Who really has the power in the climate-change debate?
In a widely cited 2014 study, the sociologist Robert Brulle purportedly exposed a network of nonprofit groups executing “a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public’s understanding of climate change.” He provided scant evidence of the public’s ignorance but lots of numbers supposedly exposing its source: center-right groups that form a “climate change counter-movement.”
Mr. Brulle’s smoking-gun statistic—call it the Brulle Number—was the combined annual income of 91 alleged conspirators. He calculated that from 2003 to 2010, these groups’ revenues averaged “just over $900 million” annually. The media twisted that into an even more extreme claim: “Conservative groups spend $1bn a year to fight action on climate change,” as a Guardian headline put it.
That’s false twice over. Mr. Brulle didn’t measure spending but income. Nor did he isolate the amount spent on climate issues, although most of the groups he studied had many policy interests.
Mr. Brulle’s wide net snared groups like the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, which provides electricity to Coloradans. He counted every penny of the nonprofit’s annual income as though it were a K Street powerhouse.
A new Capital Research Center study cuts Mr. Brulle’s calculations down to size. He claimed that the 91 “conspirators” had a combined income of $1.51 billion in 2010. Simply by counting income rather than spending he inflated their efforts by $169 million.
By speaking to the organizations, examining itemized IRS filings, tallying media mentions and webpages, and reading annual reports, we found that no more than 6% of their 2010 spending engaged the public on climate science. That knocks $1.24 billion off the $1.51 billion Brulle Number for that year.
Once corrected, the 2010 Brulle Number shrinks by 93% to only $100 million. That’s an imperfect estimate, but we’ve posted our data online at ClimateDollars.org. Unlike Mr. Brulle, we welcome debate.