Professionalism/Greenpeace, Donors Trust, and climate change research

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Introduction[edit]

Greenpeace logo

In February of 2012, it was discovered that Heartland Institute, a strong climate change denier think tank, was receiving large anonymous donations. After conducting a sting operation, Greenpeace found that Donors Trust, a non-profit donor-advised fund that promotes libertarian and conservative ideals, was the group funneling these donations to climate change denial groups.[1]

According to their website, Greenpeace is an “independent campaigning organization, which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force the solutions which are essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace's goal is to ensure the ability of the earth to nurture life in all its diversity.” [2] On the other hand, Donors Trust main objective is to “ensure the intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.” [3] These two groups have very different agendas. What happens when the political difference between such groups begins seeping into the agendas of professionals?

Greenpeace revealed that Donors Trust is channeling millions of dollars from wealthy groups, who want to remain anonymous, to climate change deniers. “Climate denial” groups are those who advocate that the scientific consensus concerning climate change is inaccurate and advocate that the climate is not changing or that humans are not affecting the increase in greenhouse gases. Greenpeace has been tracking funding for climate denial research from large oil companies who have large monetary stakes in the controversy. While doing so, Greenpeace researchers noticed that public funding from these companies to denial groups decreased while anonymous donations increased.[4] While conducting a sting operation on professors hired to advocate climate denial for money, Greenpeace discovered that Donors Trust was created so that the climate denial support could increase and the funders could remain anonymous.[5] This had much larger implications, because not only was this money going to climate denial groups, but was also going towards professors being paid to advocate that the climate change consensus is wrong.

The sting operation found that two prominent figures in academia could be hired to write reports that advocate climate change denial. Greenpeace posed as fossil-fuel companies and asked the two professors at Princeton and Penn State to not only write reports discount most climate change research, but to offer suggestions on how to obscure the funding. The first professor was William Happer, a professor of physics at Princeton University.[6] Greenpeace pretended to be a Middle Eastern oil company and asked him, in exchange for money, to write a report about the benefits of rising carbon emissions.[7] Happer eagerly agreed and asked for the money to be donated to the C02 Coalition, a prominent climate denial group. When asked how to make the donation anonymous, he recommended using Donors Trust.

Happer, who is currently one of the most well known climate change deniers in academia, recognized that his report would not suffice in the peer review process. In order for the report to pass the peer review quickly, he recommended that his work be given to selected reviewers who would quickly give it the green light. Although many might not admit that this process would count as peer review, he said in an email “I think it would be fine to call it peer review."[8]

Greenpeace, posing as an Indonesian Energy Consultant company, approached Frank Clemente, a retired professor sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University. They asked him to write a report advocating the use of coal energy and discounting reports indicating that coal is linked to early death for coal miners.[9] He asked for approximately $15,000 for an eight-to-10 page paper. He also recommended using Donors Trust to obscure the funding and had no issue being cited as a professor at Penn State, saying, “there is no requirement to declare source funding in the US. My research and writing has been supported by government agencies, trade associations, the university and private companies and all has been published under the rubric of me as an independent scholar – which I am.”[10]

This investigation revealed how big energy companies, such as ExxonMobil or Koch, can fund reports advocating climate change denial. Groups such as Donors Trust that obscures this type of funding makes many people believe that members of the science and academic world are writing reports without monetary motivation and are more likely to trust their work. This begs two questions. First, should donations of such a magnitude to academia and science be anonymous? Second, can professionals be paid to take a stance on political issues? This case offers an example of how such questions are hard to answer in a United States society that holds freedom supreme.

Key Participants[edit]

63 years of climate change by NASA

The primary debate in climate change is not whether climate change exists but whether the change is due to human causes. The participants can be loosely divided into two groups: the climate change movement and the climate change countermovement.

Climate Change Movement[edit]

The climate change movement is based on the majority of scientific consensus that significant climate change is attributable to human-related causes.[11] These participants are proponents of action on climate change, whether legislative or conscientious. The climate change movement rests much of its validity in climate change scientists, which constitute approximately 97% on scientists doing research on climate change.[12] Their agendas are led by their intellectual ideas as their data overwhelmingly supports climate change as a anthropogenic cause.[13] Further, government organizations, such as EPA and WHO, tend to side with the climate change movement. Influenced by social values and intellectual ideas, they propose policies that side ideologically with the scientific data. As the scientific data supports human-caused climate change, these organizations attempt to curb its effects to improve sustainability and human welfare. Greenpeace is a significant organization in the climate change movement, bringing climate change to the forefront of public discussion. Their mission statement demonstrates that their agenda is primarily governed by their social values in addition to their intellectual ideas. They are criticized by many on the side of the climate change countermovement as radical due to their methods of direct action such as this undercover sting.

