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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Graham Readfearn: How to Spot a Fake Grassroots Movement Like the Tea Party

by Graham Readfearn, DeSmogBlog, February 17, 2013

PERHAPS somebody should write a pocket guide book with the title: "How to spot you've been suckered by a fake grassroots movement."

Once it's written, these guide books could be distributed free of charge to crowds at anti-carbon tax rallies, US Tea Party marches and pretty much any gathering of a "movement" telling you that you're freedom is being put at risk by big governments, nanny states, new world orders or communists disguised as climate scientists or public health professionals.But why the sudden need for the guide?

There's now emerging evidence that if these really are "grassroots" movements, then many of the seeds and the fertilisers are being supplied by major corporations and "libertarian" billionaires.

It turns out that the US Tea Party movement and its calls for "freedom" from government intervention wasn't some organic uprising of community concern after all. A new academic study documents how the Tea Party was envisioned and planned by tobacco company executives in concert with Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group established by oil billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

As reported on DeSmogBlog, the study "‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party" shows how the industry wanted to hide their profit motive and fear of the government regulating their deadly products behind a "movement to change the way that people think", as R.J Reynolds Tobacco's head of national field operations Tim Hyde described it.

Two groups were spawned from Citizens for a Sound Economy. As DeSmogBlog's Brendan DeMelle reports: "Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity are both multi-issue organizations that have expanded their battles to include other policies they see as threats to the free market principles they claim to defend, namely fighting health care reform and regulations on global warming pollution."

The judicious 2010 book "Merchants of Doubt," by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, also documented how a small group of scientists and "free market" ideologues had spread doubt on research linking tobacco to cancer and how some of those scientists were now operating in the climate science denial industry.

Also in recent weeks, more detail has emerged of the money trail linking groups across the US who run projects to block government regulation of greenhouse gas pollution or misrepresent (or outright deny) the many decades of science linking climate change to human activity.

In February last year, DeSmogBlog wrote of a secretive Virginia-based trust fund which was acting as a middleman for rich conservatives to hide their funding of projects blocking action on climate change and denying the science. The Donors Capital Fund and its partner organisation Donors Trust were funnelling millions of dollars into climate denial projects across the US.

Since then, PBS Frontline documentary "Climate of Doubt" has also covered the role which Donors Trust and DCF have played in funding climate science denial projects, which include documentary films, "education" materials, report writing campaigns and lobbying.

The UK's The Independent newspaper recently reported how the "Knowledge and Progress Fund," a group established by Charles Koch, had given at least $4.5 million to Donors Trust since 2007.

Now The Guardian reveals the true extent of Donors Trust and DCF's funding of the climate denial movement which, the newspaper reports, has bankrolled a vast network of think-tanks with climate denial projects. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, American Enterprise Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Heartland Institute are just some of the organisations which have each received millions of dollars from DCF or Donors Trust since 2002.

Greenpeace has analysed the tax forms of Donors Trust and DCF and finds it has funnelled $146 million into the climate science denial industry between 2002 and 2011. One major beneficiary has been the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) which has received more than $4 million from DCF or Donors Trust since 2002. The latest 990 tax forms show that Donors Trust gave $1.19 million to CFACT in 2011, mostly for "general operations" or the group's "environmental education fund." In return, CFACT tax records show it returned $300,000 to Donors Trust in 2011.

CFACT's highest profile operators are Marc Morano, the organisation's director of communications who maintains the Climate Depot denial blog, and climate science denial poster boy Lord Christopher Monckton. Lord Monckton has been part of CFACT delegations, often with Morano by his side, at United Nations climate and environment conferences including Rio, Doha, Cancun, Durban, Copenhagen and Bonn. Lord Monckton has also been a favourite of local Tea Party groups in the US who have sponsored lectures across America where Lord Monckton has claimed global warming is a socialist plot to take over the world and that President Obama's Hawaiin birth certificate was probably faked.

Currently on one of his regular speaking tours across Australia, Lord Monckton has most recently helped to launch an extremist Australian political party fronted by an anti-Islamic, creationist pastor.

The long arm of the Koch's fake grassroots movement also reached Australia in the form of Tim Andrews who took part in the Koch Associate Program, describing it thus: "an intense year-long training program by the Charles Koch Institute to train a select group of activists to become more efficient agents for change." The Spectator magazine identified Andrews as the "mastermind" behind the anti-science, anti-carbon tax rallies held across Australia in what was a failed attempt to stop legislation to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Andrews has now founded the Australian Taxpayer's Alliance with Cato Institute climate sceptic Pat Michaels as an advisor.

Then there is the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an organisation which has received heavy funding from Koch brothers groups over the years. The Koch company also has a seat on the ALEC board alongside other corporates such as coal giant Peabody and oil company Exxon.

A core of ALEC's operation is to draft model bills which legislators can drop into statehouses. ALEC's 2013 effort includes a bill to repeal any state laws which might have mandated that electricity supplies contain a fixed percentage from renewable energies. Their latest success is a bill mandating the teaching of climate science in school classrooms, which has gained support in three states.

Documents from climate science denial group the Heartland Institute ($14 million from Donors Trust and DCF) showed it too was targeting school children. A plan was to pay a former coal power consultant to write a new school curriculum to focus on teaching children that human caused climate change was a scientific "controversy."

The Heartland documents also showed how Australian climate sceptic Professor Bob Carter, science advisor to Melbourne-based "free market" think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, would be paid $1667 a month by Heartland to edit a climate change report.

So how to spot these fake "grassroots" movements?

One tip to go into our imaginary "pocket guide" might be to red flag any repeated use of the word "freedom" and the surely positive advocation of "free markets" or a "free society." These value-laden terms are often co-opted by industry-funded think-tanks fighting regulation in their industry.

Before lining up with their "freedom" placards, would-be marchers might want to first ask themselves who are the real beneficiaries when governments are stripped of their power to regulate the activities of major corporations.

Is this version of "freedom" really for the benefit of the people, or is it more about freedom for major corporations to indiscriminately pollute, freedom to market cancer sticks, freedom to buy politicians, freedom to secretly lobby, freedom to write your own laws, freedom to use tax havens, freedom to teach climate science denial to kids, freedom from taxes, freedom for the rich to get richer and freedom to put our health and security at risk from climate change?

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