EconomicsGlobal Warming/Climate ChangeSociety

Plutocracy, Pure and Simple

Now it’s a straight fight with the billionaires and corporations.

by George Monbiot: journalist, author, academic and environmental and political activist, United Kingdom.

Shocking, fascinating, entirely unsurprising: the leaked documents, if authentic, confirm what we suspected but could not prove. The Heartland Institute, which has helped lead the war against climate science in the United States, is funded among others by tobacco firms, fossil fuel companies and one of the billionaire Koch brothers(1).

It appears to have followed the script written by a consultant to the Republican party, Frank Luntz, in 2002. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”(2)

Luntz’s technique was pioneered by the tobacco companies and the creationists: teach the controversy. In other words, insist that the question of whether cigarettes cause lung cancer, natural selection drives evolution or burning fossil fuels causes climate change is still wide open, and that both sides of the “controversy” should be taught in schools and thrashed out in the media.

The leaked documents appear to show that, courtesy of its multi-millionaire donors, the institute has commissioned a global warming curriculum for schools, which teaches that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy” and “whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial.”(3).

The institute has claimed that it is “a genuinely independent source of research and commentary”(4) and that “we do not take positions in order to appease or avoid losing support from individual donors”(5). But the documents, if authentic, reveal that its attacks on climate science have been largely funded by a single anonymous donor and that “we are extinguishing primarily global warming projects in pace with declines in his giving”(6).

The climate change deniers it funds have made similar claims to independence. For example, last year Fred Singer told a French website, “of course I am not funded by the fossil fuel lobbies. It’s a completely absurd invention.”(7) The documents suggest that the institute, funded among others by the coal company Murray Energy, the oil company Marathon and the former Exxon lobbyist Randy Randol, has been paying him $5000 a month(8).

Robert Carter has claimed that he “receives no research funding from special interest organisations”(9). But the documents suggest that Heartland pays him $1,667 a month(10). Among the speakers at its conferences were two writers for the Telegraph (Christopher Booker and James Delingpole(11,12)). The Telegraph group should now reveal whether and how much they were paid by the Heartland Institute.

It seems to be as clear an illustration as we have yet seen of the gulf between what such groups call themselves and what they really are. Invariably, organisations arguing for regulations to be removed, top taxes to be reduced and other such billionaire-friendly policies call themselves freemarket or conservative thinktanks. But according to David Frum, formerly a fellow at one such group – the American Enterprise Institute – they “increasingly function as public-relations agencies”(13). The message they send to their employees, he says, is “we don’t pay you to think, we pay you to repeat.”

The profits of polluting or reckless companies and banks and the vast personal fortunes of their beneficiaries are largely dependent on the regulations set by governments. This is why the “thinktanks” campaign for small government. If regulations robustly defend the public interest, the profits decline. If they are weak, the profits rise. Billionaires and big business buy influence to insulate themselves from democratic control. It seems to me that the so-called thinktanks are an important component of this public relations work.

Their funding, in most cases, is opaque. When I challenged some of the most prominent of such groups in the UK, only one would reveal the identity of its donors. The others refused(14). Disgracefully, their lack of accountability does not prevent some of them from registering as charities and claiming tax exemption.

The Charity Commission in England and Wales, negligent, asleep at the wheel, is becoming a threat to democracy. These organisations are not trying to restore historic buildings or rescue distressed donkeys. They are seeking to effect political change in highly contentious areas. The minimum requirement for all such groups – whether they are on the left or on the right – is that they should disclose their major sources of income so that we know on whose behalf they speak(15). The commission is providing cover for multi-millionaires and corporations who are funding undisclosed campaigns to enhance their own wealth under the guise of charity, and obliging the rest of us to pay for it through tax exemptions. If that’s charity, a police siren is music.

The use of so-called thinktanks on both sides of the Atlantic seems to me to mirror the use of super political action committees (superPACs) in the US. Since the Supreme Court removed the limits on how much one person could give to a political campaign, the billionaires have achieved almost total control over politics. An article last week on TomDispatch revealed that in 2011 just 196 donors provided nearly 80% of the money raised by superPACs(16).

The leading Republican candidates have all but abandoned the idea of mobilising popular support. Instead they use the huge funds they raise from billionaires to attack the credibility of their opponents through television ads. Yet more money is channelled through 501c4 groups – tax-exempt bodies supposedly promoting social welfare – which (unlike the superPACs) don’t have to reveal the identity of their donors. TomDispatch notes that “serving as a secret slush fund for billionaires evidently now qualifies as social welfare.”(17)

The money wins. This is why Republicans swept up so many seats in the mid-term elections(18), and why the surviving Democrats were scarcely distinguishable from their rivals. It is why Obama, for all his promise, appears incapable of governing in the public interest. What can he tell the banks: “do what I say or I won’t take your money any more”? How can he tax the billionaires when they have their hands around his throat? Where your treasure is there will your heart be also(19).

