Americans for Prosperity: Distorting climate change science and economics in well-funded campaign

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Americans for Prosperity (AFP), part of a network of libertarian organizations devoted to "limited government" and "free markets," is distorting climate change science and economics to "halt the encroachment of government." With generous support from the multibillionaire owners of Koch Industries, AFP claims that actions to address climate change are based on "global warming alarmism" and will wreck the economy. "Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant," says Peggy Venable, AFP's State Director for Texas. "On the contrary it makes crops and forests grow faster. We exhale carbon dioxide."

Post by the Climate Science Watch research team. See related posting, Koch Industries multibillionaire Koch brothers bankroll attacks on climate change science and policy

Next week (on March 22) in Arkansas, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) will kick off a nationwide "Regulation Reality Tour" to block U.S. efforts under the Clean Air Act to protect the health and welfare of Americans by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. AFP describes itself as "an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels." Its tax-exempt, nonprofit arm Americans for Prosperity Foundation, is "committed to educating citizens about economic policy and a return of the federal government to its Constitutional limits." With strong and generous support from Charles and David Koch, the billionaire owners of Koch Industries (see box), AFP claims that actions to address climate change are based on "global warming alarmism" and will wreck the economy. AFP is part of larger network of libertarian organizations with close ties to the Koch brothers that distort climate change science and economics to undermine public support for government action to address the problem.

AFP generally says very little specifically about the science of climate change beyond repeatedly stating that regulatory steps by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and legislation being considered by Congress are based on "global warming alarmism" -- weasel wording used to dismiss the scientific basis for action with few specific details on what AFP believes or doesn't believe about climate change. AFP says the "costly so-called `solutions' to global warming" being considered by government would "have only a miniscule impact on global temperature and would not be detectable against the background of natural variation." (Americans for Prosperity: "If You Think Taxes Are High Now, Just Wait Until Congress Tries to `Fix' Global Warming," Press Release, 15 April 2008).

AFP Patrons: The Koch Brothers

Americans for Prosperity was established in 2004 by David Koch, who along with his brother, Charles, is among the top ten richest people in America. David Koch also is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AFP Foundation. For each of the three years, from 2005 through 2007, the Koch family foundations contributed more than $1 million to AFP. In 2008, the funding level doubled to $2 million (27% of AFP's budget), bringing the total 2005-2008 contribution to $5.2 million. For more on the Koch brothers, see the Climate Science Watch posting, Koch Industries multibillionaire Koch brothers bankroll attacks on climate change science and policy.

Peggy Venable, AFP's State Director for Texas, is less restrained. In an opinion piece titled The Feds are Messing with Texas in The Lone Star Report (29 January 2009), she says: "The scientific establishment has dropped the ball. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. On the contrary it makes crops and forests grow faster. We exhale carbon dioxide." She goes on to discuss the science-based finding by the EPA that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare (its "endangerment" finding). Specifically, she praised a response to EPA's endangerment finding that was being contemplated by the state of Texas and suggested by an AFP ally "who proposes attacking the EPA as a purveyor of bad science under federal statutes that prohibit junk science by agencies."

When the State of Texas announced a year later that it was taking legal action against EPA over the endangerment finding, Venable wrote "Hats off to Gov. Rick Perry" along with the state attorney general and the agriculture commissioner. According to a press release from the Texas Governor's Office posted on the AFP Texas site:

“`With billions of dollars at stake, EPA outsourced the scientific basis for its greenhouse gas regulation to a scandal-plagued international organization that cannot be considered objective or trustworthy,' Attorney General Abbott said. `Prominent climate scientists associated with the IPCC were engaged in an ongoing, orchestrated effort to violate freedom of information laws, exclude scientific research, and manipulate temperature data. In light of the parade of controversies and improper conduct that has been uncovered, we know that the IPCC cannot be relied upon for objective, unbiased science – so EPA should not rely upon it to reach a decision that will hurt small businesses, farmers, ranchers, and the larger Texas economy.'”

On 15 April 2009, AFP joined with other conservative groups in a letter challenging the EPA's endangerment finding, claiming:

"Significant uncertainty persists with regard to climate sensitivity—the core scientific issue. Despite the ongoing increase in air’s CO2 content, various measures of public health and welfare—life-expectancy, heat-related mortality, weather-related mortality, air quality, agricultural productivity—continue to improve. Endangerment of public health and welfare is not `reasonably anticipated.'"

Despite decades of research and thousands of peer-reviewed publications to the contrary, AFP rigidly adheres to the denialist arguments that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities pose no significant danger to Americans -- or the rest of the planet.