Climate Change Countermovement[edit]

2012 peer-reviewed climate articles

The Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund is at the center of this case. At first glance, they can be seen as somewhat neutral, however, the mission statement of the Donors Trust is as follows:

"[To] ensure the intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise. As such, Donors Trust provides an innovative charitable vehicle for donors who wish to safeguard their charitable intent to fund organizations that undergird America’s founding principles." [14]

Because their social values call for limited government, they have aligned themselves against the climate change movement to limit government regulation. Between 2002 and 2013, the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund funded 102 climate-denial organizations.[15] Other groups such as the Exxon and Koch Foundations which make up big oil have material interests in the climate change countermovement thus funded many of these climate change deniers by funneling their money through the Donors Trust. By preventing policy changes that would result from the climate change movement, they restrict further emission regulations that would negatively impact their companies' futures. Namely, Charles Koch controls the anti-climate change movement from behind-the-scenes by sponsoring secret political strategy conferences for the countermovement, donating $8 million through the Donors Trust, and inviting the Donors Trust Executive Director to his invite-only strategy and fundraising meetings.[15] Further, the recipients of the donation used their money to fund climate change denial. American Enterprise Institute was a large institute that is closely connected to the Republican party which received over $1.6 million by the Donors Trust. They offered $10,000 to economists and scientists to dispute a climate change study.[16] The Donors Capital Fund Board Member and Treasurer, Steven Hayward penned a letter with a $10,000 incentive to scientists willing to write about the limitations of climate change.[15] These parties used the finances they received to influence the intellectual ideas of the scientists and economists to justify their own agendas.

Conclusions in Ethics and Professionalism[edit]

Peer-Review and Card-Stacking[edit]

Peer-review is the process for reviewing scholarly articles.[17] In the case of scientific research, peer reviews aims to weed out research with unsound science.[18] During Greenpeace's investigation, Happer said that instead of submitting his paper for peer-review, he would select similarly-minded individuals to review his work.[19] He says that while others might not agree, he thinks it would be fine to call his paper peer-reviewed.[20]

Happer's suggestion to attach a false peer-review tag onto his paper is an attempt to card-stack. Card-stacking is a propaganda technique which seeks to hide the beliefs of opposition in order to strengthen one's views in the eyes of others.[21] Happer foresaw by following the true peer-review process that changes to his paper would be necessary; changes that reduced the effectiveness of his argument. Instead he represses the changes by showing his paper to individuals he knows will agree with his work, stacking the cards in his favor.

Anonymity[edit]

In this case, anonymity amplifies the occurrence of unethical conduct. Greenepeace noticed an increase in anonymous donations to climate denial organizations alongside a decrease in transparent donations to them.[22] Not only did donations become more anonymous than transparent, they also increased overall.[23] These anonymous donations allow interest groups to fund anti-climate change research without scrutiny from the public.

Dr. Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist warns of the dangers of anonymous donations, saying "There is no attribution, no responsibility for the actions of these foundations to the public.” He agrees that anonymity is a tool for donors, saying "By becoming anonymous, they remove a political target. They can plausibly claim that they are not giving to these organizations, and there is no way to prove otherwise." [24]

Responsibility of Researchers[edit]

While it is easy to lay all of the blame on anonymous donors and the organization that facilities their donations, researchers such as Happer and Clemente also must be held responsible. It is their duty as professionals to "follow truth wherever it may lead." [25] When researchers are told "this is the truth" and are paid to go along with that truth they remove their ability to uphold their professional duty.

Legal vs Ethical[edit]

The idea that something can be legal and yet unethical is prevalent in this case. It is not currently illegal [26] for Donors Trust to take donations and distribute them to groups anonymously. However, as Greenpeace's investigation uncovered, it does lead to unethical behavior such as the buying of climate denial research. Because Donors Trust has the ultimate decision of where the funds go, they are partially responsible for the resultant unethical behaviors of for-hire scientists.

References[edit]

  1. Goldenberg, S. (2013, February 14). Secret Funding Helped Build Vast Network of Climate Denial Thinktanks. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network
  2. Greenpeace. (n.d.) OUr Core Values. Retrieved 08 May, 2016, from http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/our-core-values/
  3. Donors Trust. (n.d.). Mission & Principles. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://www.donorstrust.org/who-we-are/mission-principles/
  4. GreenPeace. (n.d.). Donors Trust: The shadow operation that has laundered $146 million in climate-denial funding (Publication). Retrieved May 6, 2016, from GreenPeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-
  5. Goldenberg, S. (2013, February 14). Secret Funding Helped Build Vast Network of Climate Denial Thinktanks. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network.
  6. William Happer. (n.d.). Retrieved May 07, 2016, from https://www.princeton.edu/physics/people/display_person.xml?netid=happer
  7. Goldenberg, S. (2015, December 08). Greenpeace Exposes Sceptics Hired to Cast Doubt on Climate Science. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/08/greenpeace-exposes-sceptics-cast-doubt-climate-science
  8. Goldenberg, S. (2015, December 08). Greenpeace Exposes Sceptics Hired to Cast Doubt on Climate Science. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/08/greenpeace-exposes-sceptics-cast-doubt-climate-science
  9. Goldenberg, S. (2015, December 08). Greenpeace Exposes Sceptics Hired to Cast Doubt on Climate Science. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/08/greenpeace-exposes-sceptics-cast-doubt-climate-science
  10. Goldenberg, S. (2015, December 08). Greenpeace Exposes Sceptics Hired to Cast Doubt on Climate Science. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/08/greenpeace-exposes-sceptics-cast-doubt-climate-science
  11. Anderegg, W. R., Prall, J. W., Harold, J., & Schneider, S. H. (2010). Expert credibility in climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(27), 12107-12109. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107 http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107
  12. NASA. (n.d.). Scientific consensus: Earth's climate is warming. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/
  13. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson, (eds.). Cambridge University Press, 2009. https://downloads.globalchange.gov/usimpacts/pdfs/climate-impacts-report.pdf
  14. Donors Trust. (n.d.). Mission & Principles. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://www.donorstrust.org/who-we-are/mission-principles/
  15. a b c GreenPeace. (n.d.). Donors Trust: The shadow operation that has laundered $146 million in climate-denial funding (Publication). Retrieved May 6, 2016, from GreenPeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/legacy/Global/usa/planet3/PDFs/Donor%27s%20Trust%20-%20Laundering%20Climate%20Denial%20Funding.pdf
  16. Sample, I. (2007, February 02). Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study. Retrieved May 06, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/feb/02/frontpagenews.climatechange
  17. Peer Review. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peer review
  18. Scrutinizing science: Peer review. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/howscienceworks_16
  19. Goldenberg, S. (2015, December 08). Greenpeace Exposes Sceptics Hired to Cast Doubt on Climate Science. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/08/greenpeace-exposes-sceptics-cast-doubt-climate-science
  20. Goldenberg, S. (2015, December 08). Greenpeace Exposes Sceptics Hired to Cast Doubt on Climate Science. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/08/greenpeace-exposes-sceptics-cast-doubt-climate-science
  21. Miller, C. (1937). Card-stacking. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://changingminds.org/techniques/propaganda/card_stacking.htm
  22. GreenPeace. (n.d.). Donors Trust: The shadow operation that has laundered $146 million in climate-denial funding (Publication). Retrieved May 6, 2016, from GreenPeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-
  23. GreenPeace. (n.d.). Donors Trust: The shadow operation that has laundered $146 million in climate-denial funding (Publication). Retrieved May 6, 2016, from GreenPeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-
  24. Connor, S. (2013, January 24). Exclusive: Billionaires secretly fund attacks on climate science. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/exclusive-billionaires-secretly-fund-attacks-on-climate-science-8466312.html
  25. Jefferson, T. (n.d.). Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/75.html
  26. Goldenberg, S. (2015, December 08). Greenpeace Exposes Sceptics Hired to Cast Doubt on Climate Science. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/08/greenpeace-exposes-sceptics-cast-doubt-climate-science