manzi in The National Review ([who said that the Waxman-Markey climate change bill is] “a terrible deal for American taxpayers”)”? (link)


    Followups will appear at my off-and-on TPM Muckraker blog (link), I think.

  62. Anna Haynes says:

    re the Nathan Cummings Foundation, I’m not sure I agree with Alex Smith (who I quoted in my previous comment) – it’s true that they’re not giving to the standard environmental groups, but it does seem like their choices are smart and innovative. (but many aren’t environmental, & are instead short-term-social-justice oriented…)

    You can see their recipient orgs and projects here –

  63. Anna Haynes says:

    TBI supporter The Lotus Fund is – so far at least – becoming increasingly intriguing. In a lengthy email exchange, all I’m getting is generalities (amid what appear to be bluff charges) – nothing that would allow me to pin down whether it’s a 501(c)(3) or if so, which one. Stay tuned…
    (but I’m told Manzi’s not involved with it)

  64. Hank Roberts says:

    Nice work Anna Haynes, thank you.

    And thanks to Joe for the whole topic red-flagging “Breakthrough” products.

  65. Hank Roberts says:

    PS, Anna, do you know for sure yet whether “Lotus” is this group?

    SANTA MONICA, CA 90403-5704 Educational Organization
    ( Health Support Services) * * * Tax exempt since: 11/2002
    Filing Requirement Form 990 – (all other) or 990EZ return

  66. knersi says:

    Brilliant article. responds to posts on and a great video on you tube:

  67. Anna Haynes says:

    > “PS, Anna, do you know for sure yet whether “Lotus” is this group? [Wilshire Blvd]”

    Dammit Hank, I didn’t see your comment until now, 3 months later. We got a usability problem here.

    No, it’s the Lotus fndn based in Houston, or rather, its law firm is based in Houston. They gave TBI 130k in 2008, as detailed in my comment here –

    (…which is followed by an attack from “Steve”, who appears in fact to be not Steve at all, but….)

    By the way, I finally did get confirmation (after making multiple phone calls, and sending multiple emails to multiple people) – Ted is the son of attorney Robert R. Nordhaus of Van Ness Feldman, and the nephew of economist William D. Nordhaus of Yale.

  68. Anna Haynes says:

    p.s. Shellenberger and Nordhaus also run a for-profit business, American Environics, from the same address as The Breakthrough Institute.
    I have a call in (several actually) to Ted, to ask some Qs about this arrangement.

    Another FYI (I’ll add this to Sourcewatch, but haven’t done so yet) – attorney Robert Nordhaus (father of Ted) reports he has *no* affiliation to Nordhaus Law Firm, which has DC and New Mexico branches and does Native American law, including coal&uranium stuff –

    “As Native American people truly begin to benefit from the development and use of tribal lands, Nordhaus Law Firm, LLP provides advice to businesses and tribal governments on how to best utilize tribal resources for the advancement of the entire Indian community.”
    “Many of the firm’s tribal clients have substantial reserves of oil, gas, uranium, coal, other minerals, and timber. The firm pioneered the use of joint ventures to recover tribal minerals…
    The firm also has expertise in developing comprehensive strategies for Indian tribes to achieve the best return for their non-renewable natural resources”

    (I’m not providing URLs for these quotes, since multiple links make the ClimateProgress spam filter eat my comment. Joe, if you have an assistant, perhaps this person could add a warning to the comment form? It’s quite disconcerting to have a comment get eaten, esp. since the “disappeared” comment isn’t retrievable by any means I’ve yet discovered.)

  69. Onenrerty says:

    Other variant is possible also