Climate Entrepreneurs Are Profiting From The Earth’s Fragility

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I was recently reading a George Monbiot article in The Guardian, in which he unveils the term “culture war entrepreneurs.” These are individuals who use political winds to “cast even the most innocent attempts to reduce our impacts as a conspiracy to curtail our freedoms.” That word, “entrepreneurs,” has taken hold of late, and I am reminded how investigative journalist Amanda Ripley draws our attention to “conflict entrepreneurs” who exploit public misunderstanding of the First Amendment and other laws that regulate free expression for political or economic gain. I think a third version of that term needs to be unpacked: “climate entrepreneurs.”

Climate entrepreneurs promote conflict around fossil fuel-driven pollution, and they do so for profit. They make a living from stirring up controversy about a zero emissions future for the Earth. Other times they bombard social media networks with culturally appealing narratives. They incite confusion and anger in an effort to undermine governance that looks ahead to a zero emissions future. 

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This kind of in-your-face, bold and defiant climate denial aggression isn’t new. As early as 2013, a study revealed that up to a $1 billion annually was being mobilized by the US “climate change counter-movement.” An extensive network, largely underwritten by conservative billionaires, routed through secretive funding networks was exposed.

While it was once corporations that spread the gospel of climate denial, think tanks, advocacy groups, and industry associations insinuated themselves into the political soup to block action on climate pollution by the 2020s. Most register as charitable organizations and enjoy considerable tax breaks. Such financial support has hardened conservative opposition to climate policy, and it has blocked Congressional and state level action, over and over, that is intended to mitigate carbon emissions. Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, states, “It is not just a couple of rogue individuals doing this. This is a large-scale political effort.”

Logically, it’s hard to comprehend how climate economic development that benefits all could be spun as somehow detrimental to everyday life.

On the granular level, loss of multilevel fossil fuels revenue, compounded by the costs associated with climate mitigation, forges an existential crisis for thousands of businesses. Enter plentiful funding of climate entrepreneurs — individuals who are trained and paid to dismiss climate action and to reframe it as climate disinformation. They boast about free-market ideals in order to persuade others to reject climate reforms.

“There’s no mystery about why,” Monbiot argues. “Hard-right and far-right politics are the defensive wall erected by oligarchs to protect their economic interests.”

Monbiot says that “everything becomes contested: low-traffic neighborhoods, 15-minute cities, heat pumps, even induction hobs.” As climate entrepreneurs spread climate doomsday fables, they stall environmental regulation, carbon reduction research, and clean energy development. They question the deployment of new technologies and conservation efforts. Instead of increasing public awareness about the climate crisis, they critique incentives to encourage choices that lower emissions.

They’re paid to do whatever is possible to prevent adding a price tag wherever companies emit GHG emissions.

How Do Climate Entrepreneurs Make Us Question Carbon Reductions?

How do climate entrepreneurs differ from everyday individuals who criticize, file complaints, or circulate petitions? The latter seek to write perceived wrongs, while climate entrepreneurs arouse conflict for a particular self-serving goal. They identify with a human tendency to split and divide demographic groups into opposing sides, and doing so gives adherents a sense of certainty in an uncertain world.

In a short period of time, climate positive choices become automatically, deliberately, and systematically rejected. According to Monbiot, you can’t propose even the mildest change “without a hundred professionally outraged influencers leaping up to announce: ‘They’re coming for your …’”

Forget having a calm conversation about EV vs. ICE vehicles, vegan eating, or emissions while on cruises. Somebody like Florida Governor and US presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, who decries climate science as “politicization of the weather,” carries too much gravitas to talk peaceably about differing points of climate view.

As early as 2002, experts at the Carnegie Endowment gathered from the fields of democracy promotion and conflict prevention to discuss how conflict entrepreneurs must be viewed as both economic and political actors, in that they foment and fuel violence as a path for attaining economic and political power. Investigative journalist Amanda Ripley, author of High Conflict, writes in the Harvard Business Review that these are people who:

  • engage in a recurring pattern of dysfunction, extreme behavior, and perpetual blame
  • are quick to accuse, eager to validate every lament, and articulate new wrongs that no one else has thought of
  • broker in rumors and conspiracy theories
  • attempt to divide the world into binaries of good versus evil

This is the identical behind-the-climate-madness that questions and renounces decarbonization, drawing upon a spectrum of far-fetched and in-your-backyard and a whole lot between methods. Monibot explains that, “as millions are driven from their homes by climate disasters, the extreme right exploits their misery to extend its reach. As the extreme right gains power, climate programs are shut down, heating accelerates and more people are driven from their homes.”

These individuals benefit from an outrage economy online. With social media business models calling foul when asked to censor harmful content, climate entrepreneurs reap the rewards — literally — by monetizing denial and disinformation.

Persuasion is an art that climate entrepreneurs have mastered. Some of the techniques they draw upon are false equivalencies, logical fallacies, unethical listening, bandwagoning, rampant speculation, and shoot the messeFnger. All these — and other — patterns interfere with critical thinking and empathy. They hinder productive, healthy interactions that could lead to substantive change in climate action.

Monbiot reminds us that climate crisis conditions include “extreme disruption, morbidity and death through heat-shock, water stress, crop failure, and the spread of infectious disease. The figures,” he notes, “do not take into account the effect of rising sea levels, which could displace hundreds of millions more.”

The actions of climate entrepreneurs have a ripple effect which makes the most vulnerable even more vulnerable.

“If we don’t break this cycle soon,” Monbiot warns, “it will become the dominant story of our times.”

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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