In a revelation that shouldn't surprise anybody, Peabody Energy, the United States' largest coal company, has been bankrolling think tanks, corporate lobbyists, trade associations and individual scientists at the heart of the climate denial movement, a new Guardian investigation reveals. Image: AP
Fossil fuel companies aren't exactly a progressive bunch when it comes to climate action, but few have manipulated the facts of global warming as consistently and egregiously as Peabody, which refers to carbon dioxide in glowing terms and asserts that by cranking up its concentration in our atmosphere, the company is fertilising the planet for the benefit of mankind. Or, as a Peabody lobbyist once put it, doing "the Lord's work".
But Peabody hasn't been preaching alone. Rather, documents released last month after the company filed for bankruptcy protection reveal a network of beneficiaries that have been doing everything in their power to cast doubt on basic climate science and fight even modest environmental regulation, such as the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.
"These groups collectively are the heart and soul of climate denial," Kert Davies of the Climate Investigation Center told The Guardian. "It's the broadest list I have seen of one company funding so many nodes in the denial machine."
The more than two dozen beneficiaries include: The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which calls carbon emissions an "elixir of life"; the George C. Marshall Institute, which claims there is not "the slightest evidence that more CO2 has caused more extreme weather or accelerated sea level rise"; and Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center For Astrophysics who, it was revealed last year, has received over $US1.2 million ($1.6 million) in funding from the fossil fuel industry.
While the filings obtained by The Guardian don't list amounts of money or dates of individual contributions, the evidence places Peabody at the centre of a widespread misinformation campaign — which, again, not terribly surprising given the company's previous attempts to rebrand coal as the cure to global poverty.
Ironically, Peabody's support for the climate denial movement is now coming to light because the company is broke. America's coal industry is quickly losing ground to natural gas, which last year became the nation's most popular energy source for electricity. And the transition off coal is going to have to continue, if we're to have any hope of preventing the worst consequences of climate change from unfolding.
It would be heartening to see a fossil fuel enterprise acknowledge this reality and take a leading role in developing the energy sources of the future. Sadly, like the compressed dinosaur remains they have made their fortunes from, most of these companies seem more interested in burying their heads in the sand and staying there.