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Climate Change Deniers Without Borders

How American oil money is pumping up climate change skeptics abroad—and how they could derail any progress made in Copenhagen.

| Tue Dec. 22, 2009 7:59 AM EST

Some US companies and climate denial groups have taken a more targeted approach to funding their foreign allies. In 2004, ExxonMobil gave $80,000 to the Centre for the New Europe-USA for its "global climate change education efforts." In 2007, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which has received money from Exxon, granted $135,000 to four skeptic think tanks in Canada and New Zealand, followed by $182,000 to foreign groups in 2008, according to tax filings (it didn't say which groups received the money). The Washington, DC-based Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow supports a German affiliate, CFACT-Europe, which put on a conference for climate change skeptics in Berlin earlier this year and protested the climate talks last week. "We want to get rid of this whole climate topic to focus on environmental problems again," CFACT-Europe director Holger Thuss said before marching with about 30 other demonstrators through downtown Copenhagen.

Thuss is reluctant to admit his ties to American donors. "We are not funded by the same people [as CFACT-US]," he said, though CFACT's president told Mother Jones that he gives the European group "a little bit of support when we can." Other leaders of foreign think tanks are similarly dodgy. Emmanuel Martin, who edits the French-language website Un Monde Libre and frequently disputes climate science on his blog for the newspaper Le Monde, at first told me that "Atlas has not given me any orders or any financing on anything to do with the subject" of climate change. When told that an Atlas employee in Washington had described him to me as "our editor" and said that "he gets a lot of support from Atlas," Martin clarified that "Atlas effectively finances a good part of our events" but maintained that his writings are entirely his own.

Yet Martin's Un Monde Libre website is part of the Atlas Global Initiative for Free Trade, Peace, and Prosperity, a program that operates websites in 14 languages. (Atlas inherited the program from the libertarian Cato Institute in January.) Martin and other local "intellectual entrepreneurs," as Atlas calls them, translate and syndicate Atlas-generated content, such as a recent interview about Climategate with Cato's resident global warming skeptic. "We provide the literature and ideas," says Global Initiative general director Tom Palmer in a recent video promoting the program. "We go and find the entrepreneurs, and then we can slot them right into all of the flagship programs that have made Atlas so successful."

"There are some [think tanks] that wouldn't be able to survive without us," says Austin Petersen, Atlas' new media program manager. "But they get grants from all kinds of different places, not just from Atlas. There is no way we'd be able to support the whole network by ourselves."

In an email, Teluk of Poland's Globalization Institute writes that direct financial support from American funders "was not crucial" to launching his group. Yet he's clearly benefitted from their support in other ways. Teluk says he was first exposed to free-market think tanks at a conference in Rome hosted by the International Society for Individual Liberty, a libertarian group based in Arizona. He later won a scholarship at George Mason University's Institute for Humane Studies, a haven for climate change deniers that receives funding from the Koch family foundations. In 2003, while working toward his doctorate in philosophy in Krakow, Teluk got a job with TCS Daily, an online opinion journal published by the DCI Group, a PR firm known for its corporate Astroturf campaigns. TCS received $95,000 for "climate change support" from ExxonMobil that year. "Quite frankly, someone that doesn't have their PhD, they aren't a noted academic yet," says Todd Kruse, who hired Teluk while serving as a vice president at DCI, "and getting published on a journal like that gets them noticed and helps them branch out." 

Recounting his professional history on the Atlas website this summer, Teluk thanked Kruse for helping to launch his career. He also mentioned current DCI vice president Henrik Rasmussen and TCS founder James K. Glassman, a former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the previous administration who now leads the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University. (Neither responded to requests for comment.) Teluk wrote that "it would have been impossible to create" his own organization without them.

In 2005, Teluk founded the Globalization Institute in Gliwice, a small city near the Czech border. Shortly before international climate negotiators gathered in Poland for a final round of pre-Copenhagen negotiations in late 2008, the Globalization Institute published a book in Polish titled The Mythology of the Greenhouse Effect. The book spawned more than a dozen articles in leading Polish media outlets; several were op-eds penned by Teluk under headlines such as "Environmentalists Cause the Greenhouse Effect." More recently, the Globalization Institute and its allies circulated an open letter to the Copenhagen negotiators demanding "Free trade, no climate taxes!" and calling climate change "nothing more than a scientific hypothesis." The institute's science advisory board includes Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation staffers.

Teluk is confident that he's helping keep Poland out of a global suicide pact. "We are one of the most recognized groups opposing 'global warming' hysteria," he writes in an email. "We are present in all mainstream media, dailies, TV, radio and Internet. Decision-makers read our reports, books and comments." He adds: "There is no scientific evidence that current global warming is caused by humans. CO2 is a gas of life, not a poison. We believe that a movement that calls a gas of life 'a poison' is a movement against human life."

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