As clean energy technology continues to advance, the fossil fuel industry is getting desperate to preserve its prominence in the energy sector. Fossil fuel executives and front-groups have been spending more money than ever on pro-fossil fuel ad campaigns and doing what they can to debunk climate change science. The latest – and possibly most outrageous – example of this is the fake “Addendum” to a climate change impact assessment, soon to be released by the libertarian think-tank Cato Institute.
In 2009, the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a government agency charged with assessing climate science, issued a report titled “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.” Now, three years later, the Cato Institute is set to release a report titled, "Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” which appears to be an extension of the 2009 report.
Though called an “Addendum,” The Cato Institute’s report is in no way affiliated with the real scientific report. When I asked for comment, USGCRP report co-author Benjamin Santer noted, “The fact that they employ such deception is telling. Clearly, even Dr. Michaels et al. understand that their ‘Addendum’ cannot stand on its own scientific merits.” If not to confuse readers, the Cato Institute is relying solely on the appearance of the real report for undeserved credibility.
Perhaps the most galling part of the counterfeit report comes at its conclusion. The Cato counterfeit claims that the experts of the USGCRP “have economic incentives to paint climate change as a dire problem requiring their services.”
But who really has the economic incentive here?
The Cato Institute was founded by Charles Koch. His brother, David, is on Cato’s board of directors. The Koch brothers run Koch Industries, whose $62 billion fortune derives from fossil fuel production industries. The Kochs have an immense economic stake in whether or not climate change legislation is passed. Meanwhile, the USGCRP scientists wrote their assessment entirely pro-bono.
This was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the fossil fuel industry has spent money to attempt to debunk climate change and debase the importance of clean energy. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on pro-fossil fuel ads in this election cycle alone. And Patrick Michaels, the head author of the Cato report, has a history of receiving money from the fossil fuel industry. He received a $63,000 in the early 1990s from the Western Fuels Association for “research on global climactic change,” and several other grants from fossil fuel companies. Furthermore, around the time An Inconvenient Truth was released, the coal industry planned a huge climate-denial campaign, giving at least $100,000 to Michaels himself.
If a member of Congress gets handed this “Addendum” to scientific report, what will they think? Will they take it for science, or for counterfeit? The Cato report – which copies the real report so closely it might be called plagiarism – was created to confuse its readers and to foster climate skepticism. This in turn might prevent the House from passing climate bills that would bolster incentives for clean energy.
Clean energy is rapidly catching up to the dirty energy of the past, and its opponents are doing anything they can to slow down the progress of cleaner, domestic energy sources. Once again, they have resorted to dishonest tactics and science denial. The Cato counterfeit is just another desperate attempt to allow dirty energy to keep burning at ever-increasing rates, and to prevent the country from moving forward.
As the clean energy industry expands, there will continue to be attacks from the fossil fuel industry. A report of such desperation and deceit as the Cato “Addendum” is only a testament to the strength of clean energy. But once it’s known where the attacks are coming from, they can be used benefit the clean energy industry. The attacks can be countered with truth, not fraud.
*Summary table comparing the reports
|Government Report||Cato Institute “Addendum”|
|Climate change is real and caused by human activities||Climate change is real and caused by human activities|
|Climate change is a threat to our livelihood||There is no threat from climate change – it may even be beneficial to the economy|
|A compact assessment of current climate science||Cherry-picked science figures: Include more citations overall, but smaller subsets for many data points|
|Includes a section for proposed action in climate science||Does not include such a section, calling it “prescriptive”|
|The economy will be challenged by climate change||The economy will suffer only if we enact climate policies – otherwise it will adapt|
|60-day public comment and peer review||No public comment or peer review|