How Big Is The Anti-Cleantech Propaganda Industry?

Career day for many school kids involves following their parent around for a day, and maybe taking a stroll in a fire truck or going to an office where a parent works. The idea is to encourage kids’ imaginations to see what their options are, that work can be fun and engaging, and to give them a little real-world sense of why they’re getting an education.

Now, imagine, if you will, if your parent worked in PR for fossil fuel companies. Here’s how it might go:

Kid: “Wow! Amazing corner office on the top floor of a high-rise in Manhattan! So … what do you do here?”

Parent: “Thanks! We love the gold-plated toilet seats, too. I’ll show you those later. Here at work, we write up stories based on pseudoscience … uh, sorry kid, that means make-believe stuff, and then we tailor the story to scare people about clean energy, so that they won’t buy it themselves, or vote for politicians who support it. Then we pay media companies to run these stories as if they were true.”

Kid: “Why?”

Parent: “Oh, well, that’s easy — we get paid ginormous sums of money to change peoples’ opinions about global climate disruption.”

Kid: “Why?”

Parent: “Oh, right, well, the people who pay my salary make A LOT more money when they can get away with polluting the world. You see, they made some really bad decisions a ways back — and now they’re stuck with all these stranded assets.”

Kid: “What’s a stranded asset?”

Parent: “Oh, uh … it’s kinda like your old football helmet. You know how there’s better ones now that won’t give you a concussion as often?”

Kid: “Yeah.”

Parent: “Well, it’s like that. You no longer use that old football helmet. These folks have … things like coal plants and oil leases on marginally productive land, and all these drills and derricks they bought … uh, are like older football helmets, more or less, and since they already bought them, they want to make sure they get the most use out of them.”

Kid: “But … people would get more concussions?”

Parent: “Er, yes, well, kind of. Not concussions, exactly, more like World War 3 … the end of all life as we know it … that sort of thing. Ehh, I dunno, just shut up you stupid brat.”

While this should be clearly recognized as satire, is it far from the truth?

As it turns out, anti-cleantech PR and influence peddling is a bonafide industry. It’s shadowy AF and impossible to tell how big or how deep it goes, but estimates put it in the $9 billion a year range. That makes it about as big as cannabis and hospital scrubs. I’ve previously written about how $3 million of that money was put to use in one day — to start Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller, a right-wing media enterprise that aims to convince people that climate disruption isn’t happening. That was after one lunch meeting — Carlson found a guy whose vast wealth is still largely underground — coal reserves — and who desperately needs to keep unearthing and burning that coal in order to turn his bad decision to invest in it into a good decision that paid off. One lunch meeting, a $3 million dollar check. As far as anyone knows, the billionaire coal baron asked for no board seat, no requirements for a return on investment, and no buyout clause. If only we would see that sort of investment in clean energy news sites! LOL

Who’s to blame the industry for spending that kind of money?

It’s just a calculated investment. If you can derail one community solar farm development, and keep a community imprisoned with just one choice for electricity (your coal, oil, or natural gas), then you have effectively extended your profitability for years to come. That is just one example, of course. There are many anti-cleantech myths produced and promoted by this industry (they’ll attack anything — EVs, solar, wind, Energy Star dishwashers … whatever is making us spend less of our money on fossils and thus driving profits lower for the fossil industries).

The problem is that even otherwise smart media outlets can get confused, as Politico did when it published a piece from a propagandist player in this $9 billion a year industry, a think tank called The Manhattan Institute, which gets its money from fossil industries to promote anti-cleantech myths. This one made the laughable argument that EVs are not as green as gas cars. Laugh, laugh, cry, cry — since many people are not able to discern the truth.

Here’s another: you can pay Forbes to publish your stuff, whether it’s true or not. Didn’t know if you know that or not. It’s not cheap, but as far as return on investment, it’s great, especially if you get to be the top search result, which they were, for a loooong time. That piece is now gone, but it was written by a “for profit” think tank, by a fellow who wrote “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels”, which…became a bestseller virtually overnight – because, I’m guessing, the oil industry bought a ton of copies and distributed them freely, and now that dude can say he’s a “bestselling author”, and the book can claim to be a bestseller. Facepalm, right?

Search engines, of course, are supposed to recognize “bought media” and not give it top SEO placement, but imagine being Google or Bing and trying to make an algorithm that could understand that this particular piece is written by a “for-profit think tank” (… I’m sure it’s 100% unbiased …) which provides “evidence” that climate disruption is not happening. Phew. So glad that climate disruption is a phony crisis, because that s**t is really f**king scary if it’s true.

Kidding aside, fossil money flows to this “think tank,” which then writes up BS, pays Forbes to publish it, and wham — unknowing search engines promote it to the masses, and unless readers are really savvy and go 2–3 clicks deep to find out it’s … literally just propaganda …, they are left with the impression that things aren’t as bad as us greenies are saying, and overall support for renewable energy goes down.

That, for fossil companies, is

The tactics are not new

Big Tobacco used a similar playbook. Big Fossil is using it now, and the playbook has even been turned to coronavirus to downplay fossil king Donald Trump’s fumbled response to the pandemic.

Check out our webinar on the industry in our new CleanTechnica Industry channel (please subscribe!) to learn more and take a deeper dive into some of the tactics. And then, just for fun, imagine Kevon Martis’s child joining Martis for career day — traveling the country with a fossil fuel’d propaganda slide deck, scaring rural communities about wind energy.

THAT     IS     HIS    JOB. 

And I imagine it pays well. I wonder if he even gets bonuses if he achieves his funders’ goal of imprisoning a rural community in poverty and imported dirty energy. Or if his fossil funders also give him bonuses if the community’s level of division, dispiritedness, and antagonism hit new highs, even if he is unable to derail every single renewable energy project he attacks.

Martis has spent a very philanthropic career defending oil, coal, tobacco, and other feel-good industries. He’s transitioned from the previous fossil fuel propaganda company, E&E Legal, to the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, Inc. It’s the same thing, but a leaned solution to years of nonsense. The fossil propaganda industry has realized that once a name is sullied publicly and people know that E&E is definitively not on their side, boom … name change, and now you have this new “grassroots” nonprofit showing up at community meetings.

Learn more about the tactics, and how to fight back, in our latest webinar.

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Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is a serial eco-entrepreneur focused on making the world a better place for all its residents. Scott is the founder of CleanTechnica and was just smart enough to hire someone smarter than him to run it. He then started Pono Home, a service that greens homes, which has performed efficiency retrofits on more than 16,000 homes and small businesses, reducing carbon pollution by more than 27 million pounds a year and saving customers more than $6.3 million a year on their utilities. In a previous life, Scott was an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill) , and Green Living Ideas.

Scott Cooney has 152 posts and counting. See all posts by Scott Cooney