Alongside its dismissive position on the science, AFP mischaracterizes the economics of action on climate change. The largest economic consequences of unrestrained growth in emissions are related to the impacts of climate change, the costs of which are growing and will be catastrophic for the U.S. and world economies later in the century if emissions are not dramatically reduced. AFP ignores those costs. It focuses instead exclusively on the costs of reducing emissions, which are likely to be far less over time than the costly consequences of inaction. Furthermore, AFP exaggerates the costs of reducing emissions, cherry-picking analyses that suggest the largest negative economic consequences.

Finally, AFP argues that other major emitting countries will do little or nothing to effectively reduce emissions. This argument contradicts evidence that governments of other countries are growing increasingly concerned about the economic, social and political disruption that will occur as climate rapidly changes. They in fact are taking steps to prepare for the impacts of climate change and to curb emissions, and in many instances are well ahead of the U.S. on the issue.

With messaging based on such distortions of both the science and economics of climate change, AFP is engaged in a broad disinformation campaign including:

Hot Air Tour. "Exposing the Ballooning Costs of Global Warming Alarmism." Consisted of more than 75 events in 2009 "focused on congressional attempts to tax and ration Americans’ energy usage in the name of global warming." The last event of the tour in 2009 was an event in Copenhagen, Denmark, featuring climate change denialist Christopher Monkton. The scientists at RealClimate.org call Monkton their "favorite contrarian" and call his ideas "cuckoo science": "like cuckoo eggs in a nest, they are only designed to look real enough to fool onlookers and crowd out the real science." The event was disrupted by demonstrators. See TVMOB shocker: Activists decried as “Hitler Youth” for crashing Americans For Prosperity’s global warming event in Copenhagen (Climate Progress, 10 December 2010); and Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, global warming denialist du jour on Capitol Hill (Climate Science Watch, March 27 2009)

Campaign against EPA's science-based finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare (EPA's "endangerment" finding) and against EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. AFP charged in a 21 October 2008 press release that the EPA finding supports "job-killing regulations...to satisfy environmental extremists." The video below is part of a Stop the EPA's Global Warming Power Grab page on AFP's Web site that provides messages its supporters can send to Congress. On 22 March 2010 in Arkansas, AFP will take its campaign to the next step when it kicks off a nationwide "Regulation Reality Tour" against the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. According to Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post (Blanche Lincoln under fire, 1 March 2010), the new AFP initiative is a "multi-million dollar campaign, which will include social networking and e-mail appeals as well as live events and paid radio and television advertising."

TV ads "Condemning Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Spent on Programs For Global Warming." According to the ads, "Isn’t it time Congress listened to the rest of us and got its science and priorities straight?" One adds "Congress should stop wasting their time and focus on real problems." See Front Group For Polluter Billionaires Wastes $140K On Goofy Global Warming Denial Ads (The Wonk Room, 11 Feb 2009). One of the ads is provided below. Ironically (in view of the billionaire Koch brothers' central importance in AFP), it features a wealthy hypocrite who inherited his money, "attended fancy schools," and owns "three homes and five cars" and always talks with his "rich friends." (see Climate Denial's Biggest Hypocrites?, NRDC, 12 Feb 2009).

No Climate Tax Web site. Site centered around getting state and Federal legislators to pledge to "oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue." According to the site: "There is one simple way to put members of Congress on record and figure out if this is about the environmental or just an excuse for a big tax increase."

Cosponsor of the 4th International Conference on Climate Change: Reconsidering the Science and Economics on 16-18 May 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. According to the Heartland Institute, lead organizer of the event (and also supported by the Koch brothers), the purpose of the meeting is "to build momentum and public awareness of the global warming `realism' movement, a network of scientists, economists, policymakers, and concerned citizens who believe sound science and economics, rather than exaggeration and hype, ought to determine what actions, if any, are taken to address the problem of climate change."

Though the distortion of climate change science and economics is very important to AFP's climate initiatives, the core objective is to undermine public support for government intervention in the market. That central ideological basis for AFP's initiatives is evident in the comments of Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) upon being awarded the Washington Award by AFP Foundation Chairman David Koch at the "Defending the American Dream" Summit on 15 October 2008. Senator Inhofe, the leading climate change denialist in the Senate, said: "I appreciate the opportunity to join thousands of free-market conservatives who are willing to stand tall against those in Washington regardless of party who appear ready to abandon our American capitalism.  Those of us gathered here today must be ready for the assault against reason and be prepared to stand our ground in protection of our free-market economic principles."

Ironically, by distorting the science and the economics of climate change, AFP and its allies are unwittingly exposing the American economic system to the much greater threat of catastrophic climate change impacts against which we are dangerously unprepared. And by contributing to political delay in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they threaten the economic benefits of U.S. leadership in the transition to 21st century clean energy technologies

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