This is plutocracy pure and simple. The battle for democracy is now a straight fight against the billionaires and corporations reshaping politics to suit their interests. The first task of all democrats must be to demand that any group, of any complexion, seeking to effect political change should reveal its funders.

Some of the research for this column was carried out by Simon Day:


  2. Frank Luntz, 2002. The Environment: a cleaner, safer, healthier America. Straight Talk, pp131-146. The Luntz Research Companies.
  15. See
  16. Ari Berman, 16th February 2012. The .0000063% Election.
  17. As above.
  18. “a simple statistic from the 2010 races: of fifty-three competitive House districts where Rove and his compatriots backed Republicans with “independent” expenditures that easily exceeded similar expenditures made on behalf of Democrats—often by more than $1 million per district, according to Public Citizen—Republicans won fifty-one.”
  19. Matthew 6:21.


  1. Shocking, fascinating, entirely unsurprising: the reaction to the faked documents, by the editor, who fails to explain how this is helping promote Permaculture.

    there, fixed that for you Craig.

  2. Pete, it promotes permaculture by helping people to see what needs changing. Corporate funded lobby/PR groups who disperse ‘information’-for-hire, rather than facts-by-research, should not go unnoticed, and should not be tolerated, by a society looking for lasting solutions to the problems that our present invisible structures incubate.

    You seem to think it’s fine that companies can take private money to fund propaganda campaigns to benefit those companies regardless of the costs to society and ecology (and even call it charitable, non-profit work!), but I do not.

    If you don’t like the article, just move the the next one. Nobody is forcing you to read it.

  3. Craig, I am against supporting all lobby groups, including, the Earth Policy Institute run by Lester R. Brown whos unreferenced output you dutifully reproduce here often. Talk about “information’-for-hire”! It would be a full time job chasing up just that alarmist output just to verify the claims made.

    Did you know he was a millionaire farmer who gave up farming to start a lobby group with $500 Million from Rockefeller, then moved on to form The Earth Policy Institute, a federally funded org/charity/lobby group with an $80Billion budget, $10Billion of which goes on alarmist climate indoctrination they call education?

    EPI promotes “wind farm subsidy farming” you support him, I don’t. You claim to be against lobby groups, but you’re only against the ones who disagree with your perspective up front. You seem to support those who on the face of it agree with your perspective, but dig a little deeper and it looks like the EPI takes all the good out of “green”, mixes it with fear, to promote corporate subsidy farming and “Big Wind”.[1]

    Small scale local wind has a small +ive EROEI (as long as we don’t try to store it in battery banks then it goes -ive) large scale wind if we include the required infrastructure changes has -ive EROEI IMO, the subsidies drive the poor into fuel poverty, i.e. these policies kill people.

    “promotes what needs changing” like funding these lobby groups?

    Talk about hypocrisy!

    On a side note, it’s good to see the recent about face another lobby group, Friends Of the Earth, has made re biofuels, what a shame that Friends of the Earth’s policy advice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Gordon Brown) before his budget of 2004 was…

    “The Government should introduce a Biofuels Obligation, to stimulate a UK biofuels industry – as a lower carbon alternative to conventional transport fuels. The obligation would require that a proportion of all road transport fuels in the UK should be sourced from accredited renewable sources. Fuel suppliers would either supply the target percentage of biofuel, or choose to pay a penalty. The revenues raised would be proportionately distributed to those who supplied complying fuels, encouraging growth in supply up to the Obligation target. The cost to the consumer is negligible, and it would benefit the economy and environment.”

    Did you support the FOTE 2004 position on biofuels that resulted in many deaths worldwide?

    Have you ever looked into the sordid details of how the EU’s mandatory 10% target for biofuel use, and in particular the way in which scientific advice impinged upon the decision to introduce it? It’s a murky tale[2][3] It is very similar to the IPCC political process as evidenced in the climategate affair, and many (now ex) reviewers. It looks like the IPCC is still following this same political process for AR5, one reviewer is calling it “omitted variable fraud”![4] and that’s just one tiny section, the truth will out and drag down the “green” movement and any other organisation on the CAGW bandwagon with it. It appears the “green” movement has been seconded by corporate/political interests, don’t allow Permaculture to be tarred with the same brush.

    And what’s with Monbiot calling anyone who doubts his position “climate change denier”? I thought he had said he wasn’t going to use that disgusting term again.

    Two examples:
    First Example: “Climate Change” i.e. the term used with no qualifiers.What does this mean? The people warning about Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) keep changing terms, and then accusing people not on board with their projections as being against science. Well, what science is that? What exactly is “Climate Change”?

    Second Example: “Denier” i.e. anyone who appears to disagree with anything those on the IPCC’s political side of this debate espouse. Denier of what? “Climate Change”? What definition of “Climate Change” are these opponents “Denying”?

    I, personally do not believe the proponents of CAGW have scientifically proven their conjecture regarding Co2.
    I do, however believe that climate changes. I know Man changes local climate by changing land use or killing off desert rats. What am I, the enemy?

    My problem seems to be that I am constitutionally incapable of watching someone drive a bus off a cliff without shouting “HEY! LOOK OUT!” … particularly when I’m a passenger on that Permaculture bus.


  4. Pete, in regards to publishing EPI posts, it’s not hypocrisy, it’s just consistency. I put up EPI posts that are aligned with permaculture principles. I don’t put up EPI posts that are not. The same goes for other contributors. The Friends of the Earth’s reports and posts will meet this same scrutiny at my end. I will put up their work that aligns with permaculture, and reject those that don’t.

    As it happens, I was writing against biofuels when the rest of the ‘greenies’ thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. See from 2007:

    I’ve had this argument elsewhere, where people were attacking me for putting up (fully aligned) posts by George Monbiot, just because he *also* happens to be pro-nuclear. But, I don’t put his pro-nuclear posts up.

    If *you* send me an article for publishing, and I had to operate on the filter-messenger principle, instead of my current filter-message principle, then I’d have to interrogate you, and your friends and family about you, just in case I can discover an area of your life and thoughts where you appear to stray out of harmony with permaculture. Obviously this is madness. Also, people’s views change, so if you pass ‘the test’ today, you may not tomorrow (George Monbiot’s nuclear stance is a case in point – he wasn’t pro-nuclear before). Instead, I filter posts on a post-by-post basis. I always have, and always will.

    In the previous argument over Monbiot that I mentioned above, I made the case that if I were to blanket reject all messages from various messengers who held out-of-harmony views even if they were on-target in many areas, then I would have to reject support for the keyline design system that Darren Doherty is a key adherent of, simply because the keyline plough is developed and sold by a staunch nuclear advocate. As I wrote:

    … we’ve run several posts on keyline design and also promote Darren Doherty’s keyline design courses. Oh boy, how can we do that? We’re promoting a system whose hardware is sold by a staunch nuclear advocate (Yeomans). Indeed, because of us people will be buying more of his equipment!! As such, we’re actually helping to finance the spread of nuclear propaganda, aren’t we?

    As I say, where will it end? It wouldn’t. I can only stick to a consistent approach of filtering on an article-by-article basis. If I didn’t do that, I think I’d end up having no articles to put up whatsoever, as we can always find fault with anyone, as we are all faulty.

    All of us are experts at practicing virtue at a distance. ~ Theodore M. Hesburgh

  5. Consistently hypocritical then!

    You must have a different definition of hypocritical. To bang on about de-funding lobby groups, while promoting lobby groups output, is by my definition hypocritical.

    For Monbiot to bang on about “Big Oil” sponsoring anything, without mentioning his own sponsorship by “big oil” is also hypocritical.

    Which oil company sponsors the Guardian’s Environment pages and eco conferences? And which company has one of the largest carbon trading desks in London, cashing in on industry currently worth around $120 billion – an industry which could not possibly exist without pan-global governmental CO2 emissions laws? BP (which stands for British Petroleum)

    Keyline is a strawman, because it in the Permaculture Designers Manual.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree again :)

  6. What’s the correct word, Hypocrisy, or irony? Depends where you stand I guess.

    DeSmogBlog is a smear site founded by a scientifically unqualified public relations man, James Hoggan and funded by a convicted money launderer, John Lefebvre. The irony here is their favorite tactic is to attempt to smear those they disagree with as funded by “dirty money”. Since it’s creation in 2006 the site has done nothing but post poorly researched propaganda with a clear intent to smear respected scientists, policy analysts or groups who dare oppose an alarmist position on global warming. Their articles frequently reference unreliable sources such as Wikipedia and Sourcewatch since they are unable to find any fact based criticisms of those they criticize in respected news sources